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Classics Magic in the Ancient Greco-Roman World
by
Radcliffe Edmonds

Introduction

The study of magic in the ancient Greco-Roman world has blossomed in the decades since the publication of the translation of the Greek magical papyri by Hans Dieter Betz and his team in 1987. Although a scholarly interest in magic flourished at the turn of the 19th century, resulting in the editing and publication of collections of texts, the recent waves of scholarship have employed new methodologies drawn from anthropology, literary criticism, and comparative religion, focusing more on the social contexts of this material, as well as the cultural ideologies and constructs revealed. Because “magic” is a term coming from Greco-Roman antiquity that has meant many different things to many different people at many different times, one of the fundamental issues in the field is the demarcation of that field of study. Not only is the definition of magic still hotly contested, but scholars might dispute the inclusion of any of the bodies of evidence listed in this bibliography as appropriate for a study of magic.

Collections of Primary Texts

The primary texts that provide the evidence for magic in the ancient Greco-Roman world range from Egyptian papyri to lead curse tablets to learned manuals on astrology and alchemy. The scholarship on ancient magic has followed the editing and publication of the primary texts, especially when translation and commentaries have made these difficult materials accessible to a wider scholarly audience. Although many of the papyri and defixiones have been translated, much still remains accessible only to scholars with a command of the ancient languages (not just Greek and Latin, but also Demotic Egyptian, Hebrew, and other languages of the ancient Mediterranean).

Papyri and Other Formularies

The papyrus formularies (spell books) preserved in Egypt date mostly from the 2nd to 4th centuries CE and provide a wealth of evidence for the practice of magic in that time and place, as well as the largest corpus of ritual instructions for Greek polytheistic religion from any time or place. In addition to the formularies, a number of spells executed upon papyrus have been preserved, adding to the picture of how, why, and by whom magic was practiced. Preisendanz’s collection of the Papyri Magicae Graecae (PGM; see Preisendanz and Henrichs 1973–1974) and Betz 1996, a collection of translations known as GMPT, remain crucial tools for research. The Supplementum Magicum volumes of Daniel and Maltomini 1990–1992 supplement the material in the PGM with more recently discovered texts, while Merkelbach and Totti 1990–1996 provides more in-depth commentaries on specific sets of texts. Meyer and Smith 1994 supplies another deliberate omission in Preisendanz’s corpus, spells with Christian religious elements. The electronic resource Trismegistos is an expanding database of papyrus (and epigraphic) texts from Egypt, including many that can be considered magical.

  • Betz, Hans Dieter, ed. 1996. The Greek magical papyri in translation: Including the demotic spells. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    The most significant resource for the study of magic in the Greco-Roman world, this translation and commentary of Preisendanz’s collection (see Preisendanz and Henrichs 1973–1974) by Betz and his team provided a starting point for most of the scholarship on ancient magic in the past few decades. GMPT includes some of the Demotic material omitted by Preisendanz, although the alchemical papyri (P. Leyden and P. Stockholm) from the Anastasi collection are not included. Originally published in 1986, this edition includes a new bibliography.

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  • Daniel, Robert W., and Franco Maltomini, eds. 1990–1992. Supplementum Magicum. 2 vols. Papyrologica Coloniensis. Opladen, Germany: Westdeutscher Verlag.

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    These two volumes expand upon the collection in Preisendanz, including some material translated in GMPT. The commentary is more extensive than the footnotes in GMPT, including both philological commentary and discussions of parallels within the magico-religious tradition.

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  • Merkelbach, Reinhold, and Maria Totti. 1990–1996. Abrasax: Ausgewählte papyri religiösen und magischen Inhalts. 5 vols. Opladen, Germany: Westdeutscher Verlag.

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    These five volumes provide texts from various magical papyri with extensive commentary. The first two volumes focus on the prayers, while the third examines two Weihezeremonien (consecration rites)―the cosmogony from PGM XIII and the so-called Mithras Liturgy, here called a “Pschai-Aion Liturgy,” from PGM IV. The fourth includes studies of exorcistic texts, while the final volume includes dream texts.

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  • Meyer, M., and R. Smith, eds. 1994. Ancient Christian magic: Coptic texts of ritual power. San Francisco: Harper.

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    Modeled on GMPT, this collection provides formularies and executed spells in Coptic that seem to come from a Christian religious context. The collection aims to fill the gap pointedly left by Preisendanz, supplying spells that make use of the same kind of procedures as those in the PGM, but invoke Christian figures.

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  • Preisendanz, Karl, and Albert Henrichs, eds. 1973–1974. Papyri Graecae magicae: Die Griechischen Zauberpapyri. 2d ed. 2 vols. Stuttgart: Teubner.

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    Preisendanz’s collection, revised and updated by Henrichs, remains fundamental, despite the addition of more discoveries to the corpus of magical papyri. PGM includes several large formularies that seem to come from the Theban collection of Anastasi, as well as other shorter papyrus formularies and spells executed on papyrus. The collection omits materials from the same sources that are in Demotic, are alchemical in nature, or seemed too Christian to Preisendanz.

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  • Trismegistos.

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    This online database collects papyrus and epigraphic sources from Egypt from roughly 800 BCE to 800 CE, including a special section of texts considered magical. The criterion for inclusion as “magical” is rather loose; any text that seems to involve divination or ritual may be included. The database provides publication information as well as data regarding provenance and dating, but the texts are not available online.

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    Defixiones and other Curses

    The corpus of curses and binding spells (defixiones) inscribed upon lead tablets and other materials provides a fascinating look into strata of Greek and Roman societies not often visible from the literary evidence or even the epigraphic evidence of public monuments, revealing their hopes and fears, loves and hatreds, and special pleas and desperate appeals. Gager 1992 provides the best introduction to these materials, although the specialist must consult other sources for the actual texts. Wünsch 1897 first collected such texts in Greek, which were supplemented and expanded with Latin texts by Audollent 1967, and these two collections remained the standard reference for many years. Jordan 1985 has provided a list of other defixiones not included in the earlier collections, but many remain unpublished or are scattered in journals and difficult to access. Although many of the earlier collections are Greek texts, recent scholarship has addressed defixiones in Latin. Cunliffe and Tomlin 1988 provides an exemplary publication of a particular corpus of defixiones, while Kropp 2008 creates a database of all the published Latin texts. More interesting Latin curses from the fountain of Anna Perenna in Rome and from the sanctuary of Isis and Magna Mater in Mainz appear in Gordon and Marco Simón 2010 (cited under Collections of Essays).

    • Audollent, Auguste. 1967. Defixionum tabellae. Frankfurt: Minerva.

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      Originally published in 1904. One of the earliest collections of the epigraphic evidence for binding spells, expanding upon Wünsch’s Attic collection. Texts accessible online at PHI database.

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    • Cunliffe, Barry, and Robert S. O. Tomlin. 1988. The temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath, II: The finds from the sacred spring. Oxford University Committee for Archaeology Monograph 16. Oxford: Univ. Committee for Archaeology, 1988.

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      Tomlin’s catalogue and commentary upon the huge cache of curse tablets found in the spring provides one of the largest collections of defixiones from a single site, a good resource for specialists. Tomlin’s study also examines the language of the tablets, because they provide a relatively large corpus of nonliterary Latin, offering insights into the little documented world of those who deposited curses and prayers at the spring.

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    • Gager, John G., ed. 1992. Curse tablets and binding spells from the ancient world. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      The best collection of the evidence, providing a wide range of defixiones and other types of curses from various periods and places around the Mediterranean world, mostly epigraphic but also some literary evidence. The difficult texts are translated with some commentary and information about context. Introductory essays for each category provide more context. Suitable for a range of audiences, from undergraduates to professionals, although the absence of the original texts limits their usefulness to professional scholars.

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    • Jordan, David R. 1985. A survey of Greek defixiones not included in the Special Corpora. Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 26:151–197.

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      See also D. R. Jordan, “New Greek Curse Tablets (1985–2000),” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 41 (2000): 5–46. A valuable resource for specialists, these two articles represent catalogues of the ever-increasing number of defixiones discovered since the publication of Audollent. Many of these remain without official publication, but Jordan provides information about context and content, even partial readings of some texts, as well as bibliographic information. The first (SGD) lists 189 defixiones, while the second (NGCT) adds another 122, along with supplementary bibliography for the texts listed in SGD.

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    • Kropp, Amina. 2008. Defixiones: Ein aktuelles corpus Lateinischer Fluchtafeln: Dfx. Speyer, Germany: Kartoffeldruck-Verlag Kai Brodersen.

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      This work collects all of the published Latin curse tablets in a database format, providing contextual data, bibliography, and texts of the curses. The collection was a by-product of the author’s dissertation, a study of the language in these texts, and the database is available in electronic form in a CD-ROM attached to the published version. See Amina Kropp, Magische Sprachverwendung in Vulgärlateinischen Fluchtafeln (defixiones) (Tübingen, Germany: G. Narr, 2008).

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    • Wünsch, Richard, ed. 1897. Inscriptiones Atticae aetatis Romanae, defixionum tabellae, inscriptiones Graecae iii.3, appendix. Berlin: Reimer.

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      The first specialized collection of curse tablets, compiled as a subset of the epigraphic evidence from Attica. Texts accessible online at PHI database.

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    Gems, Amulets, and other Phylacteries

    This category includes gems inscribed with magical words or images, as well as amulets inscribed on various other materials such as gold and silver. Because these amulets are often made of precious substances, they more often come from private collections rather than from secure archaeological contexts. The brief texts and unexplained images further complicate the interpretation of this evidence, and the scholarship does better at cataloguing and describing the materials than at explaining their nature or use. The fundamental study remains Bonner 1955, although the Delatte and Derchain 1964 collection adds to this corpus. More recent catalogues (Philipp 1986, Mastrocinque 2004, and especially Michel 2001) have greatly expanded the set of inscribed gems available for study. Kotansky 1994 is a crucial resource for the study of gold and silver amulets, but many such texts remain outside his collection.

    • Bonner, Campbell. 1955. Studies in magical amulets, chiefly Graeco-Egyptian. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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      The fundamental study in the field, with a good survey introduction, and a catalogue of the materials, from museums in the United States and Europe. The descriptions of amulets are generally good, but the illustrations are not of much use. The introduction situates the use of amulets within Greco-Roman culture, making use of both literary and philosophical evidence, while the subsequent chapters treat amulets of different types.

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    • Delatte, Armand, and Philippe Derchain. 1964. Les intailles magiques gréco-égyptiennes. Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale.

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      A catalogue of engraved gems, arranged thematically, including categories for Greek deities, Egyptian deities, deities found in magical sources, and various other types of gems connected with erotic magic, astrology, and other types of magic. The catalogue includes both descriptions and photographs, as well as brief commentary.

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    • Kotansky, Roy. 1994. Greek magical amulets: The inscribed gold, silver, copper and bronze lamellae (Part I: Published texts of known provenance). Papyrologica Coloniensia 22.1. Opladen, Germany: Westdeutscher Verlag.

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      A collection of epigraphic texts, mostly protective amulets inscribed on precious metals. Kotansky provides texts and translations, as well as extensive commentaries on the texts. Some amulets are depicted in sketch drawings.

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    • Mastrocinque, Attilio. 2004. Sylloge gemmarum gnosticarum 1. Bollettino di numismatica, Monografia 8, 2, 1. Rome: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato.

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      Continued in Sylloge gemmarum gnosticarum 2 (Bollettino di numismatica, Monografia 8, 2, 2; 2008). A catalogue of gems with magical inscriptions or images deemed magical, drawn from collections in Italy. The first volume also contains interpretive essays by Mastrocinque, Sfameni Gasparro, and Lancellotti that contextualize the use of inscribed gems within the history of religions. The color images of the gems are particularly fine.

