Marguerite Johnson on Love Magic in the Ancient Mediterranean

A lecture delivered by cultural historian Marguerite Johnson (University of Newcastle) for the 2017 SHAPS ‘Love’ Public Lecture Series.

It was a well-kept secret among historians during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that the practice of magic was widespread in the ancient Mediterranean. Historians wanted to keep the activity secret because it did not support the idealised view of the Greeks and Romans.

Today, however, magic is a legitimate area of scholarly enquiry, providing insights into ancient belief systems as well as cultural and social practices. Among the types of magic practiced in antiquity were love spells. Indeed, making spells of attraction kept professional magic practitioners in business, as they charged fees for writing love charms, making love ‘dolls,’ and even directing spells against rivals.

This illustrated lecture explores the practice of love magic in ancient Greece and Rome, including the rich variety of spells. It also discusses the types of people who performed such magic, including professional magicians and courtesans (experts in erotic magic and charms).

Marguerite Johnson (University of Newcastle, Australia) is an interdisciplinary cultural historian and comparative cultural analyst, she is the author of four books and countless articles and chapters. Her research expertise is predominantly in the area of ancient Mediterranean cultural studies, particularly in representations of gender, sexualities and the body. She is especially interested in the ways in which the ancients write about women. Her books include Sappho (2007), Boudicca (2012) and Ovid on Cosmetics (2016). She is a regular contributor to The Conversation and the ABC.

Feature image: Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus by John William Waterhouse, 1891 (detail). Gallery Oldham