Subscribers to the Society’s Graeco-Roman Memoirs will be anticipating the appearance of volume 102 (P.Oxy 81). That volume is in proof, and volume 103 (P.Oxy 82) has emerged first from the printer, and will shortly be distributed to subscribers.
The core of this volume is the biggest concentration of magical papyri published in some 25 years, giving a fascinating insight into approaches to averting and treating illnesses, and attracting a partner.
A large piece of a magical formulary (pictured left below) contains several spells, including love or attraction charms – “Take a pigeon’s egg and write down on it the following magical signs … let her love me for the entire time”, pigeon eggs apparently being deemed an aphrodisiac. And on a second papyrus we find another love spell: “Burnt offering in the bathhouse. … and write with the blood of Typhon and glue it to the dry vaulted vapour room of the bath: ‘I adjure you, earth and waters, by the demon who dwells on you and the fortune of this bath so that, as you blaze and burn and flame, so blaze her until she comes to me.’”
A further charm is aimed at those trying to restrain the anger of opponents, or perhaps the eloquence of lawyers: “Take a chameleon alive and hang it, … smoke a root of the plant chameleon … Push through its mouth a stone … gold-coloured, very bright. And after consecrating it with the consecration that works for everything, you will have an unsurpassable wrath restrainer charm, for, worn around the body, it is adapted for all things; but if someone or the opponents in a lawsuit speak … press the stone and they will certainly not speak”.
On the back of the large formulary (pictured right below) is a collection of stercoraceous medical recipes (recipes based on the excrement of various winged creatures), the first such text to emerge from the papyri, and possibly a section of a larger pharmacopoeia. We may not be in too much of a hurry to try “Eagle droppings crushed with wine and drunk” which are prescribed to stop sufferers of quinsy (a rare and potentially serious complication of tonsillitis). Other recipes were perhaps ointments – often for skin conditions including boils, leprosy, polyps and shingles – or burnt as fumigants to have the desired effect.
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