Picatrix is the name used today, for a 400-page book of magic and astrology originally written in Arabic under the title ? Gh?yat al-?ak?m, which most scholars assume was originally written in the middle of the 11th century, though an argument for composition in the first half of the 10th century has been made. The Arabic title translates as The Aim of the Sage or The Goal of The Wise. The Arabic work was translated into Spanish and then into Latin during the 13th century, at which time it got the Latin title Picatrix. The book's title Picatrix is also sometimes used to refer to the book's author.
Picatrix is a composite work that synthesizes older works on magic and astrology. One of the most influential interpretations suggests it is to be regarded as a "handbook of talismanic magic". Another researcher summarizes it as "the most thorough exposition of celestial magic in Arabic", indicating the sources for the work as "Arabic texts on Hermeticism, Sabianism, Ismailism, astrology, alchemy and magic produced in the Near East in the ninth and tenth centuries A.D."Eugenio Garin declares, "In reality the Latin version of the Picatrix is as indispensable as the Corpus Hermeticum or the writings of Albumasar for understanding a conspicuous part of the production of the Renaissance, including the figurative arts." It has significantly influenced West European esotericism from Marsilio Ficino in the 15th century, to Thomas Campanella in the 17th century. The manuscript in the British Library passed through several hands: Simon Forman, Richard Napier, Elias Ashmole and William Lilly.
According to the prologue of the Latin translation, Picatrix was translated into Spanish from the Arabic by order of Alphonso X of Castile at some time between 1256 and 1258. The Latin version was produced sometime later, based on translation of the Spanish manuscripts. It has been attributed to Maslama ibn Ahmad al-Majriti (an Andalusian mathematician), but many have called this attribution into question. Consequently, the author is sometimes indicated as "Pseudo-Majriti".
The Spanish and Latin versions were the only ones known to Western scholars until Wilhelm Printz discovered an Arabic version in or around 1920.
The work is divided into four books, which exhibit a marked absence of systematic exposition. Jean Seznec observed, "Picatrix prescribes propitious times and places and the attitude and gestures of the suppliant; he also indicates what terms must be used in petitioning the stars." As an example, Seznec then reproduces a prayer to Saturn from the work, noting that Fritz Saxl has pointed out that this invocation exhibits "the accent and even the very terms of a Greek astrological prayer to Kronos. This is one indication that the sources of Picatrix are in large part Hellenistic.":
O Master of sublime name and great power, supreme Master; O Master Saturn: Thou, the Cold, the Sterile, the Mournful, the Pernicious; Thou, whose life is sincere and whose word sure; Thou, the Sage and Solitary, the Impenetrable; Thou, whose promises are kept; Thou who art weak and weary; Thou who hast cares greater than any other, who knowest neither pleasure nor joy; Thou, the old and cunning, master of all artifice, deceitful, wise, and judicious; Thou who bringest prosperity or ruin, and makest men to be happy or unhappy! I conjure thee, O Supreme Father, by Thy great benevolence and Thy generous bounty, to do for me what I ask [...]
According to Garin:
The work's point of departure is the unity of reality divided into symmetrical and corresponding degrees, planes or worlds: a reality stretched between two poles: the original One, God the source of all existence, and man, the microcosm, who, with his science (scientia) brings the dispersion back to its origin, identifying and using their correspondences.
According to the Prologue, the author researched over two hundred works in the creation of Picatrix.  However, there are three significant Near/Middle Eastern influences: Jabir ibn Hayyan, the Brethren of Purity, and ibn Wahshiyya's Nabataean Agriculture. The influence of Jabir ibn Hayyan comes in the form of a cosmological background that removes magical practices from the context of diabolical influences and reasserts these practices as having a divine origin. The author of Picatrix utilizes Neoplatonic theories of hypostasis that mirror the work of ibn Hayyan.
The Arab historian, Ibn Khaldun, in his Muqaddimah, ascribed authorship of Picatrix (referring to the original Arabic version, under the title yat al-?ak?m ? ? ) to the astronomer and mathematician Maslama Al-Majriti, who died between 1005CE and 1008CE (398 AH). This attribution is problematic: the author of the Arabic original states in its introduction that he completed the book on 348 AH, which is ~ 959 CE. Moreover, the author states that he started writing the Picatrix after he completed his previous book, Rutbat al-?ak?m ? in 343 AH (~ 954 CE). This makes the authoring more than 5 decades before Al-Majriti's death, and if his estimated birth year is to be accepted, he would be only around 5 years old when he started writing it. As well, according to Holmyard, the earliest manuscript attribution of the work to Maslama al-Majriti was made by the alchemist al-Jildaki, who died shortly after 1360, while Ibn Khaldun died some 20 years later. However, no biography of al-Majriti mentions him as the author of this work.
More recent attributions of authorship range from "the Arabic version is anonymous" to reiterations of the old claim that the author is "the celebrated astronomer and mathematician Abu l-Qasim Maslama b. Ahmad Al-Majriti". One recent study in Studia Islamica suggests that the authorship of this work should be attributed to Maslama b. Qasim al-Qurtubi (died 353/964), who according to Ibn al-Faradi was "a man of charms and talismans". If this suggestion is correct it would place the work in the context of Andalusian sufism and batinism.
The odd Latin title is sometimes explained as a sloppy transliteration of one "Buqratis", mentioned several times in the second of the four books of the work. Others have suggested that the title (or the name of the author) is a way of attributing the work to Hippocrates (via a transcription of the name Burqratis or Biqratis in the Arabic text). Where it appears in the Arabic original, the Latin text does translate the name Burqratis as Picatrix, but this still does not establish the identity of Burqratis. Ultimately, linking the name, Picatrix, with Hippocrates, has fallen into disfavor because the text separately cites Hippocrates under the name Ypocras.
Martin Plessner suggests that a translator of the Picatrix established a medieval definition of scientific experiment by changing a passage in the Hebrew translation of the Arabic original, establishing a theoretical basis for the experimental method: "the invention of an hypothesis in order to explain a certain natural process, then the arranging of conditions under which that process may intentionally be brought about in accordance with the hypothesis, and finally, the justification or refutation of the hypothesis, depending on the outcome of the experiment".
Plessner notes that it is generally agreed that awareness of, "the specific nature of the experimental method-as distinct from the practical use of it-is an achievement of the 16th and 17th centuries." However, as the passage by the translator of the Hebrew version makes clear, the fundamental theoretical basis for the experimental method was here established prior to the middle of the 13th century.
The original passage in Arabic describes how a man who witnessed a treatment for a scorpion's sting (drinking a potion of frankincense that had received seal imprints) had gone on to experiment with different types of frankincense, assuming that this was the cause for the cure, but later found that the seal images were the cause for the cure, regardless of the substance upon which they were impressed. The author of the Picatrix goes on to explain how the explanation of the effectiveness of cures passed on to him by authorities was then proved to him by his own experience.
The Hebrew translator changed the passage in question to include the following:
And that was the reason which incited me [to devote myself to astrological magic]. Moreover, these secrets were already made known by Nature, and the experience approved them. The man dealing with nature has nothing to do but producing a reason of what the experience has brought out.
Plessner also notes that "neither the Arabic psychology of study nor the Hebrew definition of the experiment is rendered in the Latin Picatrix. The Latin translator omits many theoretical passages throughout the work."