Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Classical Dictionary. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 07 December 2022

Getty Hexameters, thefree

Getty Hexameters, thefree

  • Roy D. Kotansky

The “Getty Hexameters” represent a “cluster” of verse incantations written on a small, folded piece of lead epigraphically and historically dateable to the end of the 5th century. Found in clandestine operations most probably at Selinous (Σελινοῦς‎, modern Selinunte), in Sicily, the fragmentary text came to the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu, California) in 1981 as the gift of Dr. Max Gerchik, along with four other lead pieces of certain Selinuntine provenance, including the large Lex Sacra from Selinous (= SEG XLIII.630, c. 475–450 bce) and three early defixiones, or curse tablets (Kotansky and Curbera, 2004).

After the lead fragments were joined and restored by Mark B. Kotansky in 1981, Roy D. Kotansky independently transcribed and deciphered the text at that time and eventually published a preliminary edition in 2011 with David R. Jordan, an expert on lead defixiones, who provided his own supplements, notes, and translation (Jordan and Kotansky, 2011). A one-day workshop, hosted at the Getty Villa on November 5, 2010 at the initiative of Christopher A. Faraone (University of Chicago), produced a collection of nine essays (Faraone and Obbink, 2013) by an international team of scholars, addressing various aspects of the verses. In progress as of 2015 are two independent studies, one by David R. Jordan, analyzing and comparing the (at least) eight known texts parallel to the ritual portions of the Getty Hexameters; the other, by Roy D. Kotansky, is a detailed study providing new readings, restorations, translation, and commentary (see Appendix).

Figure 1. Lamella Fragment (recto), Greek, lead, 5th century bce, Selinunte. Gift of Dr. Max Gerchik, accession no. 81.A1.140.2.1.

Courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum.

Figure 2. Lamella Fragment (verso). Greek, lead, 5th century bce, Selinunte. Gift of Dr. Max Gerchik, accession no. 81.A1.140.2.1.

Courtesy J. Paul Getty Museum.

Figure 3. Drawing of recto.

Courtesy of Kassandra Jackson.

Figure 4. Drawing of verso.

Courtesy of Kassandra Jackson.


The Getty Hexameters preserve a closely integrated group of two (or three) inscribed spells addressing threats thought to be imminently endangering the individual citizen and the larger community of the Polis, overall. The restored fragments of lead (of which there are six, broken at the ancient folds) preserve two separate columns (col. i, frr. 1+2+3+4, front + col. ii, fr. 5+6, front), engraved on the inner surface of the tablet, with a third, separate column (col. iii, frr. 4+3+2+1, back), written on the reverse of the tablet, across the full length of col. i.1 Originally, the tablet was inscribed on a single rectangular sheet of lead that, judging from the still evident ruling-line, had been cut lengthwise, after engraving, to form separate sheets, and possibly to create two individual spells.2

The first column (col. i) of the tablet contains a hexametric incipit that introduces an older set of verse narratives, or historiolae,3 as something that the speaker “enchants” aloud (ἐπαείδω‎, 1)—that is, they are magical incantations. Then, by writing this narrative onto tin and enclosing it “in his house of stone” (λᾶος ἐν οἴκῳ‎, 3), the verse-incipit promises remedy from all harm that earth and sea may bring (quoting, evidently, half-verses of Il. 11.741; Ody. 12. 97; ll. 2–5). The narrative, called both “sacred verses” (2) and “immortal verses” (7), appears to be the gift to mortals of the god Paiēōn (6–7; see Rutherford, 2013), although it is clear that this is a secondary element introduced to the end of each section, or spell, by the hexameter’s final redactor (Kotansky; see Appendix). Col. ii, also with a lengthy metrical incipit, promises benefits by the mere intoning of a similar set of quoted verses, verses that include the famous “Ephesia Grammata” in largely incomprehensible form (see The “Ephesia Grammata”). These verses are ostensibly spoken to countermand the approach of Doom or Death ([κήρ‎], 26 Burkert), whenever she “[might come] nigh, bringing death to [the people]-good-at war and the ships” (ll. 25–27), that is, to the Selinuntine army and navy. This introduction promises a further benefit to the community if the words are spoken, with pure mouth and heart, “over the cattle and over the handiworks of mortals” ([ἢ καὶ ἐπ‎]ὶ̣ προβάτοις καὶ ἐπὶ τέχναισι βροτ̣‎[είαις‎], l. 28 Kotansky). Their enchanting will also prove helpful for governing and ruling the city-state: “They are words [beneficial] for the Polis, for they are [most useful] for ruling” ([χρήσιμα δ‎’ ‎]στι πόλει· τὰ γὰρ ἀρχῆς ἐστιν ἄριστ‎[α‎ vac.] l. 31 Kotansky).4 In other words, the spoken verses, with their “magical” letters, promise the same kinds of benefits that we find associated elsewhere with the “Ephesia Grammata.”5 The third spell, considerably more fragmentary, is opisthographically written on the flip-side of col. i and addresses harm or injury brought on by the sending of “forceful spells” (π‎[άν‎]αγ̣κα‎ / [φάρμακα‎], ll. 46, 47 Kotansky), presumably against an individual (see Appendix).6

