Witches, Warlocks, and Magic

14 Witches

Alyssa Brazeau and Siobhán McElduff

WITCHES AND POLICING FEMALE BEHAVIOUR 

Witches tend to be rather differently represented in our literature than wizards and warlock, and are they are often represented as sad, withered, and delusional figures obsessed with getting their lovers back. According to some Romans there was no hideous thing they would not attempt. Witches and poisoners were often rolled into one category along with under types of undesirable and unRoman female behaviour. Witches were believed to do things like help poison husbands or slip them love potions that could drive them insane, or kill free born children to perform their rituals. Many women caught up in these trials may have been female healers and wise women (see Ripat 2016).

The following account by Livy of a mass poison trial of women that took place in 331 BCE after a number of important senators fell ill and died, shows how Rome could use such accusations against a large number of women at one time. The lack of detail about the names of the first women seized suggest that the story was perhaps not entirely based on truth, but even if not, the warning it sent out to women was clear:

The lead men in the state were being attacked by the same illness, and in almost every case with the same fatal results. A female slave went to Q. Fabius Maximus, one of the s, and promised to reveal the cause of the public mischief if the senate would protect her against any danger in which her discovery might involve her. Fabius at once brought the matter to the notice of the consuls and they referred it to the senate, who authorised immunity be given. She then disclosed that the state was suffering through the crimes of certain women; those poisons were concocted by Roman , and if they would follow her at once she promised that they should catch the poisoners in the act. They followed their informant and actually found some women compounding poisonous drugs and some poisons already made up. These latter were brought into the Forum, and as many as twenty matronae, at whose houses they had been seized, were brought up by the magistrates’ officers. Two of them, Cornelia and Sergia, both members of patrician houses, contended that the drugs were medicinal preparations. The female slave, when confronted with them, told them to drink some that they might prove she had given false evidence. They were allowed time to consult as to what they would do, and the bystanders were ordered to retire that they might take counsel with the other matronae. They all consented to drink the drugs, and after doing so fell victims to their own criminal designs. Their dslbrd were instantly arrested, and denounced a large number of matronae as being guilty of the same offence, out of whom a hundred and seventy were found guilty. Up to that time there had never been a charge of poison investigated in Rome. The whole incident was regarded as a portent, and thought to be an act of madness rather than deliberate wickedness.

Livy, From the Founding of Rome 8.18

There were a number of other incidents of this nature, including more mass trials. Because the word for poison and the word for a magic potion were the same (veneficia) it can be hard to separate them apart in our sources, and it is unclear that the Romans thought there was that much difference. (To be fair, some of the stuff that went in magic potions could be toxic, and it was not impossible that a love potion or an actual honest remedy might kill someone rather than have the desired effect.)

While our evidence points to most love spells being actually written by men, it was women in literature who were depicted using love potions, often because their other appeals had faded. , who wrote during the reign of Augustus, imagined female witches killing well-born boys to make a love potion. The poem starts in the voice of the boy watching the witches setting up their spell, before moving to voice of one of the witches, and then back to the boys. Notice how disgustingly the witches are portrayed and how useless their magic is according to Horace:

“But by all the gods in heaven, who rule the earth and human race, what is this horrible sound? And what the hideous looks of all these hags, fixed soley on me? I beg you by your children (if you called up Lucina[1] to be present at any real birth of yours), I [conjure] you by this empty honour of my purple stripe,[2] by Jupiter, who must disapprove of this, why are you looking at me like a step-mother,[3] or a wild beast struck with an arrow?” While the boy made these cries with a faltering voice, he stood with his marks of distinction taken from him,[4] a tender frame, such as might soften the impious breasts of the cruel Thraciansno post; Canidia, having interwoven her hair and uncombed head with little vipers, orders wild fig-trees torn up from graves, orders funeral cypresses and eggs smeared with the gore of a loathsome toad, and feathers of the nocturnal screech-owl [strix], and those herbs, which lolchos, and Spain, fruitful in poisons, transmits, and bones snatched from the mouth of a hungry bitch, to be burned in Colchian flames. But Sagana, tucked up for expedition, sprinkling the waters of Avernus[5] all over the house, bristles up with her rough hair like a sea-urchin, or a boar in the chase. Veia, deterred by no prodding of conscience, groaning with the toil, dug up the ground with the sharp spade; where the boy, fixed in, might long be tormented to death at the sight of food varied two or three times in a day: while he stood out with his face, just as much at bodies suspended by the chin [in swimming] project from the water, so his parched marrow and dried liver might be a charm for love; when once the pupils of his eyes had wasted away, fixed on the forbidden food.[6]

