Está en la página 1de 19

E. Suárez, M. Blanco, E. Chronopoulou, I. Canzobre (eds.

)
Emilio Suárez, Miriam Blanco,
Eleni Chronopoulou, Isabel Canzobre

E (Editores)
l presente libro estudia la figura de los ‘magos’ en el mundo greco-romano, con
especial atención a los autores de las recetas que se recopilaron en el conjunto
que conocemos como papiros mágicos griegos, copiados en el Egipto de la
época imperial romana. En principio la posesión de esa magia estaba limitada al
entorno de los templos y sus practicantes tenían rango sacerdotal, pero los cambios
histórico-sociales en el Egipto greco-romano determinaron una adecuación de estos M AGIKÈ TÉCHNE
magos a las nuevas circunstancias: la magia salió de los templos y se difundió por
otros canales. En los distintos capítulos intentamos dar a conocer el modo en que los
protagonistas de la magia se refieren a su propio oficio, a la adquisición de sus
Formación y consideración social
conocimientos y a su transmisión. Asimismo nos ocupamos de indagar acerca de los
antecedentes, contexto y valoración externa de dichas prácticas mágicas, la relación de del mago en el Mundo Antiguo
los textos mágicos con las corrientes religiosas y filosóficas coetáneas e incluso acerca
del perfil de los hipotéticos clientes.

Formación y consideración social del mago en el Mundo Antiguo

CLÁSICOS DYKINSON
No está permitida la reproducción total o parcial de este libro, ni su incorporación a un sistema infor-
mático, ni su transmisión en cualquier forma o por cualquier medio, sea este electrónico, mecánico, por
fotocopia, por grabación u otros métodos, sin el permiso previo y por escrito del editor. La infracción
de los derechos mencionados puede ser constitutiva de delito contra la propiedad intelectual (art. 270 y
siguientes del Código Penal).
Diríjase a Cedro (Centro Español de Derechos Reprográficos) si necesita fotocopiar o escanear algún
fragmento de esta obra. Puede contactar con Cedro a través de la web www.conlicencia.com o por
teléfono en el 91 702 19 70/93 272 04 07.

Este libro ha sido sometido a evaluación por parte de nuestro Consejo Editorial.
Para mayor información, véase www.dykinson.com/quienessomos

Esta publicación se ha realizado en el marco del


Proyecto de Investigación “Los papiros mágicos griegos en su contexto” (FFI2014-57517-P),
subvencionado por el Ministerio Español de Ecomomía y Competitividad

© Los autores
Madrid, 2017

Imagen de cubierta: El escriba sagrado Uennefer - Museo del Louvre


(fotografía de E. Suárez)

Editorial DYKINSON, S.L. Meléndez Valdés, 61 - 28015 Madrid


Tels.: (+34) 91 544 28 46 - (+34) 91 544 28 69
e-mail: info@dykinson.com
http://www.dykinson.es - http://www.dykinson.com

ISBN: 978-84-9148-523-0

Maquetación:
Juan-José Marcos
juanjmarcos@gmail.com

Impresión:
Recco, S.L.
recco@recco-sll.com
www.recco.com
ÍNDICE

PRESENTACIÓN ......................................................................................... 9

I. EL CONTEXTO RELIGIOSO, FILOSÓFICO, CULTURAL Y SOCIAL ............. 13


1.- Núria Torras, Funciones y habilidades del sacerdote puro
de Sekhmet: rituales mágicos en el contexto del templo ................ 15
2.- Marco Antonio Santamaría, Valoración positiva de los magos
y la magia en testimonios griegos de época clásica
(Gorgias, papiro de Derveni y Platón) ............................................ 33
3.- Giulia Sfameni, Il mago e i suoi clienti: rivelazione di saperi,
epifania divina e arte magica .......................................................... 47
4.- Attilio Mastrocinque, Teaching magic. Simon the Magus and
the spirit .......................................................................................... 65
5.- Aurelio Pérez Jiménez, La astrología como parte del curriculum
del mago grecolatino ....................................................................... 75
6.- Miriam Blanco, Women and the transmission of magical
knowledge in the greco-roman world. Rediscovering
ancient witches (II) ......................................................................... 95

II. LOS PAPIROS MÁGICOS GRIEGOS. APRENDIZAJE, TRANSMISIÓN Y


PRESENTACIÓN DE LA OPERACIÓN MÁGICA: ENTRE EL MISTERIO,

LA TÉCNICA Y LA CIENCIA ..................................................................... 111

7.- Emilio Suárez de la Torre, La formación del mago:


el testimonio de los papiros mágicos del egipto grecorromano .... 113
8.- Eleni Pachoumi, The magicians and their assimilation with the
initiated into the mysteries in the Greek magical papyri
from Greco-Roman Egypt ............................................................. 149
9.- Mariangela Monaca, A scuola di magia. Gli strumenti del mago
tra papiri e gemme: rileggendo PGM IV 2006-2139 .................... 159
10.- Isabel Canzobre, Magical amulets user’s guide: preparation,
utilization and knowledge transmission in the PGM ..................... 177
11.- Michela Zago, L’apprendimento poetico: ricordando Omero....... 193
12.- Alberto Nodar, El aprendizaje y la escritura de la magia .............. 215
13.- Eleni Chronopoulou, De economía mágica ................................... 225

BIBLIOGRAFÍA ..................................................................................... 235


WOMEN AND THE TRANSMISSION OF MAGICAL KNOWLEDGE
IN THE GRECO-ROMAN WORLD1.
REDISCOVERING ANCIENT WITCHES (II)2

MIRIAM BLANCO CESTEROS


miriam.blan@hotmail.com

The study of ancient magical female practitioners takes us, unavoidably, into
the intersection of gender studies, ancient socio-political discourse and the prob-
lem of defining magic in the ancient world. Due to the scarcity of non-literary
testimonies about women experts in sorcery, the information about ancient witches
has to be inferred from indirect sources, that is, from literature. However, many
scholars have rejected the validity of literary portrayals of sorceresses because of
the undisputable interference that their gender and magic as a discourse of alterity
have on the literary construction of these characters3. Obviously, the real women
who practiced magic could not bring down the moon as the ancient authors
claimed. Hence, the subsequent question is whether there was a real basis behind
the ancient stereotypes. Were there actually women who practiced magic for a
living? What were the sorceresses of the Greco-Roman world really like?
Following an area of research conducted by scholars who accept the existence
of a substantial number of magical purveyors, of both sexes, who offered ritual
services in the ancient world, my aim in this article is to analyse the literary depic-
tion of ancient witches in contrast with the information offered from direct sources
on magic in order to clarify the image of these ancient women. In accordance with
the nature of this volume, I will especially focus on those passages in which wom-
en appear involved in the transmission of magical lore which I will examine divid-

1
This article has been written within the framework of the project FFI2014-57517-P, of the Spanish
Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. I owe a special thanks to Professor A. Pérez Jiménez for
his suggestions of texts and to S. Walker for her revision of the English text.
2
This paper is the sequel to the research done for a piece of work published in 2015 in the volume
Femina. Mujeres en la Historia, cf. BLANCO (2015a).
3
The work of K. STRATTON (2007, 2014) on the study of gender construction in the discourse of magic
in the Greco-Roman world is a fundamental tool on this topic. Moreover, it is also possible to include
the work of Ch. FARAONE (1998), summarized in FARAONE (1999), that offers interesting conclusions.
For women linked with magic and for its profusion of fonts and data, DICKIE (2001) is also notewor-
thy.
96 Miriam Blanco Cesteros

ed in the literary and non-literary excerpts. The conclusions extracted from both
groups will be contrasted at the end of the article.

