• Old Coptic Magic

    The Bilingual Direct-Vision of PGM IV

    This post is the first in a mini-series about bilingual recipes written in Coptic-Egyptian and Greek from a codex of magical texts dating to the end of 3rd or early 4th century CE – the “Great Magical Papyrus of Paris”, also known as PGM IV (Greek Magical Papyrus 4). The codex contains 72 pages, 66 of which are inscribed with a total of 3,274 lines of text. PGM IV is therefore the lengthiest of all the magical handbooks preserved from antiquity, roughly the dimensions of the average travel guide. The texts from PGM IV considered in this mini-series are among the earliest evidence for magical texts in Coptic. These recipes…

  • News

    Coptic Magical Papyri on the Road: Greek Curse Tablets of the Classical and Hellenistic Periods, Athens

    Last weekend (7-9 July 2019), I was fortunate enough to serve as a chair for the third conference in the series “Curses in Context”, organised by Christopher A. Faraone and Sofía Torallas Tovar of the University of Chicago at the Norwegian Institute at Athens. This fascinating conference series is aimed at understanding the material remains of curse rituals in the ancient Mediterranean – the short texts, usually written on lead, with which speakers of Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Coptic, and other languages tried to destroy their enemies and seduce potential lovers. These texts are particularly important for our knowledge of the ancient Mediterranean – not only because they are rich sources…

  • News

    Coptic Magical Papyri on the Road: The Language of Magic Conference, Pescara

    At the end of May 2019, the International Society for Folk Narrative Research (ISFNR) committee on “Charms, Charmers and Charming” organised the 12th annual interdisciplinary conference in Pescara, Italy. What was the topic? The language of magic. As this is a subject very important for our project, we decided to participate as well, particularly to hear what other academics have to say on the matter. The event was hosted by the D’Annunzio University of Chieti–Pescara. Pescara is a coastal city and the capital of the Abruzzo region. The settlement predates the Roman conquest and one of the most important historical figures was the 6th century bishop Cetteus, who is also…

  • Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri VI: Writing Materials

    Our previous posts in this series have defined and problematised magical texts, and the difference between applied texts and formularies, before looking at their spread over time and space. This week we’re going to look at them as physical objects, focusing on the materials or “supports” on which they are written.  These can tell us a great deal about the production and function of their texts, and their place in the history of writing. Although our project is called “Coptic Magical Papyri”, a more accurate, if less catchy title, would be “Coptic Magical Manuscripts”. Alongside papyrus, Coptic-language magical texts were written on a wide range of other materials, including parchment…

  • Greek Magic

    Tantalus amulets: Image, word and body

    In today’s blog post, we are going to take a break from Coptic sources, and we will focus on Greek magical gemstones. Several thousand engraved magical gemstones have been discovered, with the peak of production in the second and third centuries CE, although they had already been in use for centuries by that time, and would continue to be used for hundreds of years after. Although their origin is generally unknown, it is assumed that they were produced somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean area; they combine Egyptian and Greek elements, together with Hebrew or Babylonian influences. The script is generally Greek, but the deities or symbols depicted are often Egyptian…

  • News

    Temporal Tracings and Magical Manuscripts Exhibition Opening

    On the 11th-12th of May 2019 our project participated in our first public event, the opening of the exhibition Tracés temporels et manuscrits magiques at the Atelier Mélusine in La Trimouille in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France. This show was a way for us to present Coptic magical manuscripts from another angle – treating their images as artistic creations, and using them as a way to explore how ancient magic was practiced and experienced. We were first contacted by the curator of Atelier Mélusine, Sally Annett, in December, and in collaboration with her we developed an exhibition that would allow the magical papyri to be experienced in new ways – visually, as art…

  • Coptic Charms

    Coptic Charms I: Horus, Isis and the Three Agrippas

    In previous posts we’ve talked about some of the characteristic features of Coptic magical texts: they often begin with speech acts directed to the supernatural beings they summon, phrases such as “I invoke you” or “I adjure you”, and they often contain the magical signs we call kharaktēres, and the magical words we call voces magicae – both understood as divine languages containing superhuman power. There is an important subset of Coptic magical texts, however, which don’t follow this model, the group which I like to call “charms”. These take the form of short stories, often called historiolae, set in the mythic past, whose characters are gods, saints, and other…

  • Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri V: …and Space

    Our project is tied up with the land of Egypt, and not only because the texts we’re studying are written in Coptic. Egypt has a unique place in the study of the ancient Mediterranean because of its proverbial “dry sands”. Most of the population has always lived along the narrow stretch of the Nile valley – extending nearly 1200 km from Aswan in the south to Alexandria in the north, but only 3-20 km wide at any point along its course. On each side of the valley stretches the mountainous desert, filled over the centuries with towns, tombs, temples, churches, and monasteries. While elsewhere ancient texts often rotted away, the…

  • Case Study

    Jesus and the Unicorn: Easter and the Harrowing of Hell in Coptic Magic

    As we saw in our Christmas post, the Coptic Church celebrates the major Christian festivals at a different date to the Western churches because it uses the older Julian calendar rather than the now dominant Gregorian calendar. For this reason, Coptic Christians, along with the members of several other Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, will celebrate Easter (Coptic ⲡⲁⲥⲭⲁ, paskha) on the 28th April 2019. While modern Christians, especially those in cold climates, often think of Christmas as their major celebration, Easter is the first festival attested in the ancient church, and remains for many the most important. We find the basic outlines of its story in each of the…

  • Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri IV: Time…

    Now that most of our corpus has been entered into our database, we can begin to visualise it in various interesting ways. In the next few posts of this series we’ll examine some of the statistical features of the manuscripts containing Coptic magical texts, beginning with their distribution over time. In our project description, we say that the texts which we study date to between the third and twelfth centuries CE. This coincides with the period that Coptic was used as a written form of the Egyptian language; the earliest texts in standard Coptic probably date to the third century. By the twelfth century it had largely been replaced by…