The study of MAGIC IN THE GRECO-ROMAN WORLD is a branch of the
disciplines of classics , ancient history and religious studies . In
the ancient post-hellenistic world of the Greeks and Romans (the
Greco-Roman world), historians and archaeologists view the public and
private rituals associated with religion as part of everyday life.
Examples of this phenomenon are found in the various state and cult
Temples , Jewish
Synagogues and churches . These were important hubs
for ancient peoples, representing a connection between the heavenly
realms (the divine ) and the earthly planes (the dwelling place of
humanity ). This context of magic has become an academic study,
especially in the last twenty years. Authors William Swatos and Peter
Kivisto define Magic as
... any attempt to control the environment or the self by means that
are either untested or untestable, such as charms or spells.
— William H. Swatos magic was often seen as consisting of
practices that range from silly superstition to the wicked and
dangerous. :122 However, magic seems to have borrowed from religion,
adopting religious ceremonies and divine names, and the two are
sometimes difficult to clearly distinguish. :2 Magic is often
differentiated from religion in that it is manipulative rather than
supplicatory of the deities; this is not a hard and fast rule, though,
and with many ritual acts it is difficult to tell whether they are
coercive or supplicatory. Also, some mainstream religious rites openly
set out to constrain the gods. :3–4 Other rough criteria sometimes
used to distinguish magic from religion include: aimed at selfish or
immoral ends; and conducted in secrecy, often for a paying client.
Religious rites, on the other hand, are more often aimed at lofty
goals such as salvation or rebirth, and are conducted in the open for
the benefit of the community or a group of followers. :3
Alongside the more common manifestations of state religion, ancient
peoples sought individual contact and assistance, along with
influence, with the heavenly realms through other channels. Religious
ritual had the intended purpose of giving a god their just due honor,
or asking for divine intervention and favor, while magic is seen as
practiced by those who seek only power, and often undertaken based on
a false scientific basis. :123, 158 Ultimately, the practice of magic
includes rites that do not play a part in worship, and are ultimately
irreligious . Associations with this term tend to be an evolving
process in ancient literature, but generally speaking ancient magic
reflects aspects of broader religious traditions in the Mediterranean
world, that is, a belief in magic reflects a belief in deities ,
divination , and words of power. The concept of magic however came to
represent a more coherent and self-reflective tradition exemplified by
magicians seeking to fuse varying non-traditional elements of
Greco-Roman religious practice into something specifically called
magic. This fusing of practices reached its peak in the world of the
Roman Empire , in the 3rd to 5th centuries CE .
Via Latin magicus, the word "magic" derives from Greek magikos, with
"magic" being the art and craft of the magos, the Greek word for
followers of "Zoroaster" (i.e. either
Zoroaster or Pseudo-
The relationship with "magic" derives from the Hellenistic
identification of (Pseudo-)
Zoroaster as the "inventor" of both
astrology and magic. This was in turn influenced by (among other
factors) the Greek penchant for seeking hidden meanings in words; the
name "Zoroaster" was presumed to have something to do with the stars
(-astr), while magos was perceived to have to do with goēs, the old
Greek word for "magic" (in the modern sense). However, in the main,
Zoroaster seems to have been almost exclusively identified
with astrology, and magic then remained the domain of other (real or
putative) "magians" such as the synthetic "
Because magos/magikos were influenced by the association with the old
Greek word for "magic", Greek magos/magikos accordingly held the same
meaning that "magic" and "magician" do today. Although a few Greek
writers – e.g.
Plutarch – did use magos in
connection with their descriptions of (Zoroastrian) religious beliefs
or practices, the majority seem to have understood it in the sense of
"magician". Accordingly, the more skeptical writers then also
identified the "magicians" – i.e. the magians – as charlatans or
Symposium (202e), the Athenian identified them as
maleficent, allowing however a measure of efficacy as a function of
the god Eros . Pliny paints them in a particularly bad light.
Thorndike comments: "Greek science at its best was not untainted by
MAGIC IN HOMERIC TIMES
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In Greek literature, the earliest magical operation that supports a
definition of magic as a practice aimed at trying to locate and
control the secret forces (the sympathies and antipathies that make up
these forces) of the world (physis) is found in Book X of The Odyssey
(a text stretching back to the early 8th century BCE). Book X
describes the encounter of the central hero
Odysseus with the Titan
Circe , "She who is sister to the wizard Aeetes, both being children
of the Sun...by the same mother, Perse the daughter of the Ocean,"
:X:13 on the island of
Aeaea . In the story Circe's magic consists in
the use of a wand :X:20 against
Odysseus and his men while Odysseus's
magic consists of the use of a secret herb called moly :X:28 (revealed
to him by the god
Hermes , "god of the golden wand") :X:27 to defend
himself from her attack. In the story three requisites crucial to the
idiom of "magic" in later literature are found:
* The use of a mysterious tool endowed with special powers (the wand
* The use of a rare magical herb.