1. WOMEN AND MAGIC IN GRECO-ROMAN SOURCES: A CROSSROADS OF PROB-


LEMS

The bond between magic and women is a believe thoroughly widespread in the
Mediterranean World, from Classical Greece onwards4. In fact, just a glance at
Greco-Roman literature leaves us with the impression that the most common prac-
titioner of magic in the Ancient World was female one. However, our current un-
derstanding of the phenomenon of ancient magic has proved that this strong liter-
ary association between women and magic does not constitute a true reflection of
contemporary reality. Archaeological testimonies of magic, such as curses in-
scribed on durable materials (katadesmoi, defixiones), show that a great part of the
defigens5 were actually men6 and only male magicians signed the so-called Greek
Magical Papyri7. The accusation of women as “real” witches were, actually, very
rare in Greece8, as the analysis of the so-called “judicial prayers”9demonstrates
and, as far as the Roman world goes10, conviction in court for magic reveals that

4
According to STRATTON (2007: 46-64), it is in the context of the Athenian stage of 5th century B.C.
where the determining “feminization” of magic occurs: there, for the first time, is it found to be associ-
ated with women, gender subversion and uncontrolled passions. However, this phenomenon was not
restricted to the Greco-Roman world as Rabbinic literature shows, cf. STRATTON (2007: 143-176) and
LESSES (2014: 71-107).
5
The person on behalf of whom a curse was written.
6
According to the account offered by FARAONE (1998: 43, n. 9), STRATTON (2007: 24) has calculated
that approximately 86% of the preserved erotic binding spells were performed by men. Some similar
conclusions can be found in GAGER (1992: 80-81) and WINKLER (1990: 72), who states: «the norm for
such procedures is male agency and female victimage».
7
These are a large corpora of texts with instructions on carrying out magical procedures which compris-
es a complex Greco-Egyptian magical tradition. These magical handbooks are written in Greek, Coptic
and Demotic language and come from a wide time span, from the 1st century BC –the oldest dated- to
the 5th century AC, but the majority are dated in the Roman Imperial period. The Greek magical papyri
discovered up until 1924 have been collected and edited by K. Preisendanz in Papyri Graecae Magi-
cae Die griechischen Zauberpapyri. I will refer to these papyri by the initials PGM, from now on, and
will cite them in accordance with the papyrus number that they have been given in this edition.
8
This is the main conclusion reached by F. GRAF (2014: 406) after examining the extant archaeological
records of judicial prayers in which magical attacks are reported.
9
The name “judicial prayers” was proposed by H.S. VERSNEL (1991) for an ambiguous type of request
between magic and religion which is generally attested through inscriptions that formulate a claim of
justice to the gods for a grievance not solved satisfactorily by the human courts. Its categorization as
magical is not clear: VERSNEL (1991: 80-81) considers them to be a “borderline kind of prayer”, that is
to say, not completely magical, while FARAONE (1998: 81) does not hesitate to classify them as magi-
cal using the term “revenge curses” to refer to them.
10
As far as trials of magic in ancient Greece are concerned, the existence of a crime of μαγεία is difficult
to prove. In Classic and Hellenistic Greece existing testimonies of people involved in magical accusa-
tions indicate the prosecution of ἀσέβεια (“impiety”), which includes a wide range of religious offenc-
Women and the transmission of magical knowledge... 97

both women and men were involved equally in these kinds of trials11. Consequent-
ly, in the light of this evidence, the literary portrait of female sorcery that literature
offers has been questioned by many scholars that, like K. Stratton, have tried, on
the one hand, to disassemble the woman-magic connection or, on the other hand,
to explain it12. At this point, any study on female magical practitioners in the an-
cient world must take a stance on two essential questions raised from what I have
just exposed: in first place, whether the existence of witches is accepted and, sec-
ond, whether the literary depictions are reliable sources to study them from.
Regarding the first question, for scholars like G. Luck (1999: 123) there is no
doubt that in ancient communities there were women who were skilled in magic,
whom people went to but were simultaneously afraid of. Plautus’ Miles Gloriosus
gives us a noteworthy list of Roman female ritual practitioners in the liminal fringe
between religion and magic 13 ; we have nothing similar referring to the Greek
world but the analysis of literary and non-literary testimonies offers a comparable
list of Greek female ritual purveyors14. As in the case of male magicians, these
non-official religious practitioners, sometimes wandering, generally foreigners15,
were, definitely, the basis of where “sorcerers and witches” of common belief
came from. So, as far as the first question is concerned, I accept the existence of
real “witches” or “sorceresses” in the ancient world16; by these two terms I refer to

es, or harm caused by φάρμακα (see below n.14), cf. COLLINS (2001) and GORDON (1999: 268-269)
for an exhaustive bibliography.
11
See as an example the count of venenarii et malefici trials carried out in the reign of Tiberius (Chron.
Ann. Cccliv MGH IX, p.145), cf. DICKIE (2001: 149).
12
For bibliographic references see above, n.3.
13
In this excerpt Periplectomenus’ wife mentions the praecantrix, “the woman who performs incanta-
tions”, the coniectrix, “the woman who interprets dreams”, the hariola, “the inspired prophetess”, the
hauruspica, “the woman who inspects entrails” and quae supercilio spicit “the woman who interprets
movements of the eyebrows” (Plaut. Mil. 692-4). The first three are female versions of known Roman
male ritual practitioners, cf. DICKIE (2001: 156-158).
14
Perhaps the best known Greek female ritual practitioner is the φαρμακίς, literally “the woman who
purveys φάρμακα”, a wide concept which includes medicinal potions, love philtres and poisons. How-
ever, this service was not exclusively offered by women according to Theoc. Id. II. 162. According to
Demosthenes and his scholiast we know the name of two women that apparently conducted mystery
ceremonies not accepted by Athenian law (Glaucothea - Dem.19.281- and Nino - Schol. In Dem
19.281 and I. Ap.267, if the identification is correct). In Men. Phasma, 52-57 it mentions a group of
women who do purifications; this is the same kind of ritual done by the women depicted in the mime’s
fragment preserved in PSI 1416 A. In DT Aud. 1 the defigens mentions a paid woman that could be
summoned by people and who literally “went to the sanctuary to curse the life of someone”: ἐκάλεσα
γυναῖκα ἐπὶ τὸ ἱερόν τρία ἡμιμναῖα διδοῦσα ἵνα αὐτὸν ἐκ τῶν ζόντων ἄρη (side A, 12-18), clearly a
magic procedure, as DICKIE (2001: 102) suggests.
15
Their usual identification as aliens is the result of a complex phenomenon. The rejection of the for-
eigner as a form of cultural self-reaffirmation, a phenomenon called “construction of the Otherness”
(or simply “Otherness”), according to STRATTON (2007: 39-47) was essential in the creation of the
western concept of “magic” and in the equation magician-foreigner, a prejudice which functions in
both senses. However, once this identification became a stereotype, it was also used by the magical
practitioners themselves to increase their prestige, something that FRANKFURTER (1998: 224-237)
names “stereotype’s appropriation”.
16
See above, n.2.
98 Miriam Blanco Cesteros

