Greek Magical Papyri

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The Greek Magical Papyri (Latin Papyri Graecae Magicae, abbreviated PGM) is the name given by scholars to a body of papyri from Graeco-Roman Egypt, which each contain a number of magical spells, formulae, hymns and rituals. The materials in the papyri date from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD,[1] the manuscripts came to light through the antiquities trade, from the 18th century onwards. One of the best known of these texts is the Mithras Liturgy.[2]

The texts were published in a series, and individual texts are referenced using the abbreviation PGM plus the volume and item number, each volume contains a number of spells and rituals. Further discoveries of similar texts from elsewhere have been allocated PGM numbers for convenience.[1]

History[edit]

According to Betz 1992, the greek magical papyri known today only present a small fraction of what once existed, in forms of books. Betz cites Ephesus in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 19: 10) for book burnings, on the account of Suetonius, Augustus ordered the burning of 2,000 magical scrolls in 13 BC. Betz states, "As a result of these acts of suppression, the magicians and their literature went underground, the papyri themselves testify to this by the constantly recurring admonition to keep the books secret. [..] The religious beliefs and practices of most people were identical with some form of magic, and the neat distinctions we make today between approved and disapproved forms of religion-calling the former "religion" and "church" and the latter "magic" and "cult"-did not exist in antiquity except among a few intellectuals. It is known that philosophers of the Neopythagorean and Neoplatonic schools, as well as Gnostic and Hermetic groups, used magical books and hence must have possessed copies. But most of their material vanished and what we have left are their quotations." Betz stresses that the Greek Magical Papyri present primary sources. Albrecht Dieterich noted the importance of the Greek Magical Papyri for the study of ancient religions. Because most of the texts combine several religions, Egyptian, Greek, or Jewish, among others.[3]

Discovery[edit]

The first papyri in the series appeared on the art market in Egypt in the early 19th century. Another papyrus (PGM III) was acquired by the diplomat Jean Francois Mimaut (1774 - 1837) and ended up in the French Bibliothèque Nationale,[1] the major portion of the collection is the so-called Anastasi collection. About half a dozen of the papyri were purchased in about 1827 by a man calling himself Jean d'Anastasi, who may have been Armenian, and was a diplomatic representative at the Khedivial court in Alexandria,[4] he asserted that he obtained them at Thebes (modern Luxor), and he sold them to various major European collections including the British Museum, the Louvre, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the Staatliche Museen in Berlin and the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden. H. D. Betz who edited a translation of the collection states that these pieces probably came from the library of an ancient scholar and collector of late antiquity based in Thebes, Egypt. Anastasi acquired a great number of other papyri and antiquities as well,[1] the "Thebes Cache" also contained the Stockholm papyrus and Leyden papyrus X containing alchemical texts.[5]

A similar individual, known as He who appeared in Thebes, Prince Khamwas, was the fourth son of King Ramses II and high priest of Ptah in Memphis, Egypt. According to Miriam Lichtheim:[6]

Here I should like to stress that Prince Setne Khamwas, the hero of the two tales named for him, was a passionate antiquarian, the historical prince Khamwas, the fourth son of Ramses II, had been high priest of Ptah at Memphis and administrator of all the Memphite sanctuaries. In that capacity he had examined decayed tombs, restored the names of their owners, and renewed their funerary cults. Posterity had transmitted his renown, and the Demotic tales that were spun around his memory depicted him and his fictional adversary Prince Naneferkaptah as very learned scribes and magicians devoted to the study of ancient monuments and writings.

Publication[edit]

PGM XII and XIII were the first to be published, appearing in 1843 in Greek and in a Latin translation in 1885.[1][7] However, according to Betz 1992, the first scholar publication has been credited to the British scholar Charles Wycliffe Goodwin (1817-1878), who published for the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, one PGM V, translated into English with commentary in 1853.[3]

In the early twentieth century Karl Preisendanz collected the texts and published them in two volumes in 1928 and 1931. A projected third volume, containing new texts and indices, reached the stage of galley proofs dated "Pentecost 1941", but the type was destroyed during the bombing of Leipzig in the Second World War. However, photocopies of the proofs circulated among scholars. A revised and expanded edition of the texts was published in 1973-4 in two volumes. Volume 1 was a corrected version of the first edition volume 1, but volume 2 was entirely revised and the papyri originally planned for vol. III were included, the indexes were omitted, however.[1] The PGM can now be searched in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae database and various concordances and dictionaries have been published.[citation needed] The most recent addition was the book Abrasax, published by Nephilim Press in 2012.

