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magic, Greek  

Radcliffe G. Edmonds III

Greek magic is the discourse of magic within the ancient Greek world. Greek magic includes a range of practices, from malevolent curses to benevolent protections, from divinatory practices to alchemical procedures, but what is labelled magic depends on who is doing the labelling and the circumstances in which the label is applied. The discourse of magic pertains to non-normative ritualized activity, in which the deviation from the norm is most often marked in terms of the perceived efficacy of the act, the familiarity of the performance within the cultural tradition, the ends for which the act is performed, or the social location of the performer. Magic is thus a construct of subjective labelling, rather than an objectively existing category. Rituals whose efficacy is perceived as extraordinary (in either a positive or negative sense) or that are performed in unfamiliar ways, for questionable ends, or by performers whose status is out of the ordinary might be labelled (by others or by oneself) as magic in antiquity.



Maria Michela Sassi

Physiognomy, the art of observing and making inferences from physical features of the body, was practised from c. 1500 bce (when it is mentioned in Mesopotamian handbooks on divination). A focus on personal character (and a reflection on the relation between physical and psychical facts) seems to be a Greek innovation. Aristotle attempted to give an inductive basis to assertions of the interdependence of body and soul (in An. pr. 2.27); the Historia animalium provided empirical evidence that corroborated early ideas about moral types among animals. The first extant treatise on the subject, the Physiognomonica (a Peripatetic work of c. 300 bce long attributed to Aristotle), established a few criteria of comparison with animal, racial, and gender types, as well as with the expressions of emotions. This treatise is the forerunner of a tradition embracing Polemon of Laodicea in the 2nd century ce, an anonymous Latin treatise (Anonymus Latinus) in the 4th, as well as medieval, Renaissance, and modern writers.



Daryn Lehoux

Greek and Roman astrology was a culturally significant system of understanding the cosmos and people’s place in it. Astrology believed (and indeed, argued) that human destinies could be predicted, explained, or understood by looking at the positions of the planets and the orientation of the zodiac relative to the moment of an individual’s birth. Astrology was widely practiced and consumed at all levels of Greco-Roman society from approximately the first century bce onward. Details of how the system worked could vary from author to author, sometimes reaching impressive levels of computational or interpretative complexity. Astrology is one of the more prominent cultural exports of classical antiquity, still widely consumed, often in the form of (much simplified) daily horoscopes in newspapers or online.Astrology is the practice of converting astronomical data (including the positions and relationships of celestial bodies) into predictions or explanations of terrestrial events. Classical astrology developed in the Hellenistic age, as a modification of earlier Babylonian practices. .


Derveni papyrus  

Valeria Piano

As one of the most ancient Greek papyri ever found (it dates back to the second half of the 4th century bce), and given the length of its extant part, the Derveni papyrus effectively represents the oldest “book” of Europe. It was found at Derveni, near Thessaloniki, in 1962, close to the rich tomb of a knight belonging to the army of Philip II or Alexander the Great. The volumen had been placed on the funeral pyre along with other offerings, and thanks to the process of semi-carbonisation it underwent, the upper half of the roll was preserved, maintaining a good degree of readability. The papyrus contains a philosophical-religious text, mostly in the form of an allegorical commentary on a theo-cosmogonical poem attributed to Orpheus. The first columns expound a religious and ritual discourse that deals with issues related to sacrifices, souls, daimones, retribution, cosmic justice, and divination. In the commentary (cols. VII–XXVI), the Orphic hexameters are systematically quoted and interpreted in terms of natural philosophy of a Presocratic brand. The mythical narrative of the succession of the gods, as well as of the origin of the cosmos, is thus matched by a cosmological and physical account, which is equally related to the origin and the functioning of the universe, and is sustained by a theologised conception of nature.