Greek Magical Papyri

SBLHS offers useful guidelines for citing the Greek Magical Papyri. However, we recently encountered several questions not addressed there. Therefore, this post summarizes, clarifies, supplements, and occasionally corrects the SBLHS guidelines for citing this important corpus.

The standard English translation of the corpus is a volume edited (not authored, as implied by the SBLHS bibliographical listing) by Hans Dieter Betz: The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, including the Demotic Spells, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). The Betz volume follows, as SBLHS notes, the numbering system introduced by Preisendanz in his work:

Preisendanz, Karl, ed. and trans. Papyri Graecae Magicae: Die griechischen Zauberpapyri. 3 vols. Leipzig: Teubner, 1928–1941.

Preisendanz is listed as editor and translator because his work includes both the Greek texts and a German translation of those texts. Other scholars assisted him (as indicated on the title page of each volume), but he alone is cited as authority. Volumes 1 and 2 of the Preisendanz work are available online (e.g., search ABZU at; volume 3, which contains texts LXI–LXXXI, is still under copyright and thus unavailable online. The abbreviation PGM, of course, stands for the main title of the work.

In 1972–1974 Teubner issued a second edition of the work; although that edition was prepared by Albert Henrichs, it still is cited under Preisendanz’s name. According to Betz, volume 1 of the second edition is “mostly a reprint of the first edition, though many corrections have been made”; volume 2, however, “is considerably different from the first edition. A number of papyri were reedited completely, and the papyri originally planned to appear in vol. III were added so that vol. II of the 1974 edition contains all pieces up to PGM LXXXI” (Betz 1996, xliv). Obviously, a writer quoting the original Greek from Preisendanz should rely on the latest edition. Nevertheless, the first edition is reliable for checking the numbering of a given papyrus or specific lines within it.

The Betz translation, as SBLHS notes, follows the Preisendanz numeration, with two important modifications. First, Betz supplements the Preisendanz collection with PGM LXXXII–CXXX, papyri that were either undiscovered or unpublished at the time of the Preisendanz publication. Second, whereas Preisendanz included only the Greek portions of the papyri, even when a given papyrus contained Greek and demotic, Betz includes “the full translations of all bilingual texts” (1996, ix).

Following standard practice, SBLHS recommends citing each papyrus by the abbreviation PGM + the papyrus’s roman numeral label; we use arabic numerals only for line numbers. Because lines are numbered consecutively from column to column, it is unnecessary to identify both column and line number(s). Thus lines 410–424 of one of the papyri held in the Louvre should be cited as follows:

PGM III. 410–424

Note the use of a period after the papyrus number (III.), followed by a space, and then by the line numbers. Because this is a citation of an ancient text, both line numbers are given in full, not truncated (i.e., not 410–24; see SBLHS 4.2.6). Some papyri have appended letters; they should be included in a citation (e.g., PGM XIVb. 12).

Citation of the demotic spells follows a similar pattern, except that the abbreviation used is PDM (for Papyri Demoticae Magicae), and the papyrus number is given in lowercase roman numerals (“to avoid confusion with spells labeled PGM,” according to Betz 1996, xxxi).

PDM xiv. 554–562

Some of the spells bear titles; others do not. To minimize confusion, SBL Press prefers to treat the short titles listed in Betz (1996, xi–xxii) not as formal titles but as descriptive labels. Thus, instead of referencing the “Prayer of Deliverance” in PGM I. 195–222 (label set title case and enclosed within quotation marks), we prefer referring to the prayer of deliverance in PGM I. 195–222 (label set to sentence case and not enclosed in quotation marks). The fact that the same label may be used for multiple spells (e.g., bear charm at PGM IV. 1275–1322; IV. 1331–1389; VII. 686–702) weighs in favor of regarding them only as descriptive labels from a stylistic perspective.

When quoting a translation of a papyrus, it is best to identify the translator of a particular spell plus the source of the work (Betz). This guideline differs slightly from SBLHS, which recommends citing the Betz work as a whole. The descriptive label need not be given as part of the citation proper (contra citations from, e.g., ANET), although it is frequently useful for identifying the nature of the spell.

A fourth- or fifth-century prayer of deliverance begins as follows: “This, then, is the prayer of deliverance for the first-begotten and first-born god: ‘I call upon you, lord. Hear me, holy god who rest among the holy ones, at whose side the Glorious Ones stand continually. I call upon you’” (PGM I. 195–200 [O’Neil in Betz]).

This citation presumes, of course, that PGM is properly listed in an abbreviations list and that the Betz work is cited in full in a bibliography.

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