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    • Michel, Simone. 2001. Die magischen Gemmen im Britischen Museum. 2 vols. Edited by Peter Zazoff and Hilde Zazoff. London: British Museum Press.

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      A catalogue of magical gems from the British Museum, with illustrations, some excellent photographs, and some commentary. The theoretical introduction is supplied in Michel 2004, cited under Gems and Amulets.

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    • Philipp, Hanna. 1986. Mira et magica: Gemmen im ägyptischen Museum der Staatlichen Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin-Charlottenburg. Mainz, West Germany: von Zabern.

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      A catalogue of the magical gems in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin, with some commentary on the materials, names, and the use of amulets in antiquity.

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    Treatises on the Occult Sciences (Astrology, Alchemy, etc.)

    The collections of texts for astrology, alchemy, and other materials that treat the borders between science and magic have received much less attention in recent years than the papyri or defixiones. The Berthelot and Ruelle 1888 collection brings together in the first modern critical edition the texts relating to alchemical procedures, while Boll, et al. 1898 accomplishes a similar task for astrological treatises. Neugebauer and van Hoesen 1959 supplements the astrological material with papyrus finds and provides some commentary upon this difficult material. Halleux 1981 includes a selection of the alchemical materials with a new edition, translation, and some commentary, while Halleux and Schamp 1985 collects treatises upon the properties of stones. The resources for reference were compiled by scholars interested in the history of science decades before the recent resurgence of interest in ancient magic, and the commentaries reflect older models of scholarship. The exception is Majercik 1989, an edition of the fragments of the Chaldaean Oracles that played a crucial part in theurgy.

    • Berthelot, M., and C. Ruelle. 1888. Collection des anciens alchimistes grecs. Paris: G. Steinheil.

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      Although a few texts have been reedited in the past century, this collection remains the standard edition of most of these materials.

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    • Boll, F. F. Cumont, G. Kroll, et al., eds. 1898. Catalogus codicum astrologorum Graecorum. Brussels: Lamertin.

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      This collection remains the standard edition of most of this material, although new editions of some of the longer texts have been made and new discoveries (particularly of texts preserved in Arabic translations) have added to the corpus of astrological texts.

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    • Halleux, Robert. 1981. Les alchimistes Grecs. Paris: Belles Lettres.

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      One of the newest editions of these materials, this collection, with French translation, includes the Stockholm and Leyden alchemical papyri that were part of the Theban magical papyri collected by Anastasi, as well as some of the works of Zosimus.

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    • Halleux, Robert, and Jacques Schamp. 1985. Les lapidaires Grecs. Paris: Belles Lettres.

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      A collection of the treatises on the power of various stones, including the Lithika attributed to Orpheus. The edition provides a French translation and some commentary.

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    • Majercik, Ruth D. 1989. The Chaldean Oracles: Text, translation, and commentary. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill.

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      This edition collects the quotations from the Chaldaean Oracles from the writings of the Neoplatonists and provides some commentary explaining their place within the Neoplatonic systems of theurgy.

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    • Neugebauer, O., and H. B. van Hoesen. 1959. Greek horoscopes. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

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      A collection of astrological materials, including selections from manuals and horoscopes, with English translations.

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    Sourcebooks

    Two sourcebooks, Luck 2006 and Ogden 2009, provide a selection of primary texts in translation with comments to help guide undergraduates (or others without background). There is some overlap between the sourcebooks, but each provides material lacking in the other. Although the commentaries provide useful background, the author’s bias in each case means that they must be used with caution.

    • Luck, Georg. 2006. Arcana mundi: Magic and the occult in the Greek and Roman worlds—A collection of ancient texts. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

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      The first sourcebook available (1st ed., 1985). In addition to general sections on magic and miracles, with passages from magical papyri and literary texts, it includes sections on divination, demonology, astrology, and alchemy. Commentary reflects author’s definition of magic as an excrescence that grows like a fungus on normal religion.

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    • Ogden, Daniel. 2009. Magic, witchcraft, and ghosts in the Greek and Roman worlds: A sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      Ogden collects both literary and epigraphic evidence, using a wide range of primary sources, but omits almost all divination except necromancy and does not cover the more complex forms such as astrology, theurgy, and alchemy. The collection has good translations and indices, but the commentary for the texts reflects the author’s assumption that all magic relates to the manipulation of dead spirits.

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    The Problem of Magic

    The scholarship on magic in the ancient Greco-Roman world ranges from basic questions of defining magic to studies of the cultural context in which magic was practiced. The place of magic in the Greek and Roman societies at various times is one important focus of study, but the prominence of the evidence from Egypt has led to important studies of the cultural context of Greco-Roman Egypt. The craft of the magician and the ways such craftsmen identify themselves has drawn much scholarly attention, but the greatest disputes rage over the very definition of “magic,” a question with a long and complex history in the study of religion and of antiquity.

    Defining Magic

    One of the major issues in the field is simply to come up with a working definition of “magic.” In recent years scholars have tried to move beyond the definitions of magic that dominated earlier scholarship: the definition of magic as ritualistic religion empty of belief and the Frazerian definition of magic as mistaken science. Some, such as Bremmer 1999 and Graf 1995, have attempted a definition based on ancient Greek and Roman terminology, while others, such as Braarvig 1999, Fowler 1995, Segal 1981, and Versnel 1991, by contrast, have tried to refine etic categories of magic and religion (and, to a lesser extent, science) to create a workable scholarly definition. Smith 2003 transcends the dichotomies of magic and religion or magic and science to focus upon the kind of space in which the action takes place, while Gordon 1999 focuses upon the place of magic within the imaginary and the use of the label “magic” to describe a range of phenomena.

    • Braarvig, Jens. 1999. Magic: Reconsidering the grand dichotomy. In The world of ancient magic: Papers from the first International Samson Eitrem Seminar at the Norwegian Institute at Athens, 4–8 May 1997. Edited by David R. Jordan, Hugo Montgomery, and Einar Thomassen, 21–54. Bergen, Norway: Norwegian Institute at Athens.

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      This essay examines the dichotomy set up in scholarship between magic and religion, arguing that magic is a label applied in a polemical context and that scholars should distinguish between the label self-applied (intratextual), the label applied polemically by others (intertextual), and the label applied by scholars from an outsider (etic) perspective in a historical and disinterested fashion (extratextual).

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    • Bremmer, J. N. 1999. The birth of the term “magic.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 126:1–12.

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      This essay, reprinted and updated in Bremmer and Veenstra 2002 (cited under Collections of Essays), traces the usage of the term “magos” and related words within the context of Greek and Persian interactions. An appendix supplements this emic approach centered on vocabulary with a consideration of the history in the scholarship of the magic/religion dichotomy.

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    • Fowler, Robert L. 1995. Greek magic, Greek religion. Illinois Classical Studies 20:1–22.

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      A helpful introductory essay (reprinted in Oxford Readings in Greek Religion, edited by Richard Buxton, 2000) that surveys the materials that have often been considered magic within the context of Greek religion.

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    • Gordon, Richard. 1999. Imagining Greek and Roman magic. In Magic and witchcraft in Europe: Greece and Rome. Edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark, 159–276. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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      A complex and densely theoretical essay, this is the best discussion of the place of magic in the mind-set of the Greeks and Romans. Privileging evidence for magic in the imaginary over the evidence for actual practice, Gordon approaches magic through Weber’s criteria for legitimacy (performance, political-social location, objectivity, ends), showing how phenomena are labeled as magic at different times for different reasons.

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    • Graf, Fritz. 1995. Excluding the charming: The development of the Greek concept of magic. In Ancient magic and ritual power. Edited by Marvin W. Meyer and Paul A. Mirecki, 29–42. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill.

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      Graf argues that a lexical study of terms for magic shows that the category is not the same as the modern category, despite some similarities. Controversies among marginal specialists created magic as a category within that of religion.

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    • Segal, A. F. 1981. Hellenistic magic: Some questions of definition. In Studies in gnosticism and Hellenistic religion presented to Gilles Quispel on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Edited by R. van den Broek and M. J. Vermaseren, 349–375. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      Segal argues that defining magic is always a polemical or persuasive act, and the meaning of magic changes according to the particular context in which the term is used. He reviews examples from the magical papyri, as well as literary, philosophical, and biblical evidence.

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    • Smith, Jonathan Z. 2003. Here, there, and anywhere. In Prayer, magic, and the stars in the ancient and Late Antique world. Edited by Scott Noegel, Joel Walker, and Brannon Wheeler, 21–36. University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press.

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      Drawing on Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, Smith proposes distinctions between religion of here, of there, and of anywhere, suggesting that magic can be understood as a kind of religion whose efficacy and authority depend not on where it is performed, whether in the private domestic space (here) or the public temple sacred space (there), but rather upon the personal authority of the performer, whose contact with the divine is valid anywhere.

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    • Versnel, Hendrik S. 1991. Some reflections on the relationship magic-religion. Numen 38:177–197.

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      Versnel reviews the scholarly controversies in anthropology and the history of religions over the definition of magic and argues that, because an insider’s (emic) view of magic is impossible for a modern scholar, an etic definition, contrasting magic with religion with regard to the intention, attitude, action, and social evaluation, provides the best understanding of magic.

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    Studies of Magic and Magicians

    The scholarship on magic in the Greco-Roman world grapples with the problems of what kinds of evidence to interpret and what kinds of theoretical tools to use in the interpretations. Although tools of literary analysis help make sense of the evidence for magic, anthropology provides theories and methods for understanding how magic fits into the larger cultural framework. Recent scholarship has shifted attention to uncovering the traces of magic within the archaeological record, making use of new theoretical work within the field of archaeology. A few works survey the general field of magic in Greco-Roman antiquity, combining anthropological theory with readings of literary and material evidence. The overview in Graf 1997 remains the best starting point for research into the field of ancient magic, and a distilled version (in German) appears in Graf, et al. 2004. Collins 2008 is a useful study of some aspects of magic in the Greek context, incorporating material from the author’s previous studies. While Collins 2008 makes use of more recent anthropological theories, Bernand 1991 draws on Marcel Mauss’s pioneering study in the anthropology of magic.

    • Bernand, André. 1991. Sorciers grecs. Paris: Fayard.

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      A survey of the idea of magic in Greek culture, as well as the people who practiced magic. The author explores the distinctions between magic and normative religion, pointing to the marginal nature of the practitioners.

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    • Collins, Derek. 2008. Magic in the ancient Greek world. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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      Particularly noteworthy in this study is the author’s use of modern anthropological theory (especially Tambiah and Gell); his attention to the theorizations of ancient philosophical, scientific, and legal thinkers; and his study of the use of Homer and other poets in magic. The work is accessible enough for undergraduates, but it provides good studies of certain areas rather than a comprehensive overview.

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    • Graf, Fritz. 1997. Magic in the ancient world. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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      The best general introduction to the subject, suitable for readers from advanced undergraduates all the way to professional scholars. Graf shows how outmoded approaches grounded in Christianocentric paradigms have been replaced by models deriving from anthropological studies. Graf examines the meanings of the terms for magic in Greek and Roman evidence and surveys a range of topics, from curses to the representations of magic in literature.

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    • Graf, Fritz, Robert Fowler, and Arpad Nagy. 2004. Magische ritual. In Thesaurus cultus et rituum antiquorum. Vol. 3. Edited by J. C. Balty, J. Boardman, et al., 283–301. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.

