Between 1896 and 1907, B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt led excavations at the site of ancient Oxyrhynchus with the purpose of recovering ancient texts on papyrus. Their finds, estimated at over 500,000 pieces, comprise the modern world’s largest collection of papyri. Grenfell and Hunt also launched a publication series to disseminate their discoveries, which since its first volume in 1898 has set a standard for the accessible publication of papyri, with text, English translation, and commentary.
P.Oxy. has grown into the most venerable in the field of papyrology. After two recent thematic collections, on sport (LXXIX) and medicine (LXXX), the usual eclectic mix returns, with editions of 44 new texts from 14 contributors, whose contents range from high literature, through technical or para-literature, to documents (and one drawing).
Among the literary texts, of greatest interest to most classicists will be a new fragment of Sophocles, Tereus edited by S. Slattery (5292), dated to the second century CE and offering a scene between Procne, a messenger, and the chorus-leader, which overlaps with and continues a fragment in Stobaeus (4.22.25). Noteworthy too is a copy of Euclid, Elements in abridged form, with diagrams and elucidations but without proofs (5299), edited by A. Cairncross and W.B. Henry, a branch of the tradition likely related to the text from which Boethius made his Latin version. Smaller fragments of known works by Menander, Polybius, Theocritus, and Plutarch complete the literary portion (5293-5301); the Plutarch is the first attestation of the Life of Alexander on papyrus, with some text-critical interest. No Latin texts are included in the strict sense, but a Greek-Latin conjugation table of the second century (5302), edited by M.C. Scappaticcio and A. Wouters, bears new witness to the interest of Egyptians of the Roman period in learning Latin.
Among theological texts is a fragment of the Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres edited by S. Beresford (5290), from a fourth-century codex contemporary with the most extensive Greek witness to the text (the codex Chester Beatty XVI). The new fragment fills out a dialogue between Jannes, near death, and his mother, of which only the beginning was previously known, where the new fragment overlaps with the Beatty codex. Here too comes a further fragment of a third-century codex of Philo ( P.Oxy. IX 1173, with additions), edited by D.A. Fisher (5291).
Accorded a section of its own, and deserving special mention here too, is a group of texts relating to magic. Here is the largest collection of such texts in Greek since the publication of the Supplementum Magicum (1990-1992) augmented the landmark corpus of K. Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae. The present texts are edited, and furnished with superbly detailed commentary, by the able hand of F. Maltomini, one of the editors behind Supplementum Magicum (along with R.W. Daniel). In total 14 new texts are offered (5303-5314, the latter two by L. Tagliapietra), plus a treatise on the occult medicinal properties of animal products (5315).
The first three (5303-5305) belong to ritual formularies, in book-roll format, from the third century. The most substantial portion of 5303 offers a procedure for engraving a ring, and another associated with Typhon-Seth, whose purpose is obscure but likely aggressive. The goal of the ring is taken to be “sexual intercourse,” based on ἔντευξις (line 2). In my view the noun might be also signify “petitioning,” as does the cognate ἐντυχία in a contemporary formulary:1 the ring may have been meant to aid its wearer before authorities. In the directions for the engraving, the puzzling ὀρθὸν τά τ’ [ is printed in line 4, which gives better sense re-divided, ὀρθὸν Τατ; the apostrophe, given by the papyrus, marks the end of a non-Greek word, hence, “Thoth, erect,” object of a preceding γλύψον (“engrave”). As illustrated in the commentary, divine names qualified by ὀρθός are at home in directions for engravings on gems; Τατ, although unusual in the magical papyri (vs. Θωθ or similar), is the standard spelling in the Hermetic Corpus.
In 5304 are more substantial remains, of three formulae for erotic procedures, of which one, notably, was designed for the use of a woman upon a man; a procedure for the subjection of an enemy (ὑποτακτικόν); and another to restrain anger (θυμοκάτοχον). The fragmentary first column includes an invocation of Isis, and may belong to the erotic procedure in col. ii, or a separate one, likely promoting sex or fertility. This invocation includes at line 2 the “credential” clause ὅτι ἐγώ ἰμι (i.e. εἰμι: “For I am …”), followed by a short word ending in -ος (before which, as printed, an estimated two unread letters followed by uncertain ξ). Might I propose Ὧρος, attractive as the son of Isis and frequent appellant of her assistance in Egyptian magic? From the published photograph it looks possible, and fits with the appellation μήτηρ in line 7. On the back, in the fourth century, another text was added (5315), medical recipes listing the beneficial properties of a substance derived from various animals: the identity of this substance is lost, but Maltomini makes the probable suggestion of excrement, setting the text within a known genre of “stercoraceous” medicine. The arrangement here resembles the late ancient Cyranides, popular also in Byzantium.
The formulary 5305, copied by two hands on a single sheet, offers another θυμοκάτοχον; a procedure for erotic magic of a well-known type, seeking to inflict “burning” discomfort on the female target, here via a written, exorcistic invocation deposited in the steam-room of a bath; and an amulet to gain favor, again for the benefit of a man in the eyes of a woman.
In 5306 and 5307, the cultic landscape shifts, with two recognizably Christian amulets – the preceding texts, as often in Roman Egypt, mix traditional Egyptian and Jewish divinities. Many Christian amulets survive from Egypt; of interest here is the identification of the new objects as the work of the same hand as an earlier publication, P.Oxy. VI 924.2 The texts are similar, exorcistic invocations seeking protection against fever, and Maltomini draws the reasonable conclusion that they were produced by a single Oxyrhynchite “magician” (though some, the putative “magician” included, might object to the term), working from written formularies but with “fluidity” in composing individual texts. Perhaps a coincidence, but all three are for women: Aria, Eulogia, and Bassa. 5306 is expanded with a pseudepigraphic “prayer of Adam,” perhaps reflecting a Jewish apocalyptic tradition; the editor also entertains a borrowing from the liturgy of baptism.
