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Bath curse tablet
Bath Curse Tablets (Roman Baths and Pump Room, Bath)
The Goddess Sulis Minerva
The following example is an excerpt from a curse tablet found in a well in ancient Antioch’s House of the Calendar, dated to the third century A.D. Although it had been inscribed in Greek script, it refers to Biblical episodes (e.g. Moses’ plagues), and Iao (Yahweh), part of a pagan pantheon of gods and demons.
O thundering and lightning-wielding Iao, cast down, bind, bind together Babylas, the greengrocer whom Himera (also called Hesychia and Dionysia) bore in her womb, he who lives in the neighborhood of the Mygdonians. Just as you cast down the chariot of Pharaoh, so cast down his ... soul ... O thundering and lightning-wielding Iao, just as you choked the first-born of Egypt, so choke up [his animals] ... Now too, bind, bind down, bind together his animals and his donkey, let them overturn, let them fall apart, let them not be able to move, from this hour and day forth, now, now, quickly, quickly.
The following example is from Attica, and dated to 4th century BC. As well as being an interesting insight into business rivalries, this tablet also contains a good example of lead symbolism.
(Side A) Let Pherenicus be bound before Hermes Cthonios and Hecate Cthonia. And I bind before Hermes Cthonios and Hecate Cthonia Galene [the name of a prostitute] who associated with Pherenicus. And just as the lead is held in no esteem and is cold, so may Pherenicus and his things be held in no esteem and be cold, and so for the things which Pherenicus’ collaborators say and plot concerning me.
(Side B) Let Thersilochus, Oenophilos, Philotios and any other legal advocate of Pherenicus be bound before Hermes Cthonios and Hecate Cthonia. And I bind the soul and mind and tongue and plans of Pherenicus, whatever he does and plots concerning me, let all things be contrary for him and for those who plot and act with him.
(Price, 1999; p101-2)
Lead plate with curse, magic signs... Munich
The following example is from a curse tablet found at the sanctuary of the goddess Malophoros (‘a local equivalent of Demeter’) at Selinus in Sicily, and is dated to the early fifth century BC, which makes it one of the earliest known defixiones. As is true of almost all such early tablets, the text does not refer to a deity (although an oral invocation was probably made at the time of deposit). It is unusual in that it is a round shape. On one side of the tablet the writing ‘appears in rough lines, with some letters at various angles on the right and left’, while on the other ‘the writing proceeds in concentric circles’; no doubt this was intended to increase the ‘magic’. The binding of the tongue mentioned would be very useful in court, as it would leave those cited unable to speak.
(Side A) I inscribe Selinontios and the tongue of Selinontios, twisted to the point of uselessness for them. And I inscribe, towsted to the point of uselessness, the tongues of the foreign witnesses.
(Side B) I inscribe Timasoi and the tongue of Timasoi, twisted to the point of uselessness. I inscribe Turrana and the tongue of Turrana, towsted to the point of uselessness for all of them.
(Cooper et al, 1992; p141-2)
tablet; Roman, first-third century CE, said to be from Phrygia
this lead tablet, naming more than 12 people, was hinged and fastened; it was found in a pot with bones; curse is scratched in lead with the words written backwards to give it more power
London, British Museum. Credits: Barbara McManus, 1999
Keywords: magic; funerary, www.vroma.org/images/
The following example is from a curse tablet found at Minturna. It was written in Latin but contains many misspellings, which has led to the probable conclusion that it is the work of someone in the lower class. The glee which it takes in thought of Ticene’s misfortune, and the thorough way in which every single part of her body is listed as a potential site for pain (even her shadow) demonstrates the depth of feeling experienced by the author.
the underworld, I consecrate and hand over to you, if you have any power, Ticene
of Carisius. Whatever she does, may it all turn out wrong. Spirits of the
netherworld, I consecrate to you her limbs, her complexion, her figure, her
head, her hair, her shadow, her brain, her forehead, her eyebrows, her mouth,
her nose, her chin, her cheeks, her lips, her speech, her breath, her neck, her
liver, her shoulders, her heart, her lungs, her intestines, her stomach, her
arms, her fingers, her hands, her navel, her entrails, her thighs, her knees,
her calves, her heels, her soles, her toes. Spirits of the netherworld, if I see
her wasting away, I swear that I will be delighted to offer a sacrifice to you
Tabella defixionum enrollada
5: Love – Homosexual
The following example is from a Nemean curse tablet, dated to the late fourth century B.C. This separation spell, written by a jealous or spurned lover, was found with five others by the same individual, and is deemed interesting by scholars because it refers to homosexual relations, and also because it makes no mention of a spirit or deity in its plea.
