Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Invisibility in the Greco-Roman world

In Pursuit of Invisibility: Ritual Texts from Late Roman Egypt
by Richard Phillips
215p, 8 pls with 10 b/w images (American Society of Papyrologists 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-0-9700591-9-2
ISBN-10: 0-9700591-9-1
Hardback. Price US $49.95

A close examination of invisibility in the context of the Greco-Roman world, from the role invisibility enjoys as a literary motif to the ritual spells whose logos and praxis in magic papyri promise the individual that he will move about unseen by others. Capping the six chapters investigating invisibility in fiction and in handbooks of magic, Phillips examines the relevant papyri, evaluating the Greek texts and translating them into English, as well as offering thorough commentary for each text (e.g. P.Oxy. LVIII 3931, and six examples drawn from the Papyri Graecae Magicae). Includes bibliographical references and pertinent indices of the Greek.
I suspect these were like the "vanishing cream" sold in magic shops when I was a kid. The box would promise that if you rubbed some of the cream into your hand, it would vanish! And it did! The cream, that is.

But in any case, if you try any of these, let me know how they work out. But do test them before you use one to try to sneak in somewhere without paying.

I don't recall much made of invisibility in ancient Judaism, but there are invisible angels in 2 Kings 6:15-17 and Daniel 9:5-7, and Jesus may go invisible in Luke 4:29-30 and Peter in Acts 12:6-11. I can't think of any more examples off the top of my head.

File under too amusing not to mention.

Via the Agade list, etc.

UPDATE (12 May): Richard Bauckham e-mails to note an angel who acts invisibly in Pseudo-Philo (L.A.B.) 27.10:
10. And it came to pass when Cenez heard their words, he was clothed with the spirit of might and changed into another man, and went down into the camp of the Amorites and began to smite them. And the Lord sent before his face the angel Ingethel (or Gethel), who is set over the hidden things, and worketh unseen, (and another) angel of might helping with him: and Ingethel smote the Amorites with blindness, so that every man that saw his neighbour counted them his adversaries, and they slew one another. And the angel Zeruel, who is set over strength, bare up the arms of Cenez lest they should perceive him; and Cenez smote of the Amorites forty and five thousand men, and they themselves smote one another, and fell forty and five thousand men.