Maxwell Teitel-Paule, Ohio State University
If you were to ask the ten most preeminent scholars of ancient magic to define necromancy, you would receive ten different answers. These answers would be close to one another but none of them would be exact matches. As a result of this lack of cohesion, scholarship on necromancy tends to wander through a mish-mash of magical scenes and practices, most of which are only tangentially related. To give a brief example, Daniel Ogden's Greek and Roman Necromancy discusses the witch Erictho's disgusting reanimation of a mutilated corpse, Patroclus' appearance in the dreams of Achilles, and Vatinius' supposed child sacrifices -- all of these he treats as necromancy. Unsurprisingly, he runs into significant problems when he attempts to reconcile these disparate situations beneath the all-encompassing heading of necromancy.
This paper begins with an outline of the current misconceptions of necromancy and explains the word's corruption beginning as early as the 4th century C.E. From there, it moves to an analysis of the word's original usage in texts leading up to the 2nd century C.E., using as evidence especially Cicero's De Divinatione and Pliny's Naturalis Historia. Finally, it develops a new, functional definition of the term in hopes of realigning our discourse to more accurately fit the original, ancient conception of necromancy, thereby allowing for more precise interpretations of these, and other, magical acts.
Brett L. Wisniewski, New York University
Vergil's Eighth Eclogue has mostly been discussed as a poem dwelling on unrequited love, and also has been noted for its marked depiction of a bucolic locus amoenus juxtaposed against reminders of an urban environment. While scholars of ancient magic find interest in the poem's rendering of the casting of a love spell, often recourse is taken to pointing out that it's simply a Latin re-working of a portion of Theocritus' Idyll 2. This depiction of magic is not, however, an isolated instance in Augustan poetry. The question as to why depictions of magic and incantation are included in a poetic repertoire has not been answered to satisfaction. The Roman belief that language retains the power to change reality was widely held and even made explicit by Pliny the Elder. This paper will offer a reading of Eclogue 8 as being fundamentally concerned with the power of language over reality, especially when the language is structured as a poem, song or incantation.
Non-poetic representations of incantation can be found in the Twelve Tables in a legal prescription against the use of language to transfer crops. Cato the Elder provides us with a remedy for gout that involves a chant. Indeed, the corpus of Greek Magic Papyri along with the recoveries of binding spells inscribed on rolled lead sheets (defixiones) proffer an abundance of examples of the magical use of language. In poetic terms, Pliny the Elder refers to a non-extant Catullan rendering of a love spell, and Vergil's Dido, raging at the end of Aeneid 4, can easily join the ranks of enchantresses depicted comically by Horace in Satire I.8 and gruesomely in his 5th Epode. Yet, are these only instances of the learned poet making displays of arcane knowledge on Hellenistic models, or just a lampooning of superstitious rustics? Either of these interpretations, while certainly viable, overlook the ubiquity of the belief in magic and the efficacy of incantation that prevailed in the ancient world among all classes.
Vergil and his contemporaries had a vested interest in presenting a poetry that could engage reality and change circumstances in the face of civic upheaval. By deploying these depictions of incantation, along with restoring and allying himself with the figure of a vates, Vergil effects an exalted persona beyond that of a mere wordsmith, but as perhaps a prophetic voice with all the concomitant powers of language in his employ. In this light, Eclogue 8 becomes emblematic of the exploitation in the ambiguity in the definition of the word carmen: poem, song and/or incantation. This move allows Vergil to engage magic as a field of discourse rivalling literature in terms of its efficacy in changing reality, and thereby further substantiate his literary agenda.
Jaclyn Neel, University of Toronto
When the Temple in Jerusalem fell in 70 C.E., it was not without warning. Our primary historian of the Jewish revolt, Flavius Josephus, lists several signs that foretold its fall (BJ VI.285-315). That some of these these signs were very Roman in type was noticed as early as 1932, in an article by S. V. McCasland. The omens given by Josephus, however, can be broadly classified into three types: there are written warnings; there is a figure who acts like an Old Testament prophet; and finally, there are signs that are remarkably similar to Roman prodigia. McCasland, looking solely at the latter two varieties, did not investigate further than the Romanness of these portents.
