Book: The Leyden Papyrus

Author: F. L. Griffith and Herbert Thompson

The Leyden Papyrus By F. L. Griffith and Herbert Thompson

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 116
Publication Date: 1904

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The Leyden Papyrus, or The Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden is basically a book of spells, dating back to the 2nd or 3rd century. It was the key to deciphering the Demotic Ancient Egyptian dialect. Included are spells for curing diseases, obtaining visions, raising the dead and there are also a number of spells for erotic purposes.



THE demotic magical papyrus of London and Leiden was discovered at Thebes with other papyri, principally Greek but dealing with subjects of a like nature, in the early part of the last century, and was bought by Anastasi, who was at that time Swedish consul at Alexandria, and made a large collection of Egyptian MSS. When Anastasi obtained the MS. it must already have been torn into two parts, and it is even probable that he obtained the two parts at different times, since he sold his Egyptian collections, including the Leiden MS., to the Dutch government in 1828, while the London portion was bought at the sale of his later collections at Paris in 1857 for the British Museum (No. 1072 in Lenormant's Catalogue). The Leiden fragment was made known to the world much earlier than that in the British Museum. Its importance for the deciphering of the demotic script by the help of the numerous glosses in Graeco-Coptic characters was at once perceived by the distinguished scholar Reuvens, at that time Director of the Leiden Museum of Antiquities, who proceeded to study it carefully, and in 1830 published an admirable essay 1 in which he sketched the principal contents of the MS. and indicated its value for the progress of demotic studies. He then took in hand its reproduction, and the MS. was lithographed in facsimile under his direction, and he had corrected the proofs of the first plate when he was cut off by a premature death in 1835; his work was carried to completion and published by his successor in the Directorship of the Museum, Leemans, in 1839 . Heinrich Brugsch studied it closely, and drew from it most of the examples quoted in his Demotic Grammar published in 1855; but, although later scholars have frequently quoted from it and translated fragments of it, the MS. has hitherto remained without complete translation, commentary, or glossary.

The London MS., however, lay from 1857 onwards almost unnoticed in the British Museum. To the late Dr. Pleyte, Leemans' successor at Leiden, belongs the credit of discovering that the two MSS. originally formed one. He had studied the Leiden portion, and at once recognized the handwriting of its fellow in London. Without publishing the fact, he communicated it to Professor Hess of Freiburg, when the latter was working in Leiden on the MS. there. Professor Hess went on to London, and, having fully confirmed Dr. Pleyte's statement, published in 1892 a reproduction of the British Museum MS. with an introduction, including the translation of one column, and a glossary .

Reuvens in his essay dwelt at some length on the 'gnostic' character of the MS. He devoted his attention mainly to the parts which contain the glosses, and those are almost exclusively magical invocations, among which occur the names of gods, spirits, and demons, Egyptian, Syrian, Jewish, &c., strung together in a manner similar to those found in gnostic writings and on gnostic gems. He even went so far as to associate them with the name of a particular gnostic leader, Marcus, of the second century, chiefly on the ground of his recorded use of Hebrew and Syriac names in his invocations and the combinations of vowels. In consequence the MS. has acquired the name of the 'Leiden Gnostic,' and the term 'Gnostic' has been passed on to the London MS. But as will be seen from the complete translation here published, there is nothing in the work relating to the gnostic systems--it deals with magic and medicine, and it seems a misnomer to call the MS. gnostic merely because part of the stock-in-trade of the magician and medicine-man were a number of invocation names which he either picked up from the gnostics or derived from sources common to him and them. Hence it has been thought desirable to abandon the epithet 'gnostic,' and to call the work the 'Magical papyrus of London and Leiden' (Pap. mag. LL.).


The London portion is in far better condition than the Leiden portion. The papyrus is pale in colour and the ink very black; consequently where the MS. has not suffered material damage it is easy to read, as the scribe wrote a beautiful and regular hand.

The Leiden papyrus, on the other hand, has unfortunately suffered much, as Leemans, with a view to protecting the surface, covered both recto and verso with 'vegetable' paper, which probably could not be removed now without serious injury to the MS.; but either the paper or the adhesive matter employed with it has darkened and decayed, rendering the writing illegible in places.

In 1829, while the MS. was still in charge of Reuvens and before it had been subjected to the operation above described, he took a tracing of it which has been preserved, and which, though of little assistance in points of minute detail, may be relied on for filling up with certainty many groups which are now wholly lost in the original.

The main body of the writing is on the recto (horizontal fibres) of the papyrus, while on the verso are written memoranda, medical prescriptions, and short invocations.

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