Both lazy Naples and every neighboring town believed that Folia of Ariminum, of masculine lust, was there: she, who with her Thessalian incantations forces the charmed stars and the moon from heaven. Here the fell Canidia, gnawing her untrimmed thumb with her livid teeth, what said she? or what did she not say? “O you faithful witnesses to my proceedings, Night and Diana, who preside over silence, when the secret rites are celebrated: now, now be present, now turn your anger and power against the houses of our enemies, while the savage wild beasts lie hid in the woods, dissolved in sweet repose; let the dogs of Suburra (which may be matter of ridicule for every body) bark at the aged rake, bedaubed with ointment, such as my hands never made any more exquisite. What is the matter? Why do these songs not work as well as those of the barbarian ? She used these to make her escape, after she got revenge on [Jason’s] haughty mistress, the daughter of the mighty Creon; when the garment, a gift that was injected with venom, took off the new bride by its firey power.[7] And yet no herb, nor root hidden in inaccessible places, ever escaped my notice – still he sleeps in the perfumed bed of every whore, forgetting me. Ah! ah! he walks free [from my power] by the charms of some more knowing witch. Varus, (oh you that will shortly have much to lament!) you shall come back to me by means of unusual spells; nor shall you return to yourself by all the power of Marsian enchantments, I will prepare a stronger potion: I will pour in a stronger potion for you, disdainful as you are; and the heaven shall subside below the sea, with the earth extended over it, sooner than you shall not burn with love for me, in the same manner as this pitch [burns] in the sooty flames.” At these words, the boy no longer, as before, tried to move the impious hags by pleading expressions; but, doubtful how he should break silence, uttered curses like Thyestes.[8] “Potions have a great efficacy in confounding right and wrong, but are not able to invert the condition of human nature; I will follow you with curses; and execrating detestation is not to be expiated by any victim. Moreover, when doomed to death I shall have perished, I will attend you as a nocturnal fury; and, a ghost, I will attack your faces with my hooked talons (for such is the power of those divinities, the Manes), and, brooding upon your restless breasts, I will deprive you of rest through terror. The mob, from village to village, assaulting you on every side with stones, shall demolish you filthy hags. Finally, the wolves and Esquiline vultures shall scatter abroad your unburied limbs. Nor shall this spectacle escape the observation of my parents, who, alas! must survive me.”

Horace, Epode V

 

A fresco of Priapus from the Casa dei Vettii, Pompeii.

In another poem of Horace’s, the priapic god Priapus, who was often left in gardens to protect them (a bit like an extremely pornographic garden gnome) watches some witches perform their rituals:

Before this I was the trunk of a wild fig-tree, a useless log, when the carver, in doubt whether he should make a stool or a Priapus out of me, decided that I should be a god. And so I became a god, the greatest terror of thieves and birds: for my right hand restrains thieves, and a bloody looking pole stretches out from my frightful middle: but a reed fixed upon the crown of my head terrifies the mischievous birds, and hinders them from settling in these new gardens. Before this the fellow-slave bore dead corpses thrown out of their narrow cells to this place, in order to be deposited in cheap coffins. This place stood a common grave for the miserable mob, for the clown Pantolabus, and Nomentanus the rake. Here a column assigned a thousand feet [of ground] in front, and three hundred toward the fields: that the burial-place should not descend to the heirs of the estate.[9] Now people can live in the Esquiline Hill as it is now a healthy place, and walk upon an open terrace, where just recently the melancholy passengers beheld the ground frightful with white bones; though both the thieves and wild beasts accustomed to infest this place[10] do not causes me so much care and trouble, as do [these hags], that turn people’s minds by their incantations and drugs. These I can not by any means destroy nor stop, and continue to gather bones and noxious herbs as soon as the fleeting moon has shown her lovely face.