I turn away Eubolês
from Aineas, from his
face, from his eyes,
from his mouth,
from his breasts,
from his soul,
from his belly, from
his penis, from
his anus, from his entire body. I
turn away Euboles from
(Cooper et al, 1992; p92)
The following example is from a curse tablet found in the temple precinct of Nodens, at Lydney Park in Uley, Gloucestershire, in a room attached to the temple which was used by the priests for storing such items. This temple was frequently visited by those seeking cures for diseases or physical ailments; Nodens, who is promised half of the missing ring’s value as an incentive to search it out, would certainly be capable of ‘withholding’ the health of the thief as requested. Interestingly, the word ‘redivivia’ was later added to the tablet to renew it – Silvanius had obviously not yet found his ring (De La Bédoyère, 1989; p158).
To the God Nodens, Silvanius has lost a ring. He has given half of it [its value] to Nodens. Among those whose name is Senicianus, do not permit health until he brings it to the temple of Nodens.
(Cooper et al, 1992; p197)
7: Sport – Chariot Racing
The following is an excerpt from a seventy-five line curse tablet found in Carthage. Its author appears to be erring on the side of caution, and cursing every single horse of the Red and Blue teams, along with their drivers – yet despite this attentiveness to detail, he does not know the name of the dead soul to whom the job is entrusted.
I invoke you, spirit of one untimely dead, whoever you are, by the mighty
names SALBATHBAL AUTHGERÔTABAL BASULTHATEÔ ALEÔ SAMABÊTHÔR
Bind the horses whose names and
images [or likeness] on this implement I entrust to you; of
the Red [team]: Silvanus, Servator, Lues, Zephryus, Blandus,
Imbraius, Dives, Mariscus, Rapidus, Oriens, Arbustus; of the
Blues: Imminens, Dignus, Linon, Paezon, Chrysaspis, Argutus,
Diresor, Frugiferous, Euphrates, Sanctus, Aethiops,
Praeclarus. Bind their running, their power, their
soul, their onrush, their speed. Take away their victory,
entangle their feet, hinder them, hobble them, so that
tomorrow morning in the hippodrome they are not able to run
or walk about, or win, or go out of the starting gates,
or advance either on the racecourse or track…
(Cooper et al, 1992; p60)
Beard, Mary; North, John; Price, Simon. 1998. ‘Religions of Rome: Vol. 1: A History.’
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Cooper, Catherine F.; Frankfurter, David; Krueger, Derek; Lim, Richard. 1992. John G.
Gager (Ed.)’s ‘Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World.’ New York:
Oxford University Press
De La Bédoyère, Guy. 1989. ‘The Finds Of Roman Britain.’ Bath: Bath Press
Jameson, Michael H.; Jordan, David R.; Kotanksy, Roy D. 1993. ‘A Lex Sacra From
Selinous.’ Durham, North Carolina: Duke University
Liebeschuetz, J.H.W.G. 1979. ‘Continuity And Change in Roman Religion.’ Oxford:
Price, Simon. 1999. ‘Religions Of The Ancient Greeks.’ Cambridge: Cambridge University
Pulleyn, Simon. 1997. ‘Prayer In Greek Religion.’ Oxford: Clarendon Press
Salway, Peter. 1981. ‘Roman Britain.’ Oxford: Clarendon Press
Tassel, Janet. 2000. ‘Antioch Revealed’. P50 in ‘The Harvard Magazine’, November-
December 2000, Vol. 103, No. 2
Wacher, John. 1978. ‘Roman Britain.’ London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
Bonner, C. 1950. ‘Studies in Magical Amulets, chiefly Graeco-Egyptian.’
Daniel R.W.; Maltomini F. (Ed.s) 1990. ‘Supplementum Magicum’, no.54
Fagan. Garrett G. 1999. ‘Bathing in Public in the Roman World.’ University of Michigan
About.com : http://www.poundwell.demon.co.uk/archaeology/ch2/fig1.htm
Heintz, Florent. 2000. ‘Polyglot Antioch.’ From ‘Archaeology Odyssey’,
November/December 2000 issue.
Heintz, Florent. 1998. ‘Circus curses and their archaeological contexts’, from the ‘Journal
of Roman Archaeology, 11’
Petrovitch, Maria Nicole. 2000. ‘Magic In Ancient Greece & Rome: Curse Tablets.’