The “Core” Mythic Narrative

At the heart of the Getty Hexameters is a new, albeit fragmentary, mythological narrative, or historiola (Johnston, 2013) that seems to bridge both columns i-ii of the Hexameters.7 It is this set of “sacred verses” that are introduced as powerful “healing remedies” (ἀλέξιμα φάρμακα‎, l. 6, etc.) sent putatively from Paiēōn, the Healer, to provide protection from harm. They are evidently much older than the text that introduces them (also in dactylic hexameters), as they are cited as sacred material and provide a narrative more suitable to rituals related to a mystery cult than to magic per se (Jordan and Kotansky, 2011; Obbink, 2013). Also, its language may provide older, more archaic phrases, and it is precisely this material that has been transmitted and preserved in parallel texts from as early as the 5th century bce to the 4th century ce.

The mythic narrative, as given in col. i, describes a mysterious Child (pais, probably feminine) who descends from Persephone’s Garden, seemingly located in “the Shady Mountains in a Darkly-Gleaming Land” (μελαναυγεῖ χώρῳ‎, l. 8), who leads a she-goat, sacred to Demeter, to be milked (πρὸς ἀμολγόν‎, l. 9). The goat is described as being prodigiously “full of an untiring stream of rich milk” (θαλεροῖο γάλακτος‎, ll. 11f.) and is said to obediently follow the “Shining Goddesses” (θεαῖς π̣επ̣ιθοῦσα φαειναῖς‎, l. 12) who are presumably holding torches: the text here is evidently corrupt, and based on a restoration by Kotansky, a line has dropped out that describes something like Persephone and Deo (= Demeter) holding shining torches.8 The focus here is the she-goat (αἴξ‎), whose description in the narrative occupies no less than four of the fourteen fragmentary verses. What follows next is a declaration by Hecate Einodia, who guides a god whose name has been restored as Helios (by Kotansky), as she shouts out in a dreadful voice that she has come through the night on her own accord (αὐτοκέλευστος ἐγὼ διὰ νύκτα β̣‎[έβηκα‎], l. 15 Kotansky). What she claims to announce would seem to be the “divinely uttered Immortal Words” to mortals (λέγω‎ [θ‎]εόφραστ‎[’ ἔπε‎’ ἀθάνατ‎’ αἰεί‎], l. 16 Kotansky), presumably the very utterances that the healing hexameters themselves bring: it is likely that these include the spoken verses of Hecate in col. ii, including her famous “Ephesian Letters” (thus providing a further link of Hecate to Artemis; see The “Ephesia Grammata”); they are ultimately the gift of Demeter Aglaodōros herself (ll. 17f.). In Janko’s restoration of these lacunose lines, it is Hecate who “knows the ‘paths’ … that the gods and mortals must take in the underworld.”9 As Hecate is goddess of witchcraft, she has the power to control it. But nothing in the “core” mythic narrative seems concerned with witchcraft or magic per se.

The “Ephesia Grammata”

The so-called “Ephesian Letters” (Ἐφέσια γράμματα‎) are a widely known set of magic words thought to be engraved on the statue of Artemis at Ephesus, but principally apotropaic in nature and beneficial for a variety of remedial purposes.10 Before the publication of the Getty Hexameters, which gives them in their fullest context and, in a least one verse, as a comprehensive hexameter, these famed “letters” (here ἀρίσημα γράμματα‎ referring to text that is notably written, l. 3) were known only as a series of largely “nonsense,” or foreign, syllables: Aski, Kataski, Lix, Tetrax, Damnameneus, and Aisia.11 The Getty Hexameters now offer valuable insights into the development of at least some of this string of “magic” words as verifiable Greek. First, in the second column of the Hexameters, the “Ephesian Letters” are quoted, without being named as such, as words beneficial for warding off harm and death that may come to the city-state, or good even for bringing prosperity if spoken over the cattle and other human operations: “ASKI KATASKI ASIA ASIA ENDASIA,” etc. (ll. 33f.), whereas a few lines later, in a section largely restored from parallels from Phalasarna and elsewhere12 the syllables “TREX TETRAX TEGRAGOS, DAMNAMENEUS” are given. What is remarkable here is that in the earlier col. i, similar phrasing is found as part of a meaningful hexameter: (ὅσσα ?) κατὰ σκιαρῶν ὀρέων‎, “(as many as ?) down the shady mountains . . .” (l. 8). And further, the prominence of the female goat, αἴξ‎ in col. i, as well as in the context of the “Ephesian Letters” in col. ii, suggests that the late-transmitted Lix is but a corruption of this “she-goat” (ΛΙΞ‎ = ΑΙΞ‎). It remains uncertain, however, whether, the meaningful hexametric verse represents a secondary attempt to make sense of the “magic” syllables of col. ii (l. 33), or whether the syllables of col. ii are a later corruption of the good Greek hexameters (l. 8).13 Based on Kotansky’s theory that the two columns once belonged together (see Appendix), it seems likely that the spoken verses of col. ii represent an intentional iteration of the “meaningful” portion of the Hexameters in a manner meant to imitate in “sing-song” fashion the pronouncement of the she-goat’s accompanying description of her descent from the mountains.14

