A sex spell designed to force a man into bed with his female admirer has been discovered on an ancient Egyptian papyrus.
The newly-translated spell demands that a man called Kephalas face ‘anxiety at midday, evening, and at all times’ until he has sex with a woman called Taromeway.
It also features a crude drawing of the naked Kephalas, his genitals grossly exaggerated, as he’s shot with an arrow by the ancient Egyptian god of the dead, Anubis.
The ‘erotic-binding spell’, apparently commissioned by Taromeway herself, was likely placed in a tomb where it was meant to summon the ghost of the deceased.
Once summoned, this ‘noble spirit of the man of the necropolis’ was to hunt everywhere for Kephalas and overwhelm him with desire.
The papyrus was analysed by Egyptologist Robert Ritner and his colleague at the University of Chicago, Foy Scalf.
‘What you have is an invocation to a deceased spirit to rise up as a ghost and torture a man,’ said Dr Ritner.
‘It’s euphemistically called a love spell but emotion is really not so much a primary motivating factor here: it’s a sexual compulsion spell.’
He continued: ‘It’s pretty explicit in wanting him to basically suffer the pangs of love sickness: can’t eat, can’t drink… can’t do anything but follow her hopelessly.
‘He’s to follow after her footsteps until ‘his male parts unite with her female parts’ and that’s more or less a quote. It’s pretty specific.
‘The accompanying drawing invokes the spirit of Anubis… and he is shown shooting the victim… and the man is shown with very emphasised genitals.
‘The male parts that she desires are specifically shown there.’
The papyrus is written in demotic and likely dates from the second half of the first century AD to the second century AD.
As one of many papyrus fragments acquired by the University of Michigan in 1924, the exact origins of the document are lost to history, but it’s believed to have come from Egypt’s Fayum area.
Spells like these aren’t uncommon in Egypt’s later Greco-Roman period, but they’re typically from a man seeking a woman.
It’s not clear whether the spell was successful.
Dr Ritner believes that Taromeway was motivated by her own desire and one clue is in her name.
He said: ‘The woman’s name, if we read it correctly, translates as ‘the woman of woe’ which doesn’t sound like a name that anyone would actually give their child.
‘So our suspicion is that this is probably an epithet that she is adopting.
‘Which gives you some insight about her motivation: if she’s in fact the ‘woman of woe’ then she herself is lusting and tortured etc, and is inflicting it on him as well.’
And that’s not all we can deduce about Taromeway.
‘The person who wrote this almost certainly consulted manuals because there are at least three or four different things that are essentially quotations from different manuals,’ said Dr Ritner.
‘You’d have to be educated in order to write it in the first place and the fact that they’ve consulted manuals shows that it was a professional job and it would have cost money.
‘Women were less likely to read and write in Egypt at that time – it’s possible but less likely – so almost certainly she hired a professional scribe.
‘So she had to have some means to be able to do that; she’s not necessarily wealthy but at least wealthy enough to expend critical resources on hiring a scribe to create a love charm.’
And it’s also possible that the pairing would have crossed an ethnic divide.
‘Her name is Egyptian, her mother’s name is Egyptian, the man’s name is Greek and his mother’s name is Greek,’ said Dr Ritner.
‘There may be an issue here with someone going across ethnic bounds.
‘At the time if you were Egyptian and you married a Greek, the children would not have Greek status, which was officially a higher status legislated by Roman authority.
‘In the Roman period there was almost an apartheid system in some respects.’
The earliest known ancient Egyptian love spell is part of The Ramesseum Papyri, a collection held at the British Museum dating back to the Middle Kingdom, which lasted from 1975 BC to 1640 BC.