Shelton, JoAnn. 1997. ‘As The Romans Did.’ Oxford: Oxford University Press
Tomlin, R.S.O. 29 February 1996. ‘Oxford University Centre for the Study of Ancient
Documents: Newsletter No. 2, Spring 1996’
Round Lead Curse-Tablet: Early 5th Century Sicilian, Containing Judicial Curse
- - p141 of Cooper, Catherine F.; Frankfurter, David; Krueger, Derek; Lim, Richard. 1992. John G. Gager (Ed.)’s ‘Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World.’ New York: Oxford University Press
Lead Curse-Tablet: Greek, Consigning A Thaumasios to the demons of the underworld
- - Tassel, Janet. 2000. ‘Antioch Revealed’. P50 in ‘The Harvard Magazine’, November- December 2000, Vol. 103, No. 2
- - http://www.harvard-magazine.com/archive/00nd/nd00_feat_antioch_2.html
Lead Curse-Tablet: 2nd/3rd Century Alexandrian, Containing Homosexual Love-Spell
- - Daniel R.W.; Maltomini F. (Ed.s) 1990. ‘Supplementum Magicum’, no.54
- - http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/apuleius/renberg/HOMOSEXUALCHARMS.HTML
Homosexual Erotic Charms
Although the overwhelming majority of erotic binding spells from Greco-Roman antiquity express heterosexual desires, a few of them involve relationships between two men or two women. For example, one such spell, preserved on a papyrus from Egypt, i s a typical erotic defixio in every respect, except that both individuals named were males:
As Typhon is the adversary of Helios, so inflame the heart and soul of that Amoneios whom Helen bore, even from her own womb, ADONAI[] ABRASAX PINOUTI and SABAOS; burn the soul and heart of that Am oneios whom Helen bore, for [love of] this Serapiakos whom Threpte bore, now, now; quickly, quickly. In this same hour and on this same day, from this [moment] on, mingle together the souls of both and cause that Amoneios whom Helen bore to be this Serapiakos whom Threpte bore, through every hour, every day and every night. Wherefore, ADONAI, loftiest of gods, whose name is the true one, carry out the matter, ADONAI. (P.G.M. XXXIIa.1-25; trans. E.N. O'Neill in H.D. Betz (1986))
Likewise, another otherwise ordinary spell on papyrus depicts a woman named Herais targeting another woman named Sarapias:
I adjure you, Evangelos, by Anubis and Hermes and all the rest down below; attract and bind Sarapias whom Helen bore, to this Herais, whom Thermoutharin bore, now, now; quickly, quickly. By her soul and heart attract Sarapias herself, whom [He len] bore from her own womb, MAEI OTE ELBOSATOK ALAOUBETO OEIO ... AEN. Attract and [bind the soul and heart of Sarapias], whom [Helen bore, to this] Herais, [whom] Thermoutharin [bore] from her womb [now, now; quickly, quickly]. (P.G.M. XXXII.1-19 ; trans. E.N. O'Neill in H.D. Betz (1986))
Another spell from Egypt, this time written on a curse tablet which dates to the third or fourth century C.E. and was discovered in Hermoupolis, is much more elaborate. The text, which features long addresses to a great divinity, repeats several times the same series of commands:
By means of this corpse-daemon inflame the heart, the liver, the spirit of Gorgonia, whom Nilogenia bore, with love and affection for Sophia, whom Isara bore. Constrain Gorgonia, whom Nilogenia bore, to cast herself into the bath-house for the sake of Sophia, whom Isara bore; and you, become a bath-woman. Burn, set on fire, inflame her soul, heart, liver, spirit with love for Sophia, whom Isara bore, she, surrendered like a slave, giving herself and all her possessions to her, because this is the will and command of the great god... (Suppl. Mag., no. 42)
Essentially, the god is instructed to compel Gorgonia to enter a bath-house, where a corpse-spirit in the guise of a bath attendant would heat her and thus inflame Gorgonia with love for Sophia.[]
Whereas most erotic charms were binding spells meant to create a romantic bond, some were intended to have the opposite effect, and were employed by a third party to break up a couple and thus make one of the two lovers available for the jealous magic-user to ensnare. In addition to such heterosexual "separation" spells there also is a tablet from Nemea in Greece, dated to the fourth century B.C.E., which targets a pair of homosexual lovers:
I turn away Euboles from Aineas, from his face, from his eyes, from his mouth, from his breasts, from his soul, from his belly, from his penis, from his anus, from his entire body. I turn away Euboles from Aineas. (Trans. J. Gager (1992), no. 25)
Another lead tablet, from second- or third-century C.E. Alexandria, alludes to a much more complicated relationship between two men. The text, part of which is missing, is somewhat vague and its exact purpose has perplexed scholars. On one hand, it features elements of an erotic spell, but it also reads very much like a judicial curse:
[Magical names and commands] I adjure you by the name of Ge, KEUEMORI MORITHARCHOTH and chthonic Hermes, ARCHEDAMA PHOCHENSEPSEU SARERTATHOU MISONKAIKT and Pluto YESEMMIGADON MAARCHAMA and Kore Ereschigal ZABARBATHOUCH and Persephone ZAUDACHTH OUMAR. May Annianos lose his own power of recollection, and let him remember Ionikos only... [more magical names and commands]... Possess for me, Ionikos, the strength and the might of Annianos, so that you seize him and deliver him to the untimely dead, so that you melt his flesh, sinews, limbs, soul, so that he not be able to proceed against Ionikos and neither hear nor see any evil to my disadvantage, moreover prostrate under my feet until he is defeated... [more magical names and commands]... Control the love of Annianos for Ionikos before everything else... (Suppl. Mag., no. 54; for an image of this tablet, click here)