I myself saw Canidia, with her sable garment tucked up, walk with bare feet and disheveled hair, yelling together with the elder Sagana. Paleness had rendered both of them horrible to behold. They began to claw up the earth with their nails, and to tear a black ewe-lamb to pieces with their teeth. The blood was poured into a ditch, that they might charm out the shades of the dead, ghosts that were to give them answers. There was a woollen effigy too, another of wax: the woollen one larger, which was to inflict punishment on the little one. The waxen stood in a suppliant posture, as ready to perish in a servile manner. One of the hags invokes Hecate, and the other grim Tisiphone. Then might you see serpents and infernal bitches wander about; and the moon with blushes hiding behind the lofty monuments, that she might not be a witness to these doings. But if I lie, even a tittle, may my head be contaminated with the white filth of ravens; and may Julius and the effeminate Pediatous, and the knave Voranus, come to piss upon me, and befoul me. Why should I mention every particular? viz. in what manner, speaking alternately with Sagana, the ghosts uttered dismal and piercing shrieks; and how by stealth they laid in the earth a wolf’s beard, with the teeth of a spotted snake; and how a great blaze flamed forth from the waxen image? And how I was shocked at the voices and actions of these two furies, a spectator however by no means incapable of revenge? For from my cleft body of fig-tree wood I uttered a loud noise with as great an explosion as a fart. But they ran into the city: and with great laughter and amusement you could have seen Canidia’s false teeth and Sagana’s towering wig of false hair falling off, and the herbs, as well as the enchanted bracelets from her arms.

Horace, Satire 1.8

Elderly Women and Magic

You will notice that the witches in Horace are described as disgusting, hideous – and old, too old to be getting up to love potions and like. The Romans might talk a lot about respecting the elderly and have all sorts of laws in place to force children to respect and take care of their parents, but many older people were destitute[11] and, even if possessed of some money, considered fools and obstacles to be got rid of. Older women in particular came in for scathing attacks, and were often associated with magic of a terrifying sort, perhaps as a better way to make them even more ‘other’ and undeserving of respect.

We can see this in the stories about the strix (striges (plural)). These owl-like[12] beings are  depicted as old women that are vampiric and either disembowel and feed on infants or breastfeed them. The first case they do the opposite of what a matrona was supposed to do – have and raise children – and speak to Roman anxieties about old women as caregivers and medical authorities, who in the latter case might also be seen as challenges to professional doctors.[13] The mythology behind them is very confused, but we hear of them in association with the nymph, who was also the goddess of the hinge, and as such was seen to also protect entrances and exits where hinges were found. She was invoked against the strix, as we hear in a passage from the poet Ovid, who tells us that after being raped by the god Janus (after whom January is named),

he gave her a thorn – a whitethorn– using which she could drive all terrible harm from doors.

