The Theban Magical Library includes magical texts on papyrus, mainly written in Greek and Demotic. These papyri, dated to the third to fourth century, were discovered in a tomb near the city of Thebes (Luxor) by local antiquity dealers and came into the possession of Giovanni Anastasi (d. 1860), a merchant and diplomat based in Alexandria. Anastasi subsequently sold or donated them to various collections.
It has been argued that the Theban Magical Library could have been part of a private collection of one or more persons, or of a temple library of the priests in Thebes. Scholars have identified ten papyri that were undoubtedly part of the collection and seven others may have belonged to it as well.
Among the surviving texts from the library is this papyrus codex, of which seven folios remain. It dates to the fourth century and contains various recipes. These include an oracle of Sarapis (a Graeco-Egyptian deity), with specific instructions about how to pronounce the requested magical formula, and a spell for a direct vision, which accompanies a rite where water from a shipwreck must be used to anoint the right eye. Among the other texts featured in the handbook is a hymn to the Greek god Hermes, written in dactylic hexameters.
- Article by:
- Cillian O’Hogan
- Papyri, The makers of Greek manuscripts
What did books look like in antiquity? In this article, Cillian O’Hogan tells how ancient books were made, and traces the process by which the bookroll was replaced by the codex.