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E02625: Coptic text, probably an oracle question, of unknown Egyptian provenance, but possibly from Hermopolis (Middle Egypt), addressing *Leontios (possibly the martyr of Tripolis, Phoenicia, S00216), concerning safe labour and childbirth, datable to the 7th century.

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posted on 2017-03-29, 00:00 authored by gschenke
P.Ryl.Copt. 100

This oracle question appears to concern a worry over still birth. The question seems to be whether it would be better to stay put at home or go somewhere to seek additional or perhaps even professional help.

+ + +
+ ⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ ⲛⲫⲁⲅⲓⲟ[ⲥ] ⲗⲉⲟⲛⲧⲛ ⲉⲓϣⲁⲛϭⲱ ϩⲓ ⲡⲓⲏⲓ ⲉⲓϩⲓⲱⲱϥ ⲧⲁϭⲱ ⲛϩⲟⲩⲛ ⲙ̣ⲛ ⲧ[ⲁ]ⲙⲁⲁⲩ ⲡⲁϩⲏ̣ⲧ̣ ⲛⲁⲙⲧⲟⲛ ⲧⲁⲕⲁ ϣⲏⲣⲉ
ⲛⲱⲛϩ ⲛⲁⲛ̣ⲥ̣ ⲛ̣ϥⲣ ⲟⲩⲛ̣ [.]ⲛⲁϩⲉ ⲥ̣ . ⲕ̣

‘If I remain in the house where I am and stay within, with my mother, my mind shall be at rest and I shall bear (?) a living child.’
(The rest obscure).

(Text and trans.: W. E. Crum)

‘God, of St. Leontios!
If I stay at this house where I am and remain inside with [my] mother, my heart will be at rest and I shall bear a living child. …… (two more lines)’

(Trans.: R. Smith)

Transcription from image:
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+ ⲡⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ ⲛⲫⲁⲅⲓⲟ[ⲥ]
ⲗⲉⲟⲛⲧⲛ ⲉⲓϣⲁⲛϭⲱ
ϩⲓ ⲡⲓⲏⲓ ⲉⲓϩⲓⲱⲱϥ
ⲧⲁϭⲱ ⲛϩⲟⲩⲛ ⲙ̣ⲛ ⲧ[ⲁ]-
ⲙⲁⲁⲩ ⲡⲁϩⲏ̣ⲧ̣ ⲛⲁ-
ⲙⲧⲟⲛ ⲧⲁⲕⲁ̣ ϣⲏⲣⲉ ⲛ-
ⲱⲛϩ ⲛⲁⲛ ⲁ̣ⲛⲓ ⲣⲟⲩⲛ
ⲛⲁ ϩⲉ ⲉ̣ϣ̣ϫ̣ⲉ̣ . . . .
 – – – – – – – – – – –

‘God of saint Leonten, if I remain in this house in which I am and remain therein with [my] mother, my mind will be at ease and I will get a living child for us. Bring (and) have mercy. Indeed, if …'

(Text: and trans.: G. Schenke)


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Leontios, martyr in Tripolis (Syria), ob. c. 303-312 : S00216

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Liturgical texts - Divinatory texts and oracle questions Late antique original manuscripts - Papyrus sheet


  • Coptic

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Egypt and Cyrenaica

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Hermopolis Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs



The text is written on a small piece of reused papyrus, on the back of a Coptic letter, and housed in the collection of the John Rylands Library, Manchester. The dating is on palaeographical grounds.


The text was first published as a prayer and later considered to be a magical spell. The formula employed, however, seems to resemble that of oracle questions posed to 'the God of' certain saints and placed in their shrines. This was done together with a counterpart phrased the opposite way, i.e. 'if x, then y', or 'if not x, then y'. One of the two versions would eventually be handed back to the pilgrim or petitioner and understood to be the answer provided by the saint. In this case one would expect the counterpart to run: '‘God of saint Leonten, if I do not remain in this house in which I am and do not remain therein with [my] mother, my mind will be at ease and I will have a living child for us.' In the final traces of the text one would expect a statement to the effect that this piece of papyrus should be brought back out. For other Coptic and Greek examples of such oracle questions see E00347, E01000, E02284, and E02307. Greek and Coptic papyri from Hermopolis mention a hospital of saint Leontios (Papaconstantinou 2001, 137) which could also be the provenance of this oracle question.


Text and translation: Crum, W.E., Catalogue of the Coptic Manuscripts in the Collection of the John Rylands Library (Manchester, 1909), 52. Translations: Kropp, A., Ausgewählte koptische Zaubertexte, 3 vols. (Brussels, 1930-31), vol. 2, 211. Smith, R., "65. Spell for healthy childbirth," in: M. Meyer and R. Smith (eds.), Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power (San Francisco 1994), 125. Discussion: Papaconstantinou, A., Le culte des saints en Égypte des Byzantins aux Abbassides (Paris, 2001), 137.

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