[131] There are greedy birds, not those that cheated Phineus’ mouth of its food,[14] though from those they are descended. Their heads are big, their eyes goggle, they have beaks for snatching, their feathers blotched with grey, their claws fitted with hooks. They fly by night and attack children without nurses, and defile their bodies, snatched from their cradles. They are said to rend the flesh of babies with their beaks, and their throats are full of the blood which they have drunk. Strix is their name, but the reason for the name is that they are often screech horribly by night. And so whether they are born birds, or are made such by enchantment and are nothing but old women transformed into fowls by a Marsian[15] spell, they came into the room of Proca.[16] In the chambers Proca, a child five days old, was a fresh prey for the birds. They sucked the infant with their greedy tongues, and the poor child squalled and cried for help. Alarmed by the cry of her fosterling, the nurse ran to him and found his cheeks scored by their rigid claws. What was she to do? The colour of the child’s face was like the colour of late leaves nipped by an early frost. She went to Cranaë [=Carna] and told what had befallen. Cranaë said, “Lay fear aside; the child will be safe.” She went to the cradle; mother and father were weeping. “Restrain your tears,” she said, “I myself will heal the child.” At once she touched the doorposts three times, one after the other, with arbutus leaves; three times with arbutus leaves she marked the threshold. She sprinkled the entrance with water (and the water was drugged), and she held the raw inwards of a piglet just two months old. And thus she spoke: “You birds of night, spare the child’s inwards: a small victim falls for a small child. Take, I beg you, a heart for a heart, entrails for entrails. This life we give you for a better life.” When she had thus sacrificed, she set the severed inwards in the open air, and forbade those present at the sacrifice to look back at them. A rod of Janus, taken from the white-thorn, was placed where a small window gave light to the chambers. After that, it is said that the birds did not violate the cradle, and the boy recovered his former colour.

Ovid, Fasti 6.130-168.

NIGHT-HAGS AND WEREWOLVES

There were other fears the Romans had, some of which involved witches and werewolves. The following description of ‘night-hags’ comes from 1st century CE Roman novel, the Satyricon by Petronius.[17] The story of the witches comes after a story about a werewolf that we have included, because it is great. The speaker is a guest at the dinner party of an extremely and rather horrible rich freedman, called Trimalchio.

When I was still a slave, we lived in a narrow street; the house is Gavilla’s now. There, as the gods would have it, I fell in love with Terentius, the inn-keeper’s wife; you all knew Melissa from Tarentum, the prettiest of pretty girls! Not that I courted her just for sex or pleasure of that sort, but more because she was such a good sort. Nothing I asked did she ever refuse; if she made money, I got half of it; whatever I saved, I put in her purse, and she never cheated me. Well! her husband died when they were at a country house. So I moved heaven and earth to get to her; true friends, you know, are proved in adversity.

72 “It so happened my master had gone to Capua, to attend to various trifles of business. So seizing the opportunity, I persuade our lodger to accompany me as far as the fifth milestone. He was a soldier, as bold as Hell. We got under way about first cockcrow, with the moon shining as bright as day. We arrive at the tombs; my man lingers behind among the gravestones, while I sit down singing, and start counting the gravestones. Presently I looked back for my comrade; he had stripped off all his clothes and laid them down by the wayside. My heart was in my mouth; and there I stood feeling like a dead man. Then he pissed all round the clothes, and in an instant changed into a wolf. Don’t imagine I’m joking; I would not tell a lie for the finest fortune ever man had. However, as I was telling you, directly he was turned into a wolf, he set up a howl, and away to the woods. At first I didn’t know where I was, but presently I went forward to gather up his clothes; but lo and behold! they were turned into stone. If ever a man was about to die of terror, I was that man! Still I drew my sword and attacked every shadow on the road till I arrived at my sweetheart’s house. I rushed in looking like a ghost, soul and body barely sticking together. The sweat was pouring down between my legs, my eyes were set, my wits gone almost past recovery. Melissa was astounded at my state, wondering why I was out so late. ‘Had you come a little sooner,’ she said, ‘you might have given us a hand; a wolf broke into the farm and has slaughtered all the cattle, just as if a butcher had bled them. Still he didn’t altogether have the laugh on us, though he did escape; for one of the laborers ran him through the neck with a pike.’

“After hearing this, I could not close an eye, but directly it was broad daylight, I started off for our good Gaius’s house, like a travelling salesperson whose bag’s been stolen; and coming to the spot where the clothes had been turned into stone, I found nothing whatever but a pool of blood. When eventually I got home, there lay my soldier in bed like a great ox, while a surgeon was treating his neck. I saw at once he was a werewolf and I could never afterwards eat bread with him, no! not if you’d killed me. Other people may think what they please; but as for me, if I’m telling you a lie, may your guardian spirits confound me!”