women skilled in magic -but surely in other ritual practices such as purifications
too- that normally take advantage of their abilities in this field to put their exper-
tise at the disposition of others in exchange for money, that is, as a way of life or
as a economic complement. It is important to bear in mind that, consequently, not
all the women involved in magical practices reported by ancient sources are
“witches”; for the most part, even in the judicial processes related with magical
practices, they are, on the contrary, “users”: women who utilize magical resources
such as love potions but actually do not know how to make them or even how they
work17.
As far as the second question is concerned, firstly, it is necessary to establish
that we have fewer sources to study the figure of the witch in the Greco-Roman
world than to study male magicians. Actually, there is an intriguing lack of materi-
al evidence on ancient sorceresses, so our insight is almost exclusively taken from
literary records. R. Gordon (1987: 238) considers that the male domain in promi-
nent magical remains such as Greek magical papyri is because these writings re-
veal a high level of training. This proposal implies, therefore, that the absence of
female magicians from these testimonies does not mean they were non-existent,
but that this knowledge was only accessible to men, so women’s magical lore be-
longs to a different tradition, hypothesis about which I will return later. Regarding
literary sources, on the other hand, some scholars reject them as not reliable. Strat-
ton (2007: 25; 2014: 4), for example, considers that literary witches «are fictional-
ized products of a male author’s imagination and are likely to reveal very little or
nothing about what women actually did but instead reveal something about con-
cerns and issues relating to men». On the contrary, other specialists accept that the
women represented in these texts are a mimetic reflection of a historical reality18.
Similar to them, some years ago, in a previous article19, I defended the existence of
an underlying reality behind the archetypes in literary portrayals of female magic
practitioners. I based my argumentation on the fact that both literary depictions of
male magical practitioners and some literary scenes of magic have a very “real”
foundation. Hence, I propose that if the argument of verisimilitude is true for the
literary depiction of magicians and magical rituals, why would witches not have
had, behind the veil of stock themes employed in their description, real features
recognizable to the public?

17
A representative example was Fedra’s wet nurse in E. Hipp. 507-508.
18
GORDON (1987), FARAONE (1998) and DICKIE (2001).
19
See above n.2.
Women and the transmission of magical knowledge... 99

2. WOMEN’S MAGICAL COSMOS20

A good way to explore Gordon’s hypothesis is to examine the contextual frame


in which magical knowledge circulates and was transmitted between women. Like
any other female character in the Ancient World, literary testimonies always de-
pict the woman who practices magic surrounded by a feminine constellation of
figures in contact with which it attests the interchange of magical wisdom. I have
organised these sources according to the kind of actors implicated in them.

2.1. Female owner – maidservant

The most ancient reference of a witch’s servant is found in the pseudo-


Demosthenic mention to Theoris of Lemnos’ trial (Dem.25.79-80 Butcher):

οὑτοσί–τὰ μὲν ἄλλα σιωπῶ, ἀλλ’ ἐφ’ οἷς ὑμεῖς τὴν μιαρὰν Θεωρίδα, τὴ ν
Λημνίαν, τὴν φαρμακίδα, καὶ αὐτὴν καὶ τὸ γένος ἅπαν ἀπεκτείνατε, ταῦτα λαβὼν
τὰ φάρμακα καὶ τὰς ἐπῳδὰς παρὰ τῆς θεραπαίνης αὐτῆς, ἣ κατ’ ἐκείνης τότ’
ἐμήνυσεν, ἐξ ἧσπερ ὁ βάσκανος οὗτος πεπαιδοποίηται, μαγγανεύει καὶ φενακίζει
καὶ τοὺς ἐπιλήπτους φησὶνἰᾶσθαι.

“This man [Eunomos] (about the other matters I quiet, but not about the things
for which you [the tribunal] put the polluted Theoris of Lemnos, the witch, –both
her and her entire family- to death: the drugs and incantations), he, receiving those
things from the servant-girl of Theoris, the one who at the time informed against
her mistress and by whom this evildoer has had children, does tricks and magic and
claims to heal epileptics.21”

In spite of its singularity, the case of Theoris has received little attention from
modern scholars interested in Greek and Roman magic until the last years when D.
Collins (2001) and E. Eidinow (2016) have stopped to analyse it in depth. Regard-
less of the different opinions about Theoris’ social status and the charges for which
she and her family were sentenced to death, Eidinow and Collins agree that the
words of the Demosthenic account, although their obvious pejorative intention in
the discourse’s context, are not a mere slander and that Theoris may have been

20
I exclude from this study AP V.205, an anonymous Hellenistic epigram that takes the form of a dedica-
tory inscription in which a woman called Niko offers Aphrodite a iunx, a typical witch’s instrument for
attraction-spells that she describes as τῆς Λαρισσαίης ξείνια φαρμακίδος, “a guest-gift from the sor-
ceress of Larissa” (l.6), an ambiguous sentence that does not allow us to know if Niko, a witch from
Larissa, offered this iunx to Aphrodite as a guest-gift (DICKIE 2001: 103) or whether the iunx is an old
hospitality gift obtained by Niko from a witch from Larisa (FARAONE 1998: 151-152). Although this
last reading seems more convincing to me, a ξείνια gift does not suffice to sustain an instructional rela-
tionship between both women.
21
Translation is my own.
100 Miriam Blanco Cesteros

brought before the courts as a consequence of her magical practices22. I find espe-
cially interesting the critic analysis of Theoris’ sources made by Collins who sug-
gests that, of the three sources we have on Theoris’ trial, the pseudo-Demosthenic
is the most reliable. In Collins’ opinion the assertions of Plutarch and Harpocration
according to which Theoris was a priestess -ἱέρεια (Plut.Dem.14)- or a diviner -
μάντις (Philoch. FGH 328 F60 cf. Harp. s.v.Theôris)-, are probably later infer-
ences from the Demosthenic report contaminated by cross-interferences from other
cases of women involved in ritual denunciations23.
Of greater interest however, is the fact that Theoris had a maidservant -
θεράπαινα-. She seems to have been crucial in her mistress’ trial but, moreover, this
passage is interesting as far as the role of this girl-slave is concerned. The state-
ment ταῦτα λαβὼν τὰ φάρμακα καὶ τὰς ἐπῳδὰς παρὰ τῆς θεραπαίνης αὐτῆς of the
pseudo Demosthenic passage is rather ambiguous and can be interpreted that the
maidservant simply gave her mistress’ magical remedies to her customers. How-
ever, the last part of the sentence suggests that the magical practices of Eunomos
were made possible only thanks to her. If this is the case, she must have taught her
owner’s magical practices to her husband which implies that she was not merely a
messenger, but actually knew the magical practices of her mistress.
Chronologically, the next testimonies are two from the Hellenistic period. The
longest is the scene depicted by Theocritus in his famous Second Idyll in which a
girl called Simeta24 develops a love ritual assisted by her servant Thestilide. The