* A divine figure that reveals the secret of the magical act
These are the three most common elements that characterize magic as a
system in the later
Hellenistic and greco-Roman periods of history.
Another important definitional element to magic is also found in the
Circe is presented as being in the form of a beautiful woman (a
Odysseus encounters her on an island. In this
Circe uses her wand to change Odysseus’ companions into
swine. This may suggest that magic was associated (in this time) with
practices that went against the natural order, or against wise and
good forces (
Circe is called a witch by a companion of Odysseus).
:X:43 In this mode it is worth noting that
Circe is representative of
a power (the Titans ) that had been conquered by the younger Olympian
gods such as
Hades . "The Sorceress" by John
William Waterhouse , 1891
MAGIC IN CLASSICAL GREECE
The 6th century
BCE gives rise to scattered references of magoi at
work in Greece. Many of these references representing a more positive
conceptualisation of magic. Among the most famous of these Greek
magoi, between Homer and the
Hellenistic period, are the figures of
Pythagoras , and
Orpheus is a mythical figure, said to have lived in
generation before Homer" (though he is in fact depicted on 5th-century
ceramics in Greek costume). Orphism, or the Orphic Mysteries, seems
also to have been central to the personages of
Empedocles who lived in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE.
example is said to have described Orpheus, as, "the...father of
melodious songs." Since
Aeschylus (the Greek Playwright) later
describes him as he who "haled all things by the rapture of his
voice," this suggests belief in the efficacy of song and voice in
Orpheus is certainly associated with a great many deeds: the
most famous perhaps being his descent to the underworld to bring back
his wife, Eurydice. Orpheus’ deeds are not usually condemned or
spoken of negatively. This suggests that some forms of magic were more
acceptable. Indeed, the term applied to
Orpheus to separate him,
presumably, from magicians of ill repute is theios aner or ‘divine
Magical powers were also attributed to the famous mathematician and
Pythagoras (c. 570 – 495 BCE), as recorded in the days
of Aristotle. The traditions concerning
Pythagoras are somewhat
complicated because the number of Vitae that do survive are often
contradictory in their interpretation of the figure of Pythagoras.
Some of the magical acts attributed to him include:
* Being seen at the same hour in two cities.
* A white eagle permitting him to stroke it.
* A river greeting him with the words "Hail, Pythagoras!"
* Predicting that a dead man would be found on a ship entering a
* Predicting the appearance of a white bear and declaring it was
dead before the messenger reached him bearing the news.
* Biting a poisonous snake to death (or in some versions driving a
snake out from a village). These stories also hint at Pythagoras
being one of these "divine man" figures, theios aner, his ability to
control animals and to transcend space and time showing he has been
touched by the gods.
Empedocles (c. 490 – c. 430 BCE) too has ascribed to him marvelous
powers associated with later magicians: that is, he is able to heal
the sick, rejuvenate the old, influence the weather and summon the
dead. :XXXVI:27 E.R. Dodds in his 1951 book, The Greeks and the
Irrational, argued that
Empedocles was a combination of poet, magus,
teacher, and scientist. :42 Dodds argued that since much of the
acquired knowledge of individuals like
somewhat mysterious even to those with a rudimentary education, it
might be associated with magic or at least with the learning of a
It is important to note that after Empedocles, the scale of magical
gifts in exceptional individuals shrinks in the literature, becoming
specialized. Individuals might have the gift of healing, or the gift
of prophecy, but are not usually credited with a wide range of
supernatural powers as are magoi like Orpheus,
Plato reflects such an attitude in his Laws (933a-e) where
he takes healers, prophets and sorcerers for granted. He acknowledges
that these practitioners existed in Athens (and thus presumably in
other Greek cities), and they had to be reckoned with and controlled
by laws; but one should not be afraid of them, their powers are real,
but they themselves represent a rather low order of humanity. An early
Christian analogy is found in the 1st century CE writings of the
Apostle Paul. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians conceptualizes
the idea of a limitation of spiritual gifts.
MAGIC IN THE HELLENISTIC PERIOD
Hellenistic period (roughly the last three centuries
BCE ) is
characterized by an avid interest in magic, though this may simply be
because from this period a greater abundance of texts, both literary
and some from actual practitioners, in Greek and in Latin remains. In
fact many of the magical papyri that are extant were written in the
1st centuries of the
Current Era , but their concepts, formulas and
rituals reflect the earlier
Hellenistic period, that is, a time when
the systematization of magic in the
Greco-Roman world seems to have
taken place—particularly in the ‘melting pot’ of varying
cultures that was
Egypt under the
Ptolemies and under Rome.
The ascendancy of orthodox Christianity by the 5th century CE had
much to do with this. This is reflected by the book of Acts where the
Apostle Paul convinces many
Ephesians to bring out their magical books
and burn them. The language of the magical papyri reflects various
levels of literary skill, but generally they are standard Greek, and
in fact they may well be closer to the spoken language of the time
than to poetry or artistic prose left to us in literary texts. Many
terms are borrowed, in the papyri, it would seem, from the mystery
cults; thus magical formulas are sometimes called teletai (literally,
"celebration of mysteries"), or the magician himself is called
mystagogos (the priest who leads the candidates for initiation).
