Solomon in Olympus: The Enduring Connection between King Solomon and Greek Magic
The connection between King Solomon, the most famous of biblical magicians, and Greek magic, is an enduring one which emphasises the cross-fertilisation of Jewish and Greek magic over the centuries from the ancient world through to the Middle Ages. Three texts spanning around 1700 years particularly exemplify this connection, these being the Greek Magical Papyri (C2nd BCE – C5th CE), the Testament of Solomon(C2nd CE), and the Hygromanteia (C15th CE)
The Greek Magical Papyri
The Greek Magical Papyri is a fine illustration of the incorporation of Jewish magical ideas and material into Greek practices in the ancient world. In addition to the use of Hebrew divine names such as Adonai (‘Lord’) and Sabaoth (‘Hosts’), Solomon himself made appearances in some of the charms.
The charm called ‘Solomon’s Collapse’[i] emphasises the magical powers associated with Solomon in the PGM. The charm is used to produce a trance in an adult or boy, and the formula is preceded by an oath “not to share the procedure of Solomon with anyone and certainly not to use it for something questionable”.
A charm for favour gives an intriguing reference to the eyes of Solomon as part of a list of qualities associated with gods, elevating his status, thus, “the eyes of Solomon, the voice of Abrasax, the grace of Adonios, the god.”[ii] The reference may also be translated as ‘glances of Solomon’, but in either instance the power of sight associated with Solomon is clear.
In three charms against the scorpions of Artemis the name used was a variant of Solomon, i.e. Salaman, and the same Hebrew divine names were used as seen in many other charms, i.e. Adonai and Sabaoth:[iii]
“Or Or Phor Phor Iao Adaonaei Sabaoth Salaman Tarchchei, I bind you, scorpion of Artemisos, on the 13th.”[iv]
Scorpions were associated with the huntress goddess Artemis through the myth of Orion’s death, with the earth goddess Gaea sending a scorpion to kill Orion after he claimed he would kill all the beasts of the earth. This was a well-known association, as seen in references such as “the Scorpion the helper of Artemis”[v] by the theologian Tatian the Assyrian (C2nd CE).
A partial charm which is largely lost For those possessed by daimons[vi] includes the name of Solomon in the fragment “Atr … Y Solomon … is washed”. The combination of possession and washing clearly recalls the writings of the Jewish antiquarian Flavius Josephus (37-100 CE) in Antiquities of the Jews:
“(47) He put a ring that had a root of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac [the possessed man], after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him [the demon] to return into him [the possessed man] no more, making still [further] mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he [Solomon] composed. (48) And when Eleazar would persuade and demonstrate to the spectators that he had such a power, he set a little way off a cup or basin full of water, and commanded the demon, as he went out of the man, to overturn it, and thereby to let the spectators know that he had left the man;”[vii]
The Testament of Solomon
Another cross-over between Solomon and Greek magic is in the Jewish magical text, the Testament of Solomon (C2nd CE). The Testament of Solomon was arguably the first proto-grimoire, giving a catalogue of demons with their controlling angels. In the Testament of Solomon the third and fourth Ephesian Letters, Lix Tetrax, were used as the name of a wind demon:
“But [the demon] answered me: ‘I am the spirit of the ashes (Tephras or Lix Tetrax).’”[viii]
The Ephesian Letters (askion, kataskion, lix, tetrax, damnameneus and aision (or aisia))[ix] are first mentioned in the fifth century BCE in a Mycenaean inscription[x] and first listed in a lead defixiones tablet from Himera (C5th BCE)[xi] and an inscribed lead tablet from Phalasarna (C4th BCE).[xii]
Additionally there was also reference in the Testament of Solomon to the ‘bonds of Artemis’ in connection with an unnamed demon, the last of a group of seven female spirits who may have corresponded to the star system of the Pleiades. As the demon said she brought darkness, we can speculate she would have corresponded to the sister called Celaeno, whose name meant black or dark.
