Magic in the Ancient World

Magic in the Ancient World

by Fritz Graf
     
 

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 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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Overview

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 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.

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. And he characterizes the ancient magician: his training and initiation, social status, and presumed connections with the divine world. With trenchant analysis of underlying conceptions and vivid account of illustrative cases, Graf gives a full picture of the practice of magic and its implications. He concludes with an evaluation of the relation of magic to religion. Magic in the Ancient World offers an unusual look at ancient Greek and Roman thought and a new understanding of popular recourse to the supernatural.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Library Journal
Whether because of uninspired translation or the author's own heavy-handed writing, this work is a dull, disappointing read. Graf (classics, Univ. of Basel) presupposes that his reader is steeped in prior scholarly treatises on the history of magic and limits his study to the Greco-Roman period from the fifth century B.C. to the third century A.D. Relying primarily on literary sources from various papyri extant in European museums and libraries, he gives equal weight to oratorical allusions, theatrical fiction, and philosophical observations. He jumps back and forth in time and location without any discernible logic or progression. His connection of magic with religion, medicine, and astrology is hardly groundbreaking, and while his descriptions of spell casting are interesting, they do not lead to any articulated discussions. This work may have significance in academic circles where there has been considerable investigation into the origins and uses of magic, but it is not recommended for public libraries.Rose M. Cichy, Osterhout Free Lib., Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Society for Old Testament Study
This will be a very helpful introduction to the subject.
London Review of Books
[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
New York Review of Books
Fritz Graf...is 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
Phoenix
[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
Scholia Reviews
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 seminars...to 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
The Nation
A very good book, full of insights.
— David Graeber

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674541511
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
01/05/1998
Series:
Revealing Antiquity Series
Pages:
313
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.51(h) x 1.05(d)

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What People are saying about this

A comprehensive and fascinating introduction to ancient magic. It gives direct access to the sources but selects the important, characteristic examples. The author is well versed in the scholarly literature and in modern theories and presents a vivid and original account.
Walter Burkert
A comprehensive and fascinating introduction to ancient magic. It gives direct access to the sources but selects the important, characteristic examples. The author is well versed in the scholarly literature and in modern theories and presents a vivid and original account.

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