Saturday, December 20, 2008

Papyri Graecae Magicae Or Greek Magical Papyri Texts

Papyri Graecae Magicae Or Greek Magical Papyri Texts Cover

Book: Papyri Graecae Magicae Or Greek Magical Papyri Texts by Karl Preisendanz

The Greek Magical Papyri (papyri is plural of papyrus) (commonly abbreviated to PGM from the Latin title Papyri Graecae Magicae) is a collective term for a collection of texts, written mostly in Ancient Greek (but also in Coptic, Demotic Egyptian, etc.), found in the deserts of Egypt, which cast light in some way on the magico-religious syncretistic world of Greco-Roman Egypt and the surrounding area. Giovanni Anastasi bought the papyri in Egypt about 1827. The "Thebes Cache" also contained the Stockholm papyrus and Leinden X papyrus (alchemical writings). His collection was dispersed in the 1840s and 1850's.

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.

In many cases the formulaic words and phrases are strikingly similar to those found in defixiones, 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 BCE, 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.

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