Mystery vs. Magic

The core, “sacred” verses that the Hexameters cited both in the form of a narrative and with the accompanying spoken words of Hecate in col. ii (Kotansky), are not intrinsically apotropaic, or incantatory, in themselves, even though they are cited as powerful “immortal words.” They may have enjoyed an independent origin in themselves. Of note is the fact that, although the immediate narrative context is lacunose and unclear, cultic deities associated with ancient mystery cults, such as those of Eleusis (and elsewhere), are prominently named: Persephone, Demeter, and Hecate—goddesses known, for example, from at least the 6th century bce Homeric Hymn to Demeter to be associated with the “charter” myth of Eleusis15; however, there is some preliminary debate as to whether these narrative verses have any substantive relationship to rituals related to the Mysteries, at all. For one thing, no specific cultic ritual seems involved, and although a goat is being led out, or guided, specific elements of sacrifice are wholly absent: the leading out is for nothing other than the milking.

Matters in respect of mystery rites were initially given support with Jordan’s preliminary translation of καὶ οὐκ ἀτέλεστα ἐπαείδω‎, at the beginning of the text, as “I do not utter the profane.”16 The sentence, rather, belongs to common epic phrasing that simply states that the speaker is not enchanting things that will pass “unfulfilled”; it refers to the overall effectiveness of the incantation. However, the “sacred verses” that the Getty Hexameters then goes on to quote, as if powerfully magical ἔπεα‎ in their own right, recalls wording similar to that found in Herodotus connected to the Samothracian, Orphic, or Bacchic mysteries.17 Further, as Alberto Bernabé and Raquel Martin Hernández have observed, the Idaean Dactyls, whose figure Damnameneus is shared with the celebrated “Ephesian Grammata” and whose name appears in the Getty Hexameters, show a connection with Orphic and/or Idaean mysteries.18 Support further comes from the remarkable reference in a late magical papyrus, PGM LXX. 4–25, that quotes garbled versions of the Getty Hexameters’ opening “core” verses (ασκει κατασκει ερων ορεων‎, etc.) in association with an individual’s initiation into the chthonian mysteries of the Dactyls.19 Equally remarkable is another reference in the papyri (PGM VII. 450), where the same words, ασκει και τασκει‎, are enjoined to be written on a lead plate to be deposited in an elaborate binding ritual. There, the words are referred to as nothing other than “the Orphic formula” (ὁ λόγος ὁ Ὀρφαϊκός‎)!20 Others have noted the connections between the Getty Hexameters and the Orphic gold leaves, especially the shared references to the Goat (αἴξ‎), the milk (γάλα‎), the Child (παῖς‎), the “Path of the Blessed” in the afterlife, and even the writing of sacred text on precious metal (“tin” was a rare, precious metal in antiquity).21 These connections have been challenged, albeit not entirely convincingly, by Edmonds (2013). In the end, it seems unavoidable that the verses cited as “sacred” and “immortal” contain material of independent origin whose genesis must be sought in possible “telestic songs” related to “mythic narratives,”22 whose “performative utterance . . . causes the story to unfold in the mythic realm at the same time as the quotidian events it simultaneously affects.”23