Seven further amulets are offered (5308-5314), most recognizably Christian, of which I note only the most interesting two. 5308 is another fever amulet for a woman, not markedly Christian but at least monolatrous. After the amuletic text, the last three lines are in fact ritual instructions copied from a formulary, “Tie a strip to the right arm with a holy thread (ἱερῷ μίτῳ) from a garment (ἀπὸ στολλίσματος).” The editor acknowledges that the “garment” (στόλισμα) may have been a ritual one. An Egyptian priestly context seems all but certain, in view also of the “holy thread:” outside of the magical papyri, we find στολισταί as a grade of priest, and in the same context the term στόλισμα has the sense of cloth used for mummification of sacred animals3–the latter might have offered the practitioner an easy means of getting such material. 5312 is a rare Christian instance of an amulet for favor (χάρις), invoking a catalogue of 17 angels and their “appointed realms” (e.g. Μιχαὴλ ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ ἡλίου), a motif of wide diffusion and ultimate Jewish origin. The “realm” of one of the angels has so far escaped explanation: ἐπὶ τῶν βραθ̣ατων (line 20). Of the alleged θ, the editor remarks that the crossbar is “oddly high.” If β were read instead, a variant spelling of βραβευτῶν (“judges”) might be discerned, which seems more appropriate than προβάτων, the editor’s tentative suggestion: favor before judges would have been desirable indeed, and other angels ruling over “powers” (ἐπὶ τῶν δυνάμεων) and “places of judgment” (ἐπὶ τῶν κριτηρίων) are also invoked.
These texts attest a flourishing application of ritual practices, primarily drawn from traditional Egyptian and, later, Christian sacral contexts, to the needs and desires of private individuals in Roman and Byzantine Oxyrhynchus. The so-called Theban magical library, ritual handbooks allegedly discovered together in Egyptian Thebes in the 19th century, has long dominated modern scholarship on such practices, thanks to its well-preserved, book-length remains, and to the detriment of the scattered but considerable survivals from the rest of Egypt. Oxyrhynchus, otherwise the city with the richest papyrological documentation, has gradually been providing materials to redress this Theban bias, through publications in P.Oxy. and elsewhere.4 A synthesis informed by this array of texts is now even more desirable, which would enhance the diversity of our picture of ritual practice in Egypt and the broader Mediterranean world.
The section on documentary texts (5316-5342) offers considerable historical interest. A second-century petition challenges a summons to appear before the prefect of Egypt, lodged by a “temple-carpenter” (ἱεροτέκτων) to Athena-Thoeris in Oxyrhynchus (5316). In 5319, an early third-century petition, a priest of Hermes-Thoth from the Small Oasis asserts his entitlement to tax relief upon reaching the age of 60. A private letter of the same century, addressed to a priest at Oxyrhynchus, mentions research on legal precedents in a nome archive of lower Egypt (5321). 5323 is the first example of a documentary protocol published in P.Oxy. from the fifth century. There are also additions to some known papyrological archives and dossiers: 5320 to the papers of Claudia Isidora alias Apia; 5325, 5327, 5333, 5337, and perhaps 5332, to the well-known Apion archive.
The volume closes with an enigmatic drawing (5343). This charming sketch shows an orant male figure flanked by fawning lions, which lick his feet. A Greek caption identifies the biblical Daniel. The editor, H. Whitehouse, notes the popularity of Daniel in contemporary Christian art, but remains agnostic as to the purpose of his depiction here. The drawing is on scrap papyrus—remains of an earlier document survive on the other side—and the absence of further text around the drawing rules out a fragment of an illustrated literary text; the “rudimentary image … in thick lines with little clear detail” would be of little help as a preparatory sketch for a painting or textile. In light of the wealth of magical texts in this same volume, I might raise the possibility of an amulet. On the published photograph there are signs of folding along the horizontal, in patterns in the wormholes and other surface damage. Daniel and his miraculous encounter with the lions are cited in amuletic prayers in Coptic and later Byzantine texts: e.g. “Saint Daniel who bridled the tongues of the lions, bridle the tongues of the evil men who fight with the servant of God so-and-so.”5
The volume is carefully and elegantly typeset and furnished with useful indices and plates, illustrating the literary and para-literary texts, the drawing, and selected documents; all should eventually be available through the POxy: Oxyrhynchus Online project. It remains only to congratulate the editors and the Egypt Exploration Society on an achievement that will surely advance the understanding of Greek literature, and of society in Roman and Byzantine Egypt and its Mediterranean surroundings.
1. See D.R. Jordan, GRBS 46 (2006) 163.28, [ὕμνος ἐ]ντυχίας πρὸς Ἥλιον.
2. Reprinted as PGM P5a; Maltomini offers an improved text and commentary, based on the new amulets, in Galenos 9 (2015) 229-234.
3. E.g. the Gnomon of the Idios Logos, BGU V 1210.203.
4. Texts in Greek published through 1990 are collected in the Supplementum Magicum; add P.Oxy. LVIII 3931, LXIV 4406, LXV 4468-4469, LXVIII 4672-4674, LXXIII 4932, LXXIX 5205, and LXXX 5245.
5. A Byzantine text in A. Delatte, Anecdota Atheniensia (Liège 1927) 1:503.13-15; for Coptic, see P.Bad. V 140.13-16, in which an angel is invoked to muzzle enemies as he once “muzzled the lions for Daniel the prophet.”