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      This article in the excellent encyclopedia of ancient cult and ritual (ThesCRA) briefly and concisely surveys the topic. Fowler provides (in English) a discussion of the concept of magic (Fowler 1995, cited under Defining Magic), while Graf provides a summary (in German) of the various types of magic (Graf 1997). Nagy contributes a brief survey of magical gems. See also Graf’s article, “Fluch und Verwünschung,” in the same volume of ThesCRA (pp. 247–270), for an overview of curses.

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    Magic in Literature

    One way to handle the problem of defining magic is to survey the appearance of magic and users of magic in the literature of the ancient world. Scholars debate the transparency of the evidence as an indicator of the ancient practices, as well as the usefulness of modern anthropological and literary theory. Dickie 2001, like Luck 1999, takes the literary texts as a relatively transparent picture, while Stratton 2007, Carastro 2006, and Baertschi and Fögen 2006 examine the texts for literary tropes that indicate cultural stereotypes rather than realities.

    • Baertschi, Annette M., and Thorsten Fögen. 2006. Zauberinnen und Hexen in der antiken Literatur. Gymnasium 113.3: 223–251.

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      This article surveys the types of sorceresses and witches that appear in ancient literature, creating a typology and tracing the reception of the figures in later literature.

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    • Carastro, Marcello. 2006. La cité des mages: Penser la magie en Grèce ancienne. Grenoble, France: Editions Jérôme Millon.

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      A study of the idea of the magos in Greek culture, tracing the uses of magos and related words. The book examines the magic of the Sirens and related ideas in the Homeric epics, as well as, to a more limited extent, some of the evidence from Plato and early defixiones.

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    • Dickie, Matthew. 2001. Magic and magicians in the Greco-Roman world. London and New York: Routledge.

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      A comprehensive survey of the evidence for magical practice and practitioners from the 5th century BCE up through the 7th century CE. Dickie problematically rejects contemporary theoretical notions of magic as a complexly constructed category and reads much of the evidence as a fairly straightforward record of ancient practice. He focuses particularly on magic depicted in literary texts and on the way magic was used among the nonelites.

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    • Luck, Georg. 1999. Witches and sorcerers in classical literature. In Magic and witchcraft in Europe: Greece and Rome. Edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark, 93–158. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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      A survey of literary depictions of practitioners of magic, along with a list of common terminology. Various episodes from classical literature are summarized to provide general conclusions about the nature of magic, but the analyses lack theoretical depth and the chronological ordering of summaries provides no clear picture of either continuity or change in the ideas of magic.

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    • Stratton, Kimberly B. 2007. Naming the witch: Magic, ideology, and stereotype in the ancient world. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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      A study of different types of witch figures, with a strong theoretical approach to the varying modes of alterity in four different historical periods (Greek sexy sorceresses, Roman horrid hags, magicians in Christian texts, and women in the Rabbinic tradition). The approach is somewhat overschematic but underscores the often-neglected point that representations of magic in antiquity must be linked to the particular sociopolitical and historical context.

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    Magic in the Archaeological Record

    Recent scholarship has begun to grapple with the challenges of reconstructing magical practice from the material evidence, a task that requires different methods and theories than the analysis of textual evidence. Scholars are starting to show a new concern for the archaeological context of the material remains, but the theorization of this study of the magical material is just beginning. Alfayé Villa 2010 provides an illustration of the problems involved with such analysis, while Wilburn 2007 models the kind of investigation necessary for scholarly reconstructions of magical practice from such evidence. Bailliot 2010 furnishes the first extended study in this vein, examining Roman iconographic and material evidence for magic.

    • Alfayé Villa, Silvia. 2010. Nails for the dead: A polysemic account of an ancient funerary practice. In Magical practice in the Latin West: Papers from the international conference held at the University of Zaragoza, 30 Sept.–1 Oct. 2005. Edited by R. L. Gordon and F. Marco Simón, 427–456. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      This essay examines the presence of nails in funerary contexts, from functional coffin nails to magical bindings, highlighting the theoretical challenges of interpreting such evidence. The author provides data from a number of burial excavations showing the correlation of the presence of nails with other funerary artifacts, as well as a greater presence of nonutilitarian nails in infant graves, suggesting a function as protection against the restless dead.

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    • Bailliot, Magali. 2010. Magie et sortilèges dans l’Antiquité romaine: Archéologie des rituels et des images. Paris: Hermann.

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      This study of magic in Roman society focuses on the material evidence rather than the literary depictions. Bailliot examines the imagery of apotropaic symbols, as well as the rituals involved in binding curses, within the context of Roman society. She also explores the discursive ambiguity of magic, noting the tensions between public displays and private uses.

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    • Wilburn, Andrew. 2007. Excavating love magic at Roman Karanis. In New archaeological and papyrological researches on the Fayyum: Proceedings of the International Meeting of Egyptology and Papyrology: Lecce, 8–10 June 2005. Edited by Mario Capasso and Paola Davoli, 355–370. Galatina, Italy: Congedo.

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      This essay provides a model for the scholarly investigation of the archaeological evidence for magic, pointing out the challenges involved with reconstructing magical practice from excavated evidence. Wilburn calls for changes in archaeological practice to help provide more contextual information that can help determine the ritual function of the material evidence.

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    The Place of Magic and Magicians

    Contextualizing the magician and the practices of magic is a vital complement to the study of the texts (and other primary evidence) for magic, and scholars have focused on the craft of the magician within the various cultural contexts in which the evidence appears. Studies of the technical aspects of the magician’s craft, especially the way writing and ritual interrelate, have illuminated the ways magic fits into the social context. However, because the cultural context of the ancient Greco-Roman world was a complex, multicultural one, various studies have explored the different cultural traditions and the connections between them. In addition to examining the ways magic appears in the Greek and Roman cultures (particularly from the legal evidence), scholars have looked at the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Hittite, Jewish, and Christian traditions. The importance of the Greek Magical Papyri and other evidence from Egypt within the corpus of Greek magical evidence has led scholars to focus on the dynamics of cultural interchange in Greco-Roman Egypt in particular.

    The Magician’s Craft (Writing, Ritual, and Magic)

    A number of studies have focused on the craft that magicians practice as a way of understanding the category of magic. Analyses of the tools of the magician’s trade, especially the grimoires or papyrus formularies with collections of magical recipes, have provided a great deal of insight into the world of the magicians and their clientele. The survey in Brashear 1995 is vast, covering every aspect of the Papyri Magicae Graecae (PGM) corpus, while Faraone 2000 focuses on a few particular examples. Gordon 2002, like LiDonnici 1999, examines the way the authors and users of the PGM texts can be uncovered through the study of the texts. Dickie 1999 explores the associations of magician figures with specialized learning, while Graf 2002 examines the theorizations of magic these ancient specialists produced. Edmonds 2008 and Frankfurter 2002 both explore the ways in which magicians and the idea of magic fit within societies, especially the way in which marginal status can have both positive and negative implications.

    • Brashear, William. 1995. The Greek magical papyri: An introduction and survey; annotated bibliography (1928–1994). In Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2, 18.5. Edited by Wolfgang Haase, 3380–3684. New York: de Gruyter.

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      This invaluable resource provides a history of the various papyri that make up the principal corpus, especially the “Anastasi collection,” as well as extensive bibliography. Brashear provides some history of the study of Egyptian religion and its connection to the magical papyri, as well as information about each piece of evidence. Includes a glossary of voces magicae, with bibliography on the explanations for each entry.

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    • Dickie, Matthew W. 1999. The learned magician and the collection and transmission of magical lore. In The world of ancient magic: Papers from the first International Samson Eitrem Seminar at the Norwegian Institute at Athens, 4–8 May 1997. Edited by David R. Jordan, Hugo Montgomery, and Einar Thomassen, 163–194. Bergen, Norway: Norwegian Institute at Athens.

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      A study of the importance of specialized learning in the magical tradition, with investigations into such figures as the magi, Anaxilaus of Larisa, Nigidius Figulus, and Bolus of Mendes (the probable author of works of lore attributed to Democritus).

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    • Edmonds, Radcliffe. 2008. Extra-ordinary people: Mystai and magoi, magicians and orphics in the Derveni papyrus. Classical Philology 103:16–39.

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      A study of the labels of “magic” and “Orphic” for types of extraordinary religion and religious practitioners, drawing on the evidence of the Derveni Papyrus. The article distinguishes self- and other-labeling, as well as positive and negative modes of extraordinary religion.

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    • Faraone, Christopher A. 2000. Handbooks and anthologies: The collection of Greek and Egyptian incantations in late Hellenistic Egypt. Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 2.2: 195–214.

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      This article suggests that the formularies from the Anastasi collection may not be as paradigmatic for magical papyri as they are often considered. Faraone examines the formats of the Phillina Papyrus (PGM XX) and the Berlin Papyrus (PGM CXXII = Supp. Mag. 72) as alternate models, noting similarities with Hellenistic collections of other kinds of Greek texts.

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    • Frankfurter, David. 2002. Dynamics of ritual expertise in antiquity and beyond: Towards a new taxonomy of “magicians.” In Magic and ritual in the ancient world. Edited by Paul A. Mirecki and Marvin W. Meyer, 159–178. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      The article examines the way in which different types of ritual practitioners interact with their communities. The typology distinguishes local community experts from quasi-institutional literate elites, as well as from marginal prophets and the imaginary evil witches. It explores the marginality/proximity of such figures in addition to the balance between innovation and traditional authority.

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    • Gordon, Richard. 2002. Shaping the text: Innovation and authority in Graeco-Egyptian malign magic. In Kykeon: Studies in honour of H. S. Versnel. Edited by H. F. J. Horstmanshoff, 69–112. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      Gordon examines the formularies of the PGM as an expression of the identity of the authors, including ideas of stereotype appropriation to explain some of the interactions of the Egyptian and Greco-Roman religious cultures. He explores ancient theorizations of the efficacy of magical names, as well as some of the formal devices (letter arrangements and pictures) employed.

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    • Graf, Fritz. 2002. Theories of magic in antiquity. In Magic and ritual in the ancient world. Edited by Paul A. Mirecki and Marvin W. Meyer, 92–104. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      Graf surveys ancient theories of magic, examining the ideas in Apuleius, Augustine, Plato, and Plotinus. He distinguishes between the idea that magic is the divine power to do whatever one wishes and magic as special a kind of communication between mortals and divine powers, noting the different ways in which this special communication is regarded by different thinkers.

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    • LiDonnici, Lynn R. 1999. The disappearing magician: Literary and practical questions about the Greek magical papyri. In A multiform heritage: Studies on early Judaism and Christianity in honor of Robert A. Kraft. Edited by Benjamin G. Wright, 227–244. Atlanta: Scholars Press.

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      Through a study of spells of invisibility in the PGM, LiDonnici examines the relation of the recipes in the formularies to the actual practices, as well as the nature and social location of the practitioners and the religious context of their actions.

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    Magic in Greco-Roman Society

    A number of scholars have examined the place of magic within Greek and Roman societies, analyzing the evidence for the criminalization of magic, as well as more subtle forms of social classification of magical practices and knowledge. Gordon 1987 and Smith 1995 approach the issue broadly, with special attention in the former to the literary tradition and in the latter to ritual practices. Both Phillips 1986 and Phillips 1991 treat the place of magic in Roman society; the later study is a usefully distilled version of the earlier and more comprehensive one. Collins 2001 examines the limited evidence for the prosecution of magic in Greek society, while Bradley 1997, Kippenberg 1997, and Rives 2003 look at the evidence for trials of magic in Roman society, especially the dramatic trial of Apuleius.

    • Bradley, Keith. 1997. Law, magic, and culture in the Apologia of Apuleius. Phoenix 51.2: 203–223.