Content[edit]

A problem is that content can be traced to Greco Roman Egypt, but contains many sections that are Greek in origin and nature, with this older contents, the Greek gods arc alive, and Zeus, Hermes, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, among others are portrayed not as Hellenic or as in aristocratic literature, but as demonic or even dangerous. Hence, the papyri present more Graeco-Egyptian, rather than Graeco-Roman, beliefs. Betz noted, "In this syncretism, the indigenous ancient Egyptian religion has in part survived, in part been profoundly hellenized; in its Hellenistic transformation, the Egyptian religion of the pre-Hellenistic era appears to have been reduced and simplified, no doubt to facilitate its assimilation into Hellenistic religion as the predominant cultural reference. It is quite clear that the magicians who wrote and used the Greek papyri were Hellenistic in outlook. Hellenization, however, also includes the egyptianizing of Greek religious traditions, the Greek magical papyri contain many instances of such egyptianizing transformations, which take very different forms in different texts or layers of tradition. Again, working out the more exact nature of this religious and cultural interaction remains the task of future research."[3]

Janet H. Johnson notes (1996), the texts can only be understood entirely when accounting also for the parts written in the Egyptian language known as "Demotic". Johnson adds, "All four of the Demotic magical texts appear to have come from the collections that Anastasi gathered in the Theban area. Most have passages in Greek as well as in Demotic, and most have words glossed into Old Coptic (Egyptian language written with the Greek alphabet [which indicated vowels, which Egyptian scripts did not] supplemented by extra signs taken from the Demotic for sounds not found in Greek); some contain passages written in the earlier Egyptian hieratic script or words written in a special "cipher" script, which would have been an effective secret code to a Greek reader but would have been deciphered fairly simply by an Egyptian."[3]

Many of these pieces of papyrus are pages or fragmentary extracts from spell books, repositories of arcane knowledge and mystical secrets, as far as they have been reconstructed, these books appear to fall into two broad categories: some are compilations of spells and magical writings, gathered by scholarly collectors either out of academic interest or for some kind of study of magic; others may have been the working manuals of travelling magicians, containing their repertoire of spells, formulae for all occasions. These often poorly educated magic-users were more like showmen than the traditional Egyptian wizards, who were a highly educated and respected priestly elite, the pages contain spells, recipes, formulae and prayers, interspersed with magic words and often in shorthand, with abbreviations for the more common formulae. These spells range from impressive and mystical summonings of dark gods and daemons, to folk remedies and even parlour tricks; from portentous, fatal curses, to love charms, cures for impotence and minor medical complaints.[citation needed]

In many cases the formulaic words and phrases are strikingly similar to those found in defixiones (curse tablets or binding spells, κατάδεσμοι in Greek), such as those we find inscribed on ostraka, amulets and lead tablets. Since some of these defixiones date from as early as the sixth century BC, and have been found as far afield as Athens, Asia Minor, Rome and Sicily (as well as Egypt), this provides a degree of continuity and suggests that some observations based on the PGM will not be altogether inapplicable to the study of the wider Greco-Roman world.[citation needed]

Throughout the spells found in the Greek Magical Papyri, there are numerous references to figurines, they are found in various types of spells, including judicial, erotic and just standard cursing that one might associate with Haitian voodoo (“Vodou”). The figurines are made of various materials, usually corresponding to the type of spell, but often with liminal properties, as is frequent in a number of elements of Greek Magic, such figurines have been found “throughout the Mediterranean basin”, usually in places that the ancient Greeks associated with the underworld; “graves, sanctuaries or bodies of water”, all stressing the liminality of Greek magic. Some have been discovered in lead coffins, upon which the spell or curse has been inscribed.

