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Korshi Dosoo Papyrologises Magically

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We discuss two important questions not addressed in the main episode: what are we to make of all the rhetorics of secrecy found in the PGM, and what are we to make of the ancient Egyptian specialism in calling up gods to visible appearance?

Talking of secrecy and public secrecy, we aim to get at how ‘secret’ this material was in its original Egyptian context under a Roman hegemony which tried to outlaw it. The conversation ranges from ancient Egypt to the seedy ‘adult’ bookstores of 1960’s Soho, with special reference to Marabout-diviners in contemporary Paris: the comparative method is alive and well here at the SHWEP!

We then turn to the topic of engineered epiphany, or ‘making gods appear’. Korshi worked on this very subject for his doctorate, and so is very well-placed indeed to speak thereupon. It seems to be a fairly late practice, as attested by the surviving evidence, although Korshi suspects that it goes back to the Ptolemaic period. This is the kind of conversation we love here at the SHWEP: pushing an expert to utilise their high-powered historical imagination to try to get at what these people were really getting up to when they saw a god. We talk about magical stagecraft, nineteenth-century spiritualism, the prospect of a laboratory-based study of magical invocation, and a host of related topics.

Works Cited in this Episode:


For the Kyranides, see the ‘Works Cited’ to the previous episode. For the Thessalos-text, ditto.

  • The Prefect Q. Æmelius Saturninus’s (?) 198-9 CE proclamation prescribing the death penalty for those who participate in ticket (χρησμοὶ ἐγγράφοι, l.5), processional (κωμασία ἀκαλμάτω[ν], l.6) or “magical” (<μ>αγγανίας, l.7) oracles: first published as P. Coll. Youtie 1.30. For discussions of this text see John Rea, ‘A New Version of P. Yale Inv. 299,’ Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 27 (1977); Robert K. Ritner. ‘The Religious, Social, and Legal Parameters of Traditional Egyptian Magic’. In Paul A. Mirecki and Marvin, editors, Ancient Magic and Ritual Power, pages 43–60. Brill, Leiden, 1995, pp. 56-60.
  • In the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions it is suggested that you might go to Egypt to find a priest and summon up the spirit of a dead person to find out if there is life after death: Recognitiones 1.1-8 (cf. Apul. Metam. 2.28-30).
  • Pseudo-Hippolytus on fiery visions of Hekate: Refutatio Omnium Haeresium 4.35-36.
  • Severus of Antioch: incident of the special chair. The standard edition of the Syriac life of Severus is: M.-A. Kugener, Vie de Sévère, par Zacharie le Scholastique. Patrologia Orientalis, vol.2 (Paris: Firmin-Didor & co.) 1904, pp.7-115.
    There’s a good English translation in: Sebastian Brock and Brian Fitzgerald, Two Early Lives of Severos, Patriarch of Antioch (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013), pp. 33-100.
    The incident with John the Fuller is in §§74-83, and it’s definitely worth a read; one of the most vivid, and, a few details aside, believable, stories of magic from late antiquity. The chair is specifically in §80.


  • Christian H. Bull. The Tradition of Hermes Trismegistus: the Egyptian Priestly Figure as a Teacher of Hellenized Wisdom. Brill, Leiden, 2018.
  • W. Burkert. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near-Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA/London, 1992.
  • Korshi Dosoo. Rituals of Apparition in the Theban Magical Library. PhD thesis, Macquarie University, 2014 (available on Korshi’s Academia page!).

Recommended Reading:

Please see the bibliography to the previous episode.