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      An excellent analysis of the social context of the trial of Apuleius for magical practice and its impact on the ways magic is defined in his defense speech.

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    • Collins, Derek Burton. 2001. Theoris of Lemnos and the criminalization of magic in fourth-century Athens. Classical Quarterly, n.s., 51.2: 477–493.

      DOI: 10.1093/cq/51.2.477Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      An examination of the evidence for the prosecution of magic in classical Athens, with attention to the meanings of pharmakon and the categories of natural and supernatural in their cultural context.

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    • Gordon, R. L. 1987. Aelian’s peony: The location of magic in Graeco-Roman tradition. In Comparative criticism: A yearbook. Edited by E. Shaffer, 59–95. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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      A complex essay on the idea of magic in Greco-Roman literary tradition, with special attention to the strategies that different strands of society employed in dealing with the concept.

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    • Kippenberg, Hans G. 1997. Magic in Roman civil discourse: Why rituals could be illegal. In Envisioning magic: A Princeton seminar and symposium. Edited by Peter Schäfer and Hans G. Kippenberg, 137–165. Leiden, The Netherlands, and New York: Brill.

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      Examines the way Roman society treated magic in its legal codes, using the example of Apuleius and exploring the different laws under which magic could be prosecuted. He emphasizes the importance of clandestine ritual as part of the Roman definition of magic, noting the contrasts with the Greek ideas of magic.

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    • Phillips, Ch. R. 1986. The sociology of religious knowledge in the Roman Empire to A.D. 284. In Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2, 16.3. Edited by Wolfgang Haase, 2677–2773. Berlin: de Gruyter.

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      Examines the way religious knowledge was considered licit or illicit in the Roman Empire, emphasizing that the label of magic always implies a value judgment made by the one doing the labeling. The dense theoretical approach of the article combined with copious discussion of previous scholarship makes this study suited for specialists.

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    • Phillips, C. Robert, III. 1991. Nullum Crimen sine Lege: Socioreligious sanctions on magic. In Magika hiera: Ancient Greek magic and religion. Edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 260–276. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      Taking unsanctioned religious activity as a definition of magic, this article analyzes the occasions and ways in which such activity was suppressed or penalized in the ancient world, concluding that the lack of clear legal, scientific, or religious definitions of magic meant that societal sanctions against such activities occurred only infrequently.

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    • Rives, James. 2003. Magic in Roman law: The reconstruction of a crime. Classical Antiquity 22.2: 313–339.

      DOI: 10.1525/ca.2003.22.2.313Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      A study of the legal treatment of magic in Roman society, through examination of the Lex Cornelia de sicariis et veneficiis, Apuleius’s Apology, and The Opinions of Paulus. Roman ideas of magic shift from a focus on the harm done to an idea of religious deviance, but the article argues that the term “magic” is the only one sufficient to cover this range.

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    • Smith, J. Z. Trading places. In Ancient magic and ritual power. Edited by Marvin W. Meyer and Paul A. Mirecki, 13–27. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1995.

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      An excellent theoretical discussion of the problems with defining magic, followed by an analysis of the corpus of magical papyri as evidence for ritual practice, particularly for a “domesticated” form of sacrifice, characterized by miniaturization and symbolization of ritual, and for rituals of writing.

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    The Greco-Egyptian Cultural Context

    The predominance in the scholarship of the Greek Magical Papyri from Egypt raises the question of the extent to which this evidence represents a fortunately preserved sample of a more general phenomenon of magical formularies or a particularly Egyptian phenomenon. Scholars also debate the extent of syncretism or cultural negotiation within the papyri, and opinions vary from a mere linguistic gilding of Greek upon Egyptian rituals to merely a few Egyptian ornaments upon a fundamentally Greek ritual practice, with more scholars seeing a thoroughgoing fusion of cultural elements. Fowden 1993 provides a contextual introduction to the issue of Greco-Egyptian cultural interactions, while Frankfurter 1994 and Frankfurter 1997 explore the specific case of the specialists who composed the Greek Magical Papyri in an Egyptian religious context. Dieleman 2005 examines two of the bilingual papyri in the PGM, particularly the way Greek and Egyptian elements are fused and adapted. Smith 1978 examines Thessalos of Tralles and his interactions with an Egyptian priest as an example of a Greek search for wisdom. Ritner 1995 uses the same example to argue for a thoroughly Egyptian context, while Moyer 2003 sees a more complex process of Greek and Egyptian interactions.

    • Dieleman, Jacco. 2005. Priests, tongues, and rites: The London-Leiden magical manuscripts and translation in Egyptian ritual (100–300 CE). Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      An extensive study of two bilingual papyri from the Theban Magical Library collected by Anastasi, PGM XII/pdm xii and pdm xiv/PGM XIV. This study examines the Egyptian context of these texts, with particular attention to the use of writing, bilingualism, and the appropriation of foreign language, and the Egyptian priestly tradition.

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    • Fowden, Garth. 1993. The Egyptian Hermes: A historical approach to the late pagan mind. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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      A study of the Hermetic texts, with attention to the Greek and Egyptian cultural contexts that produced them. Some discussion of the magical papyri in relation to the other religious and philosophical productions of this cultural milieu. An excellent introduction to the problem of Greek and Egyptian interactions.

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    • Frankfurter, David. 1994. The magic of writing and the writing of magic: The power of the word in Egyptian and Greek traditions. Helios 21.2: 189–221.

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      The article examines the interactions of Greek and Egyptian cultures and the way the different ideas of writing affected the ideas of magic. Greek ambivalence to writing contrasts with the Egyptian valuation of the written symbols. The synthesis of these ideas may be found in the Greco-Egyptian magical papyri and amulets, especially the use of voces magicae, chains of vowels, and the special charakteres.

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    • Frankfurter, David. 1997. Ritual expertise in Roman Egypt and the problem of the category “magician.” In Envisioning magic: A Princeton seminar and symposium. Edited by Peter Schäfer and Hans G. Kippenberg, 115–136. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      This article argues that the likely creator and user of the grimoires, the formularies of the PGM, is an Egyptian lector priest (hry-tp), whose ritual expertise has a place in the community different from that of the stereotype of the itinerant, marginal magician.

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    • Moyer, Ian S. Thessalos of Tralles and cultural exchange. 2003. In Prayer, magic, and the stars in the ancient and late antique world. Edited by Joel Walker, Scott Noegel, and Brannon Wheeler, 39–56. University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press.

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      Nuancing both Ritner 1995 and Smith 1978, this article explores the dynamics of Greco-Egyptian cultural exchange in the story of Thessalos, arguing that both Thessalos and the Egyptian priest operated with different ideas of magic and ritual authority in negotiating Thessalos’s vision of Asclepius. An excellent study that illustrates the complexities of the Greco-Egyptian cultural environment.

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    • Ritner, R. K. 1995. Egyptian magical practice under the Roman Empire: The demotic spells and their religious context. In Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2, 18.5. Edited by Wolfgang Haase, 3333–3379. Berlin: de Gruyter.

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      This article surveys the Greco-Egyptian magical material from an Egyptian perspective, cataloguing the Coptic and Demotic materials omitted from the classical scholarship. Ritner argues that the magical materials follow the traditional Egyptian patterns and ideas of magic (heka), with little significant influence from the Greek and Roman traditions. For Ritner, Thessalos’s interactions with Egyptian priests follow standard Egyptian temple practice, and the PGM formularies likewise reflect Egyptian ritual practices compiled by bilingual Egyptian scribes.

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    • Smith, Jonathan Z. 1978. The temple and the magician. In Map is not territory: Studies in the history of religions. By Jonathan Z. Smith, 172–189. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      Examines the story of Thessalos’s search for magical knowledge and his interactions with Egyptian priests as an alteration of the tradition patterns of seeking wisdom, indicating a shift from a locative, temple-centered religious outlook to one centered on mobile entrepreneurs (utopian).

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    Other Cultural Contexts

    The ideas and practices of magic in the Greco-Roman world took place in a wider context of magic within the ancient Mediterranean world, and studies of magic within Babylonian, Mesopotamian, and Hittite cultures often illuminate the Greek and Roman evidence. Jewish and Christian religious elements appear frequently in the evidence (especially in the PGM), and, although earlier scholars deliberately omitted such materials from the corpora, recent scholarship has argued for the importance of understanding the cultural context that included all these elements. The topic of magic within each of these contexts deserves its own separate study, but some of the best points of entry for the nonspecialist into these traditions may be the studies in the collections of essays on magic (especially Meyer and Mirecki 1995, Mirecki and Meyer 2002, and Noegel, et al. 2003, all cited under Collections of Essays). In particular, the essays by Richard Beal and Billie Jean Collins on Hittite, Joanna Scurlock on Mesopotamian, Gideon Bohak and Michael Swartz on Jewish, and Marvin Meyer and Paul Mirecki on the Christian tradition provide good focused studies, rather than general overviews, as well as useful bibliography. For Mesopotamian material, Thomsen 2001 provides a basic introduction to the texts and contexts, although it misses some of the more recent developments in the field. Bohak 2011 provides further studies in which the focus is less on the Greco-Roman material and more on the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Jewish traditions. Bohak 2008 provides a good overview of ancient Jewish magic, and Aune 1980 is an excellent survey of Christian magic and the issues involved; if it is now slightly dated, it was nevertheless ahead of its time. The introduction in Meyer and Smith 1994 (cited in Papyri and Other Formularies) provides some more orientation. Jewish ideas of magic are examined together with Christian and Greco-Roman ones in the survey of Janowitz 2001.

    • Aune, D. E. 1980. Magic in early Christianity. In Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2, 23.2. Edited by Wolfgang Haase, 1507–1557. Berlin: de Gruyter.

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      Aune makes use of Merton’s theory of anomie to explain the place of magic in early Christianity, exploring the miracle traditions of Jesus and the magical uses of Jesus’s name, as well as contextualizing this evidence within the traditions of magic in the Greco-Roman world.

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    • Bohak, Gideon. 2008. Ancient Jewish magic: A history. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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      This survey of magic in the ancient Jewish tradition provides a good overview of the evidence and issues involved. Bohak examines both literary representations and magical practice and grapples with the question of “what is Jewish about Jewish magic?” in the multicultural context of the ancient world.

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    • Bohak, Gideon. 2011. Continuity and innovation in the magical tradition. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      This valuable collection includes studies on magic in Babylonian, Egyptian, and Jewish traditions, as well as two Greco-Roman papers. The Egyptian studies by Quack and Dieleman are particularly useful for understanding the Egyptian antecedents for the PGM, but more of the papers focus on the relations of the Babylonian and Jewish traditions.

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    • Janowitz, Naomi. 2001. Magic in the Roman world: Pagans, Jews, and Christians. London: Routledge.

      DOI: 10.4324/9780203457641Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Janowitz surveys the place of magic in Judaism, as well as Christian and Greco-Roman (“pagan”) traditions in the Roman empire, briefly examining not just the ways texts in these traditions define magic, but also practices such as exorcisms, erotic magic, alchemy, and rituals of ascent and immortalization. She also looks at the role of gender in magic in these traditions.

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    • Thomsen, Marie-Louise. 2001. Witchcraft and magic in ancient Mesopotamia. In Biblical and pagan societies. Edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark, 1–96. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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      This essay provides a good introduction to the topic and overview of the sources involved. It does not, however, engage with more recent studies and relies on older editions of the texts.

