Professor Radcliffe G. Edmonds III

Office: Thomas 245

Office Phone: 526-5046

Thomas 224

MW 2:30-4

Office Hours: MWF 10:00-11:00

or by appointment


Required Texts:

Apuleius, The Golden Ass (trans. P. G. Walsh)

Betz, Hans D., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (PGM)

Gager, John G., Curse Tablets & Binding Spells from the Ancient World

Graf, Fritz, Magic in the Ancient World

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


Recommended Texts:

Barton, Tamsyn, Ancient Astrology

Faraone & Obbink, Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic & Religion

Iamblichus, On the Mysteries (trans. Clark, Dillon &Hershbell)

Mauss, Marcel, A General Theory of Magic


Course Description:

Bindings and curses, love charms and healing potions, amulets and talismans - from the simple spells designed to meet the needs of the poor and desperate to the complex theurgies of the philosophers, the people of the Greco-Roman World made use of magic to try to influence the world around them.  In this course we shall examine the magicians of the ancient world and the techniques and devices they used to serve their clientele.  We shall consider ancient tablets and spell books as well as literary descriptions of magic in the light of theories relating to the religious, political, and social contexts in which magic was used.


Course Requirements:

Class participation:

                  Participation, of course, includes attendance, since you cannot participate if you are not in class.  If, for some reason, you cannot attend class, please inform me in advance.  Each student should be prepared to discuss and answer questions on the material covered in the lesson for the week.  Coming prepared with questions on the material is even better than coming with answers to the basics.  If, for some reason, you cannot prepare for class, please attend anyway - you will be better prepared for the next class.

                  Monday classes will be primarily lecture, with some discussion of the general issues raised in the secondary readings.  On Wednesday, the class will discuss the primary and secondary readings in greater detail.  Several students will be selected to lead off the discussion for each class, but every student should be prepared to contribute to the discussion.  Those whose names are drawn form the Hat of Fate should post their questions on Blackboard at least 24 hours before class on Wednesday.  Anyone else may also gain extra credit for participation by posting questions or comments on Blackboard. All readings not in the required textbooks will be available online in the Blackboard site for this class.  The online syllabus ( links to the Blackboard site and viceversa.


Written Assignments: 

                  There will be two short written assignments designed for the students to demonstrate their understanding of specific materials covered in class.  These projects may require some out of class research in addition to the readings assigned for the class. 

                  The first of these assignments will require you to take the examples we've looked at in classs and analyze them for their essential features – logical structure, common patterns of formulation, etc.  You will then have to synthesize these features into a composite that illustrates the features of, e.g., a love spell or a curse, and discuss why what you have put together corresponds with the ancient evidence. 

                  The second assignment will involve divination, specifically astrology.  You will have to read a chart on the basis of the excerpts from the ancient manuals I will give you and then decide how to advise a client in a specific situation.  The task is not just to show your mastery of the technical details but, even more importantly, of the social dynamics that underlie divination in the ancient world.



                  There will be take-home Midterm and Final Examinations for this class.  Each of these examinations will require students to apply the analyses and definitions discussed throughout the course to primary materials. These open book essay exams will ask you to analyze ancient materials that we haven't studied in class in the same way we have been analyzing materials in class – looking at the context – what, who, why, where, how -  and connections with other texts we have studied. 




Grade Distribution:

Class Participation                              30%

Written Assignments                       30%

Midterm Exam                                    15%

Final Exam                                             25%




Week I (September 4 & 6) - Introduction – Issues of Definition



          course introduction

          definition of magic

          magic vs. religion, magic vs. science

          instrumental and symbolic action

          ancient contexts of magic



          Graf, ch. 1-2

          Gager, Introduction



Week II (September 11 & 13) - The World of Ancient Magic



          societies of the ancient Mediterranean world

          magic and mystery – the lure of magic

          types of magic



          Graf, ch. 1-2

          Gager, Introduction, ch. 8

          Apuleius, Metamorphoses (esp. ch. 1-3, 9-10)


Supplementary Readings

          Bremmer, Birth of the Term 'Magic'

          Frazer, Sympathetic Magic

          Mauss, General Theory of Magic, pp. 44-90

          Phillips, In Search of the Occult

          Smith, Trading Places

          Tambiah, Form and Meaning of Magical Acts

          Versnel, Some Reflections on the Relationship

          Gordon, Imagining Greek and Roman Magic (parts 1, 2, 3, & 4)




Week III (September 18 & 20) - Curses – Binding Spells for All Occasions



          competition and cursing

          athletic contexts

          legal contexts

          binding and harming



          Graf, ch. 5

          Gager, ch. 1, 3-6 (esp. # 3, 5, 44, 53, 88, 89, 117)

          PGM V 304-69, VII 396-404, VII 423-28, VII 429-58, X 36-50

          Ogden 14, 168-196, 236, 247


Supplementary Readings:

          Faraone, The Agonistic Context of Early Greek Binding Spells - Magika Hiera ch. 1

          Strubbe, Cursed be he that moves my bones - Magika Hiera ch. 2

          Versnel, Beyond Cursing - Magika Hiera ch. 3

          Gordon, What's in a List?