22
In the Collins and Eidinow’s opinion, it is plausible that Theoris were a φαρμακίς and, according to the
Demosthenic account, it seems that she was executed by τὰ φάρμακα καὶ τὰς ἐπῳδὰς but, since in con-
temporary Athens there was not a clear legislation against magic (cf. above n. 10), the scholars agree
that her trial could not be based on her magical practices per se but on something linked with them
which provoked a social alarm. The possible charges pointed out, according to the severe punishment
received, have been (a) some kind of physical damage caused by her drugs, such as murder (COLLINS
2001: 484-485, 492-493), or (b) ἀσέβεια, “impiety” (EIDINOW 2016: 38-64), a broad charge of reli-
gious nature that was used in denounces of association with unknown or foreign gods, the practice of
new rituals or different “religious offence”. Eidinow’s study shows that single women, independently
of their citizenship, without an adequate economic support (that is, a sanctioned marriage) were more
susceptible to be taken to court by this kind of charges because they were seen as destabilizing social
agents. Therefore, the social factors involved in these trials are more relevant than the charges them-
selves which usually were legal pretexts to attack them, cf. EIDINOW 2016: 312-325.
23
COLLINS (2001: 491-492). The alluded women are Ninos, who according to a Demosthenic scholium
was a priestess condemned to death for giving love potions to youngsters (Scol. In Dem. 19.281), and
Glaucothea, τῆς τοὺς θιάσους συναγούσης (Dem. 19.281). As Eidinow remarks (but not in this discur-
sive line), sacerdotal titles were usually employed with some indication of the divinity to which the
priest or priestess were attached, so its lack in the Plutarch’s reference is quite striking, cf. EIDINOW
(2016: 15).
24
Although Simeta is not a professional sorceress because she does not practise magic to earn money,
she has acquired quite magical wisdom and is capable of executing a complex ritual, so she is usually
considered to be a dilettante or apprentice witch. There is an open discussion on the realism of the sce-
ne depicted by Theocritus and it is possible to find studies for (SUTPHEN 1902: 315-327; GARCÍA TEI-
JEIRO 1999) and against (GRAF 1994: 199-230) the verisimilitude of the whole rite executed by Sime-
ta; however, all the scholars agree with the realism of the individual magical processes which config-
ure it, inspired in practices well known since Hellenistic period.
Women and the transmission of magical knowledge... 101

way in which Simeta directs her servant’s actions and how Thestilide supports and
replies to her is closely paralleled25 in a fragment of a mime attributed to Sophron
(PSI 1416 A) in which a female practitioner26, who is preparing a ritual related to
Hecate27, gives orders to her assistant in a rapport that, attending Theocritus’ Idyll,
could be interpreted almost certainly as an owner-slave relationship.
The remaining two texts come from the Imperial period. The first one is a pas-
sage from Lucius or The Ass in which appears Palestra, the young maidservant of a
witch who unintentionally transforms Lucius, the main character of this account,
into a donkey when she tries to emulate her mistress28; Photis is an echo character
of Palestra in the Latin version of this story written by Apuleius from Madaura29.
In the first one, Lucius takes for granted that Palestra knows her mistress’ opera-
tions even though she denies it (Luc. Asin.11).By way of confirmation of Lucio's
suspicions, she will prove to have more magical knowledge than she had recog-
nized when, in spite of Lucius’ magical failed transformation, she explains to him
how to invert the spell (ibid.14). Apuleius, unlike the The Ass’ author, elaborates
Photis’ character in greater detail allowing us to know more about her role. Hence,
according to Photis, although her mistress, “always buries herself in solitude and
makes sure she is completely alone before she performs secret rites of this sort”30,

25
Actually, the similitudes between both are not casual. According to a Theocritus scholiast, Theocritus’
second Idyll would have been based on Sophron’s opera (Schol. Theoc. 2 arg. b 3 W). Some scholars
have interpreted this as a reference to this mime, but, as A.S. GOW (1933: 113-15, 168-69) pointed out,
the scholiast makes a general reference to Sophron’s work and this only indicates that Theocritus’ sec-
ond Idyll was based on Sophron’s mimes but not necessarily on this one.
26
In the preserved text there are no indicators on the sex of the person who guides the rite or the assistant
but it is generally accepted that all of them are women for several reasons. In first place, this fragment
is identified as part of Sophron’s mime Tαὶ γυναῖκες αἳ τὰνθεόν φαντιἐξελᾶν whose title, transmitted
by Apolonius Discolos (adv. 2,1,1, p. 180,6 Schn.) and Atheneus (9.480b), identifies the main charac-
ters as women. Atheneus states also the authorship of Sophron and the feminine character of the play.
There is no doubt that the ritual is done for the benefit of a group of women, as the τανδ’ that appears
in ll.15-16 states, but within the people involved in the scene there are also men, as the ποτιβάντες that
appears in l.5 indicates. It would be too long to discuss here the role developed by each character in the
fragment, but it seems that the group of men only act as spectators of the ritual while those involved in
the action are women. In support of the female sex of the officiant and the assistant, J. VERDEJO (2010:
93-94) indicates that Theophrastus states that rituals such as those performed in this fragment were
done by priestesses (ἱέρειαι, cf.Char. 16.13). These are the same reasons given by OGDEN (2002: 108).
27
Although some scholars have considered that the rite performed in this fragment was a love charm as
in the Theocritus’ opera (HORDERN 2002: 164-173), it seems most probable, by the elements and ac-
tions mentioned in the text, that it was actually an apotropaic or magical purification procedure. On
this discussion see. ZOGRAFOU (2010: 268-269) y VERDEJO (2010: 94-95).
28
Luc. Asin. 11-15.
29
Ap. Met. 3. 15ss. In their general structure, both episodes can be considered a female version of The
Sorcerer's Apprentice (Luc. Philops. 33-36), a folk-tale motif in which an amateur magician tries to
imitate his teacher with catastrophic results due to his inexperience.
30
In solitudine semper abstruse et omnium praesentia viduata solet huius modis secreta perficere
(Ap.Met.3.20; English translation from OGDEN 2002: 142).
102 Miriam Blanco Cesteros

as a domestic slave, her mistress’ privacy does not exclude her31: she knows her
mistress’ magic plans and operations and tells Lucius that she usually picks up
ingredients for her mistress’ magic rituals (ibid.3.16). Her collaboration in her
mistress’ magical rituals seems clear when she declares, including herself in the
statement: “we are notorious throughout the town for our evil techniques”32. The
supposition that both young maidservants have a deep involvement in their mis-
tresses’ magical practices becomes more probable if we consider the previous
accounts examined in which the mistress–maidservant relationship is present.

