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2,400-year-old curse tablets uncovered in Athens

Ancient lead tablets discovered in a Greek cemetery reveal a sinister ritual born out of commercial rivalries more than 2,000 years ago.

2,400-year-old curse tablets uncovered in Athens
2,400-year-old curse tablets uncovered in Athens
Ancient lead tablets discovered in a Greek cemetery reveal a sinister ritual born out 
of commercial rivalries more than 2,000 years ago. Four tablets inscribed with curses
 call upon deities of the underworld to 'cast hate' upon the owners of four taverns, 
and bind them in blood and ashes with the dead 
[Credit: Jessica Lamont]
Four tablets inscribed with curses call upon deities of the underworld to 'cast hate' upon the owners of four taverns, and bind them in blood and ashes with the dead.

These narratives date back to the early fourth century BCE, and researchers say they divulge a great deal about the social and ritualistic practices of the ancient society.

In a recent paper published in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, Jessica Lamont of Johns Hopkins University describes the elaborate ritual unearthed in a classical grave northeast of Piraeus, Greece.

Of the five lead tablets first discovered in 2003, four were inscribed with text, each targeting husband-wife tavern owners with a similar curse.

The tablets were each pierced with an iron nail and folded, and placed in a grave which contained the cremated remains of a young woman.

Burial pyres contained libations and other offerings for the gods, so the cemetery was an optimal location for 'supernatural exploitation.'

In the paper, Lamont describes the narrative of one tablet, which reads:

'Hekate Chthonia, Artemis Chthonia, Hermes Chthonios cast your hate upon Phanagora and Demetrios, and their tavern and their property and their possessions. 
I will bind my enemy Demetrios, and Phanagora, in blood and in ashes, with all the dead. 
Nor will the next four-year cycle release you. 
I will bind you in such a bind, Demetrios, as strong as is possible, and I will smite down a kynotos on [your] tongue.'

Hermes is commonly called upon in curses, the researcher explains, and the goddess Hekate was dangerous and liminal.

And, though Artemis is largely associated with the protection of women, the curses appeal to the 'destructive side' of this goddess, 'tied to the realm of the sinister and the threatening.'

Kynotos means 'dog's ear,' Lamont explains, which is likely a reference to gambling, wishing upon the subjects the 'lowest possible throw of dice.'

In the three other tablets which each contained a curse as well, Lamont writes that the narratives paralleled the one revealed above, targeting the businesses, properties, and possessions of tavern owners.

This particular ritual was no simple feat, and was likely an act of desperation, the researcher explains.

The structure of the text suggests the curses were carved by an experienced scribe.

'Commissioning a curse tablet was a drastic measure; commissioning five betrays an even greater investment, and state of desperation, on the part of the curser,' the author writes.

And, though one of the tablets was included without any inscribed text, the researcher says that this too likely had importance.

An associated curse may have been recited rather than written, and each tablet was a 'vehicle in a larger chain of private ritual activity.'

While it can't be said for certain that the reason behind the curse can be traced to commercial rivalry, the researcher says the narrative and assemblage indicates this is the most likely reason.

The curses may have been deposited by a mourner who was involved in the burial, or the ritual may have taken place as a 'clandestine midnight scenario' by a professional.

Author: Cheyenne Macdonald | Source: Daily Mail Online [April 04, 2016]
TANN

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