:23ff. Much Jewish lore and some of the names for
God also appear in
the magical papyri. Jao for Yahweh ,
Sabaoth , and
Adonai appear quite
frequently for example. As magicians are concerned with secrets it
must have seemed to many outsiders of
Judaism that Yahweh was a secret
deity, for after all no images were produced of the Jewish
God's real name was not pronounced, as the basis of speculation on
The texts of the
Greek magical papyri are often written as we might
write a recipe: "Take the eyes of a bat..." for example. So in other
words the magic requires certain ingredients, much as Odysseus
required the herb Moly to defeat the magic of Circe. But of course it
is not just as simple as knowing how to put a recipe together.
Appropriate gestures, at certain points in the magical ritual, are
required to accompany the ingredients, different gestures it would
seem produce various effects. A magical ritual done in the right way
can guarantee the revealing of dreams and of course the rather useful
talent of interpreting them correctly. In other cases certain spells
allow one to send out a daemon or daemons to harm one's enemies or
even to break up someone's marriage.
This self-defined negative aspect to magic (as opposed to other
groups defining your practices as negative even if you don’t) is
found in various ‘curse tablets ,’ (tabellae defixionum) left to
us from the
Greco-Roman world. The term defixio is derived from the
Latin verb defigere, which means literally "to pin down," but which
was also associated with the idea of delivering someone to the powers
of the underworld. Of course, it was also possible to curse an enemy
through a spoken word, either in his presence or behind his back. But
due to numbers of curse tablets that have been found it would seem
that this type of magic was considered more effective. The process
involved writing the victim's name on a thin sheet of lead along with
varying magical formulas or symbols, then burying the tablet in or
near a tomb, a place of execution, or a battlefield, to give spirits
of the dead power over the victim. Sometimes the curse tablets were
even transfixed with various items – such as nails, which were
believed to add magical potency.
Of course for most magic acts or rituals there existed magics to
counter the effects. Amulets were one of the most common protections
(or counter-magics) used in the
Greco-Roman world as protection
against such fearful things as curses and the evil eye ; which were
seen as very real by most of its inhabitants. :XXVIII:38, XXIX:66,
XXX:138 While amulets were often made of cheap materials, precious
stones were believed to have special efficacy. Many thousands of
carved gems were found that clearly had a magical rather than an
ornamental function. Amulets were a very widespread type of magic,
because of the fear of other types of magic such as curses being used
against oneself. Thus amulets were actually often a mixture of various
formulas from Babylonian , Egyptian , and Greek elements that were
probably worn by those of most affiliations so as to protect against
other forms of magic. It is interesting to note that amulets are
actually often abbreviated forms of the formulas found in the extant
Magical tools were thus very common in magical rituals. Tools were
probably just as important as the spells and incantations that were
repeated for each magical ritual. A magician's kit, probably dating
from the 3rd century CE, was discovered in the remains of the ancient
Asia Minor and gives direct evidence of this. The
find consisted of a bronze table and base covered with symbols, a dish
(also decorated with symbols), a large bronze nail with letters
inscribed on its flat sides, two bronze rings, and three black
polished stones inscribed with the names of supernatural powers. What
emerges then, from this evidence, is the conclusion that a type of
permanence and universality of magic had developed in the Greco-Roman
world by the
Hellenistic period if not earlier. The scholarly
consensus strongly suggests that although many testimonies about magic
are relatively late, the practices they reveal are almost certainly
much older. However the level of credence or efficacy given to magical
practices in the early Greek and Roman worlds by comparison to the
Hellenistic period is not well known.
HIGH AND LOW MAGIC
Magical operations largely fall into two categories: theurgical and
goetic . The word theurgia in some contexts appears simply to try and
glorify the kind of magic that is being practiced – usually a
respectable priest-like figure is associated with the ritual. :51 Of
this, scholar E.R. Dodds claims: :291
Proclus grandiloquently defines theurgy as, 'a power higher than all
human wisdom, embracing the blessings of divination, the purifying
powers of initiation, and in a word all operations of divine
possession' (Theol. Plat. p. 63). It may be described more simply as
magic applied to a religious purpose and resting on a supposed
revelation of a religious character. Whereas vulgar magic used names
and formula of religious origin to profane ends, theurgy used the
procedures of vulgar magic primarily to a religious end ... — E.
