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.
This article discusses the challenges facing scholars exploring the nature of belief in ancient Greek religion. While recent scholarship has raised questions about individual religious activities, and work on ritual, the body, and the senses has broadened our methodological palette, the nature and dynamics of generally held “low intensity” beliefs still tend to be described simply as “unquestioned” or “embedded” in society. But examining scholarship on divine personifications suggests that ancient beliefs were — and our perceptions of them are — more complex. This article first explores the example of Tyche (“Chance”), in order to highlight some of the problems that surround the use of the term “belief.” It then turns to the theories of “ideology” of Slavoj Žižek and Robert Pfaller and argues that these can offer provocative insights into the nature and dynamics of ritual and belief in ancient Greek culture.