Ancient Greco-Roman Magic and the Agency of Victimhood

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Scholarship on ancient Greco-Roman magic over time and place, has largely focused on the role and identity of ritual practitioners, investigating the nature and source of their perceived expertise and often locating it in their linguistic skills. Less attention has been paid to those identified as the targets of magical rituals, who tend to be described as passive recipients of the ritual or victims of the social power of another. In contrast, drawing on the theory of ritual form developed by Robert McCauley and E. Thomas Lawson, alongside the ritualization theories of Catherine Bell, this article argues that victims of magic were also agents of ritual. Focusing on an experience of hostile magic reported by the fourth-century c.e. orator Libanius, it explores how conceptions of magical power were co-created by spell-makers and their so-called victims and should be regarded as relational, that is, as emerging from the interactions of people and groups.

Ancient Greco-Roman Magic and the Agency of Victimhood

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References

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2

See Collins 2008: 114–117who offers a useful warning at the end of his analysis of the need for caution in interpretation.

5

See Stratton 2007: 111–114who summarizes previous scholarship including D’Angelo 1990 Burrus 1995 Cooper 1996; cf. Eidinow 2016b.

6

Tomlin 1988: 101–102quoting Henig 1984: 145 and Webster 1986: 136; see a discussion of emotionalist theories of magic in Sørensen 2007a: 24–30.

7

See Versnel 1991a: 68–69elaborated in Versnel 2009. The Knidian curses texts may have been displayed in this way (Newton 1862–1863) or they may have been inscribed on stone. On a stele in the Sanctuary of the Syrian Gods on Delos one Theagenes asks for justice against a woman to whom he has lent money for her manumission and who has not returned it; see Björck 1938: 30 n. 14; Versnel 1999: 141; Salvo 2012: 252–253.

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