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Demons and Illness from Antiquity to the Early-Modern Period

Magical and Religious Literature

of Late Antiquity

Series Editors

Shaul Shaked
Siam Bhayro

Volume 5

The titles published in this series are listed at

Demons and Illness
from Antiquity to the
Early-Modern Period

Edited by

Siam Bhayro and

Catherine Rider

Cover illustation: Artists impression of image on magic bowl MS 1927/39 (from the Martin Schyen
Collection), showing hybrid demon with horns. Dr Naama Viloznyused with kind permission.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Bhayro, Siam, editor.

Title: Demons and illness from antiquity to the early-modern period / edited
by Siam Bhayro and Catherine Rider.
Description: Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2017. | Series: Magical and religious
literature of Late Antiquity, ISSN 2211-016X, Volume 5 | Includes index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016050017 (print) | LCCN 2016057358 (ebook) | ISBN
9789004338531 (hardback : alk. paper) | ISBN 9789004338548 (E-book)
Subjects: LCSH: DemonologyHistory. | Medicine, Magic, mystic, and spagiric.
Classification: LCC BL480 .D46 2017 (print) | LCC BL480 (ebook) | DDC
LC record available at

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1 Introduction1
Siam Bhayro and Catherine Rider

Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt

2 Shifting Alignments: The Dichotomy of Benevolent and Malevolent

Demons in Mesopotamia19
Gina Konstantopoulos

3 The Natural and Supernatural Aspects of Fever in Mesopotamian

Medical Texts39
Andrs Bcskay

4 Illness as Divine Punishment: The Nature and Function of the

Disease-Carrier Demons in the Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts53
Rita Lucarelli

5 Demons at Work in Ancient Mesopotamia61

Lorenzo Verderame

Second Temple Judaism and Late Antiquity

6 Demons and Illness in Second Temple Judaism: Theory and Practice81

Ida Frhlich

7 Illness and Healing through Spell and Incantation in the Dead Sea
David Hamidovi

8 Conceptualizing Demons in Late Antique Judaism111

Gideon Bohak
vi Contents

9 Oneiric Aggressive Magic: Sleep Disorders in Late Antique Jewish

Alessia Bellusci

10 The Influence of Demons on the Human Mind according to

Athenagoras and Tatian175
Chiara Crosignani

11 Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Disorder in the Life of Antony192

Sophie Sawicka-Sykes

12 Over-Eating Demoniacs in Late Antique Hagiography215

Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe


13 Miracles and Madness: Dispelling Demons in Twelfth-Century

Anne E. Bailey

14 Demons in Lapidaries? The Evidence of the Madrid MS Escorial,

M. Carolina Escobar Vargas

15 The Melancholy of the Necromancer in Arnau de Vilanovas Epistle

against Demonic Magic271
Sebasti Giralt

16 Demons, Illness, and Spiritual Aids in Natural Magic and Image

Lauri Ockenstrm

17 Between Medicine and Magic: Spiritual Aetiology and Therapeutics in

Medieval Islam313
Liana Saif

18 Demons, Saints, and the Mad in the Twelfth-Century Miracles of

Thomas Becket339
Claire Trenery
Contents vii

Early Modernity

19 The Post-Reformation Challenge to Demonic Possession359

Harman Bhogal

20 From A Discoverie to The Triall of Witchcraft: Doctor Cotta and

Godly John376
Pierre Kapitaniak

21 Healing with Demons? Preternatural Philosophy and Superstitious

Cures in Spanish Inquisitorial Courts396
Bradley J. Mollmann

22 Afterword: Pandaemonium412
Peregrine Horden

Index of Subjects419
Index of Texts421

This volume contains selected papers from the Demons and Illness: Theory
and Practice from Antiquity to the Early Modern Period conference, held at the
University of Exeter (April 2224, 2013). We would like to thank Claire Keyte
for all her hard work in organising what turned out to be a very successful and
happy gathering of scholars from eleven countries. We would also like to thank
the University of Exeters Centre for Medical History and College of Humanities
for providing funding, and the Royal Historical Society and the British Society
for the History of Science for financing student bursaries. During the confer-
ence, we were very ably assisted by the following students: Tamsin Gardner,
Lori Lee Oates, Abigail Pearson and Harriet Walker. The following colleagues
participated in the conference without presenting papers: Professor Jonathan
Barry, Dr Peter Elmer, Professor Morwenna Ludlow (all from the University
of Exeter), Dr Jo Edge (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Professor
Marco Moriggi (Universit di Catania). As part of the festivities, a public lec-
ture was presented by Professor Lauren Kassell (University of Cambridge) at
the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (Exeter)we would like to thank the
museum staff, in particular Penny Hammond, for facilitating this event. We are
grateful to the publisher, and would like to extend a special thanks to Katelyn
Chin and Meghan Connolly for their enthusiasm and support. Finally, on a per-
sonal note, we are very grateful to our partners, Lisa and Laurence, for their
constancy and encouragement; and Catherine would also like to thank Siam
for holding the fort in the last stages of the editing while she was on maternity

Siam Bhayro and Catherine Rider

Exeter, August 2016

Andrs Bcskay
is Senior Lecturer at the Pzmny Pter Catholic University, Budapest, where
he is a member of the Faculty of the Ancient History. He received his PhD
in History from the Etvs Lornd University in 2008. His research focusses
primarily on Mesopotamian medicine and magic, and he teaches courses on
Mesopotamian history, religion, medicine and magic.

Anne E. Bailey
gained her doctorate at the University of Oxford in 2010, and is currently
based at the Universitys Faculty of History and tutors at the Department of
Continuing Education. She has taught medieval and early modern history at
Oxford and Exeter, and has published widely on the subject of medieval mira-
cle stories, saints cults and pilgrimage.

Alessia Bellusci
has recently completed her PhD program in Jewish Philosophy at Tel Aviv
University. Based on a thorough analysis of unpublished Genizah fragments
and other relevant Jewish texts, her doctoral research focused on the history
of a specific oneiric magical technique, the Sheelat alom (dream request),
as practised and transmitted within late antique and medieval oriental Jewish

Siam Bhayro
is Associate Professor in Early Jewish Studies at the University of Exeter. He
received his PhD from University College London in 2000, and has held posi-
tions at the University of Sheffield, Yale University, University College London
and the University of Cambridge. His research focusses on the Bible, Semitic
languages, early Judaism, medical history, and magic.