This text contains some elements of both erotic and judicial curses, but it is also missing some important elements of each, and so it appears to be a rather unusual hybrid. Its most recent editors have speculated that Ionikos was opposing Annianos in a legal matter, and that the curse tablet was prepared using some erotic binding formulas in order "to disarm and mollify Annianos with feelings of love for a false friend" while at the same time disabling him so that he would not be able to proceed again st Ionikos. But there is also the distinct possibility that this is one of the handful of magic spells involving homosexual love, and that the legal proceedings were a result of their relationship. Thus, this could be a combination of an erotic spell and a charm for victory in court. One's interpretation depends on whether he or she wishes to read either the erotic language or the judicial language as a metaphor intended to augment the other commands, or prefers to take both themes literally.
Compared to the hundreds of papyri, curse tablets and amulets which refer to heterosexual relationships, spells resulting from homosexual desires are extremely rare and comprise less than 1% of all erotic magical texts. Those quoted above, along wi th one unpublished defixio from Tyre,[] are our only evidence for erotic magic being used by homosexuals.
Hematite Curse-Tablet: Separation Love-Spell
- - Bonner, C. 1950. ‘Studies in Magical Amulets, chiefly Graeco-Egyptian.’
- - http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/apuleius/renberg/IMAGES_SMA150.HTML
Papyrus Curse Tablet
- - Petrovitch, Maria Nicole. 2000. ‘Magic In Ancient Greece & Rome: Curse Tablets.’
- - http://www.students.bucknell.edu/projects/clas231/curses/curses.html
Lead Curse Tablet: 1st-3rd Century Roman (possibly from Phrygia)
- - McManus, Barbara. 1999. ‘Lead Curse Tablet From British Museum.’- http://www.vroma.org/images/mcmanus_images/index2.
Curse Tablet from Antioch
A curse tablet engraved on lead, from the late fifth or early sixth century AD. This was found rolled up in a drain along the central barrier and turning post of the Antioch hippodrome.
Curse tablets and binding spells were quite popular in ancient Antioch, especially at the chariot races (as this one). The hippodrome at Antioch, connected to the imperial palace (as shown in this mosaic), was one of the largest and most important in the East. To impress their emperor, charioteers would try to make their rivals' chariots overturn directly opposite the imperial box, and a curse tablet was one of the methods for accomplishing this.
This curse tablet opens with a long invocation of divine epithets and magical names; it is addressed to Hecate and other deities of the Underworld. Then the curse itself: "Bind, lay waste, and overturn the horses of the Blue [faction]." This is followed by 36 Greek names of horses. Usually curses aimed at circus competitors target the charioteers as well as the horses; this is an exception to the rule.
By the end of the fourth century, chariot racing had been transformed from a contest of horses and drivers to one of magicians. All this was a risky business, as magic was against Roman law and severely punished. The Blue and Green factions, mentioned in this curse, were imperially sponsored organizations that took over the staging of public entertainment in the East in the fifth century AD; less curse tablets were found after this time than before.
See the amulet photo and description for measures taken to protect oneself against curses.
Princeton University Art Museum, inv. 3603-I57.
Sources for Roman Religion
Each of these passages illustrates some aspect of ancient Roman religion. Summarize what happens in the passage. Then consider some reasons why this is happening. What is the intent of this action? What does this passage suggest about the religious beliefs of the ancient Romans.
1. Ovid. Fasti 5.429-444
When midnight has come and brought silence for sleep and you, ye dogs and painted birds, lie still, the man who remembers the ancient rite and fears the gods arises. His two feet bear no knots, and he makes a sign by closing his thumb between his fingers, so that no thin ghost may meet him on his silent way. He washes his hands clean in the water of a spring, then turns and first takes black beans. Turning his face, he tosses them behind, and while he does so he cries, "These beans I cast away; with them I ransom me and mine." Nine times he repeats this, and does not look behind; the ghost is thought to follow him unseen and gather the beans. Once more he touches water; he clashes Temesan bronze and asks that the ghost may leave his house. When at last he has repeated nine times, "Go forth, I ghosts of my fathers!" he looks back and feels that his duty has been properly done.