2.2 Professional practitioner - customer // customer – customer

The second way in which magical wisdom circulates between women in an-
cient literature is from the ritual purveyor to the clients who, in turn, would also
transmit it to third parties.
Several accounts suggest that in the context of the magical consultation, the
magical experts not only provided spells or potions to their customers, but this
interaction also generated a transmission of wisdom when the clients learnt magi-
cal procedures from the ritual practitioner. For example, Theocritus’ Simeta de-
clares to have learned -μαθοῖσα- κακὰ φάρμακα from an Assyrian magician (The-
oc. II Idyl. 160-161). But this was almost certainly not the only magical procedure
she learnt; it is possible to infer that the different magical procedures that she ac-
cumulates in her erotic spell could have been acquired in her multiple visits to
γραίας ἅτις ἐπᾷδεν, “old women, learned in incantations” (l.91). The text of The-
ocritus, however, does not tell us if the role of the magical practitioner in Simeta’s
learning was active or passive, that is, if the magical practitioners actually teach
her their wisdom or, on the contrary, whether Simeta learnt through observing
attentively the ritual performed by the magicians and sorceresses she consulted,
but, in any case, ancient literature offers us examples of both ways of learning.
As far as magical lore teaching goes, Ovid (Fast. 2. 571-81) describes an anus
in mediis residens annosa puellis, “an old woman of many years sitting among
girls” who performs the rites of the naiad Muta Tacita, “the Silent One” (l.571-
572). The ritual procedures depicted here are a phimôtikón, a kind of binding spell
to block hostile words from rivals or enemies33. Remarkably, neither the goddess,
her connection with this kind of magical spell nor the procedure are literary inven-
tions of Ovid, but they are attested in a Latin extant defixio quoted by J.G. Gager34.
As I argued in the introduction, if the rite described by Ovid is based on a real one,
31
In general, in the Roman and Greek world, slaves were seen as things, so they, like other objects, were
present in any aspect of their owners’ lives, even in those most intimate moments (during bath time,
sex), in order to assist them with any request, cf. WIEDEMANN (2005: 1-13).
32
Alioquin publicitus maleficiae disciplinae perinfames sumus (Ap.Met.3.16; English translation from
OGDEN 2002: 142).
33
We can be sure about that thanks to the final assertion of the hag: hostiles linguas inimicaque vinx-
imusora, “we have bound the tongues of our enemies and hostile mouths”.(l.581). English translation
from OGDEN (2004: 129).
34
GAGER (1992: 252), OGDEN (2004: 129).
Women and the transmission of magical knowledge... 103

why should this vignette of an old woman transmitting her magical wisdom to
young disciples not be real either?
The conscious instruction of magical knowledge by a sorceress also appears in
Achilles Tacius’ Leucippe and Clitophon novel, one century later than Ovid’s
account. There, Leucippe, Clio’s slave-girl at the moment of the scene, offers her
mistress, who has been stung by a bee, two healing-spells that “an Egyptian wom-
an taught her - διδαχθῆναι-” (Ach.Tat. 2.7.2).
From the same period but somewhat earlier is the fourth scene of this group,
narrated in Lucianus’ Dialogues of the Courtesans. In one of these brief pieces
(DeMeretr.4.4), the courtesans Melitta, who has lost a lover, asks her maidservant
Bacchis help to find a “Thessalian woman” to help her recover the love of the boy.
Because Bacchis does not know any Thessalian, she tells her mistress about a very
efficient Syrian witch - χρησίμη φαρμακίς, Σύρα τὸ γένος- who on one occasion
performed a love ritual on her in which she recovered her lost lover. Interested,
Melitta asked her «Τίδὲ ἔπραξεν ἡ γραῦς, εἴπερ ἔτι μέμνησαι;» (4.4.6), a question
with a double meaning which can be interpreted as “how much did she charge?” or
“what has she done?”. In her response, Bacchis answers both, how much she got
paid and what the ritual done by the witch was (4.4.7 –4.5.7). Although in this
case Bacchis does not perform the ritual herself, her accurate description of each
ingredient and step of the ritual does not differ so much from Simetha’s procedure.
Regarding the way in which the transmission of magical knowledge takes place
here, from Melitta’s question and the words of Bacchis35 , contrary to previous
examples, it is possible to infer that, in this case, Bacchis learnt this ritual through
active observation while the witch executed the magic procedure for her.

3. THE LEARNING OF MAGIC AMONG WOMEN IN ANCIENT LITERARY SOURCES

It could be argued that the preceding passages are, simply, different rhetoric
ways used by authors to add magic to the stage play, but, in any case, they show
several potential ways of learning magic. The fact is that, if we accept that in the
ancient world both men and women practiced magic, we must recognise that their
knowledge had to somehow be transmitted from one generation to the next.
The first process noted in the analysed testimonies is that which occurs be-
tween a servant and her mistress. The sources indicate that sorceresses, just as any
other woman who could afford it, had girl slaves whose tasks included helping
their owner during their rituals such as Palestra, Photis or Thestilide do36. Similar-
ly to the apprentice who learns while working for his master, these maidservants

35
“She hangs first…, she intones then…; then she brings…. That’s what she did” (4.5.1-7).
36
Palestra, for example, is cooking when Lucius seduces her (Luc. Asin. 5-6). In the Golden Ass, which
is more detailed than the Pseudo-Lucianus’ narration, Photis appears carrying out the usual tasks of a
domestic slave: she welcomes the guests and prepares their rooms and receives orders from Lucius to
tend to his horse (Ap. Met. 1.23.7-24.3), works as messenger for her owners (Met. 1.26.1), cooks (Met.
2.7.1-3) and serves at the table (Met. 2.11.5), etc.
104 Miriam Blanco Cesteros

would have absorbed their proprietors’ profession and developed it in order to


make their own living37. This was what Theoris’ servant girl (with her husband)
seems to have done.
Short spells like the two used by Leucippe in Achilles Tacius’ novel38 are plau-
sibly taught orally from the magical practitioner to the clients. Ch. Faraone, who
has studied different kinds of ancient Greek poetic incantations, has concluded, on
the basis of these charms’ features, that the Hellenistic and Imperial written re-
mains we have proceed from a long oral tradition39. Moreover, it does not seem to
me unlikely that, in some cases, the magical practitioners provided their clients
with not only short spells but also instructions on simple magical procedures. The
possibility of the oral teaching of magical practices is attested in Ovid’s episode,
where the old hag combines the explanation of the ritual with its execution in front
of her female pupils what is rather noteworthy because proves that a person inter-
ested in learning magic could also acquire this knowledge through attentive obser-
vation of the witch’s rite, like Bacchis seems to have done and most surely Simeta
too.
On the other hand, the literary-examined excerpts coincide in characterising
this knowledge as distinctive of a particular women’s social group: that of courte-
sans and prostitutes40.The association between magic and prostitution in ancient
sources, in my opinion, has been taken to an extreme by modern scholars both