Indeed, the narrative of the milking of the goat is part of a “sacred tale” in present time (in illo tempore)24; the incantatory force of the tale belongs to the mythic realm of ritual (re)-enactment whose repeatable telling is meant to recall a cosmic event of enormous import––it is a myth whose present-tense narrative carries the power of healing and protection via the continuous dramatization that the creative act itself embodies.25 The very retelling of the cosmogonic myth that the Getty narrative preserves, in both its utterance and its writing, is thus meant to implement the “magic” for which it was first recorded (and performed, if indeed part of the dromena of ancient mystery rites26). The Getty’s verses intend to produce salvific restoration and wholeness for both individual and polis—in both the earthly and post-mortem worlds—by repeating the mythic events of its own narrative. That story, for which we possess only the most salient features, highlights an imminent milking of a sacred Goat with her “tireless stream of milk,” a goat who is led out in a “darkly glittering land” by goddesses shining like the stars. But what cosmic event is this milking meant to convey? The creation myth that the “core” narrative aims to retell may be nothing other than the genesis of the Milky Way galaxy itself: the she-goat (αἴξ‎) who is led at night in the train of the setting full moon (represented by Hecate), and just ahead of the rising sun (Helios), is made to find her milking place at the zenith of the night-time skies of late spring, when the Milky Way is at its most brilliant.27 The she-goat (probably Amaltheia), now “asterized” in the form of the stellar beacon of the night, the brilliant star Capella (Lat. = Αἴξ‎; cf. Aratus, Phaen. 163f.), is demonstrably seen as pouring out her tireless flow of milk across the expanse of the night-time skies: her star rests exactly on the very edge of this band of brilliant stars, as if she is visibly dispensing her endless stream to create the Milky Way.28 It is a pathway now viewed as the very heavenly “carriage-way” (κατ’ ἀμαξιτόν‎, ll. 38, 39) upon which the Blessed Initiates are enjoined to tread as each “holds in his, or her, heart [the ode] of the blessed ones [along] the carriage way” (ll. 38–40). Thus, it seems inevitable to connect this apparently heavenly road with the same “sacred road” (hodon . . . heiran) upon which the glorious initiates and bacchoi tread, after drinking from the Lake of Memory, in the celebrated Hipponion gold leaf.29 This pathway might be related, as well, to the reference to “milk” (gala) that a goat, bull, and ram are said to fall into, in the Thurii and Pelinna gold tablets, which has been convincingly identified by some scholars as a reference to the Milky Way, where souls enjoy a heavenly afterlife.30 And although there are clear indications in these “Orphic” tablets of a descent into the underworld, as noted by Bernabé and Jiménez San Cristóbal, the apparent contradiction may not be great as it seems at first: the same tablets refer to the initiated soul as a child of Earth and “Starry Heaven,” and names like Asterios (“Starry”) attend their descriptions, as well31; further, there were early views, such as those of Heraclides Ponticus, a pupil of Plato (and later, those of Plutarch), that Hades, in fact, was located in the heavenly realms.32 In fact, the cosmic “X” in the night-time sky, easily identified with the intersecting of the plane of the ecliptic with the path of the Milky Way, may have been hinted at by Plato as a portal to the netherworld.33 The “core verses,” which form the heart of the Getty incantations, then, should probably be seen to be more akin to the underworld and afterlife connections that we find with the “Orphic” gold leaves, rather than to any specific mystery religion. Indeed, hypothetical reconstructions of the fragmentary verses of col. i (Kotansky) suggest that Hecate herself may be giving readers instructions for engraving the sacred verses for post-mortem use, verses referred to as the splendid gifts of Demeter: they are words to be deposited with the dying as a means to successfully carry the initiated (= the Blessed Ones) to their heavenly abode among the stars, along the very “carriage-way” made famous by the Orphic leaves and now demonstrably mentioned in the Getty Hexameters. Such an astral, post-mortem interpretation for the “core verses” of the Hexameters is not only in keeping with what we read in the “Orphic” gold leaves, it is explicitly reflected in the language of the verses themselves: the land “darkly-glittering” (μελαναυγέϊ χώρῳ‎, l. 8) will be none other than the landscape of the starry night-time sky, just as the deities who lead the goat are paradoxically described as “goddesses shining brightly” (θεαῖς . . . φαειναῖς‎, l. 12), an epithet heretofore never used of humans, nor of gods, but only of material objects; and even as Hecate (in her capacity as Artemis-Selene) is said to be going ahead (προμολοῦσα‎, l. 16) of Helios, “across the night-time sky” (διὰ νύκτα‎, l. 15), she is announcing the way of salvation in the afterlife that the engraving of the sacred verses will bring. Only an astral setting seems to be intended here.


