Few people can be aware that the papyrus discoveries of the last century have included references to Mithras. I do not refer here to the use of the name of Mithras in the Greek Magical Papyri, in PGM IV, where one of the incantations was even given the name of the Mithras Liturgy by its unfortunate early editor, Dieterich. The luckless Dieterich dedicated the book to the great Franz Cumont, but Cumont declined to agree with Dieterich that the text was Mithraic.
Rather I refer to two papyri, which seem unavoidably connected with the initiation rituals of the cult. Rather amazingly, I find transcriptions and even translations of both online here.
The first of the papyri is P. Berol. 21196, a scrap of papyrus probably found at Ashmounein in Egypt in 1906, and the property of the Aegyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung of the Berlin State Museum. It dates from the 4th century AD, and consists of fragments of a single papyrus sheet from a codex. It was published in 1992 by the late William Brashear.
The document seems to involve questions and answers, and is perhaps a preparatory catechism for an initiation. There is mention of a pater — the 7th grade of initiation in the mysteries; of night as the time for some ceremony, putting on a girdle or belt with 4 tassels, wearing linen, dealing with something sharp, and something hot or cold, and the mention of a meal. Line 9 of the second side refers to “becoming a lion” (ἐγένου λέων). The grade of Leo is found only in the cult of Mithras, and this ties the papyrus squarely to that cult.
The second papyrus belongs to the 3rd century AD. I know no more about this than I can find in the webpage mentioned earlier: that it was published by Vittorio Bartoletti in two sections.. There is reference to ἀστέρων, indicating astral or astrological elements — rather relevant this, considering that I’ve been looking at David Ulansey’s book — and there is also the word καυτοπαυ (= Καυτοπάτου?) or Cautopates, the name of the ancillary deity in the temples of Mithras. There is also a reference to Serapis, interestingly. The suggestion is that this is an oath.
This all left me wondering whether there were any Mithraea in Egypt, and if so, where.
- Paris Bibliothèque Nationale Suppl. gr. 574.↩
- Albrecht Dieterich, Eine Mithrasliturgie, Leipzig: Teubner, 2nd enlarged edn. 1910↩
- William M. Brashear, A Mithraic Catechism from Egypt. <P. Berol. 21196> (Tyche Supplementband, I.) Pp. 70; 2 plates. Vienna: Holzhausen, 1992. There is a review of the publication by J. Gwyn Griffiths, in The Classical Review, N.S. 44.1 (1994), p.181-2. http://www.jstor.org/stable/712295 ↩
- Griffiths adds, p.182: “It is true that Plutarch in Ch. 38 of his De Iside et Osiride says that the Egyptians honoured the constellation of the Lion and adorned the doors of temples with lions’ jaws — an allusion perhaps to the lion-shaped bolts found in late temples. While this might relate to the term λεοντίον in the papyrus, it does not suit the idea of becoming a Lion.”↩
- V. Bartoletti, Papiri, Greci e Latini (= PSI) vol. X, no. 1162; and V. Bartoletti, “Frammenti di un rituale d’iniziazione ai misteri” in Annali della R. Scuoli Normale Superiore de Pisa (Pisa: 1937) 143-152.↩