Harman Bhogal
completed her PhD (Birkbeck, University of London) in 2013. Her thesis inves-
tigated the impact of the John Darrel controversy on demonological thought
in post-Reformation England, concentrating on The Dialogicall discourses of
spirits and diuels by John Deacon and John Walker. She has since kept abreast
of the field of intellectual history in the early modern period, and is particu-
larly interested in the history of mentalities and the history of the perception
of the supernatural.
Contributors xi

Gideon Bohak
teaches at Tel Aviv University, and focuses on the history of Jewish magic and
on the magical, mystical, and related texts from the Cairo Genizah. His most
recent books include Ancient Jewish Magic: A History (2008) and A Fifteenth-
Century Manuscript of Jewish Magic (2014, in Hebrew). His many articles are
devoted to the publication and analysis of new texts, and to programmatic dis-
cussions of Jewish magic and Jewish history.

Chiara Crosignani
completed her PhD at the University of Salerno in 2013 with a dissertation
on early Christian demonology. She then continued her studies with a post-
doctoral fellowship from Accademia dei Lincei on the demonology of the first
century CE. Her main interests are Origen, early Christian authors and demon-
ology in the Mediterranean region in the first centuries CE.

M. Carolina Escobar-Vargas
is Lecturer in Medieval History at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. She
is co-author of Magic and Medieval Society (2014) and her work focuses on the
topic of magic in the Central Middle Ages. In 2011 she completed her PhD the-
sis, The Image and Reality of the Magician Figure in Twelfth-Century England,
at the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Reading, UK.

Ida Frhlich
received her PhD in 1984 (Oriental Institute of the Academy of the USSR,
St. Petersburg/Leningrad) and her DSc in 2002 (Hungarian Academy of
Sciences). She is Professor of Hebrew and Ancient Near Eastern History at
the Pzmny Pter Catholic University, Budapest, and publishes widely in the
fields of Second Temple period Judaism and the Dead Sea Scrolls. A Festschrift
in her honour, With Wisdom as a Robe, was published in 2009.

Sebasti Giralt
is Senior Lecturer of Classics (Latin) at the Universitat Autnoma de Barcelona.
His research focusses on medieval medicine, magic and astrology, and he
has edited and analysed Latin works on practical medicine and occultism
attributed to Arnau de Vilanova. He also researches the scholastic reception
of magic and divination, as well as magical and astrological texts in Romance
xii Contributors

David Hamidovic
is Full Professor at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and holds the
chair in Jewish Apocryphal Literature and History of Judaism in Antiquity. He
received his PhD in History of Antiquity from Sorbonne University, Paris, and
has published many books and articles in ancient Judaism, especially on the
Dead Sea Scrolls.

Peregrine Horden
is Professor of Medieval History at Royal Holloway, University of London. He
works on the history of the Mediterranean and of medieval medicine and

Pierre Kapitaniak
is Professor of Early Modern British Civilisation at the University of Montpellier.
He works on Elizabethan drama and on the conception, perception and rep-
resentation of supernatural phenomena from the sixteenth to eighteenth
centuries. Together with Jean Migrenne, he is translating early modern demo-
nological treatises, and has already published James VIs Dmonologie (2010)
and Reginald Scots La sorcellerie dmystifie (2015).

Gina Konstantopoulos
received her PhD in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan in
2015, focusing on Sumerian literature and the place of demons and monsters
in Mesopotamia. Currently a visiting assistant professor at the Institute for the
Study of the Ancient World, New York University, her research centres on
the construction of fictional lands in the ancient Near East.

Rita Lucarelli
received her PhD from Leiden University, the Netherlands. She has worked
extensively with ancient Egyptian funerary literature and was part of the Book
of the Dead Project of Bonn University, Germany. She is currently Assistant
Professor of Egyptology at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is
completing a monograph on demonology in ancient Egypt.

Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe
is Lecturer in Patristics in the Divinity Faculty at the University of Cambridge,
and a Fellow of Peterhouse. Her research interests revolve around the religious
thought and culture of Late Antiquity, and in particular ideas of evil, demons,
and Satan. She is currently working on a monograph on early Christian ideas
of diabolical agency.
Contributors xiii

Bradley J. Mollmann
is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Tulane University,
USA. His work focuses on the cultural history of early modern Spain, and he
is particularly interested in the overlapping histories of religion, medicine,
and natural philosophy. He is currently completing a dissertation entitled
Medical Heresies of Early Modern Spain: Faith, Reason, and the Persecution
of Superstitious Healing.

Lauri Ockenstrm
is a post-doctoral researcher of the Academy of Finland at the University
of Jyvskyl. He received his doctorate in Art History in 2014 from Jyvskyl
University. His post-doctoral project (IMAFOR) focuses on magical imageries
transmitted in Latin manuals in Europe (11001650). He is currently composing
a Finnish translation of Vitruvius De architectura.

Catherine Rider
is Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Exeter. Her research
focuses on the history of magic, popular religion, medicine and marriage in
the later Middle Ages. Her publications include Magic and Impotence in the
Middle Ages (2006) and Magic and Religion in Medieval England (2012). She is
currently working on medieval attitudes to infertility and childlessness.

Liana Saif
is British Academy postdoctoral fellow at the Oriental Institute,
University of Oxford (St Cross College). Her current project is entitled On
the Margins of Orthodoxy: Magic in Medieval Islam. She is also interested
in the exchange of occult and esoteric ideas between the Islamic World and the
Latin West in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and is author of The Arabic
Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy (2015).

Sophie Sawicka-Sykes
received her BA (Hons) from the University of Cambridge in 2010 and com-
pleted an MPhil in medieval literature at Cambridge the following year. In 2015,
she graduated with a PhD in history from the University of East Anglia, UK. Her
research focuses on changes in ideas about divine song from Late Antiquity to
the end of the eleventh century.
xiv Contributors

Claire Trenery
is a PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research
into representations of madness in English miracle collections from the long
twelfth century is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Lorenzo Verderame
is Professor of Assyriology at SapienzaUniversit di Roma, where he teaches
Sumerian and Akkadian languages and literatures. His main research interests
are divination and third millennium administrative texts, as well as other topics
in Mesopotamian religion and material culture. Among his seven books are an
overview of Mesopotamian literature (2016) and a volume on Mesopotamian
demons (2011).