But upon further examination, and particularly upon comparison with the parallel account of Tacitus (Hist. V.13), it becomes clear that the Josephan portents act differently than traditional Roman ones. Circumstances and significance are altered to fit the Jewish context of their appearance, and particular types of portent -- often those that are uncommon in Roman writers -- are used. This is particularly interesting since Josephus, as a Jew, would have known that this type of divination was not used in the Jewish tradition. In fact, P. Fornaro in 1980 realized that these portents were, in context, ambiguous: for those schooled in a Roman tradition, they clearly meant disaster, but for those trained in Jewish thought, they indicated salvation. This is not true in Tacitus' account of the omens. Josephus, then, seems to have chosen particular types of portent to represent the fall of Jerusalem for a specific purpose. My paper will explore what this purpose may have been, and why this particular type of foreshadowing -- not Jewish in nature, and not used anywhere else in Josephan writings -- was used.
Jesse Weiner, University of California-Irvine
In Histories 1.62, Tacitus relates the commencement of Vitellius' military campaign for the principate. After describing the morale of the troops and the demeanor of the would-be emperor himself, Tacitus provides a curious -- but by no means unique -- detail. An eagle flying in line with the army is interpreted as an unmistakable sign from heaven that the imperial gambit is destined for success, which does in fact come to fruition. The civil war (or at least this phase of it) culminates with Otho's suicide following the battle of Bedriacum and the accession of Vitellius as the eighth emperor of Rome.
Such omina and praesagia run throughout the Histories, but Tacitus uses this motif in a fixed and consistent pattern, as each specific example of augurium is presented in association with the transfer of imperial power. The five extant books of the Histories detail the assassination of Galba, the rise and fall of both Otho and Vitellius, and the nascence of Flavian authority. Divine portents attend each of these episodes, whereas no other event is described with supernatural signs, no matter how significant. Major battles, the burning of the capitol, assassinations; none are interpreted or embellished through prophesy unless the high office of the empire is at stake. This unswervingly narrow application of supernatural presaging does more than merely highlight the importance of certain people and events: as I will show, Tacitus uses these omens to build a direct link between the gods and the principate, asserting that imperial office can be neither gained nor maintained without the consent of divine will. Finally, I will argue that Tacitus employs omens not only as literary devices, but to project a positive image of the principate as a political institution, quite independent of the natures of the individual omina and the characters of the emperors themselves.
Katherine Wasdin, Yale University
The ritual of marriage offers a fascinating point of slippage between the normal categories of natural and supernatural, mortal and divine. A wedding is both inherently natural, a moment when human society mirrors natural imperatives, and also supernatural, an imposition of human culture on the natural world in which the participants are elevated by the ceremony of the wedding. Both of these facets appear in the epithalamia of Sappho (fragments 27, 30, 44, 104-117, 218 Voigt). Many of these fragments are concerned with the natural world, comparing the bride to an apple and a flower (105 V), and the groom to a sapling (115 V). Yet other fragments associate the bride and groom with divinities, claiming that the groom is the equal of Ares (111 V) or that Aphrodite herself has adorned the bride (112 V). As Oakley and Sinos (1992) point out, the blending of human and divine also occurs in vases that depict wedding scenes, with mortal and divine participants intermingling. The bridal pair is both preeminently natural and yet rises above mortal nature. However, Sappho's epithalamia are not without contradictions, and the female singers of the poems often express fear at the transition of marriage. The marriage of Peleus and Thetis, which often appears on marriage vases and in works of Greek literature such as Hesiod, Alcman, and Pindar, can provide a helpful framework for organizing these concepts of natural imagery, divine association, and bridal fear.
Thetis combines the seemingly incongruous depictions of the bride in Sappho: she is divine, and her superhuman beauty can and does attract both gods and men. One manifestation of her power is her ability to change herself into various animals and natural elements. Despite her divinity, however, she is conquered by her mortal husband, and unwillingly forced to marry out of her society. During the wedding the Greek numphe was seen as divinized, if not a goddess, then certainly more than a mortal. This divinity manifested itself in her visual appearance: as in Sappho 112 V, supernatural beauty was attributed to her, and this beauty made her irresistible to her new husband. Her power, however, threatens to disrupt the traditional balance of authority, and the "divine" bride was conquered by her husband, just as Thetis was conquered by Peleus. The common metaphor for marriage of 'taming' a virgin, seen as wild and undomesticated, shows how this domination is rationalized as necessary. The epithalamia of Sappho depict Greek weddings as a ritual in which the boundaries of human and divine were blurred, and the mortal participants were seen and treated as gods.
