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SIDNEY-SPENSER  February 2004

SIDNEY-SPENSER February 2004

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Subject:

Re: Medusa and terrible beauty

From:

"Steven J. Willett" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Sidney-Spenser Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 23 Feb 2004 16:11:00 +0900

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text/plain

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On Sun, 22 Feb 2004 15:31:36 -0600, Douglas Eskew wrote:

> Simaetha's verb is katadesomai. The noun form, katadesmos, Gow
> says, "is the regular expression for the constraint imposed by
> magic on its victims, and in literature it means little more than
> bewitchment." But note that the root of the noun is desmos, which
> can be some sort of fetter or band or, even, the bonds of
> imprisonment.
>
>
>> Just to complicate things: after Theocritus's Delphis sleeps with
>> Simaetha and then quits visiting her, she threatens to use her
>> magic to "bind" him and, if that doesn't work, to poison him.
>> The word "bind" is in Wells' and Hines' translations.  I'm not a
>> Greek scholar and don't have the Loeb in front of me; could one
>> of you tell me whether the original Greek denotes merely an
>> enforced fidelity or whether it also denotes an immobilization?
>> If the latter, here again a beautiful woman, like Medusa in
>> Neptune's temple, is first bedded (in this case willingly), then
>> abandoned, and then turns into a terrible beauty who at least
>> wishes to astonify a man.  Of course, Theocritus undercuts
>> Simaetha's power by making Simaetha's supposed sorcery
>> unconvincing, suggesting by the very repetition of her threats
>> that those threats have little actual power of magic behind them.
>>  Yet her male beloved's powers of immobilization, as Douglas's
>> quotation shows, have been quite effective.
>>
>> Dorothy

The middle future katadhsomai (>katadew 'bind down') that both Gow and
Dover print at at 3, 10 and 159 is actually an emendation for the
manuscripts' middle future kata8usomai (>kata8uw 'to sacrifice, offer,
dedicate').  In the middle voice, kata8ues8ai tina means 'to compel
someone's love by magic spells or sacrifices.'  The justification for
the change rests on the subjective impression that, as Gow puts it,
"the phrase ek 8uewn kata8usomai [10] is inelegant, ..." (_Theocritus_
II.37n3).  Dover accepts the emendation without even bothering to
print it as such in the abbreviated apparatus of his old _Theocritus.
Select Poems_ (Macmillan, 1971).  The only basis for inelegance might
be the repetition of 8u- in l. 10, but not the other two.  Kata8ew in
the middle is rather rare and I personally would be more inclined to
accept the reading of the the manuscripts rather than such
impressionism.  I think a very good argument can be made, given the
pervasive influence of magic in the poem, for the manuscript reading
over the emendation absent any compelling evidence to support the
latter.   This is just the sort of thing that nonClassicists will have
to consider if they are going to draw conclusions from Greek texts to
wider literary domains.

Textual matters aside, Prof. Eskew is correct that the emendation
refers to bewitchment, not to immobilization--as does the manuscript
reading.  I would disagree, however, than Theocritus makes Simaetha's
"supposed sorcery unconvincing, suggesting by the very repetition of
her threats that those threats have little actual power of magic
behind them."  Quite the contrary.  The first third of the poem, as
Simaetha casts her spells, is structured into quatrains by the refrain
"Iugx, bring that man to my house."  The Iugx  wheel (a wryneck
"four-spoked" or spread-eagled on a wheel that the witch turns to cast
the spell) is explained in detail by Gow II.41n17.  The wheel is first
mentioned by Pindar and Aeschylus.  Besides Gow, further discussion of
it can be found in Bruce Karl Brasswell's _A Commentary on the Fourth
Pythian of Pindar_ (de Gruyter, 1988) pp. 297n214(b) and n214(c).  For
those who might want to look more closely into Pindar's great ode on
the quest for the Golden Fleece, the Perseus Project has a complete
verse translation in the original Hellenistic colometry that is
currently the most accurate now in English.  The important point to
remember here is that spell works: Hecate comes down to the crossroads
at l. 36.  The monotonous repetition of the refrain to l. 62 is
probably, as Dover remarks (94), an artistic version of the repeated
words and phrases in actual magic spells.  When the casting of the
spells has been completed and its effect verified by the presence of
Hecate, the refrain then changes to "Mark, Lady Moon, whence came my
love."  The second refrain validates the efficacy of the magic.  By
the end of her melancholy reflection on his abandonment (ll. 138-58),
she has actively completed the process to bind him.  The meaning of
katadhsomai at l. 159 is "the spell that I have already cast will take
effect."  The situation looks very ominous to him; the ancient world
almost universally believed that magic spells could do the job.
Simaetha bids Hecate a rather confident--or at least modestly
hopeful--farewell in the final two lines, which I translate:

Farewell, bright-throned Moon, farewell you other
Stars, clustering round the curved chariot of quiet night.

Ancient magic has been receiving a great deal of attention lately, and
I would recommend the following for those who want to follow it up:

Ankarloo and Clark, _Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, V. 2: Ancient
Greece and Rome_ (U of Pennsylavia P, 1999);

Dickie, _Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World_ (Routledge,
2001);

Janowitz, _Magic in the Roman World_ (Routledge, 2001);

Meyer and Mirecki, eds. _Ancient Magic and Ritual Power_ (Brill,
1995).


-------------------------------------------------------
Steven J. Willett
Shizuoka University of Art and Culture
1794-1 Noguchi-cho, Shizuoka Prefecture
Hamamatsu City, Japan 430-8533
Japan email: [log in to unmask]
US email: [log in to unmask]

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