37
Or to benefit others. DICKIE (2001: 186) has suggested that “it is not to be assumed that all of the
sorcerers and astrologers who lived in Rome were independent operators. Some of them seem to have
been clients of rich patrons and formed part of their household”.
38
Although possible, there are no reasons to think that Leucippe or Simeta received the magical
knowledge they have in writing.
39
About hexametrical incantations see FARAONE (2000: especially p.212), and (2011); for the iambic,
see FARAONE 2009. This latter is especially thought-provoking because it collects some examples of
brief spells against dangerous animals (e.g. p. 250, 254, n.75), surely very similar to those that Achilles
Tacius could have had in mind when he wrote this scene.
40
Leaving aside the Dialogues of the Courtesans’ characters, the status of prostitute is generally accepted
by Theocritus’ Simeta, who presents a type, according to FARAONE (2001: 154), as «instantly recog-
nizable to Theocritus’ ancient audience as typical of a prostitute». More disputable is the case of Theo-
ris. Her economic freedom and independence joint with the lack of a male figure by her side has made
DICKIE (2001: 78-85) think she was probably a courtesan. Although possible, other scholars such as
COLLINS (2001: 490), who had studied Theoris’ figure in depth, do not allude to this possibility and
only refer to her non-citizen condition (on the opposite opinion see EIDINOW 2016: 12). DICKIE (2001:
179) has also argued that the old woman of Ovid’s Fasti and her female pupils are prostitutes on the
basis that the female group closes the scene by drinking wine. However, the relationship between wine
as a literary motif and prostitution has been dismantled by specialists on the ancient female world such
as S.B. POMEROY (1975: 109-110), who defend that some of these depictions of women drinking wine
could belong to ritual scenes and not to vignettes of prostitution. Taking into account that Ovid’s scene
develops in the context of a religious festival, these women, although in the street, are in a private col-
loquy in which the public spies through the poet’s gaze. Thus, the wine’s motive in this scene would
not mark them necessarily as prostitutes. C.K. BLAZEBY (2011: 104-105) states that ancient women,
just like men, must have come together to drink wine in non-sexualized contexts and without harming
their “respectability”; this was obviously criticised under the male gaze, just like the religious female
rituals about which men’s imagination fantasized, but the concept that “decent” ancient women did not
drink wine is an idea generated by modern scholars on the basis of ancient male writers who disap-
proved of this practice.
Women and the transmission of magical knowledge... 105

when it has been completely rejected41 and when it has been accepted as general
law42. On the one hand, because, as D. Frankfurter declares, «relegating magic to
the demimonde of courtesans and adulteresses is both unnecessarily restrictive and
frankly moralistic»43, but on the other hand, because in the female characters con-
nected with magic effectively there are a stock of stereotypes which link women,
magic and an exaggerated libido which fits in very well with the prostitute’s pro-
file. However, the assumption that magic was a central part of the knowledge of a
courtesan was, rather than a literary topic, a socially widespread commonplace44
that could have been based on historical reasons.
Although magic was an ubiquitous phenomenon that did not distinguish be-
tween sexes or social classes, the analysis of the female names of binding spells
written on behalf of women in connection with literary accounts and historical
dates reveals that prostitutes were great customers of magic procedures45. This is
not the time to inquire why, but this implies that the literary vignette of the courte-
san requiring the service of a sorceress was not a mere stock theme, but a realistic
element of her portrait. As users who frequented these ritual experts more fre-
quently than other social stratums, it is plausible that throughout their life, prosti-
tutes, like Simeta, could accumulate more magical wisdom than other women and,
consequently, it is not surprising that these women transmitted this knowledge to
their pupils as part of their “professional heritage” or that they, in the privacy of
other prostitutes’ company, exchanged magical advice or recommendations on
useful witches, like Bacchis do with her mistress.
We can return, therefore, to Gordon’s hypothesis which was the point of depar-
ture of this analysis. Regarding this, all the scenes which mention the transmission
of magical wisdom between women are unanimous in presenting it, first, as an
unwritten process and, second, as unrestricted to professional practitioners. Hence,
it is not subjected to bans, but it is an open and living tradition which circulates
freely among women (and surely also among men). Thus, women appear connect-
ed to a kind of magic that we can label as traditional while, in contrast, male magi-
cal practitioners appear frequently in literary fonts related to written works46, a fact

41
Stratton is on this side of the critic. According to her, the common association between magic and
prostitution is part of the socio-political abjection discourse of both magic and sexually empowered
women such as prostitutes, cf. STRATTON (2007: 71-107, and 2014).
42
At this extreme, DICKIE (2001) seems to try to fit under this profile almost all female literary charac-
ters involved in magic.
43
FRANKFURTER (2014: 322).
44
As far as this assumption goes, it is usually cited the episode narrated by Xenophon between Socrates
and the courtesan Theodote (Xen. Mem. 3.11.16–18).
45
DICKIE (2001: 82-85); FARAONE (2001: 149-154).
46
E.g. the Philopseudes’ Egyptian magician Pancrates is an admirable learned man (Luc. Philops. 33);
Thessalus of Tralles described himself as an accomplished man of letters, cf. Thessal. De virtutibus
herbarum1–28 Friedrich. This trait was already attributed by Plato to magical and ritual practitioners,
who said that these performed their rites in accordance with the “books of Musaeus and Orpheus”
(Pl.R. 364e).
106 Miriam Blanco Cesteros

confirmed by the historic sources of Greco-Egyptian magic47, which characterized


this wisdom repeatedly as secret and restricted48 . Could women have therefore
been excluded from this “learned” tradition of magic?

4. PGM IV 478-482

In a hardly known passage of the Greek magical papyri, at the beginning of the
so-called “Mithra’s liturgy”49, a male magical practitioner makes some ritual re-
marks directed to an addressee whom he refers to as θυγάτηρ, “daughter”:

χρὴ οὖν σε, ὦ θύγατερ, λαμβάνειν χυλοὺς βοτανῶν καὶ εἰδῶν τῶν μ[ελ]λόντων
σοι <μηνυθήσεσθαι> ἐν τῷ τέλει τοῦ ἱεροῦ μου συντάγματος (PGM IV 478-82).

“Furthermore, it is necessary for you, O daughter, to take the juices of herbs and
spices, which will [be made known] to you at the end of my holy compendium.”50

Due to the way in which this advice interrupts the discourse, scholars agree that
it is an interpolation, almost certainly a marginal annotation that a scribe inserted
erroneously in the main text51. If θύγατερ refers to a natural daughter or a female
disciple52, it is not interesting for now. On the contrary, more telling is the fact that
the addressee was female.
Since it belongs to instructional literature, the magic recipes compiled in PGM
always have an addressee (the scribe himself, an epistolary addressee, etc.) but
some treatises, such as the “Mithra’s liturgy”, have been written for a hypothetical
magic apprentice to whom the magician referred sometimes metaphorically, some-
times literally, as τέκνον, παῖς or υἱός, “son, child”53. In fact, even in the Mithra’s
liturgy the author addresses to “his only child”54 -μόνῳ δὲ τέκνῳ- (ll.476, 749).

