an inscription of over 240 tiny letters, with a row of four larger ones at the bottom. At the beginning and the end there are groups of the vowels. The rest of the inscription contains no other element that is recognizable, not one sacred name or magical word that has been noted elsewhere. The greater part of the writing can be pronounced, though there are some impossible combinations of consonants; but it gives the impression of complete nonsense improvised by the engraver or the maker of his copy. On the reverse are several larger letters scattered among characters or magical signs. On the whole, one is led to think that the maker deliberately gave the stone the false appearance of a very elaborate charm, or else the inscription is in cipher. The latter alternative seems to me very unlikely in view of the trouble it would take to transfer so long a text into cipher form.
Among the other unpronounceable sequences that have been noted one is worthy of mention. It enclosed by an ouroboros on a gem in the Southesk collection, but there is no other design. The letters are ζοθλομσφνεοεζηθιθπιρωθοοδννσυοζετεσιχχηκαζσωχσχ.29
Those who are expert ancient ciphers may find it worth while to attempt a solution. To me it seems more likely that there is no meaning whatever. There nothing surprising in this, considering the history of magic in Egypt. Daressy found meaningless hieroglyphs among the texts inscribed on late magical stelae of Horus.30
The term “characters” (χαρακτῆρες) is used in Greek magical papyri to designate certain signs that occur often in the papyri themselves and still more frequently on gem amulets. They are for the most part rather simple, being made up of straight lines with small circles at the ends of every line. An eight-pointed star, made of four crossing lines with little circles at the ends, is one of the most common. Others look like modifications of Greek letters, especially the rectilinear ones, such as ΑΓΔΕΖΛΞΤΥ, with extra strokes and loops, and little circles at the ends of the lines. These circles, which are so constant that the characters are sometimes called ring signs, give a clue to the origin of these strange designs. According to W. Max Müller, the hieroglyph for talisman, sa
, is thought to represent a cord with numerous magical loops, and is thus connected with the common practice of tying numerous knots in a string for magical purposes.31
The characters drawn in magical books employ more curved lines than those on the stones, doubtless merely because curves could be more easily traced with a pen than with a graver's tool. Only a few characters show any special affinity for any design or any intelligible incantation. The rather common colic amulets with the design of Herakles struggling with the lion usually have on the reverse ΚΚΚ and three characters somewhat resembling the eta modern lower-case type, but with sharp angles and the third stroke prolonged farther
30 Daressy, Textes, 9419–9423.
31 Mythology, p. 421. In the Second Book of Jeû special characters serve as seals to guard the soul, especially as it passes the archons of the Aeons on its way to salvation (Koptisch-gnostische Schriften, ed. Schmidt, pp. 308–313, 322–329).