Turn­ing men into swine

Clas­si­cal epics were filled with tales of venge­ful hags cast­ing di­a­bol­i­cal spells on former lovers

BBC History Magazine - - A History Of Witches -

Be­ware the aban­doned wife. Such was the ad­vice con­tained within an­cient Greek epic tales, which rou­tinely re­galed their read­ers with sto­ries of venge­ful women us­ing evil po­tions to meta­mor­phise their former hus­bands into an­i­mals. The most fa­mous rep­re­sen­ta­tion was the god­dess-witch Circe, who turned men into swine with her magic wand or staff.

By the time the Ro­mans had be­come the dom­i­nant force in an­cient Europe, the im­age of the witch had changed again. Now, she was pre­dom­i­nately old and ugly, like the witches Cani­dia and Sa­gana de­scribed by the first-cen­tury BC poet Ho­race. Th­ese fig­ures have, per­haps, done more than any other to forge the mod­ern stereo­type of the

The Ro­man witch could be a sex­ual preda­tor, a lust­ful and jeal­ous older woman us­ing magic to make younger men fall in love with her

witch in the western imag­i­na­tion.

The Ro­man witch could also be a sex­ual preda­tor, a lust­ful and jeal­ous older woman us­ing magic to make younger men fall in love with her. In one story a witch turns a man into a beaver for sleep­ing with an­other woman.

The witch in Ro­man lit­er­a­ture has a predilec­tion for corpses and necro­man­tic div­ina­tion. In Lu­can’s Pharsalia, the witch Eric­tho scours grave­yards and fu­neral pyres look­ing for body parts, plung­ing “her hands into the eyes, de­light­ing to dig out the con­gealed orbs, while she gnaws the pale fin­ger­nails of a des­ic­cated hand”. In some sto­ries, the wrath­ful witches have cos­mic pow­ers, draw­ing down storms and in­vok­ing in­fer­nal deities.

A fifth-cen­tury BC Greek vase shows the god­dess-witch Circe hand­ing Odysseus an en­chanted po­tion, part of her plan to turn him into a pig

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