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date: 04 April 2020


The Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World
John RobertsJohn Roberts

A curse expresses a wish that evil may befall a person or persons. Several different types can be distinguished, according to setting, motive, and condition. The most direct curses are maledictions lacking any explicit religious, moral, or legal legitimation. This category is exemplarily represented by the so‐called curse tablets, thin lead sheets inscribed with maledictions intended to influence the actions or welfare of persons. If a motive is mentioned, it is generally inspired by feelings of envy and competition, esp. in the circus and the (amphi)theatre, litigation, love, and commerce. Nearly all these texts are anonymous and lack argumentation or references to deserved punishment of the cursed person(s). If gods are invoked, they belong to the sphere of death, the Underworld, and witchcraft. In later times the magical names of exotic demons and gods abound. Spirits of the dead are also invoked, since the tablets were often buried in graves of the untimely dead. The tablets might be rolled up and transfixed with a needle, and sometimes ‘voodoo dolls’ were added. These tablets first appear in the 6th cent. ... ...

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