A team of archaeologists have decoded a curse tablets found in an Athenian grave.
The grave of a young woman, but that is more or less a coincidence – curse tablets were often buried in a grave for a magical effect. These 2,400-year-old lead tablets have curses aimed at local tavern keepers.
Of the five tablets, four are engraved with curses directed at four different husband-and-wife couples, who worked as tavern keepers in Athens. The fifth tablet was completely blank and must have had a spell recited orally over it. Each was folded and perforated with an iron nail.
When one of the curses is translated it says:
“Cast your hate upon Phanagora and Demetrios and their tavern and their property and their possessions. I will bind my enemy Demetrios, and Phanagora, in blood and in ashes, with all the dead… I will bind you in such a bind, Demetrios, as strong as is possible, and I will smite down a kynotos on tongue.”
Kynotos means “dog’s ear, and was a commonly-used gambling term, referring to the “lowest possible throw of dice”.
Jessica Lamont, a researcher at John Hopkins University, told the Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik journal:
The physical act of hammering a nail into the lead tablet would have ritually echoed this wished-for sentiment – striking Demetrios’ tongue with this unlucky roll.
The writings on the tablets are surprisingly neat, and the actual prose of the curse quite eloquent. This in turn suggests that a professional curse writer authored the incantations. Lamont said:
“It’s very rare that you get something so explicit and lengthy and beautifully written, of course in a very terrible way… I think it’s likely that the person who commissioned them was probably in the world of the tavern himself or herself,” she said.