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    Collections of Essays

    Several excellent collections of essays have been published from conferences dedicated to the study of magic. Many of these conferences have been deliberately interdisciplinary, bringing together scholars from a variety of fields to shed light upon the subject. Faraone and Obbink 1991 set the stage for the later conferences by bringing together experts to provide studies of key areas in Greek magic. Meyer and Mirecki 1995 (likewise Mirecki and Meyer 2002) expands the focus to include Near Eastern, Jewish, Christian, and other material, as do Schäfer and Kippenberg 1997 and Noegel, et al. 2003. Bremmer and Veenstra 2002 extends even further to include later time periods. Moreau and Turpin 2000 brings together a broader range of scholars from different areas in their larger collection that includes topics from Babylonian magic through contemporary reception. Gordon and Marco Simón 2010 also brings new perspectives, although the focus is upon Roman material from the western provinces.

    • Bremmer, Jan N., and Jan R. Veenstra, eds. 2002. The Metamorphosis of magic from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern period. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters.

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      A useful collection that provides a series of snapshots of magic in different periods. Some articles treat ancient topics (e.g., Graf on Augustine, Scibilia on the PGM), while others explore the traditions of magic into the medieval and Renaissance periods.

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    • Faraone, Christopher, and Dirk Obbink, eds. 1991. Magika hiera: Ancient Greek magic and religion. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      Still the most important collection of essays, with fundamental studies of topics such as curses, erotic magic, prayer, healing, and protective magic by pioneers in the field. The collected essays together provide an overview that remains essential for any serious study in the field.

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    • Gordon, R. L., and F. Marco Simón, eds. 2010. Magical practice in the Latin west: Papers from the international conference held at the University of Zaragoza, 30 Sept.–1 Oct. 2005. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      A collection of essays on magical materials predominantly in Latin and from the western regions of the Roman Empire. This volume serves as a useful corrective to the concentration of scholars upon the ritual practices in Egypt and the western Mediterranean. Some essays focus on newly discovered Latin texts, while others explore the vocabulary or social context.

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    • Meyer, Marvin W., and Paul A. Mirecki, eds. 1995. Ancient magic and ritual power. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill.

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      An excellent collection of essays exploring magic in the ancient world, not just Greco-Roman evidence, but also Hittite, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Jewish, and early Christian. The volume combines general theoretical reflections with specific studies of important evidence to provide a good overview of the range of scholarship.

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    • Mirecki, Paul A., and Marvin W. Meyer, eds. 2002. Magic and ritual in the ancient world. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      Another collection by the same editors and many of the same contributors as Meyer and Mirecki 1995. The volume combines studies of new texts with theoretical reflections, as well as specific studies in ancient Near Eastern, Jewish, Greek and Roman, and early Christian and Islamic materials.

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    • Moreau, Alain M., and Jean-Claude Turpin, eds. 2000. La Magie: Actes du Colloque International de Montpellier, 25–27 Mars 1999. Montpellier, France: Univ. Paul Valéry, Montpellier III.

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      A four-volume collection of papers from a large colloquium on magic with many interesting individual studies of magic in Greek and Roman cultures, including studies of literary depictions as well as practices from all periods. Particularly noteworthy is the editor’s preface, “A Little Guide for Apprentice Sorcerers” that provides an overview of terminology, magical objects, and practitioners, as well as the fourth volume, which consists of a massive bibliography.

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    • Noegel, Scott B., Joel T. Walker, and Brannon M. Wheeler, eds. 2003. Prayer, magic, and the stars in the ancient and Late Antique world. Papers presented at an international conference held at the University of Washington, 3–5 March 2000. University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press.

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      A collection of useful essays on various aspects of magic in the ancient world, with a particular focus on evidence relating to celestial phenomena. Many of the essays look at Near Eastern and Egyptian, as well as Jewish and Christian evidence, especially in their interactions with Greek and Roman traditions.

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    • Schäfer, Peter, and Hans G. Kippenberg, eds. 1997. Envisioning magic: A Princeton seminar and symposium. Selection of papers presented during a seminar and concluding symposium titled “When Religions Turn into Magic,” which were held during the 1994–1995 academic year at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      A collection of essays by scholars from a variety of disciplines and time periods, focused around the issue of magic and religion. Different essays examine the relation of magic and religion in antiquity, the medieval, and Early Modern periods, looking at Greco-Roman and Egyptian polytheism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

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    Specific Aspects of Magic

    In addition to more general studies of the category of magic, there have been an increasing number of studies on specific aspects of magic. Debates continue, however, over which types of practices should be considered magic and how such practices differ from religious rituals or scientific procedures. Most scholars, for example, agree that binding curses and erotic compulsion spells should count as magic, but some scholars omit nearly all forms of divination from their reckoning, while others include oracles, astrology, alchemy, and even the philosophical practices of theurgy as elements of magic.

    Curses for All Occasions

    The study of defixiones has perhaps the longest history in modern scholarship, but recent studies into the social contexts of these spells have brought out their importance as evidence for social history. Study of the erotic spells have contributed to the understanding of the construction of gender in the ancient world (see Love Charms), while the general study of Binding Spells has illuminated the social and economic competitions of strata of society that do not often leave evidence in the historical record.

    Binding Spells

    These spells to restrain rivals provide glimpses into the personal and everyday struggles of people in Greco-Roman antiquity. As Faraone 1991b shows, most of these curses appear clearly as magical means of rigging the competition to one’s own advantage, and Versnel 1999 expands upon the idea of rivalry. However, in Versnel 1991 the category of “judicial curses” or prayers for justice shows the fluid boundaries. Several essays treat particular aspects of these texts. Gordon 1999 and Versnel 1998 examine the phenomenon of listing––be it of body parts, sex acts, or other things––that appears in many of these texts. Faraone 1991a provides a comprehensive study of the figurines that sometimes accompany the curses, while Strubbe 1991 examines the subcategory of curses found in funerary contexts. Ogden 1999 provides an overview of the material, while Brodersen and Kropp 2004 collects some new texts and essays on the subject.

    • Brodersen, Kai, and Amina Kropp, eds. 2004. Fluchtafeln: Neue Funde und neue Deutungen zum antiken Schadenzauber. Papers presented at an international colloquium held December 2003 at Universität Mannheim. Frankfurt: Verlag Antike.

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      This slim collection of essays presents several new studies on texts of curses, judicial prayers, and associated figurines, as well as a few essays on topics relating to such defixiones. The texts are primarily Latin, and the focus of the essays is likewise upon the Latin material.

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    • Faraone, Christopher A. 1991a. Binding and burying the forces of evil: The defensive use of “voodoo dolls” in ancient Greece. Classical Antiquity 10:65–205.

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      A comprehensive survey of figurines used in binding spells, with analysis of the symbolic nature of the process. The article considers literary, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence, placing rituals of binding in the wider context of Greek religious practice and providing a catalogue of figurines.

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    • Faraone, Christopher A. 1991b. The agonistic context of early Greek binding spells. In Magika hiera: Ancient Greek magic and religion. Edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 3–32. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      Essential reading for any research into the field, this is a fundamental study of the competitive contexts in which binding spells were performed in the ancient world. The agonistic contexts illuminate the importance of restraining rivals, rather than simply causing malicious harm, in these curses.

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    • Gordon, Richard. 1999. “What’s in a list?” Listing in Greek and Graeco-Roman malign magical texts. In The world of ancient magic: Papers from the first International Samson Eitrem Seminar at the Norwegian Institute at Athens, 4–8 May 1997. Edited by David R. Jordan, Hugo Montgomery, and Einar Thomassen, 239–277. Bergen, Norway: Norwegian Institute at Athens.

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      A complex and erudite inquiry into the phenomenon of lists in magical texts, exploring ideas of rationality and “magical thinking” used to explain the phenomenon. The article examines both the function of lists in other genres and their use in magic, surveying different types of listing in Greek and Roman contexts and analyzing the rhetoric and function of the lists.

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    • Ogden, Daniel. 1999. Binding spells: Curse tablets and voodoo dolls in the Greek and Roman worlds. In Magic and witchcraft in Europe: Greece and Rome. Edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Stuart Clark, 1–90. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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      A broad survey of defixiones and curse figurines, with discussions of the different forms of evidence found, as well as the materials used and the places of deposition. The essay also provides a general view of the categories of curses, as well as elements such as the powers addressed and the language used.

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    • Strubbe, J. H. M. 1991. “Cursed be he that moves my bones.” In Magika hiera: Ancient Greek magic and religion. Edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 33–59. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      A study of the patterns of curses placed on tombs and their relation to other kinds of cursing in the Greco-Roman magical tradition.

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    • Versnel, Hendrik S. 1991. Beyond cursing: The appeal to justice in judicial prayers. In Magika hiera: Ancient Greek magic and religion. Edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 60–106. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      A study of a certain subclass of curses that appeal for justice. Versnel notes the differences between the anonymity of other curses and binding spells and the specific names used in these texts, as well as differences in the divinities to whom the appeals are made. The article uses the comparison to explore the boundaries of the category of magic.

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    • Versnel, Hendrik S. 1998. “And any other part of the entire body there may be . . .”: An essay on anatomical curses. In Ansichten griechischer Rituale: Geburtstags-Symposium für Walter Burkert. Edited by Fritz Graf, 217–267. Stuttgart and Leipzig: B. G. Teubner.

      DOI: 10.1515/9783110962406Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      A study of the lists of body parts in many of the curses, examining both spells that target appropriate parts for specific aims and those that make comprehensive lists. The study notes the variations in formulae with the varying aims of the spells, arguing for a distinction between restraining curses and those intended to punish or torture the target into performing some action.

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    • Versnel, Hendrik S. 1999. “Kolasai tous hēmas toioutous hēdeōs Blepontes”—“Punish those who rejoice in our misery”: On curse texts and “Schadenfreude.” In The world of ancient magic: Papers from the first International Samson Eitrem Seminar at the Norwegian Institute at Athens, 4–8 May 1997. Edited by David R. Jordan, Hugo Montgomery, and Einar Thomassen, 125–162. Bergen, Norway: Norwegian Institute at Athens.

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      A discussion of the competitive contexts of the binding spells, exploring particularly the feelings of malice and envy that arise from community rivalries and the ways such feelings can incite Schadenfreude––and resentment at others who rejoice at one’s failure or misery. The examination of gossip, envy, and rivalry permits an understanding of previously obscure expressions in curse tablets.

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    Love Charms

    The violence of many of the erotic spells forces a reconsideration of the category of love as well as of magic, but these materials provide evidence of the ways gender was constructed and performed in the ancient world. Faraone 1999 is the fundamental study of erotic magic that brings together the conclusions of numerous studies by Faraone on various elements and instances of erotic magic. Controversy remains over the transparency of the literary and epigraphic evidence for actual practices in the ancient world. Arguing against the scholarship, begun by Winkler 1991 and culminating in Faraone 1999, that sees the literary depictions of female users of erotic magic as constructs of the male imaginary, Dickie 2000 claims that erotic magic was actually used as much by women as by men. Other works focus on particular aspects, such as Johnston 1995 on the iunx, LiDonnici 1998 on the relation of the erotic spells to the contemporary medical tradition, or Martinez 1991 on one the best known and most complex erotic spells.

    • Dickie, Matthew W. 2000. Who practised love-magic in classical antiquity and in the late Roman world? Classical Quarterly 50.2: 563–583.

      DOI: 10.1093/cq/50.2.563Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      In this article, Dickie discounts the fact that most recipes in the formularies have a male agent and female target by noting that the genders are in some cases reversed and suggests that such recipes (and executed examples) were directed at prostitutes or other sexually available women. He further notes that literary texts also depict males using erotic magic.

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    • Faraone, Christopher A. 1999. Ancient Greek love magic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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      Faraone draws a distinction between obtaining spells (agôgai) that bring a beloved to the lover and retaining spells (philtra) that preserve the love of the lover for the beloved, noting the differing social situations for their use. The former are often associated with socially dominant figures, while the latter are used by hierarchical subordinates. Although these categories often map onto male-female divisions, the exceptions are revealing for the construction of gender.