          Versnel, Punish Those Who Rejoice in Our Misery

          PGM VII 390-3, VII 394-5, VII 417-22, IX 1-14, XXXVI 1-34, XXXVI 35-68, XXXVI 231-55, and LVIII



Week IV (September 25 & 27) - Love Charms



          gender and sex

          male vs. female subjects and objects in erotic spells

          sex and violence



          Gager, ch. 2

          PGM IV 296-466, IV 1716-1870, IV 2441-2621, IV 2891-2942, XXXII 1-19, XXXIIa 1-25, CXXII

          Supplementum Magicum nos. 46-51 (with PGM IV 296-466 and Gager # 27-29)

          Ogden 52, 76-81 (Deianeira), 197-213, 224-229 (iunx), 244, 248-255 (erotic amulets)

          Faraone, "The Construction of Gender in Ancient Greek Love Magic"


Supplementary Readings:

          Dickie, Who Practised Love Magic in Classical Antiquity?

          Faraone, Ancient Greek Love Magic

          LiDonnici, Burning For It

          Winkler, The Constraints of Eros - Magika Hiera, ch. 8

          PGM IV 1390-1495, IV 1496-1595, IV 1870-1927, IV 1928-2000, IV 2000-2125, IV 2622-2707, IV 2708-2784, IV 2943-2966, VII 300a-310, VII 459-77, VII 862-918, XVI 1-75, XVIIa, XXXVI 69-101, XXXVI 102-33, XXXVI 134-160, XXXVI 187-210, XXXVI 295-311, XXXVI 333-360, XXXVI 361-371, CI, CVII, CVIII



Week V (October 2 & 4) - Healing and Protection



          defense against the dark arts

          amulets and antidotes

          repairing and healing

          thanks before and after



          Gager ch. 7

          Bonner, Studies in Magical Amulets

          PGM IV 2145-2240, IV. 3007-86, VII 193-221, (pdm) xiv. 554-626, XX,

          Ogden 256-276, 13, 47

          Handout - Ephesia Grammata


Supplementary Readings:

          Kotansky, Incantations and Prayers - Magika Hiera ch. 4

          Scarborough, The Pharmacology of Sacred Plants- Magika Hiera, ch. 5

          Gordon, The Healing Event in Graeco-Roman Folk-Medicine

          PGM IV 1596-1715, VII 260-71, VII 311-18, VII 579-90, XXIIA 1-27, XLIII 1-27, LXX, CXIV, CXV

          Greek Magical Amulets nos. 2, 4, 7, 11, 13, 24, 27, 37, 46, 38



Defixio Assignment due Friday, October 6



Week VI (October 9 & 11) - Prayer and Magic



          thanks before and after

          supplication and coercion

          relationships with divine powers



          Graf ch. 7

          Graf, Prayer in Magical and Religious Ritual - Magika Hiera, ch. 7

          PGM I 262-347; III 494-611; IV 2241-2358; XII 14-95

          Prayer handout texts

          Ogden 233


Supplementary Readings:

          Depew, Reading Greek Prayers

          Mauss, The Gift

          Tambiah, The Magical Power of Words

          Versnel, The Poetics of the Magical Charm

          Sallustius, On the Gods and the World




Week VII (October 16 & 18) - Fall Break




Week VIII (October 23 & 25) - Divination



          divination in society

          magician and client

          theories of divination

          mechanics of divination



          Luck, Divination (parts I & part II) #72-94

          PGM I 262-347, IV 930-1114, IV 3209-3254, VII 348-358, VII 540-78, VII 740-55, VII 795-845, VIII 64-110

          Ogden 144-155, 160, 164, 30, 36, 112

          Graf, Magic and Divination

          Turner, Divination as a phase in a social process


Supplementary Readings:

          Dillery, Chresmologues and Manteis

          Eitrem, Dreams and Divination - Magika Hiera, ch 6

          Gordon, Reporting the Marvellous

          Manetti, Greek Divination

          PGM I 1-41, , II 1-64 II 65-184, III 187-262, III 263-75, III 282-409, III 424-66, IV 3086-3124, V 172-212, VII 1-148, VII 319-34, VII 335-47, VII 359-69, VII 664-85, VII 703-726, VII 727-739, VII 1009-16.

