Vol. 47 (2011)

Published September 1, 2011



  • The charaktêres in Ancient and Medieval Jewish magic

    This paper examines the different magical signs found in Jewish magical texts and artifacts in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. These include especially the Graeco-Egyptian “charaktêres” (ring-letters, Brillenbuchstaben), the Arabic “string letters” (or Siegel), and the Latin sigilla or figurae, to which one may add a few other types of magical signs. This paper surveys their appearance in Jewish magical texts of different times and places, and analyzes their function within the magical texts where they are found.

  • The rules of the game: constructing power in rhizotomic practice

    The growth of contemporary interest in ethnobiology and -botany legitimates an attempt to historicise the activities and claims of ancient rhizotomists, ‘root-cutters’, i.e. individuals who made themselves specially knowledgeable about the medicinal and other values of plants (mainly wild) and animal-parts. These men and women hardly formed a coherent group in fact, but may be treated as such for heuristic purposes. One model for historicising them is to locate them between family or household medicine on the one hand, and the increasingly complex market in health-care that developed in the Greek world from the fifth century BCE, and continued to grow in complexity throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods. We can suggest two ways in which rhizotomists responded to this market pressure: experimentation and the construction of the marvellous through complex rules of collection. These rules covered gathering, body movements, offerings to the herb or the earth, addresses to the herb, and close temporal specifications – these latter lent themselves in turn to exploitation by literate rhizotomists in terms of occult schemes. We may use Searle’s distinction between regulative and constitutive rules to interpret these moves.

  • Characters and magic signs in the Picatrix and other Medieval magic texts

    The word „characters” covers a number of different phenomena in the Middle Ages. It might refer to a list of incomprehensible signs and astrological symbols inscribed in a talismanic sigil, to a series of Latin letters used for magical purposes, and also to a written form of verbal incantation, a written charm. Characters were often used in the field of talismanic or celestial magic in order to name spiritual beings. The paper reviews the use of characters in various medieval sources: textual amulets, necromantic manuals, texts on talismanic magic and the most famous medieval magical summary, the Picatrix.

  • Escribiendo una defixio: los textos de maldición a través de sus soportes

    The aim of this paper is to analyze binding curse tablets found in the Latin West from a material perspective, in order to rethink their multifaceted nature, since sometimes – but not always – defixiones are inscribed pieces of lead.

  • Sequences of charakteres in some circus defixiones in Latin from Hadrumetum

    A peculiar feature of a series of curse tablets from Hadrumetum, published by Audollent in his Defixionum tabellae (1904) and in a further study dated 1906, is that they contain four recurring sequences of magical charakteres. One of the sequences occurs on a single tablet, another on three tablets, the third in five, and the fourth is found 34 times on ten tablets. In each case the context is a curse against chariot-teams, i.e. charioteers and horses. Since the names of some charioteers show up on nearly all the tablets in the group, we may assume that the series was written over a relatively brief number of years. This inference is supported by the fact that the appearance and physical size of the tablets differ considerably. From these data we can conclude that there was a circle of magicians, using the same handbook and specialising in chariotracing, who invented the recurring sequences of charakteres, though – as far as we know – their innovation was not adopted in other regions.

  • From domestic apotropaic magic to state religion in the Roman world: ways there and back

    There are two main methodological approaches in relation to the study of apotropaic magic in the Graeco-Roman world. An historicist one, focused on the formal description of the data and on tracing their possible origins; and a psychologist-functionalist one, which interprets the data as a psychological relief to the anxieties produced by the misfortunes of dailylife. I propose to explore here an aspect of apotropaic magic frequently overlooked: its mutual relation with the religion of the State, which creates a common syntactic framework but also tensions and conflicts.

  • An execration formula from Lugo (Lucus Augusti)

    Excavations in the Plaza do Ferrol in Lugo (Galicia, Spain) during 1986 brought to light a necropolis with cistae datable from the middle of the 1st. century to the end of the 3rd. On one of the funeral urns (with a typology pointing to the first half of the 3rd. century) a graffito was written with a formula execrationis invoking “two genii” or, more probably, Duagena to punish the possible looters. This theonym, a hápax, seems to belong to a Celtic chtonic goddess whose personality (“Born Dark”, or “Born from Darkness”) finds parallels in other magical texts (e.g. antumnos in Larzac).

  • Non re ma Cesare

    La risposta di Cesare all’acclamazione a re si presta a due interpretazioni: o voluto gioco di parole sul cognomen Rex, proprio della gens Marcia (così le fonti greche ed espressamente Appiano), oppure messaggio di Cesare a sottolineare la sua superiorità sui re, alleati o vassalli del popolo romano. L’analisi delle testimonianze relative agli ultimi anni di Cesare porta alla seconda interpretazione, rettificando chi la ritiene formatasi con l’andar del tempo, a partire dai Flavi, che non possono più invocare la discendenza diretta, sostenendo invece che tale valenza fu conferita al cognomen dallo stesso dittatore.

  • Sinon on his “pal” Palamedes (Virgil, Aeneid II 81-104)

    Sinon’s speech to the Trojans falsely represents him as Palamedes’ friend. The present article endeavours to show how in this connection Virgil avails himself of etymology.

  • The cities of the Iazygians

    Ptolemy’ description of the Iazygian territory (Geogr. hyph. III 7) describes eight ‘poleis’ – which could be any kind of settlement indeed by name, and the boundaries of the region. The boundaries can be traced from the Greater Fatra range in the north to the river Temes or Krassó in the south, but the position of the settlements allows for some variations, taking as a fix point Partiskon = Szeged, from where a probable trade route started to the north or northwest, reaching most of the settlements mentioned. If the direction of the route in Ptolemy’s map were correct, some localities were outside of the actual territory (A), but supposing two different kinds of distortion, we may reconstruct a route heading to the Zagyva–Tarna region (B) or to Aquincum (C). Both possibilities seem realistic, but the most important settlement in the first part of the 1st c. was Bormanon (according to Geogr. hyph. VIII 11). The etymology of the name points to a warm or/and medicinal water spring. This fact and the date makes the B the most probable version.