Greek Magic & Historiolas

When Daenerys of the Game of Thrones series looks for help to heal her beloved Khal Drogo she accepts the healing arts of Mirri Maz Duur, who knows “how to make the sacred smokes and ointments from leaf and root and berry.” It sounds much more compelling than current practices today of antibiotics and painkillers. Something about the supernatural is enticing, and its place does not lie solely in the imaginations of authors.

img-1-small580

In this line of thought, the ancient Greeks created historiolas (little stories) as explanations for ailments and disease. In fact, the earliest evidence of ancient Greek medicine reveals the belief that the causes of disease, and the operation of the remedies applied to the sick, were linked with beliefs in magic and the supernatural. Even headaches and migraines could be chalked up to supernatural causes. One specific lamellae discovered (of four), presents the most distinctive use of a historiola in ancient magical documents. In it, Antaura, the Greek demon of migraine headaches, rises up from the sea, moves like the wind, shouts like a deer and cries like an ox. She enters into people’s heads to cause intense pain. This lamella, dating from the 3rd Century CE was placed in a stone coffin, with an inscription, “Antaura, where are you taking yourself?” “Into the half-of-the-head.” “You certainly will not go into the…”  This term, “Half-of-the-head” is Greek for migraine, hemikranton. 

Of course, in this historiola, Antaura is no match for Artemis, who had dismissed her as she made her way into the victim’s head, and accompanied by fellow migraine demons, they prevent Artemis from attempting to enter. Thus, Artemis diverts Antaura into the head of a bull in the mountains. This particular amulet was likely passed down within a family of sufferers, as it is much older than the coffin in which it is found.

*The image above is a Greek magical gemstone from the Black Sea. It dates from the Roman imperial period and thought to be found among the ruins of ancient Gorgippia. Even though it is not the specific lamella discussed above, it’s a good example.

Much of the information is from Daniel Ogden’s sourcebook, Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, p. 266.

Aethelred the Unready

The Freelance History Writer

Image of Aethelred the Unready A thirteenth century chronicler recorded Aethelred as being named “Un-raed” which has come to mean Unready in modern terms. The name Aethelred is a compound of two words: Aethel meaning “prince” and raed meaning “noble counsel”. Un-raed means “no counsel” so the chronicler was basically making a pun on Aethelred’s name. But this pun had overtones and alternative meanings including “evil counsel” or “a treacherous plot”. Calling Aethelred “Unraed” could mean he was given bad counsel, he did not take advice from his counselors or that he himself was unwise. Perhaps all were true. Let’s look at the story and see.

Aethelred was the great-great grandson of Alfred the Great and born c. 968. His father was Edgar the Peaceable, King of England and his mother was Queen Aelfthryth. Edgar died in 975 leaving a young Aethelred and an elder son by a previous…

View original post 1,442 more words

O, Daughters of Jerusalem

A Liberal Education

“Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.” (Luke 23:28v) – taken from Paulo Coelho’s latest book, Manuscript Found in Accra.
“Art is like the sun and the sea and the wind, is one and the same all over this earth, in spite of boundaries, nations and wars.” – from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 12.50.09 PM

I wanted to open this post today with quotes from two of my most favourite and most widely read authors of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: Kahlil Gibran & Paulo Coelho. They come from completely different backgrounds (Gibran, Lebanese, immigrating to New York in 1895, 52 years before Coelho, Brazilian, was even born). Yet, in a sense, these two authors are almost kindred spirits. Their writings are poetical prose, exploring the depths of the human psyche. I say psyche twofold: it refers to the totality of…

View original post 474 more words