R. Dodds, The Greek and the Irrational
In a typical theurgical rite, contact with divinity occurs either
through the soul of the theurgist or medium leaving the body and
ascending to heaven, where the divinity is perceived, or through the
descent of the divinity to earth to appear to the theurgist in a
vision or a dream. In the latter case, the divinity is drawn down by
appropriate "symbols" or magical formulae. :51 According to the Greek
Plotinus (205–270 CE) theurgy attempts to bring all
things in the universe into sympathy, and man into connection with all
things via the forces that flow through them. :52
Theurgia connoted an
exalted form of magic, and philosophers interested in magic adopted
this term to distinguish themselves from the magoi or goetes —
Goetia was a derogatory term connoting low,
specious or fraudulent mageia. Interestingly, goetia is similar in
its ambiguity to charm: it means both magic and power to (sexually)
PERSONAGES OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE
There are several notable historical personages of the 1st century CE
who have many of the literary characteristics earlier associated with
the Greek "divine men" (Orpheus,
Pythagoras and Empedocles). Of
particular note are
Jesus the Christ,
Simon Magus and Apollonius of
Tyana . From an outsider's point of view
Jesus was a typical
miracle-worker. He exorcised daemons, healed the sick, made prophecies
and raised the dead. As Christianity grew and became seen as a threat
to established traditions of religion in the
(particularly to the
Roman Empire with its policy of emperor worship)
Jesus (and by inference his followers) were accused of being magic
users. :38 Certainly Christian texts such as the
Gospels told a life
story full of features common to divinely touched figures: Jesus’
divine origin, his miraculous birth, and his facing of a powerful
Satan ) being but a few examples. The gospel of Matthew
Jesus was taken to
Egypt as an infant, this was actually
used by hostile sources to explain his knowledge of magic; according
to one rabbinical story, he came back tattooed with spells. :93–108
It is also argued in rabbinical tradition that
Jesus was mad, which
was often associated with people of great power (dynamis). Scholars
Morton Smith have even tried to argue that
Jesus was a
magician. Morton Smith, in his book,
Jesus the Magician , points out
Gospels speak of the "descent of the spirit," the pagans of
"possession by a daemon,". According to
Morton Smith both are
explanations for very similar phenomena. If so this shows the
convenience that using the term "magic" had in the
Roman Empire – in
delineating between what "they do and what you do". However Barry
Crawford, currently Co-Chair of the Society of Biblical Literature's
Consultation on Redescribing Christian Origins, in his 1979 review of
the book states that "Smith exhibits an intricate knowledge of the
magical papyri, but his ignorance of current Gospel research is
abysmal", concluding that the work has traits of a conspiracy theory.
Simon is the name of a magus mentioned in the canonical book of Acts
8:9ff, in apocryphal texts and elsewhere. In the
Book of Acts
Book of Acts Simon
the Magus is presented as being deeply impressed by the apostle Peter
's cures and exorcisms and by the gift of the Spirit that came from
the apostles’ laying on of hands; therefore, he "believed and was
baptized". But Simon asks the apostles to sell him their special gift
so that he can practice it too. This seems to represent the attitude
of a professional magician. In other words, for Simon, the power of
this new movement is a kind of magic that can be purchased – perhaps
a common practice for magicians in parts of the
Greco-Roman world. The
Apostles response to Simon was emphatic in its rejection. The early
church drew a strong line of demarcation between what it practiced and
the practices of magic users. As the church continued to develop this
demarcation Simon comes under even greater scrutiny in later Christian
texts. The prominent Christian author
Justin Martyr for example,
claims that Simon was a magus of
Samaria , and that his followers
committed the blasphemy of worshiping Simon as God. The veracity of
this is not certain, but proves the desire of the early Christians to
escape an association with magic.
The third magus of interest in the period of the
Roman Empire is
Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius of Tyana (c. 40 AD-c. 120 AD). :30–38 Between 217 and 238
Philostratus wrote his Life of
Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius of Tyana , a
lengthy, but unreliable novelistic source. :12–49, 140–142
Philostratus was a protégé of the empress
Julia Domna , mother of
Caracalla . According to him, she owned the memoirs of one
Damis , an alleged disciple of Apollonius, and gave these to
Philostratus as the raw material for a literary treatment. Some
scholars believe the memoirs of
Damis are an invention of
Philostratus, others think it was a real book forged by someone else
and used by Philostratus. The latter possibility is more likely. In
any case it is a literary fake. :12–13, 19–49, 141 From
Philostratus’ biography Apollonius emerges as an ascetic traveling
teacher. He is usually labeled a new Pythagoras, and at the very least
he does represent the same combination of philosopher and magus that
Pythagoras was. According to
Philostratus Apollonius traveled far and
wide, as far as India, teaching ideas reasonably consistent with
traditional Pythagorean doctrine; but in fact, it is most likely that
he never left the
Greek East of the Roman Empire. :19–84 In Late
Antiquity talismans allegedly made by Apollonius appeared in several
Greek cities of the Eastern Roman Empire, as if they were sent from
heaven. They were magical figures and columns erected in public
places, meant to protect the cities from plagues and other
afflictions. :99–127, 163–165
Jewish tradition too, has attempted to define certain practices as
