Take a look at this lamentable picture from the Beni Hasan tomb in Egypt (the original mural painting is well over 4,000 years old) and marvel at the level of self-delusion and conceit only possible among majishuns. It may seem ridiculous today, but for decades we have boasted about this thing here being “the oldest proof of a cups & balls performance.” Yeah, right!
Looking at the details, the Gestalt of this very routine would actually deserve a “revolutionary” rating. Why?
- What we see is obviously a one-on-one performance. Thus, this image also depicts nothing less than the birth of close-up magic!
- It is also the first known document of active audience participation, as the spectator is clearly seen lifting one of the cups. Further research needs to be conducted on the question whether this indicates rather a “Do as I do” plot or an early “Spectator vs. Magician” theme.
- Preceding Tommy Wonder and David Williamson by more years than I care to count, this trend-setting routine actually features only two cups!
- The climax of this routine is even more astonishing: Boy, look at these loads! As we can see, two more cups (possibly solid ones) are being produced from under the lifted ones. The loads even look bigger than the cups – ample proof that the Egyptian magi were also well acquainted with optical illusions… Yeah, right!
Be that as it may, I enjoyed the point of view Scott Wells took in his introduction for Kreg Yingst‘s fine book The Magic Show in 52 Linotypes. He wrote: “Some believe they were merely baking bread but I like to think that they were magicians who may have also been chefs.”
Addendum: The above reminds me of an old joke told among magicians: “Have you heard? In Mesopotamia, they’ve found a petried man about 6,000 years old. And guess what – he didn’t wear gloves. It’s obvious that this guy must have been an early stage manipulator who had just vanished his gloves!”