Translating unknown glyphs using magic

If my magi wanted to translate unknown glyphs written in stone, is there any way to do that w/ hermetic magic?

There is not. Closest is summon a ghost that knows the glyphs and use thoughts within babble to understand what it says. The only guideline I’m aware of that can make sense of written text the “caster” doesn’t know is in the Holy Methods and Powers in RoP:D, p52 Intervention Guidelines:

Level 15: Read meaning into unfamiliar writing; you see the symbols as an alphabet you know, with some semblance of the orig-inal meaning, though the effect may include divine messages and censor profane or evil thoughts. (Meditation)


Hermetic magic cannot read or translate written language. But you could always try other ways of gaining insight, such as communing with the rock and hoping it remembers what those who engraved it were saying, how the stone was used, etc.


It depends what you mean with "translate glyphs". If you mean "allow the caster to understand their meaning", in my not-so-humble opinion the InTe Level 2 guideline "Learn one visible property of an object (a property that someone with appropriate skills could determine just by looking)" very clearly does it. Though without extra magnitudes you'd probably only get something like "these glyphs are dire warnings".

One may read the text on p.99-100 of Transforming Mythic Europe as saying otherwise, but note that it says that there is no spell to "automagically" rearrange the symbols in a physical text so that they encapsulate the same ideas in a different language. And that is quite different, because it has two components: a) understanding the original idea (which Intellego allows you to do) and b) expressing it in a new language (which vanilla Hermetic Magic cannot do directly - but see the Criamon path of Walking Backwards, for example, or the creation of automata).

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The decisive statement of TMRE p.99f Magic Can Neither Read nor Understand is

... the mind that uttered a word can be interrogated for its meaning with Mentem magic, but written words are just artifices of ink and parchment that have no intrinsic thoughts behind them.

So interrogating the parchment - or stone - can't get the meaning of the words written on it.
If your SG is friendly about your InTe or InHe, she might perhaps describe to you the gestures with which the words were written.

As I said when I mentioned it in my earlier post, I do not think it's "decisive" at all. If you read the statement you quote within context it does not really say what you imply. It says that you can't have fully automated translation (i.e. change a text from one language to another, rather than understand the meaning of an object used as a symbol).

On the other hand, the guideline from the corebook is extremely clear: learn one visible property of an object (a property that someone with appropriate skills could determine just by looking)". So if you see a stone with a glyph inscribed, you can learn the meaning of what's inscribed on the stone, since someone with the appropriate skills could do it just by looking. You are not dealing with thoughts, you are dealing with a warning-stone.


I'd have to agree with @OneShot on this - basically, the stone does not know what the symbols mean and *neither do the symbols themselves. Similarly to how a book has no understanding of it's own subject.

... unless it's actually a fae or something ...

This seems to imply that you can "extract" from the target of an Intellego spell only stuff that the target itself knows, rather than stuff about the target. If we followed this line of reasoning, we'd get to the conclusion that in general InHe would be unable to learn if a plant is edible, because most plants do not know they are edible.

But the wording of the guideline is very different: a magus can extract information about the target that someone with appropriate skills could extract. So a magus can learn that bridge is safe, or that a painting is exquisite, even without any knowledge about engineering or art. Now, you could say that's because an exquisite painting knows it's exquisite, and so it will tell you if magically questioned, but then I'd say a love letter knows it's a love letter, and can similarly tell you.

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Which boils down to defining what a visible property on an item is. In modern era, a property would refer essentially to chemistry information. This would include determining features such as color, size, and shape; whether theyare rough or smooth, shiny or dull, hard or soft, and flexible or stiff. Another property of a material is what it’s made of such as wood, metal, stone,or glass. You could use this spell to confirm if a bridge is granite or lime, and determine how much weight it can support. You could also determine if a piece of paper is covered in ink or dried tomato juice, perhaps. Its probable there is a better definition of what a property of an item is, in Ars Magicka, but I assure you that neither in modern chemistry nor in the game, while the properties of an item would include being covered in ink, it wouldn't include "written in arabic with the intent to express love." You can't use that guideline to fake a language skill.

Exactly, and the InTe guideline on p. 153 provides a simple, explicit operative definition: a property that someone with appropriate skills could determine just by looking. Someone with the appropriate language skills can definitely tell, by looking, that a stone tablet "is engraved with an arabic inscription expressing love". So can Hermetic Magic.

No Ezzelino. OneShot is correct. While someone with the language skill could read it, that doesn't make the written content a property of an item. Magic can neither read nor understand.

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temprobe, there's very little I can add at this point. Let me just summarize.

The corebook provides a simple, straightforward test to see if something can be divined with Intellego using the InTe level 2 guideline: if it's something that "someone with appropriate skills could determine just by looking". I suspect that if we took 10 random people who've never played Ars Magica and told them: look, define "visible property of an object anything that anyone with the appropriate skills could determine just by looking at the object", at least 9 would agree that "being a love letter (or not)" is a visible property of a piece of paper with ink on it (barring some borderline cases - say, a love letter disguised as a piece of poetry about nature, or a letter just faking love). People may play it differently, but that's how it's plainly written.

To be clear, I still think that Hermetic magic cannot fully translate, and that's the point made in Transforming Mythic Europe: that is, while it allows a magus to obtain information, it does not allow a magus to automatically express information he has into another language he does not know. An InMe spell allows the magus to have a two-way conversation with someone who speaks a different language, but that's because the speak-to-the-target part works by magically obtaining from the target's mind the information necessary to express ideas in the target's language.