"magic". Some Talmudic teachers (and many Greeks and Romans)
Jesus a magician, and magical books such as the Testament
of Solomon and the Eighth Book of Moses were ascribed to Solomon and
Moses in antiquity. :57 The
Wisdom of Solomon
Wisdom of Solomon , a book considered
apocryphal by many contemporary Jews and Christians (probably composed
in the 1st century
BCE ) claims that God... gave me true knowledge of
things, as they are: an understanding of the structure of the world
and the way in which elements work, the beginning and the end of eras
and what lies in-between... the cycles of the years and the
constellations... the thoughts of men... the power of spirits... the
virtue of roots... I learned it all, secret or manifest. :58
Thus Solomon was seen as the greatest scientist, but also the
greatest occultist of his time, learned in astrology, plant magic,
daemonology, divination, and ta physika (science). :58 These are the
central aims of magic as an independent tradition – knowledge and
power and control of the mysteries of the cosmos. Such aims can be
viewed negatively or positively by ancient authors. The Jewish
Josephus for example, writes that: "
God gave him knowledge
of the art that is used against daemons, in order to heal and benefit
men". Elsewhere however, "...there was an Egyptian false prophet
that did the Jews more mischief...for he was a cheat..." The idea of
magic can thus be an idiom loosely defined in ancient thinking. But
whether magic is viewed negatively or positively the substance of it
as a practice can be drawn out. That is, that magic was a practice
aimed at trying to locate and control the secret forces of the cosmos,
and the sympathies and antipathies that were seen to make up these
AUTHORS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE
The Natural History of
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder (CE 23/24-79) is a voluminous
survey of knowledge of the late
Hellenistic era, based according to
Pliny on a hundred or so earlier authorities. This rather extensive
work deals with an amazing variety of issues: cosmology, geography,
anthropology, zoology, botany, pharmacology, mineralogy, metallurgy
and many others. It is interesting to note that Pliny was convinced of
the powers of certain herbs or roots as revealed to humanity by the
gods. Pliny argued that the divine powers in their concern for the
welfare of humanity wish for humanity to discover the secrets of
nature. Pliny indeed argues that in their wisdom the gods sought to
bring humans gradually closer to their status; which certainly many
magical traditions seek – that is by acquiring knowledge one can
aspire to gain knowledge even from the gods. Pliny expresses a firm
concept is firmly being able to understand this "cosmic sympathy"
that, if properly understood and used, operates for the good of
humanity. :II:62 While here lies expressed the central tenets of
magic Pliny is by means averse to using the term "magic" in a negative
sense. Pliny argues that the claims of the professional magicians were
either exaggerated or simply false. :XXV:59, XXIX:20, XXVII:75 Pliny
expresses a rather an interesting concept when he states that those
sorcerers who had written down their spells and recipes despised and
hated humanity (for spreading their lies perhaps?). :XXVII:40 To show
this Pliny link arts of the magicians of Rome with the emperor Nero
(who of course is often portrayed negatively), whom Pliny claims had
studied magic with the best teachers and had access to the best books,
but was unable to do anything extraordinary. :XXX:5–6 Pliny's
conclusion, however, is cautious: though magic is ineffective and
infamous, it nevertheless contains "shadows of truth", particularly of
the "arts of making poisons". Yet, Pliny states, "there is no one who
is not afraid of spells" (including himself presumably). :XXVIII:4 The
amulets and charms that people wore as a kind of preventive medicine
he neither commends or condemns, but instead suggests that it is
better to err on the side of caution, for, who knows, a new kind of
magic, a magic that really works, may be developed at any time.
:XXVIII:4 If such an attitude prevailed in the
Greco-Roman world this
may explain why professional magicians, such as Simon the Magus, were
on the lookout for new ideas. Of interest is the fact that Pliny
devotes the beginning of Book 30 of his work to the magi of Persia and
refers to them here and there especially in Books 28 and 29. Pliny
Magi at times as sorcerers, but also seems to acknowledge
that they are priests of a foreign religion, along the lines of the
Druids of the
Celts in Britain and Gaul. According to Pliny, the art
of the magi touches three areas: "healing ," "ritual ," and "astrology
Plutarch of Chaeronea (c. 45–125 CE)
we owe the treatise On
Plutarch defines "'superstition
" as "fear of the gods." Specifically, he mentions that fear of the
gods leads to the need to resort to magical rites and taboos , the
consultation of professional sorcerers and witches, charms and spells
, and unintelligible language in prayers addressed to the gods.
Plutarch himself takes dreams and portents seriously, he
reserves superstition for those who have excessive or exclusive faith
in such phenomena. Clearly, it is a matter of discrimination. He also
takes for granted other magical practices, such as hurting someone by
the evil eye. He also believes in daemons that serve as agents or
links between gods and human beings and are responsible for many
supernatural events in human life that are commonly attributed to
divine intervention. Thus, a daemon, not
Apollo himself, is the
everyday power behind the
Delphic oracle . Some daemons are good, some
are evil, but even the good ones, in moments of anger, can do harmful
acts. In general then,
Plutarch actually accepts much of what we
today might define as superstition in itself. So what he is really
defining as superstition are those practices not compatible with his
own philosophical doctrine.
