Special lecture: Prof. Chris Faraone (Chicago)
From Gemstones to Foil and Papyrus: The Transformation of Greek Amulet Recipes in Late-Antiquity
This lecture begins with two questions: (i) among the many inscribed amulets, why do we find so many circular designs written on square or rectangular pieces of on papyrus or foil? And (ii) why do we find so few recipes for gemstone amulets in the Greek magical papyri of late antiquity? There is, I will argue, a single answer: because of declining personal wealth in Late Antiquity and the declining skill of artisans these circular or oval designs were transferred from gems to less expensive and more easily workable media like papyri or metal foil. As we shall see, there is indeed much evidence for such a transfer, both in the extant recipes for foil and papyrus amulets and in the texts of the amulets themselves, where we can see from time to time that a scribe has mistakenly copied handbook instructions onto the amulet or has made other such illustrative mistakes. In my lecture I will focus primarily on transfers that involve the ouroboros, an Egyptian design of a snake devouring its own tail, which in Roman times was often used on oval and elliptical magical gems as a border, in the midst of which we often find powerful words or symbols associated with the famous Seal of Solomon.