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The Necronomicon, also referred to as the Book of the Dead, or under a purported original Arabic title of Kitab al-Azif, is a fictional grimoire (textbook of magic) appearing in stories by the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft and his followers. It was first mentioned in Lovecraft's 1924 short story "The Hound", written in 1922, though its purported author, the "Mad Arab" Abdul Alhazred, had been quoted a year earlier in Lovecraft's "The Nameless City". Among other things, the work contains an account of the Old Ones, their history, and the means for summoning them.

Other authors such as August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith also cited the Necronomicon in their works. Lovecraft approved of other writers building on his work, believing such common allusions built up "a background of evil verisimilitude." Many readers have believed it to be a real work, with booksellers and librarians receiving many requests for it; pranksters have listed it in rare book catalogues, and a student smuggled a card for it into the card catalog of the Yale University Library.

Capitalizing on the notoriety of the fictional volume, real-life publishers have printed many books entitled Necronomicon since Lovecraft's death.

History

In 1927, Lovecraft wrote a brief pseudo-history of the Necronomicon. It was published in 1938, after his death, as "History of the Necronomicon". According to this account, the book was originally called Al Azif, an Arabic word that Lovecraft defined as "that nocturnal sound (made by insects) supposed to be the howling of demons", drawing on a footnote by Rev. Samuel Henley in Henley's translation of Vathek. Henley, commenting upon a passage which he translated as "those nocturnal insects which presage evil", alluded to the diabolic legend of Beelzebub, "Lord of the Flies" and to Psalm 91:5, which in some 16th century English Bibles (such as Myles Coverdale's 1535 translation) describes "bugges by night" where later translations render "terror by night". One Arabic/English dictionary translates `Azīf (عزيف) as "whistling (of the wind); weird sound or noise". Gabriel Oussani defined it as "the eerie sound of the jinn in the wilderness". The tradition of `azif al jinn (عزيف الجن) is linked to the phenomenon of "singing sand".

In the "History", Alhazred is said to have been a "half-crazed Arab" who worshipped the Lovecraftian entities Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu in the early 700s CE. He is described as being from Sanaá in Yemen. He visited the ruins of Babylon, the "subterranean secrets" of Memphis and the Empty Quarter of Arabia. In his last years, he lived in Damascus, where he wrote Al Azif before his sudden and mysterious death in 738. In subsequent years, Lovecraft wrote, the Azif "gained considerable, though surreptitious circulation amongst the philosophers of the age." In 950, it was translated into Greek and given the title Necronomicon by Theodorus Philetas, a fictional scholar from Constantinople. This version "impelled certain experimenters to terrible attempts" before being "suppressed and burnt" in 1050 by Patriarch Michael (a historical figure who died in 1059).

After this attempted suppression, the work was "only heard of furtively" until it was translated from Greek into Latin by Olaus Wormius. (Lovecraft gives the date of this edition as 1228, though the real-life Danish scholar Olaus Wormius lived from 1588 to 1624.) Both the Latin and Greek text, the "History" relates, were banned by Pope Gregory IX in 1232, though Latin editions were apparently published in 15th century Germany and 17th century Spain. A Greek edition was printed in Italy in the first half of the 16th century. The Elizabethan magician John Dee (1527 – c. 1609) allegedly translated the book—presumably into English—but Lovecraft wrote that this version was never printed and only fragments survive. (The connection between Dee and the Necronomicon was suggested by Lovecraft's friend Frank Belknap Long.)[citation needed]

According to Lovecraft, the Arabic version of Al Azif had already disappeared by the time the Greek version was banned in 1050, though he cites "a vague account of a secret copy appearing in San Francisco during the current [20th] century" that "later perished in fire". The Greek version, he writes, has not been reported "since the burning of a certain Salem man's library in 1692" (an apparent reference to the Salem witch trials). (In the story "The Diary of Alonzo Typer", the character Alonzo Typer finds a Greek copy.) According to "History of the Necronomicon" the very act of studying the text is inherently dangerous, as those who attempt to master its arcane knowledge generally meet terrible ends.

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