If theres one person you dont want to annoy, its a tavern-owner from ancient Greece. Researchers have been looking into five tablets thatcontain curses discovered in the 2,400-year-old grave of an ancient Greek woman.
The tablets found in a cemetery near Piraeus, Greece are thought to date back to the early fourth century BCE. They were first excavated in 2003 but have more recently been part of a study in the journalZeitschrift fr Papyrologie und Epigraphik.
Jessica Lamont, the studys author, remarkably thinks the motive behind the heavy-handed curses was a commercial rivalry between tavern owners. The tablets are all very similar in both style and intended victims, though the study focuses on just one representative that contains a curse seeminglypointed towards a certain Athenstavern,a couple Demetrios and Phanagora and their money and possessions.
Translated from Greek, part of the tabletreads as follows:
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
Illustration of the tabletdisplaying the complete text. Image credit:Jessica Lamont
The tabletgoeson to invoke the names of Hermes, Artemis,and Hecate,the Greek god of tradeand the goddesses of the wild and witchcraft, respectively.The skill and poeticstyle of the writing on the tablet suggest that this was a professional who wrote the text, most likely commissioned by the begrudged tavern-owners.
Lamont also suggests in the study thatthe iron nail found piercing each tablet was because the”physical act of hammering a nail into the lead tablet would have ritually echoed this wished-for sentiment.” Interestingly, one of the tablets remains blank, so it is thought to have had its spell orally recited over it.
However, the young woman whose grave held the tablets is likely to be unrelated to the drama. Instead, it was just an opportunity to get the tablets underground. According to Lamont, burying the tablets was believed to provide some easy access to the smiting gods of the underworld.
The deities that the curse commissioner chose aresignificant. Hecate, Hermes, and Artemis are described as ‘chthonic,’ whichmeans that they are being channeled in the specific role of sub-earthly underworld deities, Lamont told IFLScience.
Curse tablets are not rare during this period that’s what’s so fascinating about them! Around this time, there are curse tablets emerging across the Greek world in Sicily, Athens, Macedonia. During later periods, they emerge from all across the Mediterranean.