47
The magical papyri themselves are proof of the written character of this tradition. In them, moreover,
the Greco-Egyptian magicians made frequent references to the written transmission of this tradition
(e.g. PGM IV 475; PGM III 425, PGM XXIV) which can be also inferred when several versions of the
same practice are mentioned or even collected (e.g. PGM XIII).
48
About secrecy in PGM see BETZ (1991) and (1995). For some examples see below n. 53, 68 and 69.
49
Under the name of “Mithra’s liturgy” is known a long praxis of “immortalisation” (ἀπαθανατισμός;
ll.475-834) collected in the so-called Great Magical Papyrus of Paris; the title was given by A. DI-
ETERICH in his work Eine Mithrasliturgie (1903).
50
PGM’s English translation from BETZ (1986).
51
Cf. DIETERICH (1903: 2-3). According to that, this magician was not the author of the praxis, but was a
compiler or transmitter of the ritual. BETZ (2003: 95) has studied in great depth the triangle first author
– text – secondary scribe of this papyrus.
52
In Greek, Latin and Egyptian instructional language terms such as “son”, “daughter” or “child” have
the metaphorical sense of “disciple, apprentice”, so the meaning of θυγάτηρ here is ambiguous.
53
Cf. PGM I 192: ταῦτα οὖν μηδενὶ παραδίδου, εἰ μὴ μόνῳ [σο]υ ἰσχινῷ υἱῷ, “share these things with no
one except your only legitimate child”; PGM IV 2519 κρύβε, υἱε, “keep it secret, son”. See also PGM
XIII 226, 230, 231, 233, 341, 343, 719, 734, 742, 755, etc.
54
Or “only this child at this time”. Here, the Greek is ambiguous. On the absolutely or relative exclu-
siveness of this command and examples in both ways, see BETZ (2003: 93).
Women and the transmission of magical knowledge... 107

These kinds of vocatives reveal that one of the ways in which this magical tradi-
tion was handed down was through the exclusive transmission of knowledge from
father to son or broadly speaking, from the mentor to a chosen initiate who be-
comes recipient of his wisdom. On the other hand, with reference to their gender,
the terms employed for the magician’s apprentice whether it be in the main texts
of the Mithra’s liturgy or in other PGM passages, as Betz (2003: 93) points out,
they are usually neuter. That is why besides being a unique instance in PGM, this
θυγάτηρ makes this passage especially noteworthy for the study of female magical
practitioners in the ancient world because it proves that the pupils of Greco-
Egyptian magicians were not exclusively men.
Although attested in the ancient Egyptian world55, the transmission of know-
ledge from a preceptor/father to a female pupil/daughter in the ancient world was
rather uncommon. However, from Roman Imperial times onwards women start to
appear in equal situations to men in some circles, such as in mystery cults56: Or-
phic testimonies evidence the participation of both sexes in the rites57; also Theur-
gy58 had both female and male adherents59 and both women and men were includ-
ed equally in the calling of Early Christianism60. The Roman Imperial age, espe-
cially the Late period, was moreover an epoch in which there was a flourishing of
women in intellectual fields, such as philosophy, until now dominated by men61.
The famous Hypatia of Alexandria, Asclepigeneia, daughter of Plutarco of Athens,
and Sosipatra of Pergamum62 participated actively in their Neoplatonic schools,
even instructing men. Some aspects of their biographies are very revealing for our
present discussion: first, their connection with hieratic wisdom; second, a pattern

55
BETZ (2003, 96, n.42) mentions some ancient Egyptian medical texts.
56
That is, cults whose participation is reserved only for initiates.
57
In Orphic gold tablets, which generally contain ritual instructions to the dead for their passing to the
Netherworld, the deceased initiate was referred to with the neuter παῖς or with sex-marked terms like
θυγάτηρ or υἱός, cf. BETZ (1998: 225, n.11). The undifferentiated participation of women and men in
Orphic cults was also acknowledged in the orphic cup’s relief analysed by A. Mastrocinque in this
same volume.
58
Not even modern scholars are in agreement about what Theurgy was. Due to its bonds with Neoplato-
nism and Chaldean mysteries, it was halfway between a school of thought and a form of religion, so I
have preferred to cite here the broad definition outlined by N. DENZEY (2004: 181): “Theurgy was a
system of rituals destined to invoke divine powers and to connect human individuals with higher cos-
mic forces and processes”.
59
As far as women are concerned, see below.
60
“Because you are all sons of God -υἱοὶ θεοῦ- through faith in Christ Jesus (…) there is no Jew or
Greek, servant or free, male or female -οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ-: because you are all one in Jesus
Christ.” (Gal. 3: 26-28); “And will be a Father to you; and you will be my sons and daughters -υἱοὺς
καὶ θυγατέρας-, says the Lord, the Ruler of all” (2Cor. 6: 18).
61
According to N. Denzey’s study of Neoplatonic female theurgist, since pagan cults went underground
with the empowerment of Christianism, women grew in importance as holders of ancient pagan mys-
tery traditions because in the tense atmosphere of late antiquity, women were ideally positioned out of
the public gaze to discretely keep alive this kind of hieratic wisdom, cf. DENZEY (2004: 281, 289 and
292).
62
It does not mean that these kind of women were more common in this period; on the contrary, scholars
have pointed out that they have been seen by their contemporaries as a rarity and due to that, their
fame increased, cf. RIST (1965: 220); DENZEY (2004: 289).
108 Miriam Blanco Cesteros

of familiar transmission; and last, a father-daughter legacy. According to So-


sipatra’s biographer Eunapius, she was initiated in Chaldean mysteries and passed
her wisdom down to her son Antoninus, who in turn became a master theurgist in
Canopus, Egypt 63 ; Asclepigeneia was instructed in Theurgy by her father Plu-
tarch64, and inherited the management of his school. Only about Hypatia is there
no historical evidence of her participation in esoteric rites 65 , but her example
serves us equally well as a woman educated in high doctrines by her father. To
these evidences of the existence of female recipients of esoteric knowledge in Late
antiquity I want to add the treatise of Harpocration of Alexandria66 whose work
was collected in the Cyranides, a six-book lapidary attributed to Hermes Trimegis-
tus with a very complex textual tradition67. According to the prologue, Harpocra-
tion dedicated his treatise to his daughter:

“The first of the two books is about the physical forces of sympathy and antipa-
thy; it was put together on the one hand in the first book of Kyranides, king of Per-
sia, and, on the other hand, in the book which Harpocration of Alexandria addressed
to his daughter -ἐκ τοῦ Ἁρποκρατίωνος τοῦ Ἀλεξανδρέως πρὸς τὴν οἰκεῖαν
θυγατέραν”. (Cyran. Prolog.1-5 Kaimakis)

