Magic accusations against women in the Greco-Roman world from the first through the fifth centuries C.E.
This study investigates the relationship between two seemingly disparate bodies of evidence for women's use of magicae artes in the first through the fifth centuries C.E. On the one hand, the “imaginings” in the fictional representations, the legal sources, and the historical narratives depict women luring lovers to themselves, passing their expertise to others, working elaborate nocturnal rituals in graveyards, and employing venena et artes for political maneuvering. On the other hand, in the papyri, gemstones, and lamellae, the “realities” show women engaged in some similar activities but also healing their bodies, and attempting to bring thieves to justice. To negotiate between these bodies of evidence, first it was necessary to identify what classified as magicae artes for the Romans. A survey of the “imaginings” established the range of activities which qualified. The anxieties over these activities were organized into three identifiable categories of transgression. Theoretical models of ritual and of gender were then applied to the “realities” in order to determine their relationship to these transgressive categories. As a result of this investigation, it has become clear that the “imaginings” of women's practice of magicae artes centered around concerns for women's ideal social roles, transfer and control of knowledge and ritual expertise, and maintenance of appropriate spatial boundaries. The “realities” demonstrate concern over women's performance which corresponds to these same transgressive categories. It appears that when real women's performance of spells enacted these categories of transgression, they inspired corresponding representations in the “imaginings.” When the social order was not threatened, as in the case of the spells for punishing thieves and certain health spells which confirm women as wives and mothers, there was no “imagining” of that activity represented as magicae artes. The fictional depictions, the idealized notion of prosecutable magicae artes in the laws, and the stylized accounts in the historical narratives function as accusations of the collective transgressive potential of what real women were doing in their use of spells. ^
Religion, General|Women's Studies|History, Ancient
Elizabeth Ann Pollard,
"Magic accusations against women in the Greco-Roman world from the first through the fifth centuries C.E."
(January 1, 2001).
Dissertations available from ProQuest.