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Sexual Dynamis and Dynamics of Magical Practice in Graeco-Roman Egypt: Erotic Spells in the Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri (PGM and PDM) and their Cultural Traditions

Magical papyrus showing both Greek and Demotic scripts.

This is a cooperation project of the departments of Egyptology and Classics. As a follow-up to MC 10 „The Magic of Transculturality“, the new research project which is funded by the DFG for a period of three years is furthermore affiliated with the Cluster of Excellence of the University of Heidelberg, “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”.

This project aims at analysing the erotic spells of the corpus of the Greek and Demotic magical papyri (PGM and PDM) which includes both handbooks of spells and remains of actually performed rituals (‘applied magic’) mainly from Roman Egypt. These papyri are often bilingual and their contents reflect an intense cultural interaction between different religious traditions (Egyptian, Greek as well as e.g. Jewish and Mesopotamian). Moreover, the handbooks are not original compositions but the product of a long process of collection and reworking of earlier material, which probably took place within an Egyptian priestly milieu.

Our objective is to shed light on the socio-religious dynamics of cultural plurality and fusion in Graeco-Egyptian magic. For that purpose we will conduct a thorough investigation of all the different magical techniques connected with erotic magic from a transcultural perspective. Each technique will be analysed according to its organization within the papyri, structure, phrasing, recitations and ritual elements. In particular, we will try to trace back underlying magico-religious traditions and to reconstruct possible patterns of transmission that lie beyond the specificity either of a single papyrus or of a single script and language (Greek or Demotic). In fact, the compositional history of the magical handbooks allows us to search for possible sources or parallels (textual, ritual, and conceptual) in earlier or contemporary Greek and Egyptian (or other e.g. Jewish) material in order to find out whether their constituents originated in a Greek, Egyptian, Jewish or mixed cultural background. Moreover, this study will include several as yet unpublished Demotic erotic spells of Ptolemaic and even earlier date that will provide us with a new foundation for the understanding of the genre’s chronology in Egypt.

We will complement our studies on the handbooks with the analysis of the applied erotic spells as well as of the extant archaeological evidence for objects bearing, or associated with, the texts of the spells. At a second stage, the results will be compared with Greek and Egyptian literary and documentary sources in order to research the contexts in which the genre of erotic magic may have developed.

The final aim is to investigate which kind of cultural interactions (if any) underlie the rituals in each case, and how the final result, the mixture of different ingredients, functions within its own historical context: Roman Egypt. This project will also complement our previous research on divinatory magic and thus contribute to the creation of an exhaustive transcultural study on Graeco-Egyptian magic, still a major desideratum.