Static levitation is a form of marvel with metaphysical implications whose long history has not previously been charted. First, Pliny the Elder reports an architect’s plan to suspend an iron statue using magnetism, and the later compiler Ampelius mentions a similar-sounding wonder in Syria. When the Serapeum at Alexandria was destroyed, and for many centuries afterwards, chroniclers wrote that an iron Helios had hung magnetically inside. In the Middle Ages, reports of such false miracles multiplied, appearing in Muslim accounts of Christian and Hindu idolatry, as well as Christian descriptions of the tomb of Muhammad. A Christian levitation miracle involving saints’ relics also emerged. Yet magnetic suspension could be represented as miraculous in itself, representing lost higher knowledge, as in the latest and easternmost tradition concerning Konark’s ruined temple. The levitating monument, first found in classical antiquity, has undergone many cultural and epistemological changes in its long and varied history.
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