Sarah Ortega


Thesis: The Liber Vaccae and the Practical Applications of Cosmology Biography

I graduated from Columbia University (NY, USA) in 2013 as a Kluge and Carl W. Desch Scholar, with a BA in Art History and Visual Arts. In 2013-2014, I undertook an MA in Cultural and Intellectual History 1300-1650 (Distinction) at the Warburg Institute. My PhD at the University of Leeds is made possible through funding from the University of Leeds Anniversary Research Scholarship.

Supervisors: Iona McCleery (Institute for Medieval Studies) and William Flynn (Institute for Medieval Studies).

Research interests

My research examines the development of medieval cosmology through the lens of magic. I am focusing on the case of the Liber Vaccae, a 12th-century Latin translation of the lost Arabic Kitab al-Nawamis. The text describes itself as a work written by Plato, summarized by Galen, and commented upon by Hunayn ibn Ishaq. It contains more than eighty instructions for magical procedures as varied as, creating rational animals, splitting the moon, summoning giants, and causing trees to throw their fruit.

I am particularly interested in the history of materiality and how the Liber Vaccae's ingredients, which often carry rich traditions of their own, offer a glimpse into the cosmological scheme within which its magic is supposed to work. Additionally, I study how, from the thirteenth century onwards, the text becomes a site for confrontation with questions about morality, demons, and the composition of the soul.

I intend to provide, in addition to a close study of the Liber Vaccae, a critical edition and an English translation of the text.