Magic in the Ancient World

Magic in the Ancient World

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This text aims to provide a comprehensive introduction to ancient magic. It gives direct access to the sources but selects the important, characteristic examples. Ancient Greeks and Romans often turned to magic to achieve personal goals. Magical rites were seen as a route for direct access to the gods, for material gains as well as spiritual satisfaction. In this survey of magical beliefs and practices from the 6th century BC to late antiquity, Fritz Graf attempts to shed light on ancient religion. Evidence of widespread belief in the efficacy of magic is pervasive: the contemporaries of Plato and Aristotle placed voodoo dolls on graves in order to harm business rivals or attract lovers. The Twelve Tables of Roman Law forbids the magical transference of crops from one field to another. Graves, wells, and springs throughout the Mediterranean have yielded vast numbers of Greek and Latin curse tablets. And ancient literature abounds with scenes of magic, from necromancy to love spells. Graf explores the important types of magic in Greco-Roman antiquity, describing rites and explaining the theory behind them. He characterizes the ancient magician: his training and initiation, social status, and presumed connections with the divine world. With analysis of underlying conceptions and accounts of illustrative cases, Graf gives a picture of the practice of magic and its implications. He concludes with an evaluation of the relation of magic to religion. The book offers a look at ancient Greek and Roman thought and an understanding of popular recourse to the supernatural.

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Product details

  • Paperback | 320 pages
  • 144.78 x 203.2 x 22.86mm | 272.15g
  • Cambridge, Mass, United States
  • English
  • 0674541537
  • 9780674541535
  • 645,522

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Review quote

A very good book, full of insights. -- David Graeber The Nation [Graf's] combination of scholarly knowledge, caution and a willingness to test the boundaries of his arguments (this third is rarely combined with the first two) makes this the most successful general introduction to the problems and scope of Greco-Roman magical practices...He provides much intelligent solidity where the subject has often prompted an over-sympathetic obsessiveness and wildness. -- Simon Goldhill London Review of Books This will be a very helpful introduction to the subject. Society for Old Testament Study Fritz Graf's imaginative contributions to the study of myth and ritual are deservedly well known; in this work, Graf brings his own scholarship, and that of participants in a series of bear on the hitherto rather neglected field of magic in antiquity. The result is an accessible, clear and well-annotated guide to the complex world of the ancient magician, which serves both as a valuable introduction to the field and as an invaluable resource for further research and debate. -- Michael Lambert [Fritz Graf] draws upon a wide range of evidence, including papyri recipes, curse tablets, 'voodoo dolls,' trials of alleged magicians, and observations made by ancient authors, to reconsider, as a 'historian of religion,' the changing forms and functions of magic in Greece and Rome. Clearly written, scholarly, and at times stimulatingly controversial, the book should appeal to a variety of readers, from those approaching the subject for the first time to experts in the field. -- Hugh Parry Phoenix Fritz well known for his work on Greek religion. His book on magic in the ancient world...contains a great deal of very interesting material, ably discussed; it is a substantial and controversial contribution to the study of a fascinating and controversial subject. -- Jasper Griffin New York Review of Books

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Back cover copy

Ancient Greeks and Romans often turned to magic to achieve personal goals. Magical rites were seen as a route of direct access to the gods, for material gains as well as for spiritual satisfaction. In this fascinating survey of magical beliefs and practices from the sixth century B.C.E. through late antiquity, Fritz Graf sheds new light on ancient religion.

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About Fritz Graf

Fritz Graf is Professor and Director of Epigraphy, Chair of Department of Greek and Latin, Ohio State University.

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