A Roman 'Elephant Man' amulet

Source of image

I've been looking at the gold tablets found in a number of southern Italian tombs, with instructions on what to do in the underworld, and how to convince Persephone to grant passage to the Elysian Fields. The more I look at them, the more I believe they had nothing to do with Orphism, and very little to do with the Pythagoreans.

They are related to lead curse tablets. (see this ZPE article about curse tablets.) These are usually Roman - several examples were found at Bath in Somerset - but increasingly Greek magical tablets are being excavated, and the first examples I know of date from the 5th century BC. The idea was that they were buried with a coprse, the deceased would take them to Hades, and the gods of the underworld would have to grant the curse. Many ancient Greeks and Romans believed in magic, and it can be difficult to define a clear boundary between this magic and mainstream religion.

This magic charm on a silver lamella was rolled up and worn in a tube - either around the neck, or attached to a belt. The text - a mixture of Greek and gibberish - is a spell designed to protect the wearer from elephantiasis, and dates from the 4th century AD. It is now in Budapest, and was found at Tricciana in Hungary. The name Romulus appears repeatedly, although I can't make out enough of the text to be sure it's the wearer's name. Much of the text seems to be 'magic' letters or symbols, so good luck to anyone who wants to have a go at reading it.

Pliny (NH XXVI) tells us that elephantiasis was first seen in Rome during the time of Pompey.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I do not moderate comments, but I remove spam, overt self-promotion ("read [link] my much better post on this") and what I consider hate speech (racism, homophobia etc).

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.