are to be found in the papyri, can elicit something like a true text for a nomen sacrum or a longer formula. Then it may be possible for linguistic experts to recognize more non-Greek elements, and contribute something to the interpretation; yet the task will be fruitless in many cases, owing to the known tendency of magicians to use impressive gibberish.
An investigation of amulets need not, and cannot, be made the occasion for a re-examination of the whole field of ancient magic. Some knowledge of magical ideas and practices is necessary in order to understand these objects; but their small size puts them in a limited and generally inferior class as compared with the papyrus texts and even the defixiones scratched on lead. On the whole, it may be said that they illustrate many phases of ancient magic without greatly extending our knowledge of its principles and methods; yet it is also true that because of the intimate and personal character of these amulets, they bring home to us very vividly the grasp of magic upon thousands of ignorant and sometimes unprincipled people. Thus the pitiful prayers or conjurations scratched on these ring stones and pendants may mean as much for our vision of the ancient world as the papyrus books which were written by master magicians and read by their apprentices.
The tasks immediately before the student of amulets seem to fall into two groups, of which one is, broadly speaking, historical, the other descriptive. Under the former head, the influences that have contributed to the development of various sorts of amulets should be investigated and illustrated. Some of these influences are national or cultural, and thus one must consider which among the types owe their characteristics to Egypt, and which contain Greek, Jewish, or Persian elements; and it goes without saying that in an age of syncretism two or more of these influences may often be detected in a single specimen. It is also necessary to inquire whether any of the prayers and invocations that are inscribed on some amulets express a genuine religious feeling, and if so, to determine its relation to known religious groups, such as the Jews, the orthodox Christians, and the Gnostics. There are also certain literary influences that can be traced in amulets where Greek mythology has suggested the design or the legend.
A second group of problems concerns the various purposes for which magical amulets were employed; and in order to determine them one must examine all details of the designs and inscriptions with the greatest care, and make use of such pertinent information as can be drawn from literary sources and from the magical books. A considerable number are general prophylactics, designed, as a common legend runs, to “protect the wearer from all evil.” Others are directed against the evil eye and other forms of enchantment. Many, perhaps most of them, are meant to prevent or cure various diseases. Still others may be conveniently grouped under the head of social (or antisocial) magic — love charms, charms meant to gain favor for one person in the eyes of another (χαριστήρια), charms to break up love affairs or friendly relations between two people (διάκοποι), charms intended to bring serious harm or death to an enemy.