Siam Bhayro and Catherine Rider

In many near eastern traditions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam,

demons have appeared as a cause of illness from ancient times until at least
the early modern period.1 Perhaps the best known examples are the New
Testament accounts of possessed people who were cured by Christ,2 but
ancient sources from a variety of cultures, including Mesopotamia, Egypt and
Greece, mention similar phenomena. The perceptions of demons and illness
in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, therefore, must be understood in the con-
text of these ancient traditions. They must also be understood in the light of
each other, as ideas about demons and illness crossed religious boundaries as
well as chronological ones. This volume presents a selection of the proceedings
from a conference on Demons and Illness: Theory and Practice from Antiquity to
the Early Modern Period, held at the University of Exeter in 2013, which aimed
to map out some of the possibilities for studying this topic comparatively,
exploring the sources and lines of interpretation in a variety of contexts from
the ancient world to the seventeenth century.
From the papers presented at the conference and published here, one
common feature that is readily observable in many contexts is the necessity
of demons. Despite their often differing conceptions, demons play a crucial
role in the world-views of many historic cultures, occupying an important
position in the created order. Thus, in ancient Egypt, the messenger demons
fulfil an essential role in how the gods interact with humans, often bringing
disease as punishment from an angry deity. In ancient Mesopotamia, they
are also important with regard to illness and healing. Here they can act either
malevolently, as bringers of disease, or benevolently, aiding an exorcist who is
treating an afflicted patient. The ambivalent nature of demons, and the idea
that they can be either harmful or beneficent, continues into late antique

1 For a discussion of the origin and use of the term demon, particularly in context of the
ancient world, the Bible, and early Jewish and Christian sources, see Greg J. Riley, Demon, in
Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter
W. van der Horst, second extensively revised edition (Leiden, 1999), pp. 235240.
2 E.g. Matt 9:3233 (dumbness); 12:22 (blindness and dumbness); 17:1418 (epilepsy); Mark
5:120 (insanity)see also Luke 4:4041.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_002

2 Bhayro and Rider

Jewish magic, which often appeals to a demonic authority in a bid to restrict

the activities of other demons. Even maleficent demons, however, can serve a
higher purpose. In early Judaism, demons established their status and role on
the earth as tormentors and tempters of humans by negotiating with God, who
could be said to resemble their employer (e.g. Jub 10:8). In turn, this motif of
negotiation manifests in the New Testament account of Jesus and Legion (e.g.
Mark 5:913). From the Bible these conceptions of demons were transmitted
to medieval and early modern Christian Europe. Again, demons could be seen
as bringers of disease, especially (but not exclusively) mental illnesses. These
illnesses were sometimes presented simply as the result of the demons innate
and indiscriminate malice, but demonic illnesses, like other forms of illness,
could also be seen as a way in which God might test the faith of particular
individuals in a similar way to some of the demons of the Old Testament. For
this reason demonic assaults, and resistance to them, were described in detail
in the lives of certain saints, such as the fourth-century hermit Saint Antony,
whose Life (discussed in Sophie Sawicka-Sykess chapter in this book) had a
profound influence on later Christian ideas of sainthood.
For adherants to a monotheistic worldview, the necessity of demons is
readily understandable, not simply as part of a general theodicy, but also as
a means of giving hope to the faithfulin short, having someone to blame
means we have someone with whom to battle, thus giving the possibility of
relief. But the presence of similar ideas in polytheistic contexts shows that the
need to have someone to blame is ubiquitous and probably an essential thera-
peutic device. This did not necessarily exclude other explanations for illness
notably, ones which explained illness according to imbalances in the bodys
humours or other physical causesbut the widespread nature of demonic
explanations for illness, and therapies which sought to address them, shows
how powerful and persuasive demons might be as a model for understand-
ing disease. Nor was the line between physical and demonic explanations as
clearly drawn as in the modern world: as the chapters in this volume show,
physicians might discuss demonic illnesses as a serious possibility, while
accounts of demonic illnesses and miraculous cures sometimes employed the
language of learned medicine.
This brings us to the therapistsan impressive array of exorcists, sha-
mans, scribes, priests, wise women, physicians and saints, spanning millen-
nia and continents and operating either on their own or as part of officially
sanctioned guilds or orders. This raises the important issue of the source of
their authority in both the human and demonic realms. Generally therapists
claimed some kind of specialist skill or knowledge which enabled them to
interact with demons and, if necessary, drive them away from a sick person.
Introduction 3

In most of the contexts discussed here, that authority was conferred by an

official religious status: priests appear as experts in demonic illnesses from
ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt into the early modern period, and temples
or churches recorded and preserved healing rituals. However, interaction with
demons was never the exclusive preserve of official religious figures and insti-
tutions. Other individuals might also claim religious authority, or be granted it
de facto by believers. These included Christian hermits and saints, discussed
in several papers in this volume, who were often approached by believers to
perform miraculous cures, including cures of demonic illnesses. Many of these
saints later became official figures, as local churches fostered their cults, and
from c. 1200 onwards some were canonized by the papacy. Nevertheless, not all
holy men and, especially, women achieved this official recognition and some
individuals who sought to interact with demons, such as the authors of magi-
cal texts discussed by Lauri Ockenstrom and Sebasti Giralt, were condemned
by the official authorities. In periods of religious upheaval, the authority of cer-
tain individuals to expel or control demons formed part of wider conflicts. We
can see this, for example, in early modern England, where as the chapters at the
end of this volume show, cases of possession could be highly contested, with
both the facts of the case and the authority of exorcists called into question.
There were also alternatives to religious authority: in particular some
strands of medical thought sought to challenge demonic explanations for ill-
ness in favour of physical ones, and so to establish the authority of doctors,
rather than priests or exorcists, to treat these so-called demonic illnesses.
These alternatives were not always rivals, however: in many societies the line
between medical and religious knowledge was not clearly drawn and even
when it was (for example, in later medieval and early modern Europe) medical
language and concepts could be used to reinforce and add weight to religious
explanations that saw illnesses as demonic.
Studying these issues lends itself well to a comparative approach because,
for intellectuals in many cultures, the starting point for thinking about the
relationship between illness, demons, magic and the supernatural has been
the Bible. Perhaps the most famous example is the account of the future king
David playing the lyre to calm Sauls mental anguish, which was caused by an
evil spirit (1 Sam 16:1423). This passage clearly influenced later thinkers, par-
ticularly Jewish and ChristianJewish examples include the famous Dead Sea
Scrolls list of Davids compositions (part of 11Q5),3 and Christian examples

