A curse tablet from fourth-century Attica exemplifies many aspects of what has come to be considered magic in Western thought. Inscribed on a thick tablet, this curse emerges from an apparent love triangle or situation of romantic/erotic competition. The petitioner seeks to end the relationship between two lovers, Theodōra and Charias, by binding both Theodōra’s ability to attract lovers and Charias’s desire for pleasure with her. The second side of the tablet indicates that it was deposited in a grave: "And just as this corpse is without effect (literally incomplete) may all the words and deeds of Theodōra be without effect towards Charias and the other people." There are certain elements in this tablet that resonate with conceptions of magic both ancient and modern. First, this ritual binds the victim in the presence of Hecate (a goddess closely associated with magic and the restless dead in classical Greek thought) and those who died incomplete or unfulfilled, indicating either that they died before achieving their natural life span and destiny (being unmarried, for example), were unburied and consequently unable to pass to the underworld and find repose, or were uninitiated and, therefore, lacked the protection of the chthonic deities who granted a better afterlife to initiates. Whichever was the case, they form part of a cohort of ghosts believed to follow Hecate and roam the earth. Like the ghosts of legend and horror films, they were considered to be restive and angry - resentful of living human beings and demanding placation to keep them from causing harm. Additionally, the private goals of this spell, combined with its intention to control and possibly harm another person, signal to most observers (both ancient and modern) an act of magic.

Additional Metadata
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1017/CHO9781139043021.005
Citation
Stratton, K. (2015). Early greco-roman antiquity. In The Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft in the West: From Antiquity to the Present (pp. 83–112). doi:10.1017/CHO9781139043021.005