‘My lady knows impious things’:
Impotence Magic in the
The idea that magic could make a man impotent is an old one. As early as the seventh century BC, Mesopotamian incantations give prescriptions for a man to regain his potency after being bewitched.1 In the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus described how the Egyptian pharaoh Amasis suspected that his wife Ladice had bewitched him when he found that he could not have sex with her, and how he was cured when Ladice made a vow to Aphrodite.2 Before discussing the medieval evidence relating to magically-caused impotence, it is useful to look at some of these ancient sources in more detail. This is partly because some ancient texts were read in the Middle Ages, and so directly influenced medieval ideas about impotence magic. But another reason is that, although some ideas about impotence magic remained constant, ancient writers discussed the subject very differently from their medieval counterparts. Comparing the two periods thus offers interesting insights into how impotence magic came to be discussed in the way that it was in the Middle Ages.
In the ancient world, impotence magic was often discussed in different kinds of sources from those that mentioned it in the medieval period. Although the subject appears occasionally in literary works in both periods, it also appears in ancient sources that have no medieval equivalent, and vice
1 Robert D. Biggs, Šà.Zi.Ga: Ancient Mesopotamian Potency Incantations (Locust Valley, NY: J. J. Augustin, 1967), 7.
2 Herodotus, Histories 2.181, trans. A. D. Godley, revised edn. (London: Heinemann, 1990), i.494–7.
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Publication information: Book title: Magic and Impotence in the Middle Ages. Contributors: Catherine Rider - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2006. Page number: 14.
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