From the man who brought you Scapegoat Rituals

It's Swash-Buckling excitement from David R. Dewberry in

"Cursed be he that moves my bones"

adapted for class by David R. Dewberry from J.H.M. Strubbe's essay

-this statement comes to us from the epitaph of Shakespeare and from Synnada in Asia Minor; also, similar imprecations used by Christians and Jews alike

-Clearly, both maledictions have the same connotative and denotative meanings:

"They assure the undisturbed rest of the deceased"

J.H.M. Strubbe gives the definition of funerary imprecations as:

"Curses that are clearly and publicly written on gravestones by the owner of the tomb (who does not conceal his identity) to warn any potential wrongdoer that evil will befall him in case he should violate the grave"

Ar, There be two kinds of imprecations:

Nonspecific- that being which is void of any specific punishment to the potential wrongdoer


Specific- that being which has specified punishments in the imprecations


Unfortunately, there are very little specifics given on Nonspecific Imprecations by

J.H.M. Strubbe

I. Imprecations- these were used all over the Greek world, including Greek cities of Asia Minor

A. Nonfunerary Imprecations

1. In Anatolia the Greek custom coincided with the indigenous oriental tradition (i.e., to protect treaties, statues, and contracts; these were seen as nonfunerary imprecations)

2. In the Greek world, nonfunerary imprecations protected those things belonging to the public, the religious, and the private spheres (e.g., constitutions, laws, temples etc.)

3. The imprecations were customary to protect material and immaterial objects from potential wrongdoers. (Threats of blindness, death, infertility of the earth, destruction of a race are all examples of potential harm to potential wrongdoers)

B. Funerary Imprecations

1. In the Near East and in Anatolia, imprecations had a long tradition dating from the eleventh century B.C.E.

a. The epitaph of the Phoenician King Ahiram.

2. When Asia Minor was liberated from Persian Rule, funerary imprecations began top appear in GREEK!


II. Anatolia(Asia Minor) vs. Mainland Greece

A. The Greeks in Anatolia (Asia Minor) used funerary imprecations for a great length of time, and the Greeks of the Greek Homeland (roughly the territory of Greece today) used these imprecations very little.

1. Strubbe explains this difference as how each group sees death and the afterlife.

a. Anatolians built "Grave Houses" for the dead to live in. These houses were just like regular houses that the living lived in!

b. Greeks of the mainland concentrated upon the burial, funerary rites, and remembrance of the name. The Greeks believed the soul escaped the body at the moment of death and went to Hades' dark. Thus, the body needed not corporal feelings and needs.


III. The Power of Words

A. The power of the words, in the imprecation, was increased depending on the status of that which spoke them. A king, priest, parents, the dying, or the dead, all had the ability to increase the efficacy of the imprecation.

1. Also, the use of rhetorical devices such as repetition, rhythm, and meter added power to the imprecation (e.g., "May he die, dead and gone" and "May he, an evil man, be evilly destroyed").

2. Nonverbal gestures also added effectiveness to the imprecation.

a. Outstretched hands are frequent on the tombs of young children (who have been killed in a criminal way or other than natural reasons).

B. An essential characteristic of the curse is that it is irrevocable.

1. Although, some could revoke the curse.

a. The individual who spoke the imprecation.

b. The god(s) that were invoked.

i. Usually, the wrongdoer could perform a sacrifice of a confession.

C. The imprecation could also affect not only the wrongdoer.

1. the entire household could be affected (e.g., be deformed) even if they are not yet born.

2. Often, even the material property was cursed leaving the wrongdoer alive and in total misery.

3. Sometimes, a cursed person had to be banished from society!

IV. Funerary Imprecations and the Gods

A. In almost one-third of the funerary imprecations a god or gods were named and are expected to posit punishment upon the wrongdoer; however, it is rarity to have formal prayers to the gods to take action against any wrongdoer.

1. Gods are either named specifically or may be anonymous.

a. Gods of the underworld are usually the most popular.

b. Some gods were named for their omniscience.

c. Some gods were selected for they were seen to uphold justice.


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