Michael Barnes on

"Beyond Cursing: The Appeal to Justice in Judicial Prayers "(Versnel)


I. Introductory Comments on defixiones

A. buried in grave of AOROS (person untimely dead), in cthonic sanctuaries, in wells

B. give little more than names of victims

C. daemons or gods (belonging to dominion of death, the underworld, the cthonic, or reputed to have connections with magic) "instructed or compelled to go about their destructive task"

D. four categories of curses

1. rivalry in theater, amphitheater and circus

2. competition in world of love

3. rivalry connected with litigation

4. damages of any kind (especially theft and slander) caused to the author by someone else/commercial curses

"The intended victims in all four...categories are not being cursed because they are guilty of any crime or misdeed against the defigens but rather because they are his rivals with regard to social prestige or economic position, and any attack against their social position will result in an increase of his own honor."

II. The Border Area

1. retain many elements of traditional defixiones, but also contain non-traditional elements

A. name of the author

B. argument defending the action

C. request that the act be excused

D. appearance of gods other than traditional cthonic deities

E. flattering adjective or superior title used to address these gods

F. expressions of supplication

G. terms and names referring to (in)justice and punishment

2. some examples

III. The Prayer for Justice

A. no coercion...human is subservient to superior divine being

B. placed in public place such as temple, clearly visible for everyone

C. curses not pronounced by writer...instead, placed in hands of god or goddess

D. prayers for vengeance

1. requests irrevocable punishment of guilty party

2. superior and all-seeing gods are attested (most frequently, the Sun)

3. beg gods for retaliation, revenge, and justice and usually concern themselves with cases of abnormal (and therefore suspicious) death

4. meant to force the usually unknown perpetrator to atone for his or her crime

5. divine intervention comes in form of illness, accident, or death of guilty

E. prayers for a culprit to redress a wrong

1. "no overriding demands for punishment or revenge, but rather for clarification, confession, and (if possible) settlement of the dispute"

2. guilty dedicated to deity for prosecution or stolen object 'consecrated' to deity

3. deity then opens an inquiry, prosecutes guilty, or claims stolen property

4. same form of divine intervention as in prayers for vengeance, but is implemented as temporary means of pressure, or judicial torment, by which guilty is brought to confess and compensate for what was owed

5. what happened to stolen property after dispute was settled?

F. formulaic judicial language

IV. The Confession Inscriptions

A. steles that contain praise for usually local gods and describe their power

B. reason for stele's erection is confession of guilt to which author has been forced by punishing intervention of deity (manifested by illness or accident)

C. through confession and eventual reparation of wrong, culprit appeases deity

D. property sometimes left in possession of deity and sometimes returned to owner

V. Latin Judicial Prayers

A. often considered defixiones, but contain many elements of Greek judicial prayers

B. god or goddess is addressed respectfully

C. stolen object, thief, or case is ceded to deity, who is expected to prosecute the case

D. prosecution similarly involves punishment, such as isolation or illness

1. sometimes as revenge, sometimes as pressure to return stolen object or to confess

E. in several cases, stolen property returned to owner, but prosecuting god given sum of money (either by thief or by victim)

F. formulaic language closely imitating that used in secular courts of law


Concluding Questions:


1. How can the similarities between Greek and Latin judicial prayers be explained?


2. How do defixiones and judicial prayers help distinguish between the domains of magic and religion?


Return To Main Page: CLST 4003H. Spring, 2002.