INSCRIPTIONS II — CRYPTIC
We shall consider here only those inscriptions which yield no obvious meaning to the reader, and which for that reason are naturally suspected of magical origin and purpose.
Some of the early writers on amuletic stones have made the study of the unintelligible inscriptions all the harder by transcribing them carelessly. Their inaccuracy, in turn, was a natural consequence of the obscurity that perplexed them; for knowledge of the language is the surest safeguard against error in taking down a difficult text, and the most valuable resource for restoring a damaged one. Further confusion was caused by the failure to observe certain peculiarities of late Greek epigraphy and the effects that the pronunciation current in post-Christian times produced upon the traditional spelling. As a result of all this, many of the “Gnostic” inscriptions recorded by Chiflet, Capello, and Montfaucon are in need of correction, sometimes even when the language is ordinary Greek. Errors of the same kind are to be found occasionally in recent publications.
In a rough way the unintelligible inscriptions may be divided into two groups, those which depended for their effect upon their sound when uttered aloud, and those which exerted their power upon the eye of the beholder, or, it may be, were believed to be charged with magical force from the moment when the adept traced a character or a group of letters. As usually happens with such makeshift divisions, a few examples may be placed in either group.
The first group may be subdivided into, first, inscriptions in which vowels and consonants are so distributed as to form easily pronounceable units of ordinary length, which seem to be words or short phrases. Such voces magicae make up a large part of the unintelligible portions of the magical papyri, and are very common on gem amulets. Secondly, there are much longer but still pronounceable sequences, some of which recur many times on both stones and papyri. Instructions to the operators in the magical books often call for the writing or recitation of one or more of these sequences, to which the papyri refer as logoi.
Along with these formulas and the magical words there are often groups of vowels, without consonants, which would not occur naturally as part of a word. These were undoubtedly sung, and in fact all the magical formulas were probably intoned rather than delivered in a normal speaking voice.
The part played in incantations by the vowels, especially the complete sequence of seven, αεηιουω, may be dismissed briefly, since it has been thoroughly investigated by Dornseiff in his monograph, Das Alphabet in