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This book is getting three stars sort of by default, although I considered giving it two. In my system, three stars represents a book in which the author/s succeeded in accomplishing whatever it was they set out to do, but nothing more. In this case, Im honestly not certain what the editors intended, and I doubt if even they really understood what the original author was doing, so Im giving it the benefit of the doubt.I will begin by describing what the volume is before discussing its possible meaning, the motivations of its editors, and its uses by modern readers. It is a translation of a third century (AD) papyrus, written in Demotic script and held in facsimile at the British Museum and other institutions. Its subject matter consists of a series of magical spells written by a practicing magician of the period, influenced by traditional Egyptian religious and magical traditions, but also aware of at least some of the hermetic practices of Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean. The demotic is rendered on left-hand pages in Arabic script, while the translation of each page appears on the right-hand side in English. Extensive footnotes explain the difficulties in reconstructing the often-damaged text, uncertain translations, and editorial decisions of the translators, sometimes reproducing the demotic script or heiroglyphs from the original. The spells vary from healing spells (eg: for “the bite of a dog” or “a bone in the throat”) to good luck or lust spells and various forms of divination. The Introduction includes a quick index of the spells by category, and the table of contents breaks down the scroll by spell sequentially. Judging by the introduction, it appears that the editors considered this as a contribution to the scholarship of linguistics and Egyptology, even though magical scrolls have generally been disdained as of little cultural import by scholars. They give a good amount of detail about previous work on the manuscript, its provenance, and condition. The amount of detail given regarding the translation, both in the introduction and the footnotes, suggests that they saw it as a useful reference for scholars of the period, or perhaps as a teaching tool for students of Demotic. The blurb on the back suggests that the publishers hoped for another audience: the “student of magic.” Given the New Age and occult revival of the early 1970s, they may have hoped to cash in on people looking for authentic “Ancient Egyptian” magic to perform in their homes. I would doubt that most modern magicians have the patience or education to get much out of this translation, except perhaps a few odd phrases or concepts to incorporate into their formulae. A few may have the knowledge to look deeper, but this is in no way a stand-alone text; it requires serious study of the time and place to give it context.
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