          Iamblichus, De Mysteriis III.11-22


Take Home Midterm due Friday, October 27


Week IX (October 30 & November 1) - Astrology



          astrology as divination

          astrology as cosmology

          astrology and society



          Luck, Astrology -  #97-118

          Barton, Ancient Astrology, ch. 4 & 5

          Firmicus Maternus

          Dorotheus Sidonius

          Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos

          Neugebauer, Greek Horoscopes


Supplementary Readings:

          Plato, Timaeus 38e-39e

          Gordon, Quaedam Veritatis Umbrae (part 1 & part 2)

          Konstan, Evidence from Divination

          MacMullen, Social History in Astrology

          Riley, Theoretical and Practical Astrology


Week X (November 6 & 8) - Alchemy



          alchemy and cosmology

          mechanics of alchemy

          alchemy and science



          Leyden and Stockholm Papyri (selections)

          Zosimus, On Excellence

          Zosimus On the Letter Omega

          Ogden 46

          PGM XII 193-201

          Jung, Visions of Zosimus

          Taylor, A Survey of Greek Alchemy (part 1 & part 2)


Supplementary Readings:

          Hershbell, Democritus and The Beginnings of Greek Alchemy

          Stolzenberg, Unpropitious Tinctures



Astrology Assignment due Friday November 9



Week XI (November 13 & 15) - Theurgy



          demonology, philosophy, and the soul

          philosophy and magic

          theories of theurgy

          practical theurgy – means and ends



          Johnston, Rising to the Occasion

          Mithras Liturgy (PGM IV.475-829)

          Iamblichus, On the Mysteries, Excerpts

          Theurgy Readings (handout)


Supplementary Readings:

          Apuleius, On the God of Socrates

          Plutarch, On the Genius of Socrates

          Plutarch, On the Face in the Moon

          Athanassiadi, Dreams, Theurgy and Freelance Divination

          Luck, Theurgy and Forms of Worship in Neoplatonism 

          Smith, J.Z., Towards Interpreting Demonic Powers

          Luck # 51, 59-63, 67-70

          Iamblichus, On the Mysteries



Week XII (November 20 & 22) - The Magician's Craft



          magician as religious specialist

          becoming a magician - the sorceror's apprentice

          tools of the trade - books and materials

          Greeks and Egyptians – social contexts, Thessalos of Trales



          Graf, ch. 4

          Moyer, Thessalos of Tralles

          Ogden 13-19, 44, 45, 53, 54

          PGM I 42-195, IV 26-51, IV 154-285, XIII 1-343


Supplementary Readings:

          PGM I 1-42, IV 1-25, IV 52-85, XIII 344-645, 646-734, 735-1077

          Apuleius, Metamorphoses (ch. 11)

          Betz, Introductions

          Brashear - ANRW, part I

          Smith, J.Z., The Temple and the Magician

          Ritner, Egyptian Magical Practice under the Roman Empire

          Smith, M. The 8th Book of Moses and How It Grew

          Frankfurter, Dynamics of Ritual Expertise



Thanksgiving Break - November 23-24



Week XIII (November 27 & 29) - The Portrait of a Magician



          practitioners of magic, victims of magic

          women and foreigners, weirdos and quacks

          social context of depictions of magic

          labelling the other vs. self-labelling



          Graf, ch. 6

          Ogden 55-107, 144-145, 155, 157, 214-223


Supplementary Readings

          Gordon, Innovation and Authority

          Lucian, Lover of Lies



Week XIV (December 4 & 6) - Accusations of Magic



          social context of accusations of magic

          witchcraft and the law



          Graf, ch. 3

          Phillips, Nullum Crimen Sine Lege, Magika Hiera, ch. 10

          Apuleius, Apology

          Hunink, Introduction to Apologia

          Ogden 278-300


Supplementary Readings:

          Bradley, Law, Magic, and Culture in the Apologia of Apuleius

          Collins, Theoris of Lemnos and the Criminalization of Magic

          Kippenberg, Magic in Roman Civil Discourse




Week XV (December 11 & 13) - Definitions and Theory



          defining magic

          magic and religion; magic and science

          performative language and symbolic systems




          Smith, Trading Places

          Tambiah, Form and Meaning of Magical Acts

          Versnel, Some Reflections on the Relationship


Supplementary Readings:

          Aune, Magic in Early Christianity

          Betz, Magic and Mystery – Magika Hiera ch. 9

          Braarvig, Magic: Reconsidering the Grand Dichotomy (part 1 & part 2)

          Collins, Nature, Cause, and Agency

          Gordon, Aelian's Peony

          Gordon, Imagining Greek and Roman Magic (parts 1, 2, 3, & 4)

          Fowler, Greek Magic, Greek Religion

          Segal, Hellenistic Magic: Some Questions of Definition

          Smith, Here, There, and Anywhere

          Thomassen, Is Magic a Subclass of Ritual?




Take home final exam