MEDICAL MAGIC II
When one remembers the wide prevalence of malarial and other fevers in the Mediterranean countries it is surprising that these maladies receive little attention from the makers of amulets. It is probable that amulets of the generally protective kind were thought to be an adequate safeguard against the common fevers. Preisendanz has published several fever amulets that were written on papyrus, but I have seen only one stone amulet that may belong to this class, and even that is somewhat uncertainly placed here (D. 111). This stone, apparently a green steatite or jasper, belongs to the Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, and I owe my knowledge of it to the courtesy of the director, Dr. Günther Roeder, who gave me a cast of the stone and permission to publish it.1
The stone is rectangular, 26 X 21 X 5 mm., with an unusually broad bevel (6–7 mm.). On the obverse are seven birds arranged in two columns, four in the first (left), three in the second. Not all can be identified; the following is a very hesitating attempt. Counting from the top of the first column, ibis, another ibis or a heron (the only real difference is in the position of the feet), vulture (?), eagle or hawk. In the second column, pheasant; a very uncertain bird, possibly meant for a cock; a waterfowl, perhaps a spoonbill. The right side of the field is occupied by the inscription ΙΒΙ|ΑΒΙ|ΒΙ|Ο|ΒΗ. Round the bevel, beginning at the upper left-hand corner and making the circuit almost twice, is the legend ὄλεθρον καὶ πύρηθρον φύγε ἀπὸ τοῦ φοροῦντος τὸ φυλακτήριον τοῦτο.
The words ὄλεθρον and πύρηθρον require attention first. Ordinarily the first of these words is masculine, ὄλεθρος, and we have here a vulgar form of it. Its normal meaning is “destruction,” “ruin.” Some classical writers use it figuratively as a term of abuse, like plague, pest, and this doubtless reflects a popular application of the word to dangerous infectious diseases. Here it might refer to any sort of wasting, prostrating illness. πυρηθρον is only an orthographic error for πυρεθρον, but that word is listed in Liddell and Scott only as a name for a plant. Sophocles' lexicon, however, cites it, as a name for a morbid condition, from a work which has much to teach us of the language and the manners of Egypt in its time — Sophronius' book on the miracles of St. Cyrus and St. John, probably written during the first quarter of the seventh century; Sophronius died in 638. In that passage Sophronius tells how the two saints cured a man whose foot was affected by
1 See Denkmäler des Pelizaeus-Museum zu Hildesheim, p. 163, 285. The material is described simply as “green stone.” For fever amulets on papyrus see PGM XXXIII, XLIII, XLVII.