Apuleius of Madaura (born c. 125 CE), gives us a
substantial amount of information on contemporary beliefs in magic,
though perhaps through no initial choice of his own.
accused of practicing magic, something outlawed under Roman law. The
speech he delivered in his own defense against the charge of magic, in
c. 160 CE, remains and it is from this Apologia that we learn how easy
it was, at that time, for a philosopher to be accused of magical
practices. Perhaps in a turn of irony or even a tacit admission of
Apuleius , in his work of fiction Metamorphoses (or The Golden
Ass ), which perhaps has autobiographical elements, allows the hero,
Lucius, to dabble in magic as a young man, get into trouble, be
rescued by the goddess Isis, and then finds true knowledge and
happiness in her mysteries. Like
Apuleius seems to take for
granted the existence of daemons. They populate the air and seem to,
in fact, be formed of air. They experience emotions just like human
beings, and despite this their minds are rational. In light of
Apuleuis’ experience it is worth noting that when magic is mentioned
in Roman laws, it is always discussed in a negative context. A
consensus was established quite early in Roman history for the banning
of anything viewed as harmful acts of magic. The Laws of the Twelve
Tablets (451–450 BCE) for example expressly forbid anyone from
enticing his neighbors’ crops into his fields by magic. An actual
trial for alleged violation of these laws was held before Spurius
Albinus in 157 BCE. :XVIII:41–43 It is also recorded that Cornelius
Hispallus expelled the Chaldean astrologers from Rome in 139
ostensibly on the grounds that they were magicians. In 33 BCE
astrologers and magicians are explicitly mentioned as having been
driven from Rome. Twenty years later,
Augustus ordered all books on
the magical arts to be burned. In 16 CE magicians and astrologers were
expelled from Italy, and this was reinstated by edicts of
69 CE and Domitian in 89 CE. The emperor
Constantine I in the 4th
century CE issued a ruling to cover all charges of magic. In it he
distinguished between helpful charms, not punishable, and antagonistic
spells. In these cases Roman authorities specifically decided what
forms of magic were acceptable and which were not. Those that were not
acceptable were termed "magic"; those that were acceptable were
usually defined as traditions of the state or practices of the state's
John Middleton argues in his article "Theories of Magic"" in the
Magic is usually defined subjectively rather than by any agreed upon
content. But there is a wide consensus as to what this content is.
Most peoples in the world perform acts by which they intend to bring
about certain events or conditions, whether in nature or among people,
that they hold to be the consequences of those acts.
Under this view, the various aspects of magic that described, despite
how the term "magic" may be defined by various groupings within the
Greco-Roman world, is in fact part of a broader cosmology shared by
most people in the ancient world. But it is important to seek an
understanding of the way that groups separate power from power, thus
"magic" often describes an art or practices that are much more
specific. This art is probably best described, as being the
manipulation of physical objects and cosmic forces, through the
recitation of formulas and incantations by a specialist (that is a
magus) on behalf of him/herself or a client to bring about control
over or action in the divine realms. The Magical texts examined in
this article, then, are ritual texts designed to manipulate divine
powers for the benefit of either the user or clients. Because this was
something done in secret or with foreign methods these texts represent
an art that was generally looked upon as illegitimate by official or
mainstream magical cults in societies.
Greek magical papyri
Magic and religion
Religion in ancient Greece
* ^ Pliny in Natural History XXV, 10–12 states his belief that
the "origin of botany" was closely aligned with what he saw as the
practise of magic, he in fact notes that Medea 343–646; 646–734,
followed by a "Tenth (?) Hidden Moses" in 734–1077, but the content
of these too, is almost entirely pagan.
* ^ The author of this apocryphal book was clearly familiar with
Middle Platonism and may have belonged to the circle of Philo of
* ^ These themes are shared amongst divine men figures: Abaris
yielded to Pythagoras, and Zoraster had to resist evil daemons for
* ^ There is a parallel story in Acts 13:6–12. (though in this
case perhaps an insider being chastised).
* ^ The Wisdom of Solomon, pp. 172ff. The author of this apocryphal
book was clearly familiar with Middle Platonism and may have belonged
to the circle of Philo of Alexandria.
* ^ Simpson, Jacqueline (2001). "The Athlone History of Witchcraft
and Magic in Europe". BNET. Retrieved October 1, 2008. In recent
years, there has been a remarkable outpouring of academic witchcraft
studies, of which these finely researched and judiciously balanced
volumes provide an excellent example.
* ^ Swatos, William H. (1998). Encyclopedia of
Society. Rowman Altamira. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-7619-8956-1 .
* ^ Fowler, Robert (1995). "Greek Magic, Greek Religion". Illinois
Classical Studies. 20: 1–22.
* ^ A B Parker, Robert (2005). Polytheism and Society at Athens.
Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-927483-3 .
* ^ Fairbanks, Arthur (1910). A Handbook of Greek Religion.
American Book Company. p. 35. Magic was not at all foreign to Greek
thought, but it was entirely foreign to the worship of the greater
gods. ... Worship, in truth, was no more magic or barter than it was
purely spiritual adoration.