Translation of the “Ur”-Text of the Getty Hexameters (Kotansky).34

0 [And now words immortal for founders and rul]ers 1 [of well-inhabited cities], and not words unfulfilled, do I sing in incantation! 2 Whosoever would enclose, in his house of stone, the notable 3 letters of these sacred verses engraved on tin, <7 even having spoken these immortal verses to mortals,> 4 as many things as the broad earth rears, shall not harm him, 5 nor as many things as much-groaning Amphitrite nourishes in the sea! 6 But you, O Healer (Paiēōn), in every direction, do send averting spells!
8 “<Having come down> the shady mountains, in a darkly-gleaming land, 9 a child (f.) leads by necessity out of Persephone’s garden for milking 10 that four-footed holy attendant of Demeter’s, 11 a she-goat fully laden with an unceasing stream of rich milk. 12 <And> the she-goa<t> follows, submitting to the shining goddesses, <12a Persephone and Dēō, who hold in their hands shining> 13 torches. And the goddess, Hecate-on-the-Road, 14 leads the way for the god, [Helios], shouting out in a frightening, foreign voice: 33 ‘[AS]KI KATASKIA ASIA ASIA ENDASI[A]! 34 The she-goat [to] the milking! [Drive] by force the she-goat out of the [garden]! 41a [TREX TETRAX T]ETRAG[OS], 35 And the one whose name is that of the sweet-[songed?] hazel-grouse (the TETRAX): 36 bring right away the grouse (the TETRAŌN), the hazel-grouse (the TETRAX)! 37 —[Even the one whose] wind-swept headland is <over> the [violet-blue] waters! 38 Blessed be the one now upon whom is poured down [along] 39 the carriage-way (the shout) “Iō,” [and] him[self holds] in his heart 40 [the ode] of the blessed ones, [along] the carriage-way! 41b [DAMNAMENEUS, (O Tamer)], 42 [Now tame by necessity the grievously reluctant] . . . ’.’
15 ‘[And now] I, by my own bidding, [have come] through the night, 16 [and] having gone ahead, I speak the divinely-utt[ered, immortal verses ever] 17 to mortal [men], and [surely he, the one who] might be [dying], 18 shall [himself] bring to completion on bronze, 19 [or on tin], even/[all the immortal verses] of [Demeter]’s, goddess of splendid [gifts], 20 [and shall himself place them] in [his] hou[se, in accordance with his need].’ ”
21 [Having spoken] this [message] through[out the land], [I command you] 22 [to keep] your hands off [ou]r unlawful h[ou]ses! 23 For you, [O Healer (Paiēōn)] yourself [do send] averting spells.
24 Hear carefully the utterance [of this word]! Intone [this] sweet [song] 25 [over all] the people, in time of need, whenever [doom] 26 might [come] near [among the people]-good-at-war and the ships, 27 bringing death [to mortal] men! 28 [Or, even] intone [the words] over the cattle and the handiworks of mortals, 29 by the goodly time of night and by [day], 30 having [your heart] pure, <and> pure, too, the [little] door of [your] mouth! 31 They are words [beneficial] for the Polis, for they are most useful for ruling! 32 Now [you, O Healer (Paiēōn)], in every manner bring healing and are excel[lent]!
(Supplementary Spell [col. I, Side B]): 43 [—] would [—] mo[rtals?] 44 [—] do bid (pl.) [—] 45 (traces) 46 [—] “O [so]n of Zeus! And whosoever might [send] forceful 47 [spells, O so]n of Zeus, remember [your] q[uiver] of a hundred, 48 and even the many-[headed] Hydra, [as] you [send] your arrows into that one!” 49 For he, the Healer ([Paiē]ōn), himself, does se[nd] averting spells! 50 Would that no one, knowing many spells, [come] and bring harm!


