COLLOQUIUM: Radcliffe Edmonds, Bryn Mawr, "Drawing Down the Moon: Defining Magic in the Ancient Greco-Roman World"

Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

402 Cohen Hall 

Magic – the word evokes the mysterious and the marvelous, the forbidden and the hidden, the ancient and the arcane.  But what did magic mean to the people who coined the term, the people of ancient Greece and Rome?  Understanding why certain practices, images, and ideas were labeled as ‘magic’ and set apart from the normal kinds of practices provides insight into the shifting ideas of normal religion in the Greco-Roman world.  In societies with no notion of orthodoxy and even limited modes of orthopraxy, normative religion could only be defined by this kind of practice of labeling, and ‘magic’ was one of the more important labels that was used, in different ways by different people at different times. In this paper, entitled Drawing Down the Moon after the most famous of the magical tricks known from the ancient world, I survey the varieties of phenomena labeled magic in the ancient Greco-Roman world, seeking ways to form a definition of magic to understand the uses of the label.