Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook

Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook

Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook

Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A Sourcebook

Synopsis

In a culture where the supernatural possessed an immediacy now strange to us, magic was of great importance both in the literary and mythic tradition and in ritual practice. Recently, ancient magic has hit a high in popularity, both as an area of scholarly inquiry and as one of general, popular interest. In Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds Daniel Ogden presents three hundred texts in new translations, along with brief but explicit commentaries. This is the first book in the field to unite extensive selections from both literary and documentary sources. Alongside descriptions of sorcerers, witches, and ghosts in the works of ancient writers, it reproduces curse tablets, spells from ancient magical recipe books, and inscriptions from magical amulets. Each translation is followed by a commentary that puts it in context within ancient culture and connects the passage to related passages in this volume. Authors include the well known (Sophocles, Herodotus, Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Pliny) and the less familiar, and extend across the whole of Greco-Roman antiquity.

Excerpt

The earliest variety of indigenous male sorcerer attested for the Greek world is the “shaman. ” This term is commonly applied to a linked series of figures celebrated in the Pythagorean and Orphic traditions. They flourished, supposedly, in the archaic period. The notices of Herodotus and the fragments of Empedocles demonstrate that the notion of the shaman-type had at any rate already become established by the early classical period. No doubt it was much older. The modern term “shaman” is derived from the Tungus medicine man of that name. He detaches his soul from his body in an ecstatic trance. This detached soul then speaks with the gods in their own language and cures the sick by retrieving their souls from the land of the dead or by defeating death-bringing demons in battle. He also attracts animals to the hunt with his music and by defeating the gods that preside over them with his soul. The Greek shamans are similarly characterized by the ability to manipulate their own souls, be it by detaching them temporarily from their bodies and sending them on voyages of discovery, suspending them from life, reincarnating them, or “bilocating. ” The principal figures in the series, with their supposed floruits, are as follows:

A number of further themes recur in the representations of the shamans: extended retreats into underground chambers (a symbolic death and descent to the underworld, from which they return with enlightenment); divination; control of the elements; association with the cult of Hyperborean Apollo; dismissal of pollution and pestilence. For another possible archaic shaman see 140; for later Greek “shamans” see 57–64.

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