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    • Johnston, Sarah Iles. 1995. The song of the iunx: Magic and rhetoric in Pythian 4. Transactions of the American Philological Association 125:177–206.

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      An analysis of the iunx as a magic device for creating eros, as it is used in the myth of its invention in Pindar and other sources. Johnston reviews the variety of evidence for the iunx and related devices (rhombos, turbo, etc.) in Greek and Latin literature, noting the importance of the sound and the whirling motion of the device.

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    • LiDonnici, Lynn R. 1998. Burning for it: Erotic spells for fever and compulsion in the ancient Mediterranean world. Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 39.1: 63–98.

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      A study of erotic magic in the context of ancient medicine and ideas of the body. A very useful survey of the ideas that influenced the way erotic charms were composed and applied.

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    • Martinez, David. 1991. A Greek love charm from Egypt (P. Mich. 757). American Studies in Papyrology 30. Atlanta: Scholars Press.

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      A detailed study of the evidence for a particular erotic spell that appears both in the formularies (Papyri Magicae Graecae IV.296ff) and in several executed examples. The study examines the relation between the recipe books and the actual practice, as well as the distribution of the evidence in different times and places.

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    • Winkler, J. J. 1991. The constraints of Eros. In Magika hiera: Ancient Greek magic and religion. Edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 214–243. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      Using anthropological models of Mediterranean society, Winkler examines the evidence for erotic magic, particularly the obtaining (agôgai) spells that bring a woman to a man, suggesting that the spells provide evidence for the construction of gender roles in ancient Greek society. Noting the prevalence of male agent to female target spells that contrasts with the literary evidence, Winkler suggests that the literary evidence reflects male ideas about female sexuality. A controversial but fundamental study.

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    Healing and Protection

    This category encompasses both preventative and curative practices. Some of the older scholarship on curative magic comes from historians of science, who saw a distinction between magical healing and emerging practices of “primitive” medicine, but more recent scholarship looks at the ritual and social dimensions of both the practices and the collections of knowledge that underlie them. The distinction between medicine and magic remains problematic in the scholarship.

    Plants and Animals

    The lore associated with certain plants and animals often characterizes the users of magic in the evidence, although the social location of such experts may vary. Delatte 1961 provides an overview of the ancient evidence, while Scarborough 1991 more briefly surveys the evidence and the issues involved in its interpretation and LiDonnici 2002 focuses on a particular list of special names for plant and animal ingredients. Gordon 1995 explores the entirety of the process of healing, examining the ways social authority is constructed.

    • Delatte, Armand. 1961. Herbarius: Recherches sur le cèrèmonial usitè chez les anciens pour la cueillette des simples et des plantes magiques. Academie royale de Belgique. Classe des lettres et des sciences morales et politiques. Mèmoires. Collection in 8°; t. 54, fasc. 4. 3d ed. Brussels: Palais des Académies.

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      A survey of evidence for the ritual use of plants in antiquity, arranged by themes: the propitious times for collection, the proper preparations, apotropaic and cathartic rituals, various spoken components, offerings, and modes of use and of handling. Delatte draws upon parallels from later herbals to elucidate the ancient materials.

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    • Gordon, Richard. 1995. The healing event in Graeco-Roman medicine. Clio Medica 27:363–376.

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      A study of healing practices labeled magic by modern scholars, exploring how the evidence reflects ancient ideas of the body and health, as well as modes of construction of authority. Gordon notes that the “healing event” involves not simply the plant or animal remedy, but the interaction of patient and healer, including the spoken charms.

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    • LiDonnici, Lynn R. 2002. Beans, fleawort, and the blood of a Hamadryas baboon: Recipe ingredients in Greco-Roman magical materials. In Magic and ritual in the ancient world. Edited by Paul A. Mirecki and Marvin W. Meyer, 359–377. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      An examination of the material components in spells from the formularies, particularly the “exotic” ingredients that contrast with the familiar plant and animal matter. The list of strange code names for various normal ingredients in PGM XII should be understood within the context of Greek and Egyptian cultural interactions, rather than as an indicator that the strangest ingredients called for in the recipes were normal substances with weird names.

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    • Scarborough, John. 1991. The pharmacology of sacred plants, herbs, and roots. In Magika hiera: Ancient Greek magic and religion. Edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 138–174. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      This fundamental article surveys the evidence for the use of plants in magic, with special attention to Theophrastus, from the Homeric epics to medical writers such as Galen to the Hermetic writings and magical papyri.

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    Gems and Amulets

    For engraved magical gems, Bonner 1955 and Delatte and Derchain 1964 (both cited under Gems, Amulets, and Other Phylacteries) set the stage for later catalogues and collections, but specific studies of the nature of the magical procedures and their relation to the iconography remain scarce. Waegeman 1987 pairs selections from textual evidence with material examples of gem amulets, while Mastrocinque 1998 tries to trace the origins of the symbols on the gems to a Persian tradition. Michel 2004 provides the best recent thorough treatment of the gems, although Eitrem 1939 and Smith 1979 are still useful. Sfameni 2010 provides a brief summary of the subject with the most recent bibliography. Kotansky 1991 provides a good introduction to amulets in general, while Faraone 1992 works with an even broader scope of protective figures, in both material and literary evidence.

    • Eitrem, S. 1939. Die magischen Gemmen und ihre Weihe. Symbolae Osloenses 19:57–85.

      DOI: 10.1080/00397673908590338Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      An older survey of magical gems with reference to the magical papyri, examining some of the rituals associated with stones in the formularies. Includes a catalogue and description of gems in the Copenhagen collection.

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    • Faraone, Christopher A. 1992. Talismans and Trojan horses: Guardian statues in ancient Greek myth and ritual. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      A general study of protective figures in Greek religion, from animated statues to inscribed figures on amulets. A good context for understanding the use of protective amulets.

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    • Kotansky, Roy. Incantations and prayers for salvation on inscribed Greek amulets. In Magika hiera: Ancient Greek magic and religion. Edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 107–137. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991.

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      A survey of protective amulets, with attention to the combination of physical amulet and oral incantation, as well as the social contexts of these protective devices.

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    • Mastrocinque, Attilio. 1998. Studi sul Mitraismo: Il Mitraismo e la Magia. Rome: Giorgio Bretschneider Editore.

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      This controversial study argues that many of the “gnostic” or magical gems come from a tradition of Persian magic transmitted by Mithras religion into the Roman Empire. Includes an examination of the charakteres.

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    • Michel, Simone. 2004. Die magischen Gemmen: Zu Bildern und Zauberformeln auf geschnittenen Steinen der Antike und Neuzeit. Berlin: Akademie Verl.

      DOI: 10.1524/9783050050003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This study provides the most comprehensive look at the magical gems since Bonner 1955 (cited under Gems, Amulets, and Other Phylacteries), surveying stones from a large number of collections. Michel divides the stones into those associated with aggressive magic (a very small group), those connected with healing, and those linked with divine protection, which she argues often come from the context of particular religious cults.

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    • Sfameni, Carla. 2010. Magic in late antiquity: The evidence of magical gems. In Religious diversity in late antiquity. Edited by David M. Gwynn and Susanne Bangert, 435–473. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      This article provides an overview of the evidence for and problems of studying magical gems. Sfameni covers many aspects of the subject and has an excellent bibliography for further study.

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    • Smith, Morton. 1979. Relations between magical papyri and magical gems. In Actes du XVe Congrès international de papyrologie. Vol. 3, Problèmes généraux, papyrologie littéraire. Edited by J. Bingen and G. Nachtergael, 129–136. Payrologica Bruxellensia 18. Brussels: Fondation Égyptologique Reine Élisabeth.

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      This brief study examines the contrasts between the PGM and the corpus of magical gems, noting the different deities and purposes of the gems, but also the contrast between the iconographic and textual modes of expression.

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    • Waegeman, Maryse. 1987. Amulet and alphabet: Magical amulets in the First Book of Cyranides. Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben.

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      This book brings together passages from Book I of Cyranides with images of amulets found in Bonner 1955 or Delatte and Derchain 1964 (both cited under Gems, Amulets, and Other Phylacteries), providing translation and commentary, with parallels to other texts. The rough format and the absence of a table of contents or indices make this resource difficult to use.

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    Interactions with the Powers Beyond

    One definition of “magic” that appears in ancient sources is the communication with divine powers, but the boundary between magic and religion remains debated, whether in the form of prayers to the deities of civic religion, addresses to entities such as ghosts or demons, or even the complex interactions with the gods that are involved in theurgy.

    Prayer

    Despite the Frazerian concept of magical coercion of the divine, prayer in the magical materials, as Graf 1991 shows, most often follows the reciprocal patterns of other prayers in the Greek and Roman worlds, although the exceptions, particularly the use of voces magicae or other incomprehensible words, point to the significant differences. Depew 1997 and Pulleyn 1997 provide studies of the dynamics of prayer in Greek religion generally, with attention to some of the ways magical materials differ from more normative prayer forms. The essays in Versnel 1981 furnish more context for understanding magical and nonmagical prayers and offerings, while Versnel 2002 studies the most distinctive feature of magical prayer, the incomprehensible voces magicae.

    • Depew, Mary. 1997. Reading Greek prayers. Classical Antiquity 16:229–258.

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      A survey of inscribed prayers in Greek religion, with analysis of the language of prayer and the differences between spoken and written forms. Depew notes that curses make use of inscription early in the development of written prayers. A valuable study of the context of mortal-divine interactions.

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    • Graf, Fritz. 1991. Prayer in magic and religious ritual. In Magika hiera: Ancient Greek magic and religion. Edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 188–213. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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      The fundamental study of the issue of prayer in magical materials. Graf notes the similarities between magical and normative religious prayers, concluding that the differences lie not in some coercive nature of magical prayer but rather in the way the magician defines his credentials by stressing his special knowledge and in some of the elements of the accompanying rituals.

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    • Pulleyn, Simon. 1997. Prayer in Greek religion. Oxford: Clarendon.

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      A good overview of the nature of prayer in Greek religion, with an emphasis on the reciprocal relationships between gods and mortals. Pulleyn’s typology of these interactions provides valuable context for the analysis of magical prayers.

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    • Versnel, H. S., ed. 1981. Faith, hope and worship: Aspects of religious mentality in the ancient world. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      A collection of essays examining the dynamics of prayers, hymns, and votive offerings in the ancient Greco-Roman world. A useful contextualization of relations between mortals and divinities.

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    • Versnel, H. S. 2002. The poetics of the magical charm: An essay on the power of words. In Magic and ritual in the ancient world. Edited by Paul A. Mirecki and Marvin W. Meyer, 105–158. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      This article analyzes the special words of magical incantations, particularly the incomprehensible voces magicae. Versnel surveys the uses of names with special efficacy to contact the gods, as well as other strategies to enhance the power of the incantation, providing reflections on both the rhetoric and the poetics of magical language.

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    Demons and Ghosts

    Interactions with and addresses to nonhuman entities such as ghosts or demons, rather than the gods, often characterizes the users of magic in the literary evidence, but these contacts occur within a broader context of such interactions in the Greco-Roman world. Although Ogden sees contact with the dead as an essential component of magic, whether in the form of necromancy (Ogden 2001) or in the literary evidence (Ogden 2008), Johnston 1999 provides a wider overview of the relations of the living and the dead. Smith 1978 provides a theoretical basis for understanding the place of demons within the religions of the ancient Mediterranean world. Faraone 2001 and Johnston 1995 investigate particular references to popular traditions of demons that afflict children, while Sfameni Gasparro 1997 examines the way traditional notions of demons were incorporated into the religious and philosophic traditions in the Hellenistic and Imperial periods.

