Jun 172011

While one manuscript collection from Late Antiquity, the Nag Hammadi Library, has been thoroughly analyzed by scholars, another remains in relative obscurity. I refer to what has been called the “Thebes Cache” (Fowden) or the “Theban Magical Library” (Dieleman). While some of the constituent parts of the Thebes cache have received lots of scholarly attention, the collection as a whole has been neglected, due in no small part to the manuscripts being scattered throughout the libraries of Europe. What follows is a list of the contents of the Theban Magical Library (following Fowden and Dieleman) as well as information about English translations of the constituent parts, perhaps arbitrarily divided into “magical” and “alchemical” papyri:

  • Papyrus Bibl. Nat. Suppl. 574 (sometimes called the “Great Magical Papyrus of Paris”) – a “magical handbook” (PGM 4)
  • Papyrus London 46 – a “magical handbook” (PGM 5)
  • Papyrus Holmiensis p. 42 – a “magical spell” (PGM 5a)
  • Papyrus Leiden I 384 – a “magical handbook” (PGM/PDM 12)
  • Papyrus Leiden I 395 – a “magical handbook” (PGM 13)
  • Papyrus Leiden I 383 and Papyrus British Museum 10070 – a “magical handbook” (PDM/PGM 14)
  • Papyrus Leiden I 397 – an “alchemical handbook”
  • Papyrus Holmiensis – an “alchemical handbook”

The following papyri probably also belonged to the Theban Magical Library, but according to Jacco Dieleman (2005: 14-15), “no decisive argument” for their inclusion can be given:

  • Papyrus Berlin 5025 – a “magical handbook” (PGM 1)
  • Papyrus Berlin 5026 – a “magical handbook” (PGM 2)
  • Papyrus Louvre 2391 – a “magical handbook” (PGM 3)
  • Papyrus London 121 – a “magical handbook” (PGM 7)
  • Papyrus British Museum 10588 – a “magical handbook” (PGM/PDM 61)
  • Papyrus Louvre 3229 – a “magical handbook” (PDM Suppl.)

Papyri marked “PGM” (Greek magical papyrus) or “PDM” (Demotic magical papyrus) are all collected in the English translation project edited by Hans Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells. The definitive Greek edition of these papyri remains Karl Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae: Die Griechischen Zauberpapyri, 2 volumes, Stuttgart: Teubner, 1973-74.

The two manuscripts constituting “alchemical handbooks” have been published in Greek (with French translation) by Robert Halleux, Les alchimistes grecs, I: Papyrus de Leyde, Papyrus de Stockholm, Fragments de recettes (Collection des universités de France), Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1981. They are both excerpted in the recent anthology in English, The Alchemy Reader: From Hermes Trismegistus to Isaac Newton. Full English translations are available in two articles by Earle Radcliffe Caley: “The Leyden Papyrus X: An English Translation with Brief Notes,” Journal of Chemical Education 3,10 (Oct. 1926): 1149-66; and “The Stockholm Papyrus: An English Translation with Brief Notes,” Journal of Chemical Education 4,9 (Aug. 1927): 979-1002.