Abstract: Magic and Religion in Ancient Corinth


Located at the narrowest part of the Greek peninsula and controlling land and sea traffic in all four directions, Corinth became famous as one of the greatest commercial centers in the ancient world. Her mighty rock fortress of Acrocorinth also made her almost impervious to attack. She was a prime player in all the important historical events of antiquity, succumbing at one point to destruction by the Roman armies in 146 B.C. and abandonment for roughly a century, but later revived by Julius Caesar to become a provincial capital and once again a thriving center of trade and culture, attracting a large and diverse population of Italians, Egyptians, Jews, Syrians, and many others.

From at least as early as legendary times Corinth also had a reputation as a center for magic and the occult. She was the venue for some of the most striking adventures of the most notorious witch in Greece, Medea. Many tales about ghosts, haunted houses, the supernatural, and monsters were set in Corinth. Excavations by the American School of Classical Studies have revealed a “cell” where black magic was practiced at night high up on the slopes of Acrocorinth in the Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone. It was established at roughly the same time as St. Paul’s famous Christian mission to Corinth in the middle of the first century after Christ.

My lecture will present some of the special magical equipment used in these secret activities, as well as the texts incised on lead tablets carrying curses that were deposited in this shrine. Named individuals are singled out for destruction and merit special attention because both writers and targets of many are women.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

Demeter and Persephone in Ancient Corinth, by Nancy Bookidis and Ronald Stroud. Corinth Notes no. 2, published by the American School of Classical Studies (Princeton 1987)

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