Lochlan Shelfer, Johns Hopkins University
This paper investigates the phenomenon of divine "Judicial Inscriptions". These are epigraphical documents from Roman Imperial Lydia which record legal proceedings performed before the local deities of Asia Minor such as "Men" and "Anaeitis". The wronged party would present the case before the deity at their temple through the erection of scepters, and the deity would then take on the reponsibilities of judge, jury and executioner. The diety's judgement would manifest in such signs as sudden death or sickness of the guilty party. When the guilty received punishment, s/he would erect a stele which outlined the details of the case and begged the deity for mercy. This religious process is, save for one example in Pharaonic Egypt , entirely unparalleled throughout the ancient Mediterranean.
This paper argues that these proceedings offered victims the hope of identification and sure punishment of criminals. The local praetorian court, though exceedingly popular for resolving disputes, was ill-equipped to conduct prolonged investigations. Thus, the judicial proceedings conducted within the temple played a unique function in ancient Lydia , thus allowing both the praetorian 'natural' courts and the local 'supernatural' temples to both retain popularity, each offering a unique service.
Sarah Bond, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Despite the dissemination of the "Edict of Toleration" in A.D. 311, there is epigraphic and literary evidence that Christians continued to be persecuted up until the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313--especially in the East. Although Maximinus Daia's name was attached to the Edict of Toleration along with the three other members of the Tetrarchy, this was simply a pro forma legal convention of the Tetrarchy, and contemporary Christian writers would claim that Maximinus Daia was in reality opposed to Galerius' issuance of the edict. Only a few months after its promulgation, Galerius died. Both Eusebius and Lactantius report that Maximinus Daia then moved swiftly to the East to curry favor and establish a power base. These recognizably biased sources also claim that Daia encouraged the pagan elite within the East to petition him for the individual right to continue persecuting Christians within their respective towns. Eusebius transcribes the rescript to one such petition, submitted by the city of Tyre, and utilizes as his source the tabula erected within the town, an inscription that recorded the petition and subsequent rescript of Daia. Cities that petitioned the emperor for these rights apparently advertised their authorization with inscriptions erected within a public area of the city.
Two valuable inscriptions reinforce the reports of Eusebius: the first is from Arykanda (I. Arykanda 12) and contains both the petition (in Greek) from the Lycians and Pamphylians and Daia's rescript (in Latin), and the second, only recently excavated in Calbasa (JRS (1988) 78:105-124) preserves just the imperial rescript. This rescript is addressed to the Calbassians and grants them license to continue to persecute Christians within their city. This paper attempts to investigate and illuminate the justifications used by both the cities and the emperor in order to substantiate continued persecution against Christians. I will also demonstrate that these cities utilized what had by then become archetypal characterizations of the Christian sect, so that they could persist in excluding Christians from elite positions and continue to occupy confiscated Christian properties (e.g. cemeteries). The pagan literary language used to describe Christians, as exemplified in Tacitus' Annals and in Pliny's Epistles, utilizes a vocabulary of disease and danger, and can be closely allied with the inscriptions from Arykanda and Calbasa. To Pagans, the Christians were an infectious disease, a madness that deteriorated the pax deorum and endangered the safety of the Empire. Christianity was dangerous to the Tetrarchy in that it debilitated the imperial cult that reinforced direct allegiance to the Emperors, though there may have been some earnest fear on behalf of pagans that the Gods would be angered by the religio of Christianity. The Edict of Toleration, itself, elucidates this belief, decreeing that "even the Christians who had left the religion of their fathers should come back to reason ... [Christians] ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the republic may continue uninjured on every side" (Lact. De Mort Pers. 34, 35) and Constantine later attempted to address and assuage this fear in the Edict of Milan (Lact. De Mort. Pers. 48). This paper attempts to address how the inscriptions from Arkykanda and Calbasa exemplify how the elite and Maximinus Daia utilized and supported this supersitious fear of Christians as a foil for economic and political motives. Although the rhetoric of supersition will be explored, this paper will also show that the epigraphic evidence for the continued persecution of the Christians is closely in line with our primary literary evidence, i.e. Eusebius and Lactantius. Just as in the case of the Tabula Lugdunensis and Tacitus, these petitions have the ability to strengthen and clarify the literary heritage. However, modern epigraphists who have attempted to reconstruct the Arkykanda rescript (a substantial part of the left side is damaged) have abandoned Eusebius' evidence for a reconstruction almost identical to the Calbasa rescript. I will attempt to refute the assertion that imperial rescripts were identical; rescripts were instead unilateral and thus individually composed though admittedly based on a like ideology. I will also propose a compromise in the reconstruction between Eusebius and the Calbasa rescript. These two inscriptions do much to expose the perception of Christians in the East, but also reveal the mechanics of a reactive empire and the state of the East at the time that the Edict of Milan was issued.