3 See Ida Frohlichs paper in the present volume. See also the following reference.
4 Bhayro and Rider

include Basils Homily on the First Psalm.4 Because the Bible had a profound
effect on later thinkers this volume will examine the reception of these bib-
lical traditions and ideas in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Such biblical
traditions, however, originated in the ancient Near East and so must also be
considered in this context.5 It is necessary, therefore, to look at demons and
illness in ancient societies, especially those closest to the biblical world
Egypt and Mesopotamia. When we do so it becomes clear that, although there
were important variations in the ways in which these societies thought about
demons and illness, there were also significant points of comparison and con-
tinuities across space, time and confessional boundaries, and the chapters
in this volume are designed to highlight both continuities and differences
between different periods and cultures.
However, scholars who seek to study demons and illness comparatively also
face a variety of challenges. One is the nature and survival of the the sources
themselves. These differ markedly from context to context. For example, for
ancient Mesopotamia, we have letters from the royal courts, which describe
medical and magical practices, literary texts containing lists of therapies,
and the practical results of such therapies (personalised texts). Such a com-
prehensive picture is lacking for late antique Jewish magic, however, for
which we have the practical results, such as magic bowls and amulets, but
not the handbooks from which the various formulae were drawn. Examples
of such handbooks are preserved in later periods, and it is sometimes possi-
ble to discern a link between medieval Jewish magic handbooks and earlier
Jewish magic texts. For the medieval period, Christian saints lives and mira-
cle narratives present accounts of possession or demonic assault followed by
miraculous healing. By contrast, medical texts from the same period are far
more likely to focus on the physical factors which might underlie apparently
demonic illnesses, explaining even the most extravagant symptoms as the
result of imbalances of the humours.6 Both of these strands of thought are
found in earlier periods: the miracle narratives are modelled, ultimately, on the

4 For references, see Don Harrn, Davids Lyre, Kabbalah, and the Power of Music, in Psalms in
the Early Modern World, ed. Linda P. Austern, Kari B. McBride, and David L. Orvis (Farnham,
2011), pp. 257295 (257).
5 Thus this has been done in respect of 1 Sam 16:1423; see, for example, Siam Bhayro, He shall
play with his hand, and you shall be well: Music and Therapy in 1 Samuel 16:1423, in Ritual
Healing, ed. Csepregi and Burnett, pp. 1330.
6 On this see Catherine Rider, Demons and Mental Disorder in Late Medieval Medicine, in
Mental (Dis)Order in Later Medieval Europe, ed. Sari Katajala-Peltomaa and Susanna Niiranen
(Leiden, 2014), pp. 4769.
Introduction 5

New Testament, while attempts to reject demonic explanations for illness in

favour of physical ones go back at least to ancient Greece and the Hippocratic
treatise On the Sacred Disease. Nevertheless, despite these continuities each set
of sources is the product of its own particular context and requires extensive
knowledge of its period and genre.
As scholars, we are thus hostage to the surviving sources and, alas, our com-
petance to engage with them. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the amount
of work being done on Sumerian, Akkadian and Arabic sources is compara-
tively small, on account of the relatively few scholars who possess the nec-
essary linguistic skillls, and some fields, such as medieval Jewish and Islamic
magic, are still very much in their infancy. Furthermore, for some periods, we
have both insider and outsider sources, whereas, for others, we are limited to
hostile witnesses or the practical results of magical practices that give us very
little idea of how they were produced, who produced them, or whether any rit-
uals accompanied their production and use. In contexts where unauthorized
dealings with demons were forbidden, many authors of magical texts were,
unsurprisingly, unwilling to identify themselves.
Another basic problem for the comparative approach is the issue of
terminologywhen we compare ancient and late antique near eastern
sources with medieval and early modern european sources, are we really
comparing like with like? For example, the demons referred to by Christian
intellectuals, from the early church onwards, were presented as invariably evil
and malicious, whereas the daemones discussed by pagan thinkers could be
more neutral spiritual beings. And when we choose to use the term demon to
refer to spiritual beings from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, is this poten-
tially misleading? Fortunately, in the papers presented here, the authors are
not insensitive to such potential pitfalls, and the respective terminologies
are clearly discussed. What became clear, both during the conference itself
and again when editing these papers, is that the comparative approach does
indeed have much to offer, as long as we continue to keep these issues in mind.
Such an approach is still in its infancy, but promises to accomplish much.
Two recent examples, that also treat a wide variety of traditions from various
places and periods, are the proceedings of the Ritual Healing and Continuity
and Innovation in the Magical Tradition conferences, held respectively at
the Warburg Institute in London and the Institute for Advanced Studies
in Jerusalem, both in 2006.7 As a direct result of the Exeter Demons and

7 See Ritual Healing: Magic, Ritual and Medical Therapy from Antiquity until the Early Modern
Period, ed. Ildik Csepregi and Charles Burnett (Florence, 2012); Continuity and Innovation in
the Magical Tradition, ed. Gideon Bohak, Yuval Harari and Shaul Shaked (Leiden: 2011).
6 Bhayro and Rider

Illness conference, the Egyptian and Jewish Magic in Antiquity conference,

which was devoted to such a comparative approach, was recently hosted by
Gideon Bohak, Rita Lucarelli and Alessia Bellusci at the Rheinische Friedrich-
Wilhelms-Universitt, Bonn. It is clear, therefore, that some momentum has
already developed for this comparative approach in scholarship relating to ill-
ness, magic, and the supernatural.
This comparative work builds on a growing body of studies focused on
particular contexts and periods. Scholars have begun to explore the relation-
ship between the supernatural and medicine in a variety of contexts in recent
decades. For Antiquity, the work of Tzvi Abusch and Markham Geller on the
ancient Near East is particularly noteworthy, as is that of Rita Lucarelli (who
has contributed to this volume) for Egyptology.8 For Late Antiquity, we have
been blessed with two recent monographs on early Jewish sources by Gideon
Bohak and Yuval Harari,9 while the recent work of Dale Martin and David
Frankfurter has proved particularly illuminating regarding early Christianity.10
For medieval sources, there has been work on demonic possession in miracle
narratives and canonization processes in particular. Much of this has focused
on the later Middle Ages but Peregrine Horden has examined earlier Byzantine
sources.11 There has also been a smaller amount of work on other medieval
Christian sources, including the liturgy for exorcism, theological treatises,