73 We were all struck dumb with amazement, till Trimalchio broke the silence, saying, “Far be it from me to doubt your story; if you’ll believe me, my hair stood on end, for I know Niceros is not the man to repeat idle fables; he’s perfectly trustworthy and anything but a babbler. Now! I’ll tell you a horrible tale myself, as much out of the common as an ass on the tiles! “I was still but a long-haired lad (for I led a life of luxury from a boy) when our master’s pet[18] died,–a pearl, by heaven! a paragon of perfection at all points. Well! as his poor mother was mourning him, and several of us besides condoling with her, all of a sudden the witches set up their hullabaloo, for all the world like a hound in full cry after a hare. At that time we had a Cappadocian in the household, a tall fellow, and a high-spirited, and strong enough to lift a mad bull off its feet. This man bravely drawing his sword, dashed out in front of the house door, first winding his cloak carefully round his left arm, and lunging out, as it might be there–no harm to what I touch[19]–ran a woman clean through. We heard a groan, but the actual witches (I’m very particular to tell the exact truth) we did not see. Coming in again, our champion threw himself down on a bed and his body was black and blue all over, just as if he had been scourged with whips, for it seems an evil hand had touched him. We barred the door and turned back aagain to our lamentations, but when his mother threw her arms round her boy and touched his dead body, she found nothing but a wisp of straw. It had neither heart, nor entrails, nor anything else; for the witches had whipped away the lad and left a changeling of straw in his place. Now I ask you, can you help after this believing there are wise women, and hags that fly by night. But our tall bully, after what happened, never got back his color, in fact a few days afterward he died raving mad!”

74 We listened with wonder and credulity in equal proportions, and kissing the table, begged the Night-hags to stay indoors, while we were returning home.

Petronius, Satyricon 71-74

Older witches might do even more terrible things according to other writers, making themselves even more other and unRoman. The following story comes from another novel, this time in Greek, called the Ethiopian Story by Heliodorus (the novel dates from the 200s or 300s CE). The story is very complicated so we will not try to explain it. All you need to know is that two of the characters, the heroine (Chariclea) and an old priest (Calasiris), have come to the town of Bessa while searching for the hero.

For coming near to Bessa about sunset they beheld a great and recent slaughter of men, most of which were Persians, as might easily be known by their armour, and a few of those that lived in Bessa also. They could guess had been a battle, but they did not know who had fought each other. They ranged about the dead bodies, looking to see if any of their friends were killed — for hearts in fear, careful for what they love best, do often expect the worst — until at last they saw an old woman who lay upon the dead body of one of the locals and wailed wonderfully. They decided therefore, if they could, to inquire somewhat of her; and so, coming to her, attempted at first to comfort her and appease her great sorrow. Which done, they asked for whom she lamented and what battle had been there — Calasiris talking to her in the Egyptian tongue — and she told them all in few words: that she sorrowed for her son, and came of purpose to these dead bodies that some armed man might run on her and kill her; and in the meantime she would do such rites to her son as she was able with tears and lamentations.

[In a cut section the old woman tells them what happened in the battle, she ends with the following]

‘But,’ she, ‘strangers, where are you going?’ ‘To the village,’ said Calasiris. ‘It is not safe,’ said she, ‘to mingle with those of us that are left, seeing that you are not known and come at this unseasonable hour.’ ‘If you will agree to entertain us,’ said Calasiris, ‘we hope we shall be unharmed.’ ‘I cannot now,’ she answered, ‘for I must do certain night sacrifices. But if you can wait — and indeed there is no remedy; you must, whether you will or not — get you into some place away from these dead bodies to pass the night, and in the morning I promise I will entertain you and be your guarantor.

