• 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…

  • 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…

  • 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 By the twelfth century it had largely been replaced by…

  • Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri III: Boundary-Crossing Texts

    Our last post in this series established two categories of magical manuscripts – formularies, which contain magical recipes, and applied texts, created in the process of magical rituals and embodying their power. We deliberately chose a very clear example to illustrate this division, but in many cases the line between the two is not so obvious. This week we’ll look at a few confusing examples of magical objects which show features of both formularies and applied texts. In most cases, these texts are ambiguous because they show features that we would consider typical of both categories of manuscript. P. mag. copt. Saqqara hypogees F17.10, a small piece of paper with…

  • Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri II: Formularies and Applied Texts

    Once we have defined magical texts, the next thing we need to do is categorise them. This week we’ll discuss one of the major divisions we use to classify magical papyri – their separation into formularies and applied texts. The distinction is fairly simple: formularies – also called handbooks or grimoires – contain one or more recipes for performing rituals. By contrast, applied or activated texts are objects – such as amulets or curse tablets – created in the course of these magical rituals. One way of understanding this distinction is by thinking about the process of performing a ritual. Before an individual could carried out a magical ritual, they…

  • Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri

    Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri I: Defining Magical Texts

    This week we passed a milestone in our project – we finished entering all of the Coptic magical texts known to us into our database, Kyprianos. There is still a lot of work to do – the next stage will be to finish gathering the metadata for these texts, before we seriously begin the process of (re-)editing and analysing them. But to mark this event we’re going to begin a new series of blog posts, Looking at the Coptic Magical Papyri. This series will discuss and analyse the texts themselves – looking descriptively and statistically at the text’s forms, formats and linguistic features. This material will be more slightly technical…