8 Recent examples include: Tzvi Abusch, Mesopotamian Witchcraft: Toward a History and
Understanding of Babylonian Witchcraft Beliefs and Literature (Leiden, 2002); Markham J.
Geller, Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice (Chichester, 2010); Rita Lucarelli,
Demonology During the Late Pharaonic and Greco-Roman Periods in Egypt, Journal of
Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011), pp. 109125.
9 Gideon Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic: a History (Cambridge, 2005); Yuval Harari, Early
Jewish Magic: Research, Method, Sources (in Hebrew; Jerusalem, 2010).
10 Dale B. Martin, Inventing Superstition: From the Hippocratics to the Christians (Cambridge
MA, 2004); David Frankfurter, Where the Spirits Dwell: Possession, Christianization, and
Saints Shrines in Late Antiquity, Harvard Theological Review 103 (2010), pp. 2746.
11 Alain Boureau, Satan hrtique: Naissance de la dmonologie dans lOccident mdival
(12801330) (Paris, 2004), chs. 57; Sari Katajala-Peltomaa, Demonic Possession as
Physical and Mental Disturbance in the Later Medieval Canonization Processes, in
Mental (Dis)Order, ed. Katajala-Peltomaa and Niiranen, pp. 10827; Laura Ackerman
Smoller, A Case of Demonic Possession in Fifteenth-Century Brittany: Perrin Herv and
the Nascent Cult of Vincent Ferrer, in Voices from the Bench: the Narratives of Lesser Folk in
Medieval Trials, ed. Michael Goodich (Basingstoke, 2006), pp. 14976; Peregrine Horden,
Responses to Possession and Insanity in the Earlier Byzantine World, Social History of
Medicine 6 (1993), pp. 17794.
Introduction 7

sermons and medical texts.12 A study of madness in medieval Islamic society

by Michael W. Dols has looked across religious boundaries and at a long time
period, surveying the evidence for beliefs about demonically induced insanity
not only in Arabic sources but also in the earlier pagan, Jewish and Christian
texts that influenced them.13 However, the early modern period has attracted
the most substantial attention, thanks to the numerous sources generated
by the periods witchcraft trials, which often mentioned demons or witchcraft
(which was believed to be done with the help of demons) as causes of illness.
Particularly influential here has been Stuart Clarks important study of demon-
ology and witchcraft, and Clark has also published a shorter article dedicated
to how medical writers thought about witchcraft as a cause of illness.14 In part
thanks to Clarks work, a number of other scholars have examined early mod-
ern medical views of demonic illnesses.15 Early modernists have also produced
several detailed, recent studies of demonic possession, but, although these do
not ignore medical perspectives which viewed possession as a form of illness,
their main focus is often on the religious aspects of these cases.16
These studies show the richness of the field and the source material, and
demonstrate what scholars who study demons and illness can learn about reli-
gious concerns and rivalries, medicine and illness, and magic, to name a few
possibilities. However, with the exception of Dols work, they have focused on
producing detailed studies of a single context or set of sources. This volume

12 Florence Chave-Mahir, Lexorcisme des possds dans lEglise dOccident (XeXVe sicles)
(Turnhout, 2011); Nancy Caciola, Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the
Middle Ages (Ithaca and London, 2003); Rider, Demons and Mental Disorder.
13 Michael W. Dols, Majnn: the Madman in Medieval Islamic Society, ed. Diana E. Immisch
(Oxford, 1992), esp. chs. 7 and 8.
14 Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons: the Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Oxford,
1999), ch. 10; Stuart Clark, Demons and Disease: the Disenchantment of the Sick (1500
1700), in Illness and Healing Alternatives in Western Europe, ed. Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra,
Hilary Marland, and Hans de Waardt (London, 1997), pp. 3858.
15 Claudia Kauertz, Wissenschaft und Hexenglaube: Die Diskussion des Zauber- und
Hexenwesens an der Universitt Helmstedt (15761626) (Bielefeld, 2001); Catherine Rider,
Ritual Harm and Ritual Healing: Bartholomaeus Carrichters On the Healing of Magical
Illnesses, in Ritual Healing, ed. Csepregi and Burnett, pp. 17191.
16 David Harley, Mental Illness, Magical Medicine and the Devil in Northern England, 1650
1700, in The Medical Revolution of the Seventeenth Century, ed. Roger French and Andrew
Wear (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 11444; Sarah Ferber, Demonic Possession and Exorcism in
Early Modern France (London, 2004); Moshe Sluhovsky, Believe not Every Spirit: Possession,
Mysticism and Discernment in Early Modern Catholicism (Chicago, 2007); Brian P.
Levack, The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West (New Haven and
London, 2013).
8 Bhayro and Rider

seeks to go beyond these valuable studies to explore continuities and changes

In order to trace the different contexts and strands of influence involved
when we consider the relationship between demons and illness, the present
volume is divided by period into four sectionsAntiquity, Late Antiquity,
Medieval and Early Modernity. The first section contains four papersone
on Egypt and three on Mesopotamia. In the first, Gina Konstantopoulos con-
siders the ambiguity of Mesopotamian demons, focussing specifically on the
udug and the lama. In an important departure from the type of analysis that
attempts to categorise these demons according to their intrinsic character-
istics, Konstantopoulos analyses their role by text genre. She concludes that
the role played by the udug or the lama very much depends on what the text
requires rather than their intrinsic characteristics. Konstantopouloss contri-
bution also includes an edition of a British Museum tablet that contains a
scapegoat ritual. In the second paper, Andrs Bcskay discusses the natural
and supernatural approaches to understanding and treating fever in ancient
Mesopotamia. Naturally, fever was understood in terms of a strong or burning
heat, whereas, supernaturally, it was a demonic attack, often by the Lamatu or
Asakku demons. Treatments included amulets and phylacteries, which could
be classed as supernatural, and cooling ointments, bandages, and drinks,
which are natural. In the third paper, Rita Lucarelli discusses the classification
of demons in Egyptian sources, identifying two classesstationary/guardian
demons and wandering/messenger demons. It is the latter that can function
as disease carriers, particularly in gangs. Interestingly, it becomes clear that
the same approach, which combines both medicine and magic as comple-
mentary therapies, can be observed in both ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
In the final paper of this section, Lorenzo Verderame discusses how ancient
Mesopotamian sources treat the problem of the aetiology of evil and illness. As
in ancient Egypt, demons function as messengers of the gods and are subject to
them, but they also represent a constant threat. Just as with the biblical book
of Job, the removal of divine protection can result in this threat being realised.
The second section contains seven papersfour on early Judaism and
three on early Christianity. The first two papers are concerned with the Second
Temple period, and focus particularly on the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the first, Ida
Frohlich provides an excellent introduction to ancient Jewish demonology,
with particular attention to the Enochic traditions, the book of Tobit, the Dead
Sea Scrolls Genesis Apocryphon, and two practical apotropaic texts (4Q560 and
11Q11). The latter two texts are discussed in detail and reveal much about early
Jewish notions of demons and how to counteract them, with 11Q11 in particular
providing some hints of how the Feast of Passover may have been perceived by
Introduction 9