* ^ A B C D E F G H I J K L Luck, Georg (1985). Arcana Mundi –
Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Baltimore: The
Johns Hopkins University Press.
* ^ Burk, Walter (1985). Greek Religion. Blackwell Publishing. p.
55. ISBN 978-0-631-15624-6 . Conscious magic is a matter for
individuals, for a few, and is developed accordingly into a highly
* ^ Mauss (2001). A General Theory of Magic. Routledge. pp.
29–30. ISBN 978-0-415-25396-3 .
* ^ Smith, Andrew (1974). Porphyry's Place in the Neoplatonic
Tradition: A Study in Post-Plotinian Neoplatonism. The Hague: M.
Nijhoff. p. 71ff.
* ^ Thorndike, Lynn (1958). "On Democritus". A History of Magic and
Experimental Science. New York: Columbia University Press. pp.
* ^ Thorndike, Lynn. Place of Magic in the Intellectual History of
Europe. p. 62.
* ^ A B C D E F Homer (1945). The Odyssey. Translated by E. V.
Rieu. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
* ^ Scarborough, John. "The Pharmacology of Sacred, Plants &
Roots". Magika Hiera. pp. 138–174.
* ^ Hesiod. Theogony . Translated by S. Lombardo. Hackett,
Cambridge. pp. 64–66.
* ^ A B Drury, Nevill (2003). Magic and Witchcraft: From Shamanism
to the Technopagans. London: Thames & Hudson.
* ^ Pythagoras. 4. p. 177. Missing or empty title= (help )
* ^ Aeschylus. Agamemnon. p. 16.30.
* ^ Euripides. Alcestis. p. 357ff.
* ^ Aristotle. Fragment 191. Translated by Ross (3rd ed.). p.
* ^ Burkert, Walter (1972). Lore and Science in Ancient
Pythagoreanism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. pp. 162ff.
* ^ de Vogel, Cornelia J. (ed.). Greek Philosophy: A Collection of
Texts Volume 1: Thales to Plato.
* ^ A B C D E F G H I J K Pliny, the Elder (1963). Natural History.
Translated by H. Rackham; D. E. Eichholz; W. H. S. Jones. London:
* ^ A B Dodds, E. R. (1951). The Greeks and the Irrational.
Berkeley, California: University of California Press.
* ^ "12:7–11". The Bible. 1 Corinthians.
* ^ "19:18–20". The Bible. ACTS.
* ^ Betz, Hans Dieter (1992). "Introduction". The Greek Magical
Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells (2nd ed.).
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
* ^ A B Hull, John M. (1974). "
Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic
Tradition". Studies in Biblical Theology. London: SCM PRESS.
* ^ A B C Mills, Mary E. (1990). "Human Agents of Cosmic Power in
Judaism and the Synoptic Tradition". Journal for the Study
of the New Testament Supplement Series. Sheffield: JSOT Press. 41:
* ^ A B The Wisdom of Solomon. Translated by David Winston. Garden
City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 1979. pp. 172ff.
* ^ A B C Crawley, A.E. "Curses". Encyclopaedia of religion and
Ethics. 4. p. 367ff.
* ^ Campbell, Bonner. Studies in magical amulets, chiefly
* ^ Barrett, Caitlín E. "Plaster Perspectives on "Magical Gems":
Rethinking the Meaning of "Magic"". Cornell Collection of Antiquities.
Cornell University Library
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2015. CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link ) by Internet
Archive on 26 May 2015.
* ^ A B Burkitt, F. Crawford (1978). Church and Gnosis: a study of
Christian thought and speculation in the second century. New York: AMS
Press. pp. 35ff.
* ^ "Search Tools". tufts.edu. 5 August 2012. Archived from the
original on 5 August 2012.
* ^ Luck, Georg (1999). "Witches and Sorcerers in Classical
Literature". In Ankarloo; Clark. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe:
Ancient Greece and Rome. pp. 99, 101.
* ^ Gordon, Richard (1999). Ankarloo; Clark, eds. Witchcraft and
Magic in Europe:
Ancient Greece and Rome. p. 164.
* ^ Nock, A. D. Jacson, F.J.F.; Lake, K., eds. Beginnings of
Christianity. 5. pp. 164ff.
* ^ Butler, E. M. (1993). Myth of the Magus. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. pp. 66ff.
* ^ "John". The Bible. 1.
* ^ "Luke". The Bible. 1.
* ^ "Luke". The Bible. 4.
* ^ Lurker, Manfred (1987). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses,
Devils and Demons. London ; New York: Routledge and K. Paul.
* ^ A B C Smith, M.
Jesus the Magician. pp. 150ff.
* ^ Crawford, Barry (1979). Journal of the American Academy of
Religion: 321–22. Missing or empty title= (help )
* ^ Casey, R.S. "5". Beginnings of Christianity. pp. 151ff.
* ^ Martyr, Justin. "120". Dialogue with Trypho.
* ^ A B C D E Dzielska, Maria (1986).
Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius of Tyana in Legend
and History. Rome.
