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Ancient love and hatred: release of a new anthology on magical texts.

Newswise — A team of scholars spent five years studying them: “magical” texts from Egypt written on papyrus, parchment, paper and shards of clay – called ostraca – and dating to the period between the 4th and 12th centuries AD. The effect of these papyri was magical. Worn as an amulet around the neck or secretly hidden in an opponent’s house, they were believed to cure illnesses, curse enemies, evoke love or hatred or offer a glimpse of the future, among other things.

What these texts also have in common is that they were all written in the Coptic script and language. Coptic constitutes the last stage in the development of the Egyptian language. It replaced Demotic around the 2nd century AD and was itself gradually replaced with the Arab conquest of Egypt in the 7th century.

Five years of research

“Papyri Copticae Magicae” is the title of the recently published work, published in volume 48 of the series “Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete – Beihefte”. Antiquity specialists Dr Korshi Dosoo and Markéta Preininger are responsible for the publication. At the chair of Egyptology at the Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg (JMU), the two men have been leading the research project of the same name, funded by the JMU’s “Excellent Ideas” program, for five years.

“About 600 of these texts have survived, but the largest collection published to date contains only around 100. The rest were previously scattered across numerous books and articles and were therefore only accessible and known to a few specialists “, explains Korshi Dosoo, describing the initial situation of the project.

Love spells and separation wishes

The content of these texts can be classified into a few categories. These include, for example, protection against death or demons, appeasement of enemies or the fulfillment of very specific wishes. Love spells are a frequently encountered genre; they were mainly used by men. In some cases, the spell was intended to ensure that married couples would separate again. Magic played an important role in medicine, for example to prevent fever, headaches and insomnia. It was not uncommon for the papyrus to help the wearer to become pregnant.

“These documents constitute an important source of information about popular religion – the reality, rather than the ideal, of religious practices and beliefs as they were experienced and practiced in daily life,” says Markéta Preininger Svobodova. They thus provide today’s readers with information about the experiences of people on the threshold of the transition from traditional Egyptian religion to Christianity and Islam, about their ideas about the human and divine world, and about how the Human experiences such as happiness and success, suffering and illness, love and conflict were understood and negotiated. “These texts give us a direct insight into the private lives of people of the time; they convey their true emotions,” explains the researcher.

The transition to Christianity leaves its mark

In fact, this transition to Christianity also left its mark on magical texts. “The Christianization of Egypt ended the cults of the many gods of the Pharaonic period, but it did not end the belief in a world filled with superhuman powers,” explains Korshi Dosoo. Instead, people transformed their ancient gods into angels and saints who served the Almighty God and evil beings who wanted to harm His creation.
As a result, these manuscripts constitute “rich sources of information on daily life and religion in Egypt during the last centuries of Roman rule and the first centuries after the Arab conquest”, as the editor writes.

Filling a gap in the research landscape

By focusing on Egyptian magical texts, the Würzburg research team is part of a long tradition. As early as 1928, the papyrologist Karl Preisendanz published the collection of texts Papyri Graecae Magicae (PGM), which, despite its name, contained mainly papyri from Egypt and was later supplemented by the Papyri Demoticae Magicae. However, until now, a complete collection of magical texts in Coptic script and language was missing. “Thanks to funding from JMU, Korshi Dosoo and Markéta Preininger were able to begin to fill this gap with the just published volume,” explains Professor Martin Andreas Stadler, chair of Egyptology at JMU.

The continuation of the project is assured

Markéta Preininger and Korshi Dosoo and their team worked on the volume for five years; The “Coptic Magical Papyri” research project ended a few weeks ago. However, the duo’s work on magical texts is far from finished. Volume 1 could be followed by several others – “probably seven,” estimates Korshi Dosoo.

And at least volume 2 already seems assured. The two scientists recently learned that their application to the German Research Foundation (DFG) had been approved. Thanks to this financial support, they can now tackle a new project: the Corpus of Coptic magical forms. Over the next three years, at the University of Würzburg, they will continue to study love and hate, curses, wishes and all kinds of emotions from a bygone era.

Archive for research on Papyrus and related fields

The journal Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete is the oldest papyrological journal in the world. It differs from other papyrological journals mainly by its sections (literary papyri, documents section, Coptic texts, Demotica Selecta as well as illustrations and supports).

The journal’s supplements combine both monographs and anthologies; the emphasis is on new editions of papyrus texts in Greek, Latin, Coptic, Demotic or Arabic, which provide new perspectives on various areas of antiquity.

More information

The research project website https://www.coptic-magic.phil.uni-wuerzburg.de/

In the latest edition of their podcast, Dosoo and Preininger present the project and the book: https://www.coptic-magic.phil.uni-wuerzburg.de/index.php/2024/02/01/podcast-13-looking-back-at-the-five-years-of-the-project- presentation-papyri-copticae-magicae/

https://www.uni-wuerzburg.de/en/news-and-events/news/detail/news/love-and-hate/



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