  • Jordan, David R., and Roy D. Kotansky. “Ritual Hexameters in the Getty Museum: Preliminary Edition.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 178 (2011): 54–62.
  • Bernabé, Alberto. “The Ephesia Grammata: Genesis of a Magical Formula.” In The Getty Hexameters. Poetry, Magic, and Mystery in Ancient Selinous, edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 71–95. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Bremmer, Jan N. “The Getty Hexameters: Date, Author, and Place of Composition.” In The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic, and Mystery in Ancient Selinous, edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 21–29. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Edmonds, Radcliffe G. III. “The Ephesia Grammata: Logos Orphaïkos or Apolline Alexima Pharmaka?” In The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic, and Mystery in Ancient Selinous, edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 97–106. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Faraone, Christopher A. “Spoken and Written Boasts in the Getty Hexameters: From Oral Composition to Inscribed Amulet.” In The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic, and Mystery in Ancient Selinous, edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 57–70. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Faraone, Christopher A. “Magical Verses on a Lead Tablet: Composite Amulet or Anthology?” In The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic, and Mystery in Ancient Selinous, edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 107–119. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Faraone, Christopher A., and Obbink, Dirk, eds. The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic, and Mystery in Ancient Selinous. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Janko, Richard. “The Hexametric Incantations against Witchcraft in the Getty Museum: From Archetype to Exemplar.” In The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic, and Mystery in Ancient Selinous, edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 31–56. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Johnston, Sarah Iles. “Myth and the Getty Hexameters.” In The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic, and Mystery in Ancient Selinous, edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 121–156. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Jordan, D. R. Verses from a Rite of Initiation into the Worship of Demeter and Core (GRBM forthcoming).
  • Obbink, Dirk. “Poetry and the Mysteries.” In The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic, and Mystery in Ancient Selinous, edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 171–184. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Rutherford, Ian. “The Immortal Words of Paean.” In The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic, and Mystery in Ancient Selinous, edited by Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, 157–169. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
Secondary Literature
  • Bernabé, Alberto, and Ana Isabel Jiménez San Cristóbal. Instructions for the Netherworld: The Orphic Gold Tablets. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2008.
  • Betz, H. D. “Fragments from a Catabasis Ritual in a Greek Magical Papyrus.” History of Religions 19 (1980): 287–295.
  • Dieterich, Albrecht. De Hymnis Orphicis capitula quinque. Leipzig and Berlin: Elwert, 1911. See 69–110.
  • Eliade, Mircea. Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries. New York: Harper & Row, 1960.
  • Gottschalk, H. B. Heraclides of Pontus. Oxford: Clarendon, 1980.
  • Giangrande, Giuseppe. “The Gold Lamellae from Thessaly.” Minerva 5 (1991): 85–90.
  • Graf, Fritz, and Sarah Iles Johnston. Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2013.
  • Jameson, Michael H., David R. Jordan, and Roy D. Kotansky. A Lex Sacra from Selinous. GRBSM 11. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993.
  • Kotansky, Roy, and Jaime Curbera. “Unpublished Lead Tablets in the Getty Museum.” Mediterraneo Antico 7 (2004): 681–691.
  • Latura, George. “Plato’s Cosmic X: Heavenly Gates at the Celestial Crossroads.” In Ancient Cosmologies and Modern Prophets—Proceedings of the 20th Conference on the European Society for Astronomy in Culture, edited by I. Sprajc and P. Pehani, 259–263. Llubljana: Slovene Anthropological Society, 2013.
  • Latura, George. “Plato’s X and Hekate’s Crossroads: Astronomical Links to the Mysteries of Eleusis.” Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 20 (2014): 1–10.
  • Martín Hernández, Raquel. Orfeo y los magos: La literatura órfica, la magia i los misterios. Madrid: Abada, 2010.
  • Ricciardelli Apicella, Gabriella. “Le lamelle di Pelinna.” Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religione 58 (1992): 27–37.
  • Tirion, Wil. The Cambridge Star Atlas. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.


  • 1. See photographs and drawings in David R. Jordan and Roy D. Kotansky, “Ritual Hexameters in the Getty Museum: Preliminary Edition,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 178 (2011): 54–62. Christopher A. Faraone and Obbink, Dirk, eds., The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic, and Mystery in Ancient Selinous (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), plate 1 (p. 15) shows the columns out of order. In the original Getty photographs of either edition, the columns of the fragments do not line up properly.

  • 2. See further, note 7. It is clear that the text was copied from an ancient magical handbook, or formulary, perhaps containing several spells that have been artfully integrated into a kind of diptych; however, it is not necessary to see it as an anthology rather than just a composite amulet, as Faraone does in “Magical Verses on a Lead Tablet: Composite Amulet or Anthology?” in Faraone and Obbink, The Getty Hexameters, 107–119.

  • 3. Sarah Iles Johnston, “Myth and the Getty Hexameters,” Faraone and Obbink, The Getty Hexameters: Poetry, Magic, and Mystery in Ancient Selinous, 121–156, especially 124–132.

  • 4. Richard Janko, “The Hexametric Incantations against Witchcraft in the Getty Museum: From Archetype to Exemplar,” in Faraone and Obbink, The Getty Hexameters, 43, restores this as a single-standing oracular utterance: “[better] so for the city: for order is best.”

  • 5. Alberto Bernabé, “The Ephesia Grammata: Genesis of a Magical Formula,” in Faraone and Obbink, The Getty Hexameters, 71–95, collects all the relevant references. The verses, whether spoken or written, benefit newlyweds, cast out demons, provide victories in contests (e.g., wrestling), and even delivered Croesus on the funeral pyre.

  • 6. Previous publications, including Jordan and Kotansky, “Ritual Hexameters,” Faraone and Obbink, The Getty Hexameters, 13; and Janko, “The Hexametric Incantations,” 43, interpret this differently.

  • 7. Col. i provides the narrative proper, with Greek portions of Hecate’s speech (ll. 13–20), whereas col. ii preserving the additional speech, including the actual utterance of her “frightful and foreign language” in the form of incomprehensible “Ephesia Grammata” (ll. 13f. + 33–42). See Appendix. The original “core” narrative seems to have been separated into two spells (see note 2), one to be written for an individual (col. i) and one to be spoken on behalf of the citizenry (col. ii).

