Members-only podcast episode

Beyond Curse-Tablets with Sarah Veale

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In this special episode Sarah Veale expands on various themes adumbrated in the main episode, and we bring philosophy to the party alongside religion and magic. Among other things, we talk about:

  • The wonderful theme of castration in the cults of Isis and the Magna Mater,
  • The ways in which ‘eastern’ cults mingled on the Roman frontier,
  • The technical terminology – κατάδεσμος in Greek, defixio in Latin, both of which mean roughly ‘tying down’ – used in ancient binding-spells and curses, as well as by ancient sources discussing them in the abstract,
  • More on that elusive and problematic ‘magic vs. religion’ distinction, with a little side-helping of ‘magic vs. philosophy’,
  • The fascinating case of the trial of Apuleius on charges of magical practice,
  • The details of the actual ritual practices involved in doing a binding spell in an antique temple context (insofar as we can reconstruct them),
  • And the ‘Bacchanalia scandal’ of 186 BCE, wherein politics and mystery religion collided in the Roman republic.

Works Cited in this Episode:

  • On Apuleius’ Apology, see Episode 74.
  • Faraone, Christopher. ‘The Agonistic Context of Early Greek Binding Spells.’ In Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion, eds. Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 3-32.
  • Homer, Iliad Book 6, ll. 305-310 contains the Trojan women’s prayer to Athena to destroy Troy’s enemies, which reads a lot like a late Roman curse-tablet. (Athena refuses, by the way: ‘So she spoke in prayer, but Pallas Athena turned away’, l. 311).
  • Blänsdorf, Jürgen, 2012. Die defixionum tabellae des Mainzer Isis- und Mater Magna-Heiligtums: defixionum tabellae Mogontiacenses (DTM). Mainz: Generaldirektion Kulturelles Erbe.