As Orion was a companion of Artemis who chased the Pleiades for seven years, the biblical reference in the Book of Job connecting the Pleiades and bands/bonds does suggest a connection for this verse in the Testament of Solomon:
“Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?”[xiii]
Significantly this spirit’s threat was the one out of all those made by the demons which was achieved. For the reference to the locus referred to the subsequent sacrifice of five locusts to Moloch committed by Solomon to gain the sexual favours of the Queen of Sheba, resulting in the loss of his powers:
“Likewise also the seventh said: ‘I am the worst, and I make thee worse off than thou wast; because I will impose the bonds of Artemis. But the locust will set me free, for by means thereof is it fated that thou shalt achieve my desire <… > For if one were wise, he would not turn his steps toward me.’”[xiv]
There are at least twenty manuscript versions of the Hygromanteia, dating from the period C15th-C19th CE. Several of these manuscripts were significantly bound with copies of the Testament of Solomon, and most are introduced by a passage where Solomon addresses his son Rehoboam, establishing his connection to the material.
The fullest versions of this manuscript, such as Harley MS 5596, clearly demonstrate through their contents that this was the bridge between earlier texts like the Greek Magical Papyri and the subsequent Key of Solomon, which would become the most famous and copied grimoire of the Renaissance (with more than 140 known manuscripts in ten different languages).[xv] Unlike other grimoires, the Hygromanteia includes the seven Greek planetary gods, who are conjured before the appropriate angel and demon. The use of appropriate planetary incense and the planetary hours are also seen in the earlier Greek Magical Papyri. This formula of conjuration of the hierarchy of beings at the appropriate time is described in A Sacred Book called Unique or Eighth Book of Moses:
“Now [the great name] is [composed of] 9 names, before which you say [those of] the gods of the hours, with [the prayer on] the stele, and [those adjurations of] the gods of the days and of those [angels] set over the weeks, and the compelling formula for these; for without these the god will not listen, but will refuse to receive you as uninitiated, unless you emphatically say in advance the [names of] the lord of the day, and of the hour … for without these you will not accomplish even one of these things.“[xvi]
Torijano has argued very convincingly on the connection between Jewish and Greek sources in the Hygromanteia.[xvii] In particular he demonstrates similarities in the material contained within it and the Jewish Sepher ha-Razim (The Book of the Mysteries) which may be as early as the C4th CE. Furthermore, he postulates the origins of the Hygromanteia being around the C6th CE, with the material migrating from the Byzantine Empire into Southern Italy. This is supported to a degree by the earliest known Key of Solomon manuscripts being in Italian, though they are much later, being C16th CE.[xviii]
Having only covered three texts, and not even touched on the wealth of amuletic material, it is clear that major magical figures like Solomon (and indeed Moses and others) have an appeal which, like magic, transcends cultural boundaries. This is a subject I have discussed in my writing (in works such as Hekate Liminal Rites), and which still needs much more exploration to fully express the scope of such cross-fertilisation.
Betz, Hans Dieter (ed). The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. 1992, University of Chicago Press, Chicago
Conybeare, F.C. The Testament of Solomon. 1898, in Jewish Quarterly Review, October 1898
D’Este, Sorita, & David Rankine. Hekate Liminal Rites. 2009, Avalonia, London
Jeffery, L.H. Further Comments on Archaic Greek Inscriptions. 1955, in The Annual of the British School at Athens, Vol 50:67-84
Jordan, D.R. The Inscribed Lead Tablet from Phalasarna. 1992 in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik Bd.94:191-194
Jordan D.R. Ephesia Grammata at Himera. 2000 in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik Bd.130:104-107
Ryland, J.E. (trans). Tatian’s Address to the Greeks. 1886, in Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol 2, Christian Literature Publishing Co, New York
Skinner, Stephen, & David Rankine. The Veritable Key of Solomon. 2008, Golden Hoard, Singapore
Torijano, Pablo A. Solomon the Esoteric King: From King to Magus, Development of a Tradition. 2002, Brill, Leiden
Whiston, William (trans). The Works of Josephus. 1987, Hendrickson
First published in 2010 in The Mithras Reader Vol 3