Reception[edit]

Betz summarizes his studies on the magical papyri with, "Magic is the art that makes people who practice it feel better rather than worse, that provides the illusion of security to the insecure, the feeling of help to the helpless, and the comfort of hope to the hopeless. Of course, it is all deception, but who can endure naked reality, especially when there is a way to avoid it? This is why magic has worked and continues to work, no matter what the evidence may be. Those whose lives depend on deception and delusion and those who provide them have formed a truly indissoluble symbiosis. Magic makes an unmanageable life manageable for those who believe in it, and a profession profitable for those who practice the art."[3]

Religion in Greco-Roman Egypt[edit]

The religion of the Papyri Graecae Magicae is an elaborate syncretism of Greek, Egyptian, Jewish (see Jewish magical papyri), and even Babylonian and Christian religious influences engendered by the unique milieu of Greco-Roman Egypt, this syncretism is evident in the Papyri in a variety of ways. Often the Olympians are given attributes of their Egyptian counterparts; alternatively this could be seen as Egyptian deities being referred to by Greek names.[citation needed] For example, Aphrodite (who was associated with the Egyptian Hathor), is given the epithet Neferihri—from the Egyptian Nfr-iry.t, "nice eyes" (PGM IV. 1266).

Within this profusion of cultural influences can still be seen classical Greek material, and perhaps even aspects of a more accessible "folk-religion" than those preserved in the mainstream literary texts.[dubious ] Sometimes the Greek gods depart from their traditional Olympian natures familiar to classicists, and seem far more chthonic, demonic and bestial, this is partly the influence of Egyptian religion, in which beast cult and the terror of the divine were familiar elements; equally the context of magical texts makes such sinister deities appropriate.[8]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Hans Dieter Betz (ed), The Greek Magical Papyri in translation, University of Chicago Press, 1985, p.xli.
  2. ^ Ronald Hutton, Witches, Druids and King Arthur, 2006, p.116: "The most famous of these texts is the so-called Mithras liturgy...".
  3. ^ a b c d e Hans Dieter Betz (1992). "The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, Volume 1". 
  4. ^ Fowden, Garth (1986). The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind. CUP Archive. ISBN 0-521-32583-8. 
  5. ^ Long, Pam O (2004). Openness Secrecy Authorship: Technical Arts and the Culture of Knowledge from Antiquity to the Renaissance. JHU Press. ISBN 9780801866067. ISBN 0-8018-6606-5 
  6. ^ Miriam Lichtheim. "Ancient Egyptian Literature Vol III". 
  7. ^ C. Leemans, Papyri graeci musei antiquarii publici Lugduni-Batavi, 2 vols. Brill: 1843, 1885.
  8. ^ "The Esoteric Codex: Ancient Egyptian Texts I" by Christopher Welde, (LULU Press) 2015 p92

Bibliography[edit]

  • Preisendanz, K. et al. (1928-1931 first ed.) Papyri Graecae Magicae. Die Griechischen Zauberpapyri. (2 vols)
  • Preisendanz, K., Albert Henrichs (1974-1974 second ed.) Papyri Graecae Magicae. Die Griechischen Zauberpapyri. (2 vols) Stuttgart: Teubner.
  • Betz, H. D. et al. (1986) The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. Including the Demotic Texts. University of Chicago Press.
  • Muñoz Delgado, L. (2001) Léxico de magia y religión en los papiros mágicos griegos. Diccionario Griego-Español. Anejo V. Madrid: CSIC.
  • Skinner, S (2014) Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic. Golden Hoard, Singapore
  • Flowers, S (1995) "Hermetic Magic" Weiser

Further reading[edit]

  • William M. Brashear, “The Greek Magical Papyri,” Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II, 18.5 (1995), pp. 3380–3730, limited preview online.
  • Magic papyri: Bohak, Gideon (1996). "Traditions of Magic in Late Antiquity: Recipe-Books". Library, University of Michigan. Ann Arbor, Mich. : [University of Michigan Humanities Text Initiative]. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  • Barrett, Caitlín E. "Plaster Perspectives on "Magical Gems": Rethinking the Meaning of "Magic"". Cornell Collection of Antiquities. Cornell University Library. Archived from the original on 2015-05-26.  by Internet Archive on 26 May 2015.
  • Betz, ed. by Hans Dieter (1992). The Greek magical papyri in translation including the Demotic spells (2nd ed.). Chicago [u.a.]: Univ. of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226044477. 
  • Philipp, [von] Hanna (1972). Terrakotten aus Ägypten. Berlin: Gebr. Mann. ISBN 3786160694. 
  • Smith, M. (1979). "Relations between Magical Papyri and Magical Gems". In Bingen G. & Nachtergael J. Actes du XVe Congrès International de Papyrologie. Brussels. pp. 129–136.