MAGIC, WITCHCRAFT AND GHOSTS IN THE GREEK AND ROMAN WORLDS: A Sourcebook
Daniel Ogden (editor), published by Oxford University Press at £55.00. 354pp. HBk. ISBN: 0-19-513575-X
The first thing to say about this book is that it's a bloody shame that it's so damned expensive. This is not necessarily unexpected for a book which is essentially academic and scholarly and which provides a magnificent resource for original texts and references for the pagan or magickian interested in the subject matter, but it does ensure that the book remains well out of the financial reach of many who could probably afford it if it were a paperback and £20. And really, it does deserve a much wider audience than it's going to get in its present incarnation.
So, whinge over with, what is it? Simply, it's a one-volume collection of extracts and accounts culled from the whole range of Greek and Roman literature, history, philosophy and so on relating in some way or other to the subjects referred to in the title, each followed by the editor's commentary and analysis. As might be expected, the text includes the relevant extracts from Homer dealing with Circe and various authors' accounts of the sorceries of Medea. Here is Pliny on Arcadian werewolf lore and Petronius with comic tales of a lycanthropic transformation and witches as body-snatchers, Pausanius on the ghosts haunting the battlefield of Marathon, Lucan on the re-animation of the dead, Catullus on avoiding the sexual evil eye, Suetonius on Nero's mother's ghost, Apuleius on a plan to re-animate Socrates and murder by ghost, Herodotus on the doings of Persian magicians, Horace with an account of necromancy and erotic magic, Lucian's early version of the tale of the Sorcerer's Apprentice and Hadrian of Tyre's account of witches being burned at the stake (and you can't blame the Inquisition for that!) and a range of early Christian writers fulminating about the whole lot of it.
Add to this reams of information and commentary about how the Greeks laid ghosts, the Romans recognised vampires and dealt with them, about curses and binding spells, exorcisms and the doings of drunken old witches seeing to corrupt sweet young things, oracles and divination, classical "get laid quick" magic and what Greek and Roman law thought (and did) about it all and you have a comprehensive and one-stop resource on how all of these things were recounted in literature, mythology, drama and supposedly non-fictional and serious sources such as the various contemporary histories.
One of the most intriguing sections concerns the now-familiar concept of "drawing down the moon" which to the Greeks and Romans had very different connotations to those WD readers will be familiar with. I don't want to spoil future surprises as there will be an article on this subject coming up very shortly but for the time being let's just mention the word "fraud", which is basically how claims by witches to be able to draw down the moon were regarded at the time.
By turns satirical and serious, comic and intended to induce horror and terror, the accounts brought together in this volume cover the whole gamut of the supernatural and magic in these two societies and provide an exhaustive survey of the material.
If you have a serious interest in this subject (and can afford it!) you may be happy to pay the price of this book. For everyone else we must hope for a reasonably priced paperback edition very soon.