certain Jewish sectarians in Antiquity. Following this, David Hamidovi pres-

ents a more detailed analysis of 4Q560 with reference to a wide array of other
sources, including the Torah, the Genesis Apocryphon, the Damascus Document,
the book of Tobit, Josephuss Antiquities of the Jews, the Greek magical papyri,
and the Aramaic magic bowls. Hamidovic then takes a similar approach, albeit
briefer, to 11Q11, 4Q510 and 4Q511 (the Canticles of the Sage), and, finally, 4Q242
(the Prayer of Nabonidus). Taken together, these two papers provide an excel-
lent foundation for what follows.
The next two papers move beyond the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Second
Temple period, considering a wider array of sources from Late Antiquity
and beyond. First, Gideon Bohak begins by providing a general survey of late
antique Jewish sources regarding demonsincluding rabbinic texts (e.g. the
Mishna, Talmudim and Midrashim etc.), as well as amulets and magic bowls
which are both abundant and complex. Faced with this rich and yet potentially
bewildering array of evidence, as a means of attempting to organise the mate-
rial in a coherant way Bohak proceeds to ask how ancient Jewish conceptions
of demons compare with our present day conceptions of germs. Points of com-
parison include invisibility, mortality and the ability to procreate, how they
are detected, their effects (for good or ill), and both prophylactic and thera-
peutic methods for counteracting them. Points of contrast include the range
of ill effects, the onus on individual or communal action, what motivates their
harmful behaviour, and, perhaps most significantly, the personal or impersonal
nature of the threati.e. while one would not take the onslaught of germs
personally, one would certainly take a demonic attack personally. Following
this, Alessia Bellusci discusses late antique Jewish sources relating to sleep
disorders, specifically aggressive magical practices that aimed to induce dis-
turbing or erotic dreams in another person, or to inflict imsomnia on a victim.
Belluscis analysis includes an impressive array of sources, including two late
antique Jewish magical textsSefer ha-Razim and arba de-Mosheas well
as the Mesopotamian Aramaic magic bowls, Greco-Egyptian magical texts,
and texts from the Cairo Genizah, and demonstrates the persistence of the
notion that sleep disturbances and bad dreams result from demonic attack.
The first paper that focusses on early Christianity is Chiara Crosignanis
analysis of Athenagoras and Tatiantwo second-century Christian apologists
who both discuss the origin, nature and effects of demons (particularly on
the human mind), but who take different approaches that reflect their differ-
ent backgrounds. While Athenagoras attempts to bring together Christianity
and philosophy, Tatian rejects Hellenistic traditions as paganthis contrast
necessarily impacts on their demonologies. Interestingly, in terms of origin,
while Athenagoras accepts the Enochic traditions (mentioned by Frohlich and
10 Bhayro and Rider

Bohak in this volume), Tatian appears to reject them. While, for Athenagoras,
demons can attack the mind at any time, and their effect will be determined by
the piety of the victim, for Tatian the demonic attack will often be linked with
an existing sickness. In a detailed and well-informed discussion, numerous
other important early Christian writers and texts are also discussed, including
Justin Martyr and Ermas Shepard, insofar as they illuminate the context for
Athenagoras and Tatian. In the second paper, Sophie Sawicka-Sykes also exam-
ines the influence of older ideas on an important late antique Christian writer.
She looks at how late antique Egyptian monastic literature treats the subject of
anti-music, i.e. discordant shouts and chants that reflect demonic activity and
the resulting spiritual disorder, focussing on the works of the fourth-century
writer Athanasius of Alexandria (Life of Antony, Letter to Marcellinus, Against
the Heathen). Sawicka-Sykes sets the scene by discussing ancient attitudes to
music and harmony (Platonic, Pythagorean and Stoic), and, interestingly, her
subsequent analysis identifies how Stoic ideas in particular appear to manifest
in the works of Athanasius and the later Evagrius Ponticus. In the final paper in
this section, Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe analyses two early fifth-century accounts
of exorcisms that cured victims who were caused by demons to eat excessively,
to consume disgusting materials and to behave in other horrifying ways associ-
ated with gluttony. The accounts are found in a hymn by the ascetic Paulinus
and a miracle account penned by the bishop Palladius. The former was written
for the feast of Felix, so it may have served as a cautionary reminder of the dan-
gers of gluttony during the mid-winter festivities. On the other hand, the latter
appears to be a general warning against greed and the accompanying neglect
of charitable works. Both sources reflect similar ascetic principles.
The third section of the book moves on to consider the Middle Ages, con-
taining six papers which again focus on a wide range of types of source
including miracle accounts, magical texts and medical treatiseswhich often
drew ideas from earlier periods. Anne Bailey and Claire Trenerys papers both
focus on one of the genres of medieval text which discusses demonic illnesses
most often: accounts of miracles performed by the saints. These miracle narra-
tives were an important part of saints Lives from late antiquity onwards,17 and
were written throughout medieval Europe. Accounts of miracles were often
recorded by monks or other clerics at the saints shrines as evidence of the
saints holiness, and from the thirteenth century onwards they also appear in
formal canonization procedures. They have received a great deal of attention
from scholars in recent decades, and this includes studies of what they can tell