  • 8. Appendix, ll. 12–12a, where “shining” at end-position in l. 12 has caused the purported l. 12a (also with “shining” at end-position) to drop out due to haplography (cf. the Homeric Hymn to Demeter ll.47f, 52, where both Demeter and Hecate hold torches). Janko, “The Hexametric Incantations,” 49, notes “the rather forced accusative of respect” that begins l. 13.

  • 9. Janko, “The Hexametric Incantations,” 35.

  • 10. Bernabé, “The Ephesia Grammata.”

  • 11. Ibid., 75–77.

  • 12. Faraone and Obbink, The Getty Hexameters, 185–186: Appendix, ll. O–P.

  • 13. Bernabé, “The Ephesia Grammata,” 84; and Dirk Obbink, “Poetry and the Mysteries,” in Faraone and Obbink, The Getty Hexameters, 182.

  • 14. “<βᾶσα‎> κατὰ σκιαρῶν ὀρέων‎ ... Φερσεφόνης ἐκ κήπου ἄγει πρὸς ἀμολγόν‎ ... παῖς‎ ... αἶγ’ ἀκαμαντορόα νάσμου‎ (ll. 8–11) + ασκι κατασκι ασια ασια ... πρὸς ἀμολγόν ... αἶγα βίᾳ ἐκ κή[που ἔλαυνε‎]” (ll. 33f.), “<Having come> down the shady mountains ... a child ... leads for the milking out of Persphone’s Garden ... a she-goat of endless stream” (ll. 8–11) + “ASKI KATASKI ASIA ASIA ... [drive] from the gar[den] by force the goat ... to the milking!” (ll. 33f.). The restoration <βᾶσα‎>, at the beginning, is Kotansky’s, not Faraone’s (pace, e.g, Bernabé, “The Ephesia Grammata,” 80).

  • 15. Obbink, “Poetry and the Mysteries,” 177-181.

  • 16. Jan N. Bremmer, inter alia, observes that this “is completely off the mark” (”The Getty Hexameters: Date, Author, and Place of Composition,” in Faraone and Obbink, The Getty Hexameters, 22). Jordan’s attempt, however, to connect the “core” verses to the Mysteries, is correct, even if the incipit does not intend to re-create this.

  • 17. Bremmer, “The Getty Hexameters,” 22.

  • 18. Raquel Martín Hernández, Orfeo y los magos: La literatura órfica, la magia i los misterios (Madrid: Abada, 2010), 142–163; cf. Bernabé, “The Ephesia Grammata.”

  • 19. See the landmark study of H. D. Betz, “Fragments from a Catabasis Ritual in a Greek Magical Papyrus.” History of Religions 19 (1980): 287–295.

  • 20. Cf. Bernabé, “The Ephesia Grammata,” 90. Radcliffe A. Edmonds III’s dismissal (“The Ephesia Grammata,” in Faraone and Obbink, The Getty Hexameters, 104f.) of the importance of the references to Orpheus, etc. because “his name becomes attached to a wide variety of rites” misses the point that the age-old “askei kataski” formula in the Getty Hexameters is quoted, as such, years later in connection with both mysteries of the Idaean Dactyls and Orpheus, their putative founder. Conceivably, the hoary tradition of the Getty Hexameters has brought with them an (at least) 800-year-old association with Orpheus and ancient mystery religions.

  • 21. Bernabé, “The Ephesia Grammata,” 90–93.

  • 22. Obbink, “Poetry and the Mysteries.”

  • 23. Johnston, “Myth and the Getty Hexameters,” 125, who rightly observes that “the continued use of the present tense comes to be understood as causing the events of the story to happen again.” And again (146): “In the case of the Getty Hexameters, the abstract concept [sc. of unlimited help, protection, or benefit] is then kept permanently available by inscribing on tin the concrete image that stands in for it.”

  • 24. Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries (New York: Harper & Row, 1960) 23: “[M]yth is thought to express the absolute truth, because it narrates a sacred history; that is, a transhuman revelation which took place at the dawn of the Great Time, in the holy time of the beginnings (in illo tempore). Being real and sacred, the myth becomes exemplary, and consequently repeatable.”

  • 25. One is reminded of Herodotus 1.132, in reference, inter alia, to Persian sacrifices to Aphrodite Ourania, how the officiating magos (μάγος ἀνὴρ‎), after setting out the parts of the sacrificial victim in a certain ritual manner, “stands by and chants over the parts a Theogony, which is what they call their incantation.”

  • 26. Jordan and Kotansky, “Ritual Hexameters,” 54.