Thus she said. Calasiris told Chariclea all and took her with him and they went their way. And having gone a little past those bodies, they chanced upon a little hill. There he laid down with her quiver under his head, and Chariclea sat upon her bad instead of a stool. The moon had just risen, lightening all things with her brightness, for she was now three days past full and Calasiris, being an old man and weary with his travels, fell fast asleep. But Chariclea, by reason of the cares that troubled her, slept not that night but beheld a wicked and abominable scene, such as the women of Egypt commonly perform. The old woman thinking she had now gotten a time when she would neither be seen nor troubled of any, first dug a trench, then made a fire on both sides of it, and in the middle laid her son’s body. Then taking an earthen pot from a three-footed stool which stood thereby she poured honey into the trench; out of another pot she poured milk, and from the third a libation of wine. Lastly she cast into the trench a lump of dough hardened in the fire, which was made like a man and crowned with a garland of laurel and fennel. This done, she took up a sword which lay among the dead men’s shields, and behaving herself as if she had been in a Bacchic frenzy, said many prayers to the moon in strange outlandish terms. Then she cut her arm and with a branch of laurel sprinkled the fire with her blood; and after doing many monstrous and strange things beside these, at length bowing down to her dead son’s 190 body and saying somewhat in his ear, she awakened him, and by force of her witchcraft made him suddenly stand. Chariclea, who hitherto had been looking not without fear, trembled with horror and was utterly undone by that terrible sight, so that she awaked Calasiris and caused him also the behold the spectacle. They could not be seen in their dark corner, but they saw easily what she did by the light of the fire, and heard also what she said, for they were not very far off, and the old woman spoke very loud to the body. Her question was this: ‘Would his brother, her son who was yet alive, return safe or not?’ The body made no answer, but by nodding gave his mother a doubtful hope of success according to her wish, and then fell down upon its face again. But she turned it over on its back and did not stop asking that question, with more earnestentreaties, it seemed, speaking in his ear. Sometimes she leapt, sword in hand, to the trench, sometimes to the fire, and at length she made the body stand upright again and asked the same question, compelling him to answer not by nods and becks but plainly by word of mouth. While this was doing, Chariclea begged Calasiris earnestly that they might go near and ask the old woman some tidings of Theagenes. But he would not go, saying that the sight was wicked although they were compelled to endure it. It was not becoming for priests either to take delight or be present when such things were doing. Their prescience came from lawful sacrifice and virtuous prayer; the knowledge of sorcerers from traffic with dead bodies in the ground, such as this chance had allowed them to see the Egyptian woman use.

While he spoke like this, the dead body cried out very terribly with a hollow voice, as if it had come out of a deep cave, saying: ‘Mother, at the first I spared you, and allowed you to sin against nature and break the laws of destiny, attempting by incantations to make those things move which by nature are immovable. For even dead men, in so far as they may, have reverence towards their parents. But since you have destroyed this, and proceed in the wicked and shameful deeds which thou did at first begin, and are not content that a dead body stand up but will compel him to speak also, caring nothing for my burial and barring me from the company of the other spirits for the sake of thy own private need: hear now that which till now I did not tell you before — Neither shall thy son come safe home, nor thyself escape death by the sword. As thou have spent thy life in such wicked deeds as these, thou shalt soon meet the violent death that is appointed for all such. Thou have endured not only to do these secret and hidden mysteries alone, but in the sight of others also, betraying to them the fortunes of the dead. Of these one is a priest — and that is so much the better, for in his wisdom he know that such things should not be published abroad; and he is also well beloved of the gods; and he shall, if he make speed, reconcile his sons who are ready armed to fight a bloody battle hand to hand. But the other — which is much worse — is a maid, who has seen and heard all that thou hast done to me, a woman distressed by love who wanders all the world over almost, for her lover’s sake; with whom after infinite labours and infinite dangers in the furtherest part of the world she shall live in prosperity and kingly estate.