17 See, for example, the paper by Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe in the present volume.
Introduction 11

us about medieval attitudes to health, illness and healing,18 but given the large
volume of surviving source material more remains to be done. Miracle narra-
tives most commonly mention demons when they tell of how the saint cured
possessed people, many of whom might seem to a modern reader to have
suffered from mental illnesses. These accounts were often modelled on Jesus
cures of possessed people in the New Testament but both Bailey and Trenery
argue that their details can tell us much about medieval attitudes to demonic
illnesses. Thus Bailey highlights how many twelfth-century English miracle
narratives do not simply reproduce a template set by the New Testament, but
also add new ways of thinking and writing about mental illness. In particular
she discusses how twelfth-century authors incorporated medical ideas and
vocabulary drawn from Hippocratic-Galenic medicine into their accounts of
demonic possession. This was part of a wider trend in twelfth-century hagi-
ography to include medical terminology, but it meant possession could be
interpreted in a variety of ways: as a physical illness, a demonic assault, or a
combination of the two, for example if the trauma of seeing or hearing demons
led to mental disorder.
Claire Trenery also focuses on twelfth-century English miracle narratives,
and in particular on one of the largest of these collections: the records of
around seven hundred miracles performed at the shrine of St Thomas Becket
in Canterbury from 1171 onwards. As in Baileys sources, the Becket miracles
most often associated demons with mental disorder. Like the writers studied
by Bailey, the authors of the Becket miracles also included medical vocabu-
lary in their discussions of possession and insanity. Trenery explores the ways
in which demons were believed to interact with their hosts physical body.
Demons might physically occupy the human body, as they did with Matilda
of Cologne, who was described as filled with a demon, or they might simply
attack it from the outside, as they did with Elward of Selling, who was driven
insane by a demon that pursued him. She also identifies differences in attitude
among the different authors who recorded Beckets miracles. Some were more
precise and detailed in their descriptions of demonic illness than others, and
some were more willing than others to link demons to mental disorder. Both
Trenery and Bailey therefore argue that medical and religious understandings
of demonic illnesses were compatible for twelfth-century educated writers.
Moreover, not all forms of mental disorder were linked to demons, and even
those that were might be described in physical terms using medical vocabulary.

18 See for a recent overview Robert Bartlett, Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints
and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation (Princeton, 2013), pp. 34265 and
38390, and the references cited there.
12 Bhayro and Rider

The other four medieval papers, by Carolina Escobar Vargas, Sebasti

Giralt, Lauri Ockenstrm and Liana Saif, deal with another valuable category
of sources which are usually discussed separately from the miracle narratives.
These are scientific and medical treatises, categories which included many
works that certain readers (both in the medieval period and since) would cat-
egorize as magic. Carolina Escobar Vargas examines a thirteenth-century set
of lapidaries (treatises on the properties of precious stones) commissioned by
King Alfonso X of Castile. Alfonsos lapidaries drew on a mixture of intellec-
tual traditions, incorporating Greek, Arabic and Jewish material and among
the illnesses they discussed was demonio. Various stones could cure this if they
were ground up and ingested, worn around the neck, or burned and the fumes
inhaled. Escobar Vargas argues that in the lapidaries demonio was connected
to epilepsy and shared some of the same remedies, but she notes that the over-
lap between the two conditions was not complete, and the Alfonsine lapidary
did also discuss epilepsy without mentioning demons. Again we see that the
boundaries between natural and demonic illnesses were flexible. Moreover,
this case study tells part of a much longer story. Debates over whether epilepsy
was caused by physical, divine or demonic forces went back to antiquity and
persisted into the early modern period.19
Lauri Ockenstrm also discusses texts that were written in a Christian
context but drew on Greek and Arabic material and straddled the borders
between magic and science: works of natural magic and astrological image
magic. Natural magic relied on the occult or hidden properties of natural
objects, which could not be explained by the usual categories of medieval
science (Alfonsos lapidary might be one example) while astrological image
magic involved the making of images which could draw down the power of the
stars to achieve effects on earth. Although astrological image magic texts often
claimed to draw on natural or celestial forces, many of them also mentioned
demons or other unspecified spirits and so were viewed as magic by many
medieval churchmen. Sometimes these works presented demons as harmful
agents who needed to be repelled, but astrological image magic texts, in par-
ticular, also gave instructions to allow the operator to control demons, to ask
them questions or even to compel the demons to harm others. Ockenstrm
argues that these texts therefore show an unusually wide range of attitudes to
demons, some more orthodox from a Christian perspective than others. The
relationship between demons and illness was one part of this but was bound

19 See Owsei Temkin, The Falling Sickness: a History of Epilepsy from the Greeks to the
Beginnings of Modern Neurology, 2nd edn (Baltimore and London, 1971).
Introduction 13

up with the texts wider promises to let their operators control and interact
with spirits.
Sebasti Giralt focuses on a work which took a very different view of these
magical texts and the men who read them. The Epistle on the reprobation
of the deception of necromancy by the Catalan physican Arnau de Vilanova
(d. 1311) criticized necromancers who sought to control demons by means of
the operations set out in astrological image magic texts and other magical
works. Arnau argued that it was impossible for human magicians to compel
demons in the ways that magical texts promised, a position shared by most
theologians. More unusually, Arnau also asked why the necromancers could
believe something which was so obviously false and absurd. He argued that
they did so because they were suffering from a form of melancholia, a men-
tal illness which impeded their reason. Arnaus argument was unusual, but as
Giralt shows it drew on a longer Greek and Arabic medical tradition which
linked melancholia with demons. These Greek and Arabic works did not claim
that demons caused melancholia or other mental illnesses: instead, they listed
delusions, including visions of demons, as one of the symptoms of melancho-
lia. Arnaus treatise therefore shows yet another way in which medical writ-
ers might conceptualize the relationship between demons and illness, which
regarded the demons not as a cause but as a symptom. He also emphasizes
that medical writers were interested in offering physical explanations for
apparently demonic phenomena, a theme picked up by Pierre Kapitaniak and
Harman Bhogals papers on the early modern period.
Liana Saifs paper moves away from the Christian Middle Ages to show that
medieval Muslim writers also discussed the relationship between demons and
illness in detail. Muslim physicians who wrote about the causes of illness drew
on many of the same ancient Greek medical authorities as did Latin writers
such as Arnau de Vilanova. They also drew on neoplatonic theories about the
influence of the stars and planets on human health, citing late antique writers
such as Plotinus. However, many other perspectives are also recorded. Writers on
occult philosophy and magic assigned spirits to the planets, and magical texts
such as the eleventh-century Ghayat al-Hakim, or Picatrix, described how the
magician could harness these spirits to cause or cure illness. These ideas were
later transmitted to western Europe when magical texts such as the Picatrix,
and the others described in Lauri Ockenstrms paper, were translated into
Latin. A further perspective on spirits and illness was provided by the north
African Sufi writer al-Buni. Al-Buni suggested how verses from the Quran
could be used to cause illnesses, in a process that was, according to Saif, further
from medicine and placed firmly in the domains of religion and/or subversive
occultism. There were similarly different perspectives on the cure of demonic
14 Bhayro and Rider

