Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.01.65

Nicolas Flessa (ed.), Corpus Papyrorum Raineri, XXVII. "(Gott) schütze das Fleisch des Pharao": Untersuchungen zum Magischen Handbuch pWien Aeg 8426.   München:  K. G. Saur, 2006.  Pp. 156; pls. 4.  ISBN 978-3-598-77952-7.  €58.00.  

Reviewed by Peter C. Nadig, Seminar für Alte Geschichte, Universität Mannheim (
Word count: 817 words

Students of Egyptology in German-speaking countries are often encouraged to publish their master's thesis, a step which in contrast, is rather uncommon, if not discouraged among ancient historians. Nevertheless, many of these Egyptology graduates edit Egyptian texts hitherto unpublished or in need of a new edition or publish archaeological finds or analyze philological topics. This is the case with Nicolas Flessa's publication of pWien Aeg 8426, a late hieratic papyrus of the Roman Period now in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. This fragmentary papyrus is from a temple handbook containing magic spells and rituals for the protection of the king. Its text has not been published in its entirety before, but the papyrus has been consulted in part by scholars since 1974.

This monograph has been structured in five major parts. Chapter One brings an introduction (8-16) about the origin, purchase and storage of pWien Aeg 8426. Flessa points out that there is no clear record of its acquisition, which can best be dated to the 1880s. A brief summary of previous references and partial publications of pWien Aeg 8426 and a detailed description of the papyrus' condition follow. The extant document originally consisted of eight fragments underneath a glass plate. Flessa gave these fragments new numerations for clearer identity (10):1

fr. 1
fr. 2
fr. 5, 7, and 8

pWien Aeg 8426, fr. a
pWien Aeg 8426, fr. b
pWien Aeg 8426, fr. c

The following -- very small -- fragments received new numbers:

fr. 3: pWien Aeg 13.734, fr. a
fr. 6: pWien Aeg 13.734, fr. b
fr. 4: pWien D 13.735 (this fragment is in demotic).

The editor draws attention to the fact that a standard work on late hieratic palaeography is still a desideratum. After intense scrutiny he proposes dating pWien Aeg 8426 between the years 50 and 150 AD. He also adds a palaeographical index in which he compares the writing of this papyrus with other hieratic documents such as pBM 9995, pLeiden, pDenon, and pTebtynis (109-121). The grammar of pWien Aeg 8426 is -- apart from some younger constructions -- typical for proverbs or spells in Middle Egyptian. The text contains eight spells on 27 lines. According to the document this is a collection of spells that are all marked as variants of the previous spell -- usually introduced with the line kj-r3 ("another spell").

Part II (17-31) offers some introductory remarks, beginning with a lengthy commentary on the phrase "w3d" of Sekhmet, obviously a reference to the "w3d-amulet" [greenstone-amulet; from malachite] of the goddess Sekhmet". This amulet also refers to the god Horus ("Lord of the Greenstone"). Flessa sees here a link between this god and the divine wrath of Sekhmet which the amulet is to soften so as to restore or maintain pharaoh's health. Another term explained here is j3d.t rnp.t ("the pestilence of the year"), which has been the subject of some controversy. Some texts seem to indicate a threat of epidemic, which was possible throughout the year, while on the other hand there may also have been a temporal period that determined this annual pestilence. Here Flessa follows Leitz, who was able to fix a span of sixty days starting with the receding inundation of the Nile.2 The next passage examines the mythological context and the question whether these texts are of medical or magical origin, i.e., whether they were written by physicians or theologians. The ambivalent role of the priest of Sekhmet -- physician and magician alike -- may point to a close relationship of both areas. They probably originated at the royal court in order to protect the king and thus Egypt.3 The editor concludes that the possible age of each spell can only be fixed with caution. Some spells may date back to the Old and Middle Kingdoms; others are from much later periods.

Part III renders the text of pWien 8426 in eight subchapters in which each spell is covered. A spell is first rendered in hieroglyphic along with transliteration and a German translation followed by a detailed commentary for each line (32-103). Flessa expands his examination with numerous citations from similar texts.

Part IV (104-108) contains a summary in German and (a briefer one) in English. Part V concludes this monograph with the aforementioned palaeographical chart, a glossary, a synoptic index of the cited parallel texts of pWien 8426, an Egyptian source index and a bibliography. Four pages of plates (three colour photos and a hieroglyphic transliteration of the papyrus) are inserted in the inside back cover. A final page (156) shows the rubrics of the text printed in red (hieroglyphic, transliteration, and German translation).

Flessa's contribution can be regarded as the editio princeps of this Viennese papyrus, even though some lines of it have been previously been cited in other publications. He succeeds well with his task and can be congratulated. Everyone dealing with ancient Egyptian magic will consult (Gott) schütze das Fleisch des Pharao with gain.


1.   The description of fr. 6 is at the bottom of p. 11. The numbering on the following page accidentally continues with fr. 6 and ends with 7, which should rather be fr. 7 and fr. 8.
2.   C. Leitz, Tagewählerei. Das Buch H3.t nhh ph.wy dt und verwandte Texte. Ägyptologische Abhandlungen 55, Wiesbaden 1994.
3.   That the pharaoh was the recipient is evident from spells 1 l. 8; 2 l. 5; 4 l. 7; 6 ll. 13 + 22 + 30; 7 ll. 6 + 10; 8 l. 20.

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