Professor Radcliffe G. Edmonds III

Office: Thomas 245 (Phone: 526-5046)

Thomas 223 – F1-3

Office Hours: TThF 10:00-11:00

or by appointment


Required Texts:

Apuleius, The Golden Ass (trans. Relihan) (available in Tripod as Ebook)

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 (available in Tripod as Ebook)


Recommended Texts:

Barton, Ancient Astrology (available in Tripod as Ebook)

Collins, Magic in the Ancient Greek World (available in Tripod as Ebook)

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

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

Mauss, A General Theory of Magic

Srensen, A Cognitive 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 students will gain an understanding of the magicians of the ancient world and the techniques and devices they used to serve their clientele, as well as the cultural contexts in which these ideas of magic arose.  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, as well as to translate from the primary texts.  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.

            Several students will be selected to lead off the discussion on the secondary readings for each class, but every student should be prepared to contribute to the discussion.  Those whose names are drawn from the Hat of Fate should post their discussion questions on Moodle at least 24 hours before class on Wednesday.  If necessary, there will be an extra translation section scheduled to focus upon the readings for each week in Greek (marked in bold on the syllabus).  All readings not in the required textbooks will be available online in the Moodle site for this class.  The syllabus is also online (


Short 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.


Research Paper:

            Each student should prepare a research paper of around 25-30 pages before the end of the semester.  You should discuss potential topics with me by the 4th week of term and hand in a preliminary outline and bibliography by the end of spring break.  A rough draft of the paper is due in Week 14, on April 24, and each student will give a brief presentation of the research project in class in Week 15.  The final draft of the paper is due at the end of finals.


Students who think they may need accommodations in this course due to the impact of a learning, physical, or psychological disability are encouraged to meet with me privately early in the semester to discuss their concerns.  Students should also contact Stephanie Bell, Coordinator of Access Services (610-526-7351 or, as soon as possible, to verify their eligibility for reasonable academic accommodations.  Early contact will help to avoid unnecessary inconvenience and delays.




Week I (Jan. 23) - Introduction – Issues of Definition



      course introduction

      definition of magic

      magic vs. religion, magic vs. science

      instrumental and symbolic action

      ancient contexts of magic



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

      Graf, ch. 1-2


Week II (Feb. 1) - The World of Ancient Magic



      societies of the ancient Mediterranean world

      magic and mystery – the lure of magic

      types of magic



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

      Plato, Republic 364b-365b

      Graf, ch. 1-2

      Gager, Introduction, ch. 8

      Gordon, Imagining Greek and Roman Magic

      Smith, Here, There, and Anywhere

      Smith, Trading Places


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

      Tambiah, Form and Meaning of Magical Acts

      Versnel, Some Reflections on the Relationship


Week III (Feb. 8) - 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

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

      Versnel, Beyond Cursing - Magika Hiera ch. 3

      Gordon, What's in a List?


Supplementary Readings:

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

      Supplementum Magicum nos. 53, 55, 56

      Edmonds, Blaming the Witch

      Faraone, Binding and burying the forces of evil

      Faraone, Aeschylus ὕμνος δέσμιος and Attic Judicial Curse Tablets

      Ogden, Binding spells: Curse tablets and voodoo dolls in the Greek and Roman worlds

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

      Versnel, Punish Those Who Rejoice in Our Misery

      Versnel, And any other part of the entire body there may be . . .


Defixio Assignment due at noon Friday, February 22


Week IV (February 15) - 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)

      Lucian, Dial. Meretr. 4.4-5

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

      Dickie, Who Practised Love Magic in Classical Antiquity?

      Faraone, The Construction of Gender in Ancient Greek Love Magic

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


Supplementary Readings:

      Faraone, Ancient Greek Love Magic

      LiDonnici, Burning For It

      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. 593-619, 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

      Supplementum Magicum nos. 37, 38, 39, 40, 43, 44, 45, 46-51, 58, 63, 64,

      Greek Magical Amulets nos. 58, 60


Week V (February 22) - Healing and Protection



      defense against the dark arts

      amulets and antidotes

      repairing and healing

      thanks before and after



      PGM IV 2145-2240 (Homeric amulet), IV. 3007-86 (exorcism), VII 193-221 , (pdm) xiv. 554-626, XX (Philinna Papyrus),

      Ephesia Grammata

      Hippocrates de morbo sacro 1.10-46

      Ogden 256-276, 13, 47

      Gager, ch. 7

      Bonner, Studies in Magical Amulets

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

      Kotansky, Incantations and Prayers - Magika Hiera ch. 4


Supplementary Readings:

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

      LiDonnici, Beans, fleawort, and the blood of a Hamadryas baboon

      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

      Supplementum Magicum nos. 1, 3, 5, 8, 9, 13, 18


Week VI (March 1) - Prayer and Magic



      thanks before and after

      supplication and coercion

      relationships with divine powers



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

      Homer, Iliad I.33-51,  Hesiod, Theogony 535-557, Hesiod Works and Days 320-340, Homer, Odyssey xiv.418-436, Isaeus 8.15-16, Orphic Hymn 17 to Poseidon, Orphic Hymn 3 to Night,

      Ogden 233

      Graf, Prayer in Magical and Religious Ritual - Magika Hiera, ch. 7 (includes PGM IV.2785-2879, VIII.1-26, VII.756-94, XVIIb, VII.668-85, V.392-423, Sappho Frag. 1)

