Two Greek Spells

SATB, piano, crotales / 6 minutes

The Greek Magical Papyri (Latin Papyri Græcæ Magicæ, abbreviated PGM) is a collection of papyri fragments from Greco-Roman Egypt, which each contain a number of magical spells, formulæ, hymns and rituals. The materials in the papyri date from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD. Many of the pieces of papyrus are pages or fragmentary extracts from spell books, repositories of arcane knowledge and mystical secrets. The religion of the Greek Magical Papyri is an elaborate combination of Greek, Egyptian, Jewish, Babylonian, and Christian religious influences.

The following work is a musical setting of the magical words from an invisibility spell from the Greek Magical Papyri. The magical words themselves are not translatable, but have been transliterated from Coptic Greek writing into modern Latin characters. The entire spell appears in Hans Dieter Betz’s 1986 edition as follows:

PGM I. 222-31
Indispensable invisibility spell: Take fat or an eye of a nightowl and a ball of dung rolled by a beetle and oil of an unripe olive and grind them all together until smooth, and smear your whole / body with it and say to Helios: “I adjure you by your great name, BORKE PHOIOUR IO ZIZIA APARXEOUCH THYTHE LAILAM AAAAAA IIIII OOOO IEO IEO IEO IEO IEO IEO IEO NAUNAX AI AI AEO AEO EAO,” and moisten it and say in addition: “Make me invisible, lord Helios, AEO OAE EIE EAO, / in the presence of any man until sunset, IO IO O PHRIXRIZO EOA.”

Recording: Michigan State University Chorale, Elizabeth Hermanson conducting, October 18, 2014, Fairchild Theatre at MSU.

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