• Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri XII: Coptic Dialects

    There is a famous story told by the English printer William Caxton in the introduction to his 1490 edition of the Aeneid, about a group of merchants headed from London to Denmark who stopped along the way at a woman’s house to see if they could get something to eat. One of them, from the North of England, asked if she had any eggs, and she replied that she didn’t speak French, something that must have confused them both, until one of his companions stepped in and told the woman that he wanted eyren. The woman was as English as the merchant, but the problem was caused by a difference…

  • Coptic Curses

    Coptic Curses II: Flaccid, Limp, and Lying like a Corpse

    This week’s post takes another deep dive into one example of a curse from Kyprianos, our database of Coptic magical texts. Chicago, Oriental Institute Museum E13767 is a sheet of paper cut into a rectangle that measures 6cm in height by 16 in width. One horizontal crease suggests that it was folded vertically only once, while 15 vertical creases suggest it was folded multiple times, or rolled and squashed into a small package of only about 3cm in height and 1cm in width. Bought from a private collection for the Oriental Institute Museum in 1929, it is unfortunately unknown where the manuscript was found. The handwriting of this text suggests…

  • Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri XI: Magic between Languages

    The previous post in this series introduced the different languages used to write magical texts in Egypt from the second to twelfth centuries CE – Demotic, Greek, Coptic – and discussed their changing usage. In the second and third centuries most magical texts were written in Greek or Demotic, while Greek alone dominated in the fourth century. Greek was then replaced by Coptic from the fifth century, and Coptic itself began to decline in the tenth, as Egyptians increasingly began to speak and write Arabic instead of Coptic. But throughout this period, many Egyptians would have been able to speak, and even read, more than one language, and this is…

  • Coptic Amulets

    Coptic Amulets II: Sending an angel to give grace

    This week’s post takes a deep dive into one example of a favour spell from Kyprianos, our database of Coptic magical texts: P. Heidelberg inv. Kopt. 681 is a sheet of parchment, cut into a long rectangle measuring 29.5cm by 10.9cm. Unlike the healing amulet we looked at in the last post in this series, this sheet was not folded nor worn as an amulet. This is because this sheet is a formulary – a manuscript containing one or more spell(s) with formulas to be filled in, rather than an activated text – a manuscript containing the name of the person who would benefit from, or be cursed by, the…

  • Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri X: Egyptian Languages

    One of the most interesting, and most studied, aspects of life in Graeco-Roman and Mediaeval Egypt is the phenomenon of multilingualism. In the 21st century, the vast majority of nation states have a single official or dominant language, and so many of us expect that the same language will be used in almost every context – in the home and at work, in places of worship, and when dealing with the government and legal system. But from a historical, and cross-cultural perspective, this is an unusual situation. More than half of the world’s present inhabitants speak more than one language, which they may use every day in at least one…

  • Coptic Amulets

    Coptic Amulets I: A Healing Amulet to Save Ahmed from Cold and Fire

    This week’s post takes a deep dive into one example of a healing amulet from Kyprianos, our database of Coptic magical texts: P. Heidelberg inv. Kopt. 544b is a sheet of parchment, cut into a rough rectangle measuring 7.3cm by 6.5cm. This sheet was folded seven times horizontally and twice vertically, producing a tight package of c.1.1cm by c.2.5cm. As we will see, the text itself suggests that this package was to be worn by the client, Ahmed. The text’s 19 lines were inscribed upon the flesh side of the parchment, the inward-facing side of the skin, while the hair side, which would have faced outwards, was left blank. The…

  • Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri IX: Magical Archives

    In the past posts in this series, we’ve looked at individual manuscripts – how to classify them, where and when they come from, what they were made from, and the forms that they took. But individual manuscripts are only part of the story, so this week we’ll introduce the concept of archives, groups of manuscripts which give us more information than individual manuscripts would on their own. In papyrology an “archive” is a group of documents which were brought together by a historical individual for a specific purpose. Sometimes these are libraries – books which someone might have collected and purchased because they wanted to read them; sometimes they are…

  • News

    Coptic Magical Papyri on the Road: Colloque GIS Religions, Lyon (8-10 October 2019)

    From the 8th to the 10th October 2019, GIS Religions: pratiques, textes, pouvoirs (“Scientific Interest Group, Religions: Practices, Texts, Powers”) organised a conference in Lyon focusing on the theme of “tradition”, a key concept in past and present understandings of, and debates about, religion and religious practices. Within this large conference, two panels focused on the theme of “magic”, and its relationship to tradition. Organised by Nicole Belayche (EPHE, PSL / AnHiMA) and Thomas Galoppin (ERC MAP Toulouse, ERASME / associé AnHiMA), the first panel was centered on the questions of the transmission of ritual knowledge, and how this served to establish or claim authority, while the second explored the…

  • News

    The Apocalypse of Paul (Visio Pauli): The Riddle of the Coptic Text

    Over the next few months we will be running a seminar series entitled Magic and Religion in Coptic Textual Culture at the Department of Egyptology of Würzburg, inviting specialists in this field to discuss their research. Funded by the University of Würzburg Universitätsbund, our first guest will be Jacques van der Vliet of the University of Leiden, who will be speaking on the 28th November 2019. His topic is the Coptic Apocalypse of Paul. The Apocalypse of Paul or Visio Pauli (CANT 325) is one of the most fascinating and influential apocryphal texts from Late Antiquity. Translated into practically all languages of the Christian world, it profoundly shaped the medieval imagination of Heaven and Hell, up to and including…

  • Coptic Curses

    Coptic Curses I: Finding a Bowl, Damning a Thief!

    This week’s post takes a deep dive into one example of a curse from Kyprianos, our database of Coptic magical texts: Vienna, Nationalbibliothek K 08304 Pap is a sheet of paper that is roughly square, measuring 7.3cm by 7cm. This square appears to have been folded once horizontally and once vertically, producing a smaller package of 3.6 by 3.5cm. First published by Viktor Stegemann in 1934, who dated the handwriting on this sheet of paper to the 10th or 11th century CE, a translation of this curse appeared more recently in the collection of translations of Coptic Texts of Ritual Power by Marvin Meyer and Richard Smith, where it was…