Turning men into swine
Classical epics were filled with tales of vengeful hags casting diabolical spells on former lovers
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