2. Dessau, Inscriptiones Selectae 8751
On this tablet, I, Malcio, nail the eyes, fingers, arms, nails, hair, head, feet, thigh, belly, rump, navel, chest, breast, neck, mouth, cheeks, lips, chin, forehead, eyebrows, shoulder blades, shoulders, nerves, bones, marrow, leg, penis, money, wealth, and health of Nico. Click here and here for some photographs of such curse tablets (defixio).
3. Fabius Pictor ap. Gellius, Noctes Atticae 10.15
It is tabooed (religio) for the Flamen Dialis (priest of Jupiter) to be carried on a horse, or to see a company of men girt up--that is, an army with its weapons; for this reason the Flamen Dialis is rarely elected consul, since wars are put in the consuls' hands. It is never right for this flamen to swear an oath. He must not wear a ring, unless it be broken and not a complete circle. Fire must not be taken from his house (the Flaminia) unless it be sanctified). If a man in bonds enters his house, he must be set free and his chains must be lifted through the skylight to the roof and then dropped out into the street. The Flamen must not have a knot in his headdress or his girdle, or anywhere else. If anyone on his way to be whipped falls in supplication at the Flamen's feet, it is an offense requiring expiation for him to be whipped on that day.
4. CIL XI.4766
Let no one violate this place. Let no one carry or cart away what belongs to the place. Let no one approach except on the day when the annual ceremony takes place. . . If anyone violates it, let him give an ox to Jupiter in expiation. If anyone violates it deliberately, let him give an ox to Jupiter in expiation and be fined 300 asses. (NOTE: The bronze as (plural asses) was the smallest unit of Roman currency.)
5. Livy XXII.10.2 (A collective vow of the Roman people during the Punic Wars)
If the state of the Romans, the Quirites, be safe, as I wish it to be safe, in these wars for the next five years . . . it will give as a gift and a donation that whatever the spring brings forth from the herds of swine, sheep, goats, or cattle which are not dedicated to the service of the gods shall be dedicated to Jupiter, on the day which the Senate and the people shall decree.
6. Expiation of Iguvium, a town in Umbria (tablet VI.A)
O Jupiter Grabovius, if in this offering [anything] is amiss, or neglected, or omitted or [fraudulently] held back, or at fault, or if in thine offering there be any blemish, whether seen or unseen, O Jupiter Grabovius, expiate the Fisian city, the town of Iguvium, the full citizens, the sacred rites, slaves, cattle, the fruits of the field, expiate. Be kind, be gracious with thy favor to the Fisian city, the town of Iguvium, the name of the city, the name of the town. O Jupiter Grabovius, preserve the Fisian city, preserve the town of Iguvium; full citizens, sacred rites, slaves, cattle, fruits of the field, preserve.
7. Cato, De Re Rustica ("On Rustic Matters") 134
Before you start the harvest, you should make a preliminary sacrifice of a pig as follows: To Ceres sacrifice a sow, the mate of a boar, before these grains are stored: spelt, wheat, barley, beans, oilseed. Begin by offering the incense and wine to Janus, Jupiter, and Juno. Before you slaughter the sow, make a little pile of wafers for Janus with these words, "O Father Janus, by bringing together these wafers I make a good prayer, that you may be favorable and propitious to me, my children, my house, and my household, being propitiated* by the cake. Afterward give wine to Janus thus, "O Father Janus, as I have made a good prayer to you by brining together wafers, now be propitiated to the same end by this sacrificial wine." Afterward to Jupiter thus, "O Jupiter, be propitiated by the cake. Be propitiated by the sacrificial wine." Afterward slaughter the preliminary sacrificial pig. When its entrails have been laid open, bring together the wafers for Janus, and propitiate him again, as you did before. Give wine again to Janus and give wine to Jupiter, as it was given when you brought the wafers and offered the cake. Afterward give the entrails and wine to Ceres.
(*The word here translated as "propitiated" probably actually means "strengthened".)
8. Varro ap. St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei (On the City of God) IV.31
For more than 170 years the ancient Romans worshiped the gods without images. . . . Those who first introduced them for the use of the people took away fear from their fellow-citizens, but added error.
This material was placed on the web by Professor Thomas J. Sienkewicz for his students at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois). If you have any questions, you can contact him at email@example.com.
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