    • Faraone, Christopher A. 2001. The undercutter, the woodcutter, and Greek demon names ending in -tomos (Hom. Hymn to Dem 228–29). American Journal of Philology 122:1–10.

      DOI: 10.1353/ajp.2001.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This article argues that a line in the Homeric Hymn alludes to a tradition of magical protections against demons that afflict mortals, especially children. Parallels to these figures appear in later magical evidence.

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    • Johnston, Sarah Iles. 1995. Defining the dreadful: Remarks on the Greek child-killing demon. In Ancient magic and ritual power. Edited by Marvin Meyer and Paul Mirecki, 361–390. Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 129. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill.

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      This study examines the meager evidence for demons that threaten children, tracing some of the figures to Near Eastern parallels.

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    • Johnston, Sarah Iles. 1999. The restless dead: Encounters between the living and the dead in ancient Greece. Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press.

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      An excellent overview of ideas of the dead in ancient Greek culture. Johnston traces changes in ideas of benevolent and threatening dead, as well as their manipulation in ritual.

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    • Ogden, Daniel. 2001. Greek and Roman necromancy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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      A survey of necromancy and necromantic oracle shrines in the ancient world, this volume provides a variety of evidence, but draws problematic conclusions about the prevalence and nature of necromancy.

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    • Ogden, Daniel. 2008. Night’s black agents: Witches, wizards and the dead in the ancient world. London: Hambledon Continuum.

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      A book aimed more at a popular audience that surveys literary depictions of people using magic, mixing in other evidence from papyri and epigraphic sources to round out the picture. The attempt to connect most forms of magic with the manipulation of the dead creates problems in the interpretations of the evidence.

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    • Sfameni Gasparro, Giulia. 1997. Daimon and Tuche in the Hellenistic religious experience. In Conventional values of the Hellenistic Greeks. Edited by Per Bilde, 67–109. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus Univ. Press.

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      Working from Plutarch’s view of the religious tradition before him, this article surveys Greek ideas of the daimon, noting the shifts from the earliest evidence to the Hellenistic and Roman eras.

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    • Smith J. Z. 1978. Towards interpreting demonic powers in Hellenistic and Roman antiquity. In Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2, 16.1. Edited by Wolfgang Haase, 425–439. Berlin: de Gruyter.

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      An exploration of the category of the demonic in the ancient world, as well as the way scholars have tried to make sense of the evidence. Smith interprets shifting ideas of the demonic in terms of a shift from a locative to a utopian worldview, as demons transform from entities out of place in the world order to beings with a specific place in a hierarchical cosmos.

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    Theurgy

    Theurgy, or “working of gods,” is the name given by Neoplatonist philosophers to special ritual practices that facilitate contact with the divine. Some of the scholarship focuses on the relation of these theurgic practices to the more contemplative and abstract aspects of Neoplatonic philosophy, while others analyze the relation of these practices to contemporary magical practice. Many modern scholars deny theurgy a place within the study of ancient magic, a view shared by the Neoplatonic philosophers, who vehemently argued for crucial differences between their theurgic practices and vulgar magic. Their very vehemence, however, suggests the need to defend this view against the more widely held blurring of the distinctions, and the dispute goes back to Iamblichus’s defense of theurgy in de Mysteriis against the critiques of Porphyry.

    Theurgy’s Relation to Neoplatonic Philosophy

    These studies explore the place of theurgy within Neoplatonic philosophy, treating the fundamental tension between ritual action and philosophic contemplation in these systems. Dodds 1951, one of the first substantial scholarly studies of the topic, suggests that theurgy develops from Neoplatonists’ adaptation of magical practices. Luck 2000 sees a separation of theurgic practice from the ideas of Neoplatonic philosophy, but Shaw 1995, Finamore 1999, and Ahbel-Rappe 2000 all find fundamental connections between Neoplatonic philosophy and theurgic practice. Van Liefferinge 1999 provides the broadest study of the evidence but argues for a divide between theurgy and magic.

    • Ahbel-Rappe, Sara. 2000. Language and theurgy in Proclus’ Platonic Theology. In Reading Neoplatonism: Non-discursive thinking in the texts of Plotinus, Proclus, and Damascius. By Sara Ahbel-Rappe, 167–196. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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      This chapter argues that Proclus assimilates the process of reading his Platonic Theology to theurgic ritual, leading the reader closer to the divine through the exegetical process. An examination of how the Neoplatonist philosopher bridges the problematic divide between ritual action and philosophic contemplation.

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    • Dodds, E. R. 1951. Appendix II: Theurgy. In The Greeks and the irrational. By E. R. Dodds, 283–311. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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      An early but still useful survey of the topic, this chapter surveys the evidence from the Julians to the late Neoplatonists. Dodds argues that magical theurgy was adapted by the Neoplatonists, starting with Iamblichus rather than Plotinus, and he distinguishes theurgy through symbola from that using a medium.

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    • Finamore, John F. 1999. Plotinus and Iamblichus on magic and theurgy. Dionysius, n.s., 17:83–94.

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      This article traces Iamblichus’s ideas of theurgy to his criticisms of Plotinus’s ideas of the soul and its relation to the divine.

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    • Luck, Georg. 2000. Theurgy and forms of worship in Neoplatonism. In Ancient pathways and hidden pursuits: Religion, morals, and magic in the ancient world. By Georg Luck, 110–152. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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      A survey of the evidence for theurgy among the Neoplatonists that downplays the relation of theurgical practice and Neoplatonic philosophy. The theoretical framework presents some problems, but the collection of evidence remains useful.

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    • Shaw, Gregory. 1995. Theurgy and the soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus. University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press.

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      A study of the place of theurgy within the philosophy of Iamblichus. Shaw surveys Iamblichus’s relation to the previous philosophical tradition, especially doctrines of the soul and matter, as well as analyzing the ideas of theurgic practice found in the surviving texts of Iamblichus.

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    • Struck, Peter Toline. 2001. Pagan and Christian theurgies: Iamblichus, Pseudo-Dionysius, religion and magic in late antiquity. Ancient World 32.1: 25–38.

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      This article examines the idea of theurgy that appears in Pseudo Dionysius, contextualizing it within the theurgic ideas of Iamblichus. Struck examines the debates within Neoplatonism regarding ritual action and contemplation, as well as the way rituals may be classified as magic or religion, both in the early Christian sources and in modern scholarship.

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    • Van Liefferinge, Carine. 1999. La théurgie: Des “Oracles chaldaïques” à Proclus. Liège, Belgium: Centre International d’Étude de la Religion Grecque Antique.

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      A lengthy study of theurgy, surveying Iamblichus’s de Mysteriis, the evidence for the Julians and the Chaldaean Oracles, the emperor Julian, and Proclus. In contrast to other studies, Van Liefferinge argues that theurgy has little to do with magical practices.

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    Theurgy’s Relation to the Papyri Magicae Graecae

    Some of these studies explore the parallels of theurgy with certain spells from the Greek magical papyri, especially the so-called Mithras Liturgy (PGM IV.476–820), which provides a procedure for the magician’s ascent to the gods, although others examine spells for bringing the divine forces down into specially prepared vehicles. Eitrem 1942 sets the groundwork for the comparisons of theurgy as described in the Neoplatonic sources and the rituals found in the magical papyri, while Lewy 1978 provides a complex and detailed study of the evidence, focusing especially on the role the Chaldaean Oracles played in Neoplatonic theurgy. Johnston 1997 is the best introduction to theurgic practices, situating them within the broader context of religious and philosophic currents of the time. Betz 2003 provides a comprehensive commentary on the “Mithras Liturgy,” while Edmonds 2003 and Edmonds 2004 examine the spell within the context of the particular papyrus formulary (PGM IV) in which it appears, exploring the cosmological ideas that underpin the magician’s ascent to the supreme god. By contrast, Johnston 2008 and Haluszka 2008 examine the type of theurgic ritual that involves bringing the divine down into specially prepared statues.

    • Betz, Hans D. 2003. TheMithras Liturgy”: Text, translation, and commentary. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck.

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      The definitive study on the text in the Great Paris Magical Papyrus known as the “Mithras Liturgy” (PGM IV. 476–820), with extensive commentary upon the text, the papyrus, and the entire history of scholarship of the text. Betz argues for Stoic, rather than Neoplatonic, philosophical influences and sees the ritual as a product of pre-Gnostic Hermetica.

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    • Edmonds, Radcliffe. 2003. At the seizure of the moon: The absence of the moon in the Mithras Liturgy. In Prayer, magic, and the stars in the ancient and late antique world. Edited by Scott B. Noegel, Joel Thomas Walker, and Brannon M. Wheeler, 223–239. University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press.

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      A study of the theurgic ascent ritual in PGM IV.476–820, analyzing the underlying cosmological ideas as well as the placement of the spell within the papyrus. In particular, the spell’s ideas of a beneficent sun and a dangerous moon are reflected in the division of spells in the entire papyrus formulary.

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    • Edmonds, Radcliffe. 2004. Faces of the moon: Cosmology, genesis, and the Mithras Liturgy. In Heavenly realms and earthly realities in late antique religions. Edited by Ra’anan S. Boustan and Annette Yoshiko Reed, 275–295. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511497889Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      An analysis of the underlying cosmology of the “Mithras Liturgy” (PGM IV.476–820) that locates it within the spectrum of cosmological ideas of the first several centuries CE, noting particularly the similarities and contrasts with the Chaldaean Oracles and “Gnostic” cosmologies.

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    • Eitrem, S. 1942. La Thèurgie chez les Nèo-Platoniciens et dans les Papyrus Magiques. Symbolae Osloenses 22:49–79.

      DOI: 10.1080/00397674208590372Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This still useful article surveys the similarities between the theurgical practices of the Neoplatonists and the rituals of the PGM.

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    • Haluszka, Adria. 2008. Sacred signified: The semiotics of statues in the Greek magical papyri. Arethusa 41.3: 479–494.

      DOI: 10.1353/are.0.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This study of rituals of bringing divine presence into statues makes use of Peirce’s concept of the semiotic index to understand the relation between the statues and the divine.

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    • Johnston, Sarah Iles. 1997. Rising to the occasion: Theurgic ascent in its cultural milieu. In Envisioning magic: A Princeton seminar and symposium. Edited by Peter Schäfer and Hans G. Kippenberg, 165–194. Leiden, The Netherlands, and New York: Brill.

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      This accessible, yet detailed, article surveys theurgic practices, contextualizing them within the religious currents of the first several centuries CE. Johnston goes through the structure of such rituals, as well as contrasting theurgic ritual with the other forms of divine revelation available in the period.

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    • Johnston, Sarah Iles. 2008. Animating statues: A case study in ritual. Arethusa 41.3: 445–477.

      DOI: 10.1353/are.0.0011Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Johnston argues that, while the idea that gods might inhabit statues has a long history in Greek religion, ritual animation of statues developed later within the context of theurgy, including both the Chaldaean and Hermetic strands. She discusses the use of symbola in theurgy, using examples from Renaissance Hermetism to illuminate the earlier materials.

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    • Lewy, Hans. 1978. Chaldaean oracles and theurgy: Mysticism, magic and Platonism in the later Roman Empire. Edited by Michel Tardieu. Paris: Études Augustiniennes.

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      The most comprehensive study of the theurgic system of the Chaldaean oracles and their close relation to magical practices and to Neoplatonic philosophy. A dense and difficult book with strongly argued and sometimes idiosyncratic interpretations, it remains fundamental for the study of theurgy.