“The Harpocration’s prologue is as follows: “medical book from Syria. Har-


pocration dedicated this writing to his daughter -τῇ οἰκείᾳ θυγατρὶ Ἁρποκρατίων
γέγραφε τάδε-”. (Cyran. Prolog. 30-31 Kaimakis)

Harpocration offered the wisdom contained in his writing to her, to whom he


addressed repeatedly in the main text as τέκνον or τέκνον μου, phrases also used in
PGM, with a phraseology which is very reminiscent of some passages from Greek
magical papyri, including the “Mithra’s liturgy”68, and whose purpose is to em-
phasise its importance but also the hieratic character of its content:

Ἵνα δὲ μὴ καταργήσωμεν τὸ βιβλίον, ἀρκείσθω ὁ λόγος, ἐπεὶ μεγίστας ἔχει


δυνάμεις. δι’ ὅ, ὦ τέκνον, μετὰ πολλῆς φιλοπονίας καὶ πόνου ψυχῆς ταῦτα
ἑρμηνεύσας σοι ἔγραψα. Γίνωσκε δὲ τοῦτο, ὅτι οὐδεὶς ἕτερος ἔχει. δι’ ὃ μηδενὶ
μετάδος τοῦτο τὸ ἔνθεον μυστήριον (Cyran. I 10.100-105 Kaimakis).

63
Eunap. Lives 400-421 Wright. For an in-depth analysis of this passage see DENZEY (2004).
64
Marin. Procl. 28.
65
DZIELSKA (1998: 63-65).
66
The excerpts’ English translation is my own.
67
The process of copying and recopying this work makes dating it particularly difficult. However, the
majority of scholars situate it in the 1st or 2nd century, although it has even been suggested also the 4th
century, cf. BAIN (1995: 283).
68
The prologue of the Mithra’s Liturgy presents it as τὰ <ἄ>πρατα, παραδοτὰ μυστήρια (PGM IV 476
Preisendanz), “the unsalable mysteries, the handed over ones”. For different lectures of this passage
see BETZ (2003: 92), including the possibility that πρατα (Π) was only a scribal mistake not erased for
παραδοτὰ, the next word.
Women and the transmission of magical knowledge... 109

“In order to not ruin this book, keep this discourse secret, because it has a great
power. Oh daughter, I wrote you these explanations with a great industry and effort
of my soul. Thus, learn this that no other knows and do not hand out anyone this di-
vine mystery”69.

Returning to the interpretation of θυγάτηρ in PGM IV 478-482, although in


some mystery circles the women have been called θυγάτηρ, we have no other tes-
timony on female pupils of the Greco-Egyptian magical tradition. However, we
have seen some significant examples of father-daughter transmission of exclusive
wisdom in Late Antiquity. According to these, and without excluding the possibil-
ity that θυγάτηρ was a reference to “female apprentice”, in my opinion, it seems
easier to interpret θυγάτηρ as “daughter”. It is more plausible even if the mention
of μόνῳ δὲ τέκνῳ which appears in PGM IV 476 stated that the transmission of
this knowledge was only intended for a legitimate child –restraint attested in PGM
I 192-, which would make possible that this magical tradition has been received by
a daughter in absence of sons.

5. FINAL THOUGHTS

Some years ago, R. Gordon (1999) exposed that the ancient accounts show not
a plain panorama of magic in the ancient world, but a constellation of practices
and practitioners in relation to which he proposed dividing them into four groups
according to their specialists’ cultural level:
(a) At the least prestigious level, there was wise men and women routinely con-
sulted for daily problems and whose authority relied upon the popular consensus
and the tradition of their wisdom. This, to which they added their own adaptations
and creations, was uncomplicated and not supported by a written matrix but was
sustained by popular beliefs and practices70.
(b) At a higher level of competence Gordon places ritual practitioners such as
root-cutters -ritual experts on the preparation of herbal and animal remedies-
whose doctrine was influenced by magic but also medical and religious-
philosophic doctrines and suffered a notable systematization from the Hellenistic
period onwards71.

69
This is the end of the Harpocration’s treatise which can be compared, alongside the texts mentioned
above in n. 51, with PGM XIII 230: πλήρης ἡ τελετὴ τῆς Μονάδος προσεφωνήθη σοι, τέκνον. (…) ὡς
ἐξώρκισά σε, τέκνον, ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ τῷ ἐν Ἱερωσολύμῳ· πλησθεὶς τῆς θεοσοφίας ἀνεύρετον ποίησον τὴν
βίβλον, “the initation called The Monad has been fully declared to you, child.(…) As I made you
swear, child, in the temple of Jerusalem, when you have been filled with the divine wisdom, dispose of
the book so that it will not be found”.
70
GORDON (1999: 182-183 and 184).
71
GORDON (1999: 184-185).
110 Miriam Blanco Cesteros

(c) Also sophisticated and quite learned in a different way Gordon considers
the Greek γοητεία, which seems to have came up as a specialized mediation be-
tween the Underworld and the living dimension72.
(d) In the highest level would have been the authors of Greek Magical Papyri:
magician-scribes closely attached to temples and sacred libraries who managed a
high-level learned magical tradition73.
As it can be seen from the analysis of the literary testimonies, the magical wis-
dom that women show in literature fits well into the group (a), the lowest level of
Gordon’s grading. However, although the absence of female magicians in PGM
continues to be thought-provoking, in view of the evidence this phenomenon can-
not be explained exclusively through an intellectual barrier based on gender. PGM
IV 478-482 demonstrates that Greco-Egyptian learned magical tradition was not
closed to women, but, more exactly, was restricted to selected disciples. Although
this esoteric knowledge perhaps was not as exclusive as its writings claimed, it
was not in any case accessible to anyone. The female Theurgist examples show
that women’s access to high mystery traditions such as these was limited not to
their sex, but to a convergence of factors, such as cultural milieu and family herit-
age, which gave them access to this knowledge.
Apart from cultural training, in my opinion, Gordon’s grading tells us about the
existence of diverse magical traditions. Although sometimes not hugely dissimilar
in their practices, the meaning of “magician/witch” seems to have been different in
each tradition: in PGM it meant having received a particular (and exclusive) in-
struction while as the group (a) is concerned, it meant accumulating a large
amount of magical knowledge. Consequently, it is not surprising that literature
categorised each one into the archetype which they better fit in: the Greco-
Egyptian magician with learned priests, or the traditional female magical practi-
tioner with prostitutes –people that as a result of their habitual use of these practic-
es became experts in them- or old women –an universal archetype of knowledge.
Therefore, the prostitute that practiced magic and the Egyptian priest-magician,
although archetypical, were not entirely “imaginary” nor were they a “rhetoric
construction”, but they reflected the most representative characteristics of these
practitioners in types easily recognizable by the public. If literary sources did not
reflect learned female magicians, it was probably because, after all, they were a
rarity that we would not have acknowledged without the accidental interpolation
of a marginal note.

72
GORDON (1999: 185-188).
73
GORDON (1999: 188-191).