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Essentially, I think the rest of us are arguing (I know I am) that the content/meaning of the petroglyphs are not a property of the stone/rock and as such do not interact with the Terram Art. Thus the bit about relevant skills is irrelevant.


I suspect if you ask that question to 10 random chemists, or 10 random ars magicka players on this board, you'll find a similar result which might differ from the answer you'd get from 10 random person who don't know what you're talking about. Bear in mind also that the part you keep quoting is just a clarification on the earlier part of the guideline, e.g. what is visible or not. In other words, yes, InTe 2 can tell you whether what you're affecting is metal or rock, because anyone can tell just by looking at it.

As a counter-example, see this Inception guideline from Art and Academe that barely replaces the word object, and the parenthesis clarification:
Level 2: Learn one visible property of a person or object (e.g. location).

To pursue on the chemistry discussion, this extract from A&A also touches on what a property of an item is: "Prime qualities are any property of a thing that can be readily discerned with the five senses, and include color, weight, flexibility, hardness, and so forth."

Listed properties in the base book include:

  • Perdo Animal: weight or aggression
  • Perdo Aquam: ability to intoxicate or saltiness
  • Intellego Auram: Air is safe to breathe
  • Perdo Corpus: Weight or solidity

Also see the base book, Intellego Mentem guidelines about how a writing do not contain information about itself.

Could you find a letter is a love letter through hermetic magic, short of fully translating it? Perhaps you could through other means (e.g. commune to have an idea of the emotions the writer was feeling, or check if it's an arcane connection to the spirit of an emotion), but not with the guideline you're quoting.

I think I see what you are saying. But I also think you are adding an unnecessary elaboration on the plainest reading of the text. Is it a Terram object? Then InTe can learn anything about it that someone with the appropriate skills could learn.

Consider a stone altar. It seems to me that you are saying this: one would not be able to tell it's an altar with the InTe 2 guideline, because being an altar is not a property of the piece of stone that's actually an altar related to it being made of stone. But the crucial point is that it's a property of the stone object, so InTe works, because it can determine of any stone object anything that anyone with appropriate skills could determine just by looking. This is not restricted to "stoney" properties. By the same token I think a similar InAn guideline could determine if something is a palimpsest (an "erased and rewritten" parchment), even though it is not an "animalish" property.

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I see what you're trying to get at.
For my part, I believe you're over-interpreting the section of the guideline that you've already quoted several times. I can absolutely see how it can be read that way. I just happen to disagree with that reading, because of the bit quoted by OneShot earlier.

That said, run it however you will in your troupe.
I would not accept your interpretation in mine :slight_smile:

The reason I mentioned that is the following. I think a lot of people occasionally, for one reason or another, start playing by a certain house rule or interpretation. Once they get used to it, they are seriously biased. I was claiming that the easiest interpretation of a very plain sentence was a certain one; and that everyone unburdened by bias would probably have the same interpretation.

No, not anyone. This is important. Anyone with the appropriate skills.

Along the same lines: suppose a magus who'd never seen a roof tile, or a fork, came upon such an object (there are parts of Mythic Europe where such objects are not widely known, at least at some points during the Order's history). Would you allow the InTe guideline to tell a casting magus "this is something used to cover roofs" or "this is an eating implement"? In other words, to divine the function of an object (insofar it can be determined by someone with the appropriate skills)? I definitely would, and I think the guideline is very clear about it. It seems Tellus, however, would not.

I am not sure why it would be a counterexample. By itself, it's significantly less clear than the corebook sentence, but I would expect the corebook sentence to provide the necessary framework to understand it. So yes, by my reading an inception can tell a primitive magus from Hibernia that a fork is a tool used to handle food.

Again, that has little to do with the corebook. What is a visible property for the purposes of InTe is immediately explained: something that anyone with the appropriate skills can determine by inspection.

I disagree. Because the function of a love letter is to convey love, as is clearly obvious to anyone who can read. The way I read the guidelines, Hermetic magic can tell you that, just like it can tell you what the function of stirrup, fork, or roof tile is, as is clearly obvious to anyone with the appropriate skills. It seems very simple really.


The guideline allows you to determine any property of the rock that could be derived from inspection by someone with the appropriate skill. The meaning of the text is no more a property of the rock than what type of wood the table it is setting on is comprised of. the shape of the glyphs or letters is a property, as well as what they were carved with, but not why they were carved. TNRE specifies that such meaning is not a property for the rock, and so what someone with the appropriate ability might determine about it is meaningless. You might as well suggest you can use InTe on a divining rod to find water.

Eh? No.

The point is that a man-made object has visible properties, readily apparent to anyone of the appropriate skills but often not to others, that depend on subtle aspects of the object. Function. Quality of craftmanship. State of repair. Nature of the intended user (e.g. thin or short). These are not intrinsic to the material. They depend on very subtle aspects of the object including possibly how it's decorated. Note that the meaning of a symbolic object like a crown is one such property -- essentially, to convey that meaning is the object's function.

InTe 2, by the plainest reading of the guideline, can determine those properties of an object. Note: of an object, not of a material. Every other interpretation is overreading the rules. I believe that anyone who approaches the text in an unbiased fashion would agree. People who have played the game in a certain way for years are not unbiased!


As well as the statement in Transforming Mythic Europe that's already been quoted, there's also the "what does the Order know" bit in Legends of Hermes that states of Fortuna of Jerbiton "She used magic to translate unreadable scrolls, exceeding Hermetic limits on translation". Whilst you can come up with clever workarounds (like Fortuna did), that doesn't seem consistent with it being directly possible with a standard Intellego guideline.