I had fully intended to write a ‘curse tablet of the month’ for December, but Christmas got in the way. However, it’s a new year now, and I have resolved to blog more! So I’m getting started with this great little curse from a graveyard in Cologne, dated to the mid-1st century AD.
AVT SERCIS ACAREAV
COH ODOMOC SAGA ESEVREP
Reconstructed Latin text:
Vaeraca, sic res tua: perverse agas, quomodo hoc perverse scriptum est. Quidquid exoptas nobis, in caput tuum eveniat.
Vaeraca, thus it is with your business: you act twistedly, even as this writing is twisted. Whatsoever you wish for us, shall come down on your head.
Like many curse tablets, this one was written backwards, from right to left. What makes it unusual is the reference to why this is done – to make the actions of the victim twisted. Normally scholars assume that the manipulation of the writing in curses – which could include anagrams, writing upside down or backwards – was to make it more mysterious, and therefore more powerful. Just occasionally, like in this example, we get an explicit statement of intent. The actions of Vaeraca are twisted by the curse – whatever evil deed she had planned for the writer, it was to be brought down on her own head. The tablet was found in a grave site, a common place for their deposition because it was believed that the dead still had the power to affect the world of the living. The writer of the Cologne tablet is using the power of the restless dead to improve their own life, by protecting themselves from a rival.
Blänsdorf, J. (2010). The Defixiones from the Sanctuary of Isis and Mater Magna in Mainz. Magical Practice in the Latin West: Papers from the International Conference Held at the University of Zaragoza 30 Sept. – 1 Oct 2005. R. Gordon and F. Marco Simón. Leiden: 141 – 190.
Blänsdorf, J., Kropp, A., Scholz, M. (2010). “”Perverse agas, comodo hoc perverse scriptu(m) est” – Ein Fluchtafelchen aus Koln.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 174: 272-276.