* ^ Flinterman, Jaap-Jan (1995). Power, Paideia and Pythagoreanism.
Amsterdam. pp. 79–88.
* ^ Josephus, Flavius (1987). ": Antiq. Jud. 8.45". The Works of
Josephus : Complete and Unabridged. Translated by William Whiston (New
updated ed.). Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers.
* ^ Josephus, Flavius (1987). "War. 2. 13. 5". The Works of
Josephus : Complete and Unabridged. Translated by William Whiston (New
updated ed.). Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers.
* ^ Dodds, E. R. (1973). The Ancient Concept of Progress and Other
Essays on Greek Literature and Belief. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 23.
* ^ Jones, W.H.S. Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological
Society. 181 (1950/51): 7–8. Missing or empty title= (help )
* ^ "Plutarch". Perseus Encyclopaedia.
* ^ F. J. E. Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion,
3rd ed.( Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1922), pp. 4ff.
* ^ A B C D E. Brenk, In Mist Apparelled: Religious Themes in
Plutarch's "Moralia" and "Lives" (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1977), p. 59.
* ^ Dillon, Middle Platonists, pp. 216ff.
* ^ Apuleius. and John A. Hanson, Metamorphoses (Cambridge, London:
Harvard University Press, 1989).
* ^ Apuleius. and John A. Hanson, Metamorphoses (Cambridge, London:
Harvard University Press, 1989). (Introduction)
* ^ A B J. Tatum,
Apuleius and the Golden Ass (Ithaca, New York:
Cornell University Press, 1979), pp. 28–29
* ^ Richard. Cavendish, History of Magic (London: Arkana., 1987),
* ^ A B Eugene Tavenner, Studies in Magic from Latin Literature, p.
* ^ Liebeschuetz, Continuity and Change in Roman Religion, pp.
* ^ John Middleton, "Theories of Magic" in the Encyclopaedia of
Religion (vol. 9, p. 82)
The inclusion of certain items in this list IS CURRENTLY BEING
DISPUTED . Please see the relevant discussion on the article's talk
page . (September 2008)
* Apollonius, Rhodius, and Peter Green. The Argonautika. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1997.
* Apuleius., and John A. Hanson. Metamorphoses. Cambridge, London:
Harvard University Press, 1989.
* Bonner, Campbell. Studies in Magical Amulets, Chiefly
Graeco-Egyptian. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1950.
* Bouix, Christopher. Hocus Pocus : à l'école des sorciers en
Grèce et à Rome. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2012.
* Brenk, Frederick E. In Mist Apparelled: Religious Themes in
Plutarch's Moralia and Lives. Leiden: Brill, 1977.
* Cambridge Philological Society. Proceedings of the Cambridge
Philological Society. Cambridge, 1951.
* Cavendish, Richard. History of Magic. London: Arkana., 1987.
* Dillon, John M. The Middle Platonists, 80 B.C. To A.D. 220. Rev.
ed. with a new afterword. ed. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press,
* Empedocles., and M. R. Wright. Empedocles, the Extant Fragments.
New Haven ; London: Yale University Press, 1981.
* Faraone, Christopher A., and Dirk. Obbink. Magika Hiera : Ancient
Greek Magic and Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
* Frye, Richard Nelson. The Heritage of Persia. London: Weidenfeld
and Nicolson, 1962.
* Harrison, Jane Ellen. Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion.
2nd ed. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908.
* Hastings, James. Encyclopaedia of
Religion and Ethics. Edinburgh:
* Herodotus., and Aubrey De Selincourt. The Histories. New ed. ed.
London: Penguin Books, 1996.
Theurgia or the Egyptian Mysteries: Reply of Abammon,
the Teacher to the Letter of Porphyry to Anebo Together with Solutions
of the Questions Therein Contained. Translated by M.D. F.A.S.
ALEXANDER WILDER. London: William Rider New York : Oxford University
* Martin, Michael. Magie et magiciens dans le monde gréco-romain.
Paris: Editions Errance, 2005.
* Martin, Michael. Sois maudit ! : malédictions et envoûtements
dans l'Antiquité. Paris: Editions Errance, 2010.
* Martin, Michael. La Magie dans l'Antiquité. Paris: Ellipses,
* Philostratus, Flavius., of Caesarea Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea,
Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare . The Life of Apollonius of Tyana:
The Epistles of Apollonius and the Treatise of Eusebius. London:
* Plotinus. The Enneads. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1991.
* Tavenner, Eugene. Studies in Magic from Latin Literature. New
York: Columbia University Press, 1916.
* Virgil., and Robert Fitzgerald. The Aeneid. London: Harvill Press,
* Vogel, Cornelia J. de. Greek Philosophy: A Collection of Texts
with Notes and Explanations. 3rd ed. ed. Leiden: Brill, 1967.
* T.P. Wiseman, "Summoning Jupiter: Magic in the Roman Republic", in
Idem, Unwritten Rome. Exeter, University of Exeter Press, 2008.
* ARS ARCANA: Magic in the Roman World