      Graf ch. 7

      Depew, Reading Greek Prayers


Supplementary Readings:

      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 (March 8) - Divination



      divination in society

      magician and client

      theories of divination

      mechanics of divination



      Luck, Divination #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

      Odyssey xi.13 ff & Kestos of Julius Africanus book 5 = PGM XXIII

      Plutarch, De E 387bc

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

      Collins, Mapping the Entrails

      Gordon, Reporting the Marvellous

      Graf, Magic and Divination

      Turner, Divination as a phase in a social process


Supplementary Readings:

      Dillery, Chresmologues and Manteis

      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

      Oracles of Astrampsychos


Week VIII  (March 11-15) - Spring Break



Week IX (March 22) - 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

      Stratton, Naming the Witch

      Ogden 44-46, 55-107, 155, 157, 214-223

      Theocritus 2; Hippolytus, Ref. 4.37


Supplementary Readings

      Lucian, Lover of Lies

      Gordon, Innovation and Authority

      Edmonds, Extraordinary People

      Luck, Witches and sorcerers in classical literature.



Week X (March 29) - Astrology



      astrology as divination

      astrology as cosmology

      astrology and society



      Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos 1.1-1.2, 1.4; Stobaeum Hermeticum VI; Vettius Valens,  Anthologiarum libri ix, V.6.25-71, VII.6.348

      Luck, Astrology -  #97-118

      Barton, Ancient Astrology, ch. 4 & 5

      Firmicus Maternus

      Dorotheus Sidonius

      Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos

      Neugebauer, Greek Horoscopes

      Gordon, Quaedam Veritatis Umbrae

      Konstan, Evidence from Divination


Supplementary Readings:

      Plato, Timaeus 38e-39e

      Beck, Brief History of Ancient Astrology (available in Tripod as Ebook)

      Barton, Ancient Astrology (available in Tripod as Ebook)

      MacMullen, Social History in Astrology

      Riley, Theoretical and Practical Astrology



Astrology Assignment due at noon on Friday April 12



Week XI (April 5) - Theurgy



      demonology, philosophy, and the soul

      philosophy and magic

      theories of theurgy

      practical theurgy – means and ends



      Mithras Liturgy (PGM IV.475-829)

      Proclus, On the Sacred Art

      8th Book of Moses (PGM XIII 1-343)

      Iamblichus, On the Mysteries, Excerpts I.9-15, II.11, IV.1-13, V.23-26, VIII.7-8

      Theurgy Readings

      Luck # 51, 59-63, 67-70

      Johnston, Rising to the Occasion

      Johnston, Animating Statues

      Smith, J.Z., Towards Interpreting Demonic Powers


Supplementary Readings:

      Apuleius, On the God of Socrates

      Plutarch, On the Genius of Socrates

      Plutarch, On the Face in the Moon

      PGM XIII 344-645, 646-734, 735-1077

      Iamblichus, On the Mysteries

      Athanassiadi, Dreams, Theurgy and Freelance Divination

      Edmonds, Seizure of the Moon

      Haluszka, Sacred Signified

      Luck, Theurgy and Forms of Worship in Neoplatonism 


Week XII (April 12) - Alchemy



      alchemy and cosmology

      mechanics of alchemy

      alchemy and science



      Alchemy Readings

      Zosimus, On Excellence

      Zosimus On the Letter Omega

      Ogden 46

      PGM XII 193-201

      Jung, Visions of Zosimus

      Taylor, A Survey of Greek Alchemy


Supplementary Readings:

      Hershbell, Democritus and The Beginnings of Greek Alchemy

      Stolzenberg, Unpropitious Tinctures


Week XIII (April 19) - The Magicians 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

      Brashear Greek Magical Papyri, part I

      Frankfurter, Dynamics of Ritual Expertise

      Gordon, Memory and Authority

      Moyer & Dieleman, Miniaturization and Opening of the Mouth

      Moyer, Thessalos of Tralles

      Ogden 13-19, 44, 45, 53, 54

      PGM I 42-195, IV 26-51, IV 154-285

      Thessalos of Tralles, De virtutibus herbarum


Supplementary Readings:

      PGM I 1-42, IV 1-25, IV 52-85, XIII 1-343, 344-645, 646-734, 735-1077

      Apuleius, Metamorphoses (ch. 11)

      Betz, Introductions

      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



Week XIV (April 26) - Accusations of Magic



      social context of accusations of magic

      witchcraft and the law



      Graf, ch. 3

      Collins, Magic in Greek and Roman Law, Magic in the Ancient Greek World, Ch. 5

      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


Rough draft of the seminar paper is due



Week XV (May 3) – Conclusions - Definitions and Theory; Presentations



      defining magic

      magic and religion; magic and science

      performative language and symbolic systems




      Braarvig, Magic: Reconsidering the Grand Dichotomy

      Segal, Hellenistic Magic: Some Questions of Definition

      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

      Collins, Nature, Cause, and Agency

      Edmonds, Extra-Ordinary People

      Gordon, Aelian's Peony

      Gordon, Imagining Greek and Roman Magic

      Fowler, Greek Magic, Greek Religion

      Smith, Here, There, and Anywhere

      Smith, Trading Places

      Thomassen, Is Magic a Subclass of Ritual?