  • 27. Astronomically, whenever the moon is full, the sun will always be directly opposite it in the sky; hence, just as the full moon is seen setting in the west before dawn, the sun will be rising in the east. Right before dawn, with the sky still dark, the Milky Way, running roughly north-south, with Capella near its zenith, will brilliantly intersect the east-west path of the ecliptic (the moon, sun, and planets) at an approximate right angle, forming a huge “X” in the canopy of the sky; cf. George Latura, “Plato’s Cosmic X: Heavenly Gates at the Celestial Crossroads.” In Ancient Cosmologies and Modern Prophets, edited by I. Sprajc and P. Pehani, 259–263. Llubljana: Slovene Anthropological Society, 2013.

  • 28. Cf. Wil Tirion, The Cambridge Star Atlas (2d edn., Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996) [8] and Chart 3.

  • 29. Fritz Graf and Sarah Iles Johnston, Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets (2d edn., New York: Routledge, 2013), 4f., Text 1: Hipponion, ll. 15–16. Cf. also idem, Text 3: Thurii 1, l. 5f.

  • 30. Graf and Johnston, Ritual texts, 8f.; 12f., 36f. Cf. Alberto Bernabé and Ana Isabel Jiménez San Cristóbal, Instructions for the Netherworld: The Orphic Gold Tablets (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2008), 79f., who cite the earlier work of Albrecht Dietrich, De Hymnis Orphicis capitula quinque (Leipzig and Berlin: Elwert, 1911) and Hermann Diels and Walther Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (Zürich: Weidmann, 1903), and the more recent work of Giuseppe Giangrande, “The Gold Lamellae from Thessaly,” Minerva 5 (1991): 85–90, and Gabriella Ricciardelli Apicella, “Le lamelle di Pelinna,” Studi e Materiali di Storia delle Religione 58 (1992): 27–37. Johnston, in her thorough discussion of the salubrious benefits of milk in Greek and Egyptian historiolae, has also keenly observed the metaphor of milk as a characterization of classical portrayals of paradise, which would seem particularly appropriate here (Johnston, “Myth and the Getty Hexameters,” 132–148, especially. 142f.).

  • 31. As noted by Bernabé and Jiménez San Cristóbal, Instructions for the Netherworld, 79, who observe that the kid and the bull will be identified with the zodiacal constellations of Aries and Taurus. Although the authors find the heavenly interpretation of the afterlife scene to be a “flagrant contradiction” (80) to the underworld language of the tablets, this does not adequately allow for the view that the tablets can often hold competing (eschatological) views of the afterlife, nor for the notion that the ancients, in observing that the non-circumpolar stars, as well as the Milky Way itself, can be seen to sink into the west, held that the stars and other heavenly bodies shone in Hades, while the sun shone above Earth, and vice versa; see Pindar, Thren. 7 (fr. 129). In other words, by daytime, the path of the Milky Way (= the Sacred Road) would have been situated in the underworld and, turning like a giant Ferris wheel, would have transported souls to the heavenly world.

  • 32. H. B. Gottschalk, Heraclides of Pontus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), 149 (ad Wehrli, Die Schule des Aristoteles 96) = Philoponus, In Arist. Meteor. p. 116.36 (Hayduck), quoting the Empedotimos myth of Heraclides: “For he claims that the Milky Way is the pathway of souls that travel along the Hades that is in heaven” (ll. 11f., trans. Kotansky). See Plutarch, Mor. 942D-F, 943C, etc. (and Cherniss’s notes in the Loeb edition), where Hades is identified with the region between the earth, and the moon is identified with Persephone and the boundary of Hades. The Elysian Plain is located on the far side of the moon.

  • 33. Cf. Latura, “Plato’s Cosmic X,” who wishes to connect Plato’s cosmic chi (in Tim. 36C) with the celestial gates in the myth of Er (Republic 614C). In fact, the narrative of the Hexameters seems to be envisioning these very two intersecting paths in the heavens: that of the plane of the ecliptic (= the procession of the child, goat, Demeter, and Persephone, ll. 8–13) and that of the Milky Way (the procession of Hecate [= Moon] and Helios, ll. 13–14ff.). These same two intersecting paths are also noted by Manilius, Astronomica 1. 666–684ff.

  • 34. Here the original “core” verses of cols. i + ii are reintegrated into a single narrative. Basically, ll. 33–42 of col. ii, which are indented and set apart by a long vertical line, were intended as a marginal correction to be added to ll. 8–14 of col. i, adjacent. Once these have been properly removed from col. ii and added to col. i, not only does the whole “foreign” speech of Hecate now make sense, but ll. 21–32 also fall naturally into place. This, and much of the foregoing discussion, is based on my forthcoming work, Early Incantations on Lead from Selinous. The Getty Hexameters: Text, Translation, and Commentary.