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    Divination

    Although many forms of divination were a part of everyday life in ancient Greece and Rome, some practices and certain kinds of practitioners were frequently associated with magic, and every form of divination remained vulnerable to such an association. Studies of the nature of divination in Greek and Roman society shed light upon the distinctions that made some divination considered magic. Johnston 2008 provides the best recent survey of divination within Greek society, and Johnston and Struck 2005 assembles a collection of essays on different types of divination. Dillery’s study in that volume (Dillery 2005) provides vital perspective on the problem of mantic authority in the Greek tradition. Manetti 1993 takes a semiotic approach, examining divination as a mode of communication between mortal and divine, while Collins 2008 uses ethnographic parallels to uncover the binary logic of the divinatory systems. Graf 1999 explores the boundaries between magic and divination, noting when and how certain modes of divination are classified with magic. Hopfner 1974–1990 starts with the evidence of the papyri to explore the nature of magical divination, as does Gordon 1997, who focuses upon what these texts reveal about the social context of the magicians who used them.

    • Collins, Derek Burton. 2008. Mapping the entrails: The practice of Greek hepatoscopy. American Journal of Philology 129.3: 319–345.

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      A detailed examination of the practice of divination from the liver in ancient Greece, with comparison to contemporary African divinatory practice. Analyzing the evidence from literary, philosophical, and historical texts, the article explores the complex systems based on binary oppositions.

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    • Dillery, John. 2005. Chresmologues and manteis: Independent diviners and the problem of authority. In Mantikê: Studies in ancient divination. Edited by Sarah I. Johnston and Peter T. Struck, 167–231. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      Dillery uses the episode of Onomacritus in Herodotus 7.6.3 to examine the role of diviners in Greek society, especially the conflicts between mantic and political authority. The article surveys the evidence for independent diviners in the Archaic and Classical periods and includes an appendix on the evidence for written oracles during these periods.

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    • Gordon, R. 1997. Reporting the marvelous: Private divination in the Greek Magical Papyri. In Envisioning magic: A Princeton seminar and symposium. Edited by Peter Schäfer and Hans G. Kippenberg, 65–92. Leiden, the Netherlands, and New York: Brill.

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      A study of divination spells in the Greek Magical Papyri that reflects upon the scope of aspirations expressed by the magician and its relation to the social context of Egyptian lector priests in Egypt under the Roman Empire.

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    • Graf, F. 1999. Magic and divination. In The world of ancient magic: Papers from the first International Samson Eitrem Seminar at the Norwegian Institute at Athens, 4–8 May 1997. Edited by David R. Jordan, Hugo Montgomery, and Einar Thomassen, 283–298. Bergen, Norway: Norwegian Institute at Athens.

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      This article surveys the issue of the relation of divination to magic, examining the conflation of the two in Christian sources. Graf explores the types of divination found in the PGM and other sources, concluding that divination does not really become part of the category of magic before the late Hellenistic period.

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    • Hopfner, Theodor. 1974–1990. Griechisch-ägyptischer Offenbarungszauber: Mit einer eingehenden Darstellung des griechisch-synkretistischen Daemonenglaubens und der Voraussetzungen und Mittel des Zaubers überhaupt und der magischen Divination im besonderen. 2 vols. Amsterdam: A. M. Hakkert.

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      A study of the divinatory magic in the Greek magical papyri, with extensive references to parallels in other literature. Vol. 2 published in two parts (1983, 1990). Original edition of 1921 and 1924 published as Studien zur Palaeographie und Papyruskunde 21–23, edited by Carl Wessely.

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    • Johnston, Sarah I. 2008. Ancient Greek divination. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

      DOI: 10.1002/9781444302998Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      The best up-to-date survey of divination in ancient Greek culture, surveying the different modes and cultural contexts. An excellent starting point for any study of the subject.

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    • Johnston, Sarah I., and Peter T. Struck. 2005. Mantikê: Studies in ancient divination. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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      A collection of studies on particular forms of divination by leading scholars in the field. Essays cover types of divination from kleromancy to necromancy, with treatment of oracles and the relation of literary exegesis to divination.

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    • Manetti, Giovanni. 1993. Greek divination. In Theories of the sign in classical antiquity. By Giovanni Manetti, 14–35. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

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      This chapter applies semiotic theory to the understanding of Greek divination, treating the procedures as modes of communication between mortals and the divine.

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    Astrology

    Astrology was one of the forms of divination that was most elaborately and scientifically systematized, but, as the periodic expulsions of astrologers from Rome show, astrology was still considered in certain circumstances to be a form of magic that needed social regulation. Barton 1994 and Beck 2007 provide excellent introductions to the topic, including both explanations of the technical details of astrological practice and discussions of the place of astrology in the cultural contexts. Riley 1987 notes the contrast between the theoretical and practical aspects in the ancient treatises, while Cramer 1954 surveys the shifts in the treatment of astrology within Roman culture. Konstan 1997, like MacMullen 1971, explores the astrological treatises as evidence for social concerns, while Gordon 1997 looks at astrology as a form of specialized knowledge in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, analyzing the way its practitioners compete for authority. While much of the scholarship explores the place of astrology within the larger cultural context, Gundel 1968 provides a survey of astrological elements within the magical papyri as evidence for the role of astrology in magic.

    • Barton, Tamsyn. 1994. Ancient astrology. London and New York: Routledge.

      DOI: 10.4324/9780203410714Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      An accessible and comprehensive introduction to astrology in the ancient Greco-Roman world, this book provides a history of astrology from Babylonian and Egyptian materials, through the Greco-Roman world up to the predominance of Christianity. In addition to two excellent chapters devoted to the practice of casting horoscopes, Barton discusses the rhetoric of the manuals and the social contexts in which they were produced and used.

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    • Beck, Roger. 2007. A brief history of ancient astrology. Malden, MA: Blackwell

      DOI: 10.1002/9780470773772Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      A good introduction to the subject, with a brief history of astrology in Greece and Rome, along with the Babylonian antecedents. Beck includes several chapters on the elements involved in casting horoscopes, as well as the sociopolitical context, focusing on astrology as a sign system, “star talk.”

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    • Cramer, Frederick H. 1954. Astrology in Roman law and politics. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

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      A chronological survey of the treatment of astrology in Roman society, noting the shifts among toleration, official prohibition, and the expulsions of astrologers.

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    • Gordon, Richard. 1997. Quaedam Veritatis Umbrae. In Conventional values of the Hellenistic Greeks. Edited by Per Bilde, 128–158. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus Univ. Press.

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      A study of astrology and other forms of “natural magic,” examining the evidence for the kinds of texts that survive from the Hellenistic and later periods. Gordon looks at Bolus of Mendes and the Democritea, as well as the astrological writings, examining how astrology turns the heavens into a sign system for divinatory purposes and analyzing the way magic and astrology operated in the marketplace of Greco-Roman societies.

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    • Gundel, Hans G. 1968. Weltbild Und Astrologie in Den Griechischen Zauberpapyri. Munich: Beck.

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      A study of the astrological elements found in the Greek magical papyri. Gundel surveys the divinities associated with sun, moon, and other planets, as well as the astrological theories and techniques that appear.

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    • Konstan, David. 1997. Conventional values in Hellenistic Greece: The evidence from divination. In Conventional values of the Hellenistic Greeks. Edited by Per Bilde, 159–176. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus Univ. Press.

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      This article examines the astrological treatise as evidence for popular beliefs, focusing on Dorotheus Sidonius for an analysis of the issues of concern in astrological consultations.

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    • MacMullen, Ramsay. 1971. Social history in astrology. Ancient Society 2:105–116.

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      This brief but still useful article examines the evidence for types of life ambitions and careers found in the astrological treatises.

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    • Riley, Mark. 1987. Theoretical and practical astrology: Ptolemy and his colleagues. Transactions of the American Philological Association 117:235–256.

      DOI: 10.2307/283969Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This article examines the differences between the theoretical treatise of Ptolemy and the manuals of astrologers such as Vettius Valens, Hephaistion, Firmicus Maternus, and Dorotheus Sidonius, noting the absence in Ptolemy of the practical calculations found in the other manuals.

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    Alchemy

    The scholarship on alchemy mostly treats it as a (somewhat embarrassing) chapter in the history of science, but some studies bring out the relation to the contemporary religious currents. The fact that two important alchemical papyri (the Stockholm and Leyden papyri) were found among the Theban magical hoard, written in the same hand as some of the magical formularies, shows that the evidence for alchemy must be included in a survey of magical practices. Taylor 1930 sets the groundwork for other studies by providing a comprehensive survey of the evidence, while Lindsay 1970 provides an accessible, if rather superficial, overview of the topic. A brief introduction, with a focus on Maria the Jewess, can be found in chapter 4 of Janowitz 2001 (cited in Other Cultural Contexts). Hershbell 1987 locates the development of alchemical ideas within the history of natural philosophy. In contrast to these historians of science, Festugière 1944 places the evidence for alchemy within the contemporary religious contexts, especially Hermetism. Fowden 1993 (cited in The Greco-Egyptian Cultural Context) provides an updated study of these issues. Jung 1967 provides a detailed analysis relating the alchemical procedures of Zosimus to his theological ideas, while Stolzenberg 1999 argues that Zosimus specifically rejected certain astrological elements of contemporary alchemical practice because of his “gnostic” theological ideas.

    • Festugière, A. J. 1944. La révélation d’Hermès Trismegiste. Vol. 1, L’astrologie et les science occultes. Paris: Librairie Lecoffre.

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      A study of the Hermetic materials, including the writings of alchemists such as Zosimus, that examines the religious contexts from which they come.

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    • Hershbell, Jackson P. 1987. Democritus and the beginnings of Greek alchemy. Ambix 34:5–20.

      DOI: 10.1179/000269887790418975Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      A study of Bolus of Mendes and the texts attributed to Democritus, arguing that Bolus was not responsible for the earliest alchemical treatises and that many of the ideas may relate to those of Democritus. The article examines the evidence from these texts and relates them to various strands of the philosophic tradition.

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    • Jung, C. G. 1967. The visions of Zosimus. In Alchemical studies. By C. G. Jung, 59–108. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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      A detailed study of the some of the most difficult texts that record the dream visions of the alchemist Zosimus. Jung sorts through the metaphors and allegories to show the relation of the alchemical procedures to the theology and cosmology of Zosimus.

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    • Lindsay, Jack. 1970. The origins of alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt. New York: Barnes & Noble.

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      A survey, primarily from the perspective of the history of science, of the evidence for early alchemy. Lindsay treats early Greek science briefly before moving through a series of studies of particular figures in the history of alchemy. Although it covers a great deal of material, this study is not methodologically very sophisticated.

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    • Stolzenberg, Daniel. 1999. Unpropitious tinctures: Alchemy, astrology and gnosis according to Zosimos of Panopolis. Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences 49.142: 3–31.

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      A study of the relation between astrology and alchemy in the works of Zosimos. Stolzenberg argues that Zosimos opposed any theory that alchemical procedures depended upon astrological calculations of propitious times, and he examines the relation between Zosimos’s alchemical ideas and gnostic anticosmic theology, suggesting that his alchemy may be seen as a kind of gnostic theurgy.

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    • Taylor, F. S. 1930. A survey of Greek alchemy. Journal of Hellenic Studies 50:109–139.

      DOI: 10.2307/626167Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      A comprehensive survey of the evidence for ancient alchemy, including the texts, papyri, and manuscripts. The article also includes discussions of the technical terminology of alchemy, as well as explanations of the most significant procedures. The subject is approached from the history of science, rather than the history of religion, but provides valuable technical information.

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    LAST MODIFIED: 06/26/2012

    DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195389661-0107

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