Scholia Reviews ns 12 (2003) 4.

Christopher A. Faraone, Ancient Greek Love Magic. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1999. Pp. xii + 223. ISBN 0-674-00696-8. UKú13.95.

Matthew Dillon
Classics, History and Religion, University of New England, Armidale, Australia

If any scholar is well-placed to produce a book on the topic of ancient Greek love magic, it is certainly Christopher Faraone. With twenty-two items of his own and the seminal Magika Hiera,[[1]] the reader expects that this new work will share the same traits as Faraone's other published material: attention to detail and ground-breaking observations. So how does Ancient Greek Love Magic shape up?

The introduction, section one (pp. 1-40), reminds the reader that love magic was very much a part of Greek culture. From the first work of Greek literature comes the tale of Hera's use of Aphrodite's KESTO/J I(MA/J, the enigmatic 'magical belt' to seduce Zeus (Iliad 14.214). Faraone points to love magic or allusions to it in the rest of Greek literature, giving a rapid impressionistic survey of various works to support his comments on the ubiquity of love magic in Greek culture (pp. 5-12). There is a useful summary of the non-literary evidence, the 'binding spells' and the 'magical papyri' (pp. 12f.). The use of magic and pharmacology for increased male potency and enhanced performance (pp. 18-22) is important for his later arguments about the gendered use of magic.

And at this point Faraone's use of the phrase 'love magic' rather than the well-known 'erotic magic' which is more common in modern scholarship can be noted. The point of Faraone's preference for 'love magic' lies in the distinction between E)/RWJ and FILI/A in magic (p. ix). Moreover, he brings up points of definition on pp. 24-30 where he notes that there is no Greek equivalent for the term 'love magic' (and hence none for 'erotic magic' either). Here the reader who is not quite familiar with love magic terminology will find most of the relevant terms revealed: FI/LTRA, A)GA/PH and others.

Faraone also places his Greek material within the wider Near Eastern and Mediterranean context (pp. 30- 40) in a 'synchronic and comparative approach' (p. 30). However, the material is elusive and Faraone cannot mount a convincing, detailed case here for cross-cultural influences on Greek magic, but despite this there is probably enough similarity to suggest that there were Greek borrowings from older cultures. But it was the Greek elaboration of magic and its methodology which then became standard for the greater world of the hellenistic states and the Roman empire.

Sections two and three follow; '2. Spells for inducing uncontrollable passion (Eros)' (pp. 41-95), and '3. Spells for inducing affection (Philia)' (pp. 96-131). These two sections articulate the crucial distinction, advanced by Faraone in his preface as a 'new bipolar taxonomy' (p. ix), between two types of love magic, E)/RWJ and FILI/A.

Opening section two is a description and discussion of a clay effigy from the third or fourth century AD (p. 41), and one here wonders whether the reader deserved a few photographs or line drawings of some of the visual material which Faraone discusses throughout the book. A theme emerging early in this section is the very generic nature of much of the magical material. Spells are not insights gained on a point of crisis in a particular individual's emotional life (p. 43); they don't reflect the practitioner's particular angst or erotic derangement, but rather follow standard, almost textbook patterns, for the spells are formulated out of long traditions and magical handbooks.

The exploration of violence in magic will perhaps repel the reader not so acquainted with the magic spells as Faraone. Already in Pindar Fourth Pythian there is whipping and burning in the A)GWGH/, the 'drawing' or 'leading' spell. Similarly, the effigy of a woman with which section two opens is stabbed thirteen times with pins; a spell that Faraone next discusses has a woman desired by a man dragged by 'her hair, her guts', and prevented from eating and drinking, until she surrenders to the man who desired her (pp. 41f.). Eros is violent, Eros is torture; the torture of the lover is visited on the beloved, sometimes oblivious or disdainful of the lover's pain. The Greeks saw Eros as a disease, and just as curses could visit their victims with disease, so love magic also cursed (pp. 43-55). But while Greek curses aimed to kill the victim with pain or disease, the sufferings of the one who was desired would come to an end when they yielded.

This is the purpose of the A)GWGH/ spells, to 'lead' the object of desire to the desirer (pp. 55-69). The best known and first example of this is in Pindar's Fourth Pythian, in which Jason employs a I)/UNGC spell, direct from Aphrodite, to lead Medea to him. The I)/UNGC spell with its unfortunate bird victim bound on a wheel points to other sympathetic magic, in which various small creatures become victims: small birds, bats, and roosters, to name a few (pp. 64-68). Particularly insightful is the connection drawn between marriage and love magic: the standard formal marriage is reflected in magic ritual employing apples (noting 69 n. 126), while the violence of A)GWGH/ spells reflects marriage based on violence and abduction.

Most of section two is concerned with the male use of magic to win over an intended victim. But in many ways section three (p. 96) is much more interesting, dealing with spells that will induce FILI/A -- affection -- rather than the violent desire of E)/RWJ. This is explored in two sub-sections through two case-studies, Aphrodite's magical belt (KE/STOJ I(MA/J), and the unfortunate Deianeira. A third part to this section concerns the subversive nature of this FILI/A magic which is underlined by these two case studies: Hera's seduction of Zeus to manage the war at Troy her way (Homer), and Deianeira's unwitting destruction of her husband through the use of a potion (Sophocles Women of Trachis; ARV[2] 1134.7). Women's use of FILI/A subverted male control and made them subject to women, the social inferior prevailing over the social superior, the wife having power over her husband; no wonder Plutarch disapproved of such use of love potions (FI/LTRA; p. 121).

In the fourth section (pp. 132-72), magic is placed within its wider societal context. Faraone examines the employment of magic by prostitutes and freedmen, and the role this played in the construction of gender (pp. 146-59). Here, Faraone qualifies his E)/RWJ-FILI/A, men-women dichotomies by looking at these two social groups (prostitutes and freedmen; the non-citizen male might have been a better categorisation for the latter). He correctly argues that the observation of 'feminist scholars and others' (p. 147) that socially inferior males are assimilated into the construction of the female gender also applies to the use of magic. E)/RWJ- producing magic is utilised largely by men against women, FILI/A-producing magic by women against men. Homo-erotic material is also noted (pp. 147f.); this follows the pattern of erotic A)GWGH/ spells, a feature that Faraone does not seem to adequately explain. In particular, he notes that courtesans and prostitutes regularly co-opted these male types of magic.

My own observation on this is much less subtle and nuanced than Faraone's -- I suspect that it is simply the needs of the trade prevailing here as a crucial factor; the courtesans needed to attract, to lead, their customers to them: A)GWGH/ spells were in their occupational repertoire. If citizen wives had had a say in choosing or responsibility for attracting their husbands, there would perhaps have been much less of the E)/RWJ-FILI/A distinction Faraone rightly argues for (cf. p. 149).

A useful glossary, full bibliography,[[2]] an indispensable index of terms, and an index of passages from the ancient authors, round out the volume. This is without doubt a definitive work. Faraone's material in this volume is immediately accessible to the non-specialist, but nevertheless required reading for any serious student of Greek religion and more broadly of Greek culture and society. It is an important engenderment of the topic of magic and the neighbouring field of Greek religion. At two hundred and three pages it is a smallish volume, yet it is packed with information. But, more importantly, it contains critical insights and interpretations which show that Faraone is master of his subject.


[[1]] Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink, Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion (New York 1991).

[[2]] The bibliography even includes S. I. Johnston, Restless Dead (Berkeley 1999).