The body fell down when he had said thus. But the old woman perceiving that it was the strangers who looked upon her, armed as she was with a sword, rushed against them like a wild woman. About the dead bodies she ranged thinking they were there in hiding, and meaning, if she could find them to rid them of their lives, as being crafty folk who by their spying upon her had caused her to have ill success in her witchcraft. At length seeking negligently in her anger for them among the bodies, a spear that stood up struck her through the belly; and thus died she, fulfilling straightway by justice the saying which her son prophesied to her before.

Heliodorus, The Ethopian Story

 

Bibliography/further reading:

Kaufman, David. 1932 “Poison and Poisoning among the Romans.” Classical Philology 27: 156-172

This is old and he believes that the cases reflect increases in the crime of poison, so take some of his assumptions with a lot of salt. He does, however, lay out the cases and the events reported in our sources very well, so worth reading to get an overview of poison cases.

Click here to read at Bill Thayer’s site (open access)

Paule, Maxwell “Canidia: A Literary Analysis of Horace’s Witch.” Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Ohio State University, 2012. Recommended by a student researcher who worked on this material (see their review below)

https://etd.ohiolink.edu/pg_10?258697508567::NO:10:P10_ETD_SUBID:76888

Maxwell Teitel Paule’s dissertation Canidia: A Literary Analysis of Horace’s Witch” raises the issue of labelling ancient literary characters “witches”, since these diverse characters have become grouped together under a generalized term “witch” that the ancient world had no concrete baseline, only the assumption of one, to compare them from.

This source proves extremely useful when sifting through the ancient world for these magical figures, which can often feel like looking for a needle in a haystack for someone who is not familiar with Rome’s literary characters and writers. Various Roman (and other) witches are mentioned, along with helpful comparison charts, and the text also explores in depth the issue of categorizing by fitting popular witches into other categories like demons.

Ripat, Pauline. 2016. “Roman women, wise women, and witches” Phoenix 70: 104-128.

 

 

Media Attributions

  • Pompeya_erótica6

  1. A Roman goddess of childbirth
  2. null
  3. Romans, like Greeks, portrayed stepmothers, almost without exception, as evil and keen on killing their stepchildren so theirs would inherit more of the estate, or just to get the house empty.
  4. The bulla, which marked freeborn status in children.
  5. One of the rivers of the underworld.
  6. It was thought that the hunger he felt would transfer to his marrow, and thus be useful in love potions.
  7. Medea sent a poisoned cloak to the woman marrying her ex-husband; it ate at her when she put it on, and then the king when he tried to save her and so forth.
  8. A figure in Greek mythology who cursed a fair bit after his brother fed him his children for dinner.
  9. When you created a burial site you often put up an inscription saying who the site was for, who could be buried in it afterwards, and how big the plot was. This was to stop anyone else coming along later and trying to claim some of your space for their own plot, now that you were conveniently dead.
  10. Graveyards, especially those of the poor who would not be buried deep, were obviously a prime source of food for various wild and feral animals. And they were a great place to lurk to wait for targets if you were a criminal, as graveyards were just outside the city walls and not generally a place people wanted to hang out at night unless they were looking for trouble.
  11. Quite a lot of people's children never survived to take care of them.
  12. Strix is the Latin name for the screech-owl, Owls, especially owls in the day time or in houses, were ill omens to the Romans, who feared them quite a bit.
  13. According to the Romans medical authorities should be Greek. They could be women, but all 'professional' doctors took Greek names and supposedly adhered to Greek norms of treating people.
  14. The reference is to the Harpies who stole food from Phineus.
  15. The Marsians were an Italian people associated by the Romans with magic.
  16. He was later the king of Alba Longa, and the grandfather of Romulus and Remus.
  17. The novel only exists now in fragments.
  18. The Romans liked to keep small slave children around as pets.
  19. He touches the table to ward off any evil spirits listening.

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

UnRoman Romans by Alyssa Brazeau and Siobhán McElduff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book