Monday, January 23, 2017


A Curse

Maybe it's my imagination, but I sense an increased amount of hatred and rage in the air recently. Perhaps the time is ripe to revert to an ancient method of expressing and channelling such emotions, viz., the curse tablet. A good example can be found in Matthew Dillon and Lynda Garland, Ancient Rome: Social and Historical Documents from the Early Republic to the Death of Augustus, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2015), pp. 146-147 (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum I2 2520, Rome, 1st century B.C.; the translators provide some line numbers in bold type, but I've enclosed the numbers instead in square brackets):
Good and beautiful Proserpina, wife of Pluto, unless I ought to call you Salvia ('Saviour'), may you tear from Plotius health, body, colour, strength, vigour. May you deliver him over to Pluto your husband. May he not be able to avoid this by his own devices. May you deliver him to the fourth-day, the third-day, the every-day fever (i.e., malaria), and may they wrestle and struggle it out with him; may they vanquish and overcome him until they tear away his life. Wherefore [10] I deliver this victim to you Proserpina, unless, Proserpina, I ought to call you Acherousia (i.e., goddess of the underworld). May you send, I pray, someone to summon the three-headed dog to tear out Plotius' heart. Promise that you will give him three victims, dates, dried figs, a black pig, if he should have finished before the month of March. These things, Proserpina Salvia, I will give you when you have gratified my wish. I give you the head of Plotius, (slave) of Avonia, [20] Proserpina Salvia, I give you Plotius' forehead, Proserpina Salvia, I give you Plotius' eyebrows, Proserpina Salvia, I give you Plotius' eyelids, Proserpina Salvia, I give you Plotius' pupils, Proserpina Salvia, I give you Plotius' nostrils, lips, ears, nose, tongue, teeth, so Plotius may not be able to say what pains him; his neck, shoulders, arms, fingers, so he may not be able to help himself in any way; [30] his chest, liver, heart, lungs, so he may not be able to feel what gives him pain; his intestines, stomach, navel, sides, so he may not be able to sleep; his shoulder-blades, so he may not be able to sleep soundly; his testicles, so he may not be able to urinate; his buttocks, anus, thighs, knees, shanks, shins, feet, ankles, soles, toes, nails, so he may not be able to stand by his own strength. Should there have been written, [40] whether great or small, any curse, in whatever way Plotius has properly (i.e., according to the laws of magic) written anything (i.e., against me) and committed it, thus I deliver Plotius to you, and commit him that you may deliver and commit that fellow in the month of February. Damn him!, to hell with him!, damn him utterly! May you commit him, may you hand him over, so he may not be able to see, look on or regard any month further!
Mutatis mutandis, this curse might be suitable for the present day, whatever side of the political, economic, social, or religious divide you're on. Instead of Plotius, substitute the name of someone you hate. I don't think you need to scratch five copies of the curse on lead sheets and wind them around nails. Just try reciting the curse. You might find it therapeutic, if not entirely effective.

Here is the Latin, borrowed from here:
Bona pulchra Proserpina, [P]lut[o]nis uxsor,
seive me Salviam deicere oportet,
eripias salutem, c[orpus, co]lorem, vires, virtutes
Ploti; tradas [Plutoni] viro tuo ni possit cogitationibus
sueis hoc vita[re; tradas] illunc        5
Febri Quartan[a]e, T[ertian]ae, Cottidia[n]ae,
quas [cum illo l]uct[ent, deluctent illunc]
ev[in]cant, [vincant], usq[ue dum animam]
[eiu]s eripia[nt. Quare ha]nc victimam
tibi trad[o, Prose]rpi[na, seiv]e me,        10
Proserpin[a, sei]ve m[e Ach]eruosiam dicere
oportet, <:ut> m[e mittas a]rcessitum canem
tricepitem qui [Ploti] cor eripiat. Polliciarus
illi te daturum t[r]es victimas,
palma[s, ca]rica[s], por[c]um nigrum,        15
hoc sei pe[rfe]cerit [ante mensem]
M[artium. Haec P]r[oserpina Salvia tibi dabo]
cum <:me> compote fe[cer]is. Do tibi cap[ut]
Ploti, Avon[iaes <:mariti>, Pr]oserpina S[alvia];
do tibi fron[tem Plo]ti, Proserpina Salvia;        20
do [ti]b[i] su[percilia] Ploti, Proserpin[a]
Salvia; do [tibi palpebra]s Plo[ti],
Proserpina Sa[lvia; do tibi pupillas]
Ploti, Proser[pina Salvia; do tibi nare]s,
labra, or[iculas, nasu]m, lin[g]uam,        25
dentes P[loti], ni dicere possit
Plotius quid [sibi dole]at, collum, umeros,
bracchia, d[i]git[os, ni po]ssit aliquit
se adiutare, [pe]c[tus, io]cinera, cor,
pulmones, n[i possit] senti[re] quit        30
sibi doleat, [intes]tina, venter, um[bi]licu[m],
latera, [n]i p[oss]it dormire, scapulas,
ni poss[it] s[a]nus dormire, viscum
sacrum, nei possit urinam facere,
natis, anum, [fem]ina, genua,        35
[crura], tibias, pe[des, talos, plantas],
[digito]s, ungis, ni po[ssit s]tare sua
[vi]rt[u]te. Seive [plu]s seive parvum
scrip[tum fuerit], quomodo quicqu[id]
legitim[e scripsit], mandavit, seic        40
ego Ploti(um) ti[bi tr]ado, mando
ut tradas, [mandes me]nse Februari[o]
[e]cillunc mal[e perdat, mal]e exset,
[mal]e disperd[at. Mandes, tra]das ni possit
[ampliu]s ullum [mensem aspic]ere,        45
[videre, contempla]re.
Related post: The Malediction of Bishop Ernulphus.

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