An online translation of the Greek magical papyri

At Abnormal Interests there is an interesting poston the find of the Greek magical papyri.  The anecdote is taken from H. D. Betz translation of all these papyri, which someone has uploaded to ScribD (Hans Dieter Betz, ed., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.)   

This is fortunate in many ways, for so obscure a subject would otherwise hardly escape the confines of major academic libraries.  The papyri themselves were discovered in the 19th century by an adventurer.

… the discovery of the Greek magical papyri was often still is the outcome of sheer luck and almost incredible coincidences. In the case of the major portion of the collection, the so-called Anastasi collection, the discovery and rescue is owed to the efforts (and, if one may use the term, cooperation) of two individuals separated by more than a thousand years: the modern collector d’Anastasi and the original collector at Thebes.

In the nineteenth century, there was among the “diplomatic” representatives at the court in Alexandria a man who called himself Jean d’Anastasi (17801-1857). Believed to be Armenian by birth, he ingratiated himself enough with the pasha to become the consular representative of Sweden. It was a time when diplomats and military men often were passionate collectors of antiquities, and M. d’Anastasi happened to be at the right place at the right time. He succeeded in bringing together large collections of papyri from Egypt, among them sizable magical books, some of which he said he had obtained in Thebes. These collections he shipped to Europe, where they were auctioned off and bought by various libraries: the British Museum in London, the Bibliotheque Nationale and the Louvre in Paris, the Staatliche Museen in Berlin, and the Rijksmuseum in Leiden. Another papyrus was acquired by Jean Francois Mimaut (1774-1837), also a diplomat, whose acquisition ended up in the Bibliotheque Nationale (PGM III). Unfortunately, we know almost nothing about the circumstances of the actual findings. But it is highly likely that many of the papyri from the Anastasi collection came from the same place, perhaps a tomb or a temple library. If this assumption is correct, about half a dozen of the best-preserved and largest extant papyri may havc come from the collection of one man in Thebes. He is of course unknown to us, but we may suppose that he collected the magical material for his own use. Perhaps he was more than a magician. We may attribute his almost systematic collcctions of magica to a man who was also a scholar, probably philosophically inclined, as well as a bibliophile and archivist concerned about the preservation of this material.

The references for these statements may be read in Betz.  They are to works that few have seen; but which, perhaps, may now be online and accessible to us all.


2 thoughts on “An online translation of the Greek magical papyri

  1. Roger,

    Thanks for the link. I’m not completely sure that Betz, from whom I took courses ling ago, actually translated any of these texts. Most (all?) of the texts have designated translators other than Betz. It’s more that Betz managed the whole project and for that alone we can be thankful.

  2. Ah, I hadn’t grasped that. But as someone who has managed translators, I can say that just getting it all to work is itself a Herculean task, and well done to him for doing it.

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