Podcast Season 2, Episode 7 – Practical Magic: Ancient Roman Smells and Spells with Britta Ager

A headshot of Dr. Britta Ager against a beige background
Dr. Britta Ager
Dr. Ager’s Academic and Personal Websites

Academia: https://asu.academia.edu/BrittaAger

Humanities Commons: https://hcommons.org/members/brittaager/

Twitter: Personal

Twitter: Fasti Romani

On this episode of the Peopling the Past podcast, we are joined by Dr. Britta Ager, an assistant professor of Classics at Arizona State University. Her research centres on Greco-Roman magic, religion and sensory studies, which is the subject of her forthcoming monograph The Scent of Ancient Magic.

Listen in, as Dr. Ager talks about the various forms of magic that are used in the ancient Roman world, especially spells and curses. She also tells us about the role of scents and smellscapes in the practice of ancient rituals.

“Necromancy, Divine Encounters, and Erotic Magic in Cupid and Psyche,” American Journal of Philology 140.2(2019): 317-43.

“Magic Perfumes and Deadly Herbs: The Scent of Witches’ Magic in Classical Literature,” Preternature 8.1 (2019): 1-34.

“Magic and Genre in Columella’s Caterpillar Charm,” Classical Philology 114.2 (2019): 197 -217.

“Drag Her by the Hair and Heart: The Manosphere and Ancient Love Curses,” Eidolon May 14, 2018

Looking for a transcript of this episode? Click here.
A modern lead curse tablet in a box with a mallet in front of it.
Making curse tablets
A collection of objects on a table used in the making of incense. This image was taken in a modern laboratory.
Making incense
A collection of modern items used to make incense displayed on a table. These include wine, honey, lavender, bay leaves and frankincense.
Ingredients to make incense
A close-up of frankincense in a grey mortar.
Incense ingredients rolled up into three small balls.
Incense balls
A Greek papyrus containing two spells. At the end of the papyrus is a drawing of the Egyptian god Bes.
Greek magical papyrus in the British Museum (Public Domain)
A close-up excerpt of a Greek magical papyrus
A Greek magical papyrus from the 3rd c. CE

Betz, Hans D., ed. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, Including the Demotic Spells, 2nd ed. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992.  

Collins, Derek. Magic in the Ancient Greek World. Blackwell, 2008.

Gager, John. Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World. Oxford Univ. Press, 1999.

Ogden, Daniel. Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds: A sourcebook, 2nd ed. Oxford Univ. Press, 2009.

A Twitter thread by Dr. Ager demonstrating how to make ancient incense

No Bears: Greek Magical Papyri – A blog post on the making of Greek magical papyri

Published by Peopling the Past

A Digital Humanities initiative that hosts free, open-access resources for teaching and learning about real people in the ancient world and the people who study them.

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