“Who is his mother so I can curse him?”: The role of the mother as a passive (dangerous) medium on curse tablets
Abstract: Curse tablets are artefacts of a very specific nature. They are generally interpreted as material expression of a particular magic action, usually performed by an individual. Such finds are especially interesting for the study because they represent an epigraphic monument, on the one hand, as well as a standard archaeological find with its specific context on the other hand. A particularly interesting phenomenon is visible on curse tablets throughout the Mediterranean – the presence of mother's name to identify the victim of the curse. The “boom” of this phenomenon occurs in the 2nd century AD, but there also are much older examples, particularly from the 4th and 3rd century BC. In the 2nd century AD, the identification of the mother spread to Italy and the African provinces, where this kind of targeting became dominant. In my paper, I will focus on the later, Latin and Greek curse tablets in the Roman Empire. Mothers' names were assigned to identify a particular person: This is interesting because patronyms were usually used in the Greco-Roman world as the identifier. The purposes of the curse tablets bearing the mother's name were thus different: the tablets were used in cases of private action in competition, love or trials linked to family affairs – all within a ritual framework. For this reason, this paper aims to observe the curse tablets as an important medium of the ritual practice which should enable us to answer the questions: Why should the name of the father, which is usually used, be replaced by the name of the mother? Could the reason for such replacement be the recognition of the mother as a mediator for targeting her child? Is this the most precise identification, as the mother is more accurately identifiable than the father? What does it tell us about the care-giving function of the mother within the family and about the authors of the curse tablets?
Keywords: mother / curse tablets / medium / century / father / 2nd / Roman / replaced
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