illnesses. Saif therefore emphasizes that medical theory in the Islamic world
was diverse, and different authors, writing in different genres, conceptualized
the relationship between spiritual entities and illnesses in a variety of ways.
The volume ends in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a period which
marked many important religious and scientific changes, but also a period in
which demons and demonic illnesses were still part of many peoples world
views. As Stuart Clark has shown, for many early modern intellectuals demon-
ology was a branch of natural science, and witchcraft, demons and demonic
illnesses were taken seriously by writers in a variety of disciplines, including
medicine and theology, as well as by many less educated people.20 Religious
and legal changes generated new kinds of source material, however. In par-
ticular the period 15701650 saw trials for witchcraft peak in many parts of
Europe, although in some areas the peak came later. Many witch trials began
with an accusation that the witch, aided by demons, had caused an illness or
other misfortune and so they include important information about beliefs
relating to demonic illnesses. In addition to trial records, the availability of
popular print encouraged the publication of a wide variety of works which
discussed witchcraft and other demonic phenomena, such as possession.
Harman Bhogals paper focuses one such work: a treatise relating to a posses-
sion case which occurred in Nottingham in 1597. In response to this contro-
versial case, two preachers, John Deacon and John Walker, published in 1601
Dialogicall Discourses of Spirits and Divels. This work explored theological and
natural ideas about possession as part of a wider Protestant reassessment of all
miracles and other supernatural phenomena. Unusually Deacon and Walker
argued that possessionin the way that it was usually understood as the phys-
ical entry of a demon into a persons bodywas in fact impossible because it
contravened the laws of nature. Bhogals analysis of their argument shows how
they formulated a radically different view of what possession was and why it
occurred compared with many of their contemporaries, as well as how their
ideas influenced later writing on possession.
Focusing on the same contextEngland in the early seventeenth century
Pierre Kapitaniak explores the ways in which medical writers conceptualised
demonic and magical illnesses. As he notes, many early modern physicians
wrote about illnesses caused by witchcraft and demons, discussing them as
a medical rather than a theological problem. Like Deacon and Walker, the
physician John Cotta discussed how far apparently demonic illnesses had a
medical basis. Kapitaniak shows that Cottas attitude seems to change dra-
matically between his first work, published in 1612, and his second, published

20 See Clark, Thinking with Demons.

Introduction 15

in 1616. He argues that this apparent difference can be explained by the dif-
ferent genres of the two works, which led Cotta to cite different authorities,
as well as by witch trials that Cotta had witnessed in the intervening period.
Kapitaniak therefore shows how complex intellectual debates about demons
and illness were in this period: there were no right answers and many differ-
ent approaches to demonic illnesses were possible, even for a single author.
In Catholic southern EuropeSpain, Portugal and Italythe legal con-
text within which authors wrote about demons was different. Here witchcraft,
magic and superstition fell primarily under the jurisdiction of the inquistion
rather than the local secular or religious authorities. Although inquisitors
regarded magic and superstition as serious issues they were often compara-
tively lenient in their punishments, and more sceptical than northern European
judges of the more extravagant accusations made in some witch trials. Instead
they focused on other issues such as superstitious healing, which forms the
focus of Bradley Mollmanns paper. Mollmann shows how the role of demons
in superstitious healing practices was discussed by early modern inquisitors
and theologians, who were concerned to distinguish between miraculous, nat-
ural and demonic forms of healing, but he focuses on how these intellectual
debates were played out in the cases which came before the Toledo inquisition
in central Spain. Witnesses, defendants and lawyers, as well as the inquisitors
themselves, used these categories to argue for the legitimacy (or not) of par-
ticular healing practices. Like Kapitaniak and Bhogal Mollmann highlights the
continuing importance of ideas about demons and illness in this period, and
he shows how these were not merely intellectual debates but had profound
implications for the lives of folk healers and their clients.
These papers highlight the variety of sources for studying demons and ill-
ness and the variety of possible approaches. Nevertheless, several important
themes run through the different sections and recur in many time periods.
These include the relationship between religion and medicine; the question
of what kinds of illness are most likely to be linked with demons and why;
and the ways in which magic can be linked to demonic illnesses, especially
through the use of magical cures. All these themes deserve further detailed
exploration. At all times, it is important to keep in mind that the changing
nature of the primary sources will have an impact on such comparisons: as
many of the papers show, the interests and emphases of a medical writer may
be very different from those of a theologian, and topics that interested an
academic audience of physicians or theologians might seem less relevant to
the sick people who appear in miracle narratives and witch trials. The sources
also reflect shifting views of what was deemed possible or acceptable. This
could reflect changes which took place over time: for example the belief in
16 Bhayro and Rider

miracles which was criticized so harshly by Protestant writers like Deacon

and Walker was accepted by many pre-Reformation writers. It could also
reflect debates that took place within a single period, or between different
authors or genres of text: some religious writers were more willing to employ
medical terminology and ideas than others, and some magical texts written
in Christian Europe offered views that would have seemed unorthodox or
heretical to mainstream thinkers. These debatesover time, between genres,
and between different intellectual traditions, all deserve further attention.
Moreover, as Peregrine Hordens epilogue shows, exploring demonic illnesses
and the debates associated with them has much to tell us about wider cultural
changes such as the disenchantment that it has sometimes been argued took
place during the early modern period.
Thus while this volume highlights important themes which run through the
study of demons and illness, it is also apparent that more work is needed. In
particular, research into the medieval and early modern periods tends to be
focused on Christian cultures, drawing on miracle narratives, medical texts,
and (later) the records of trials held by the secular authorities and the inquisi-
tion, and the papers in this volume reflect this. More could be done to explore
Islamic and Jewish ideas about demons and illness in this period, to build on
the important studies of early Judaism and the rich source material highlighed
by Liana Saifs paper. We therefore hope to stimulate further research into a
varied and fascinating area, as well as showcasing the work which is already
being done by numerous scholars in many different countries and disciplines.
Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt


Shifting Alignments: The Dichotomy of Benevolent

and Malevolent Demons in Mesopotamia

Gina Konstantopoulos

When set against the more defined positions occupied by demons and mon-
sters in other religions and cultures, the demons found in Mesopotamian
texts may seem, at first glance, to exist in a perpetual state of disarray, defying
attempts at a definitive categorization.1 Much of the time, these supernatu-
ral figures serve in malevolent positions, fulfilling their duties as carriers and
causes of physical or mental illness, injury or disease. Despite this, demons
may also fulfill benevolent roles, often coming to the aid of the exorcist, or
ipu, in his battle to remove a malevolent demon from the afflicted patient.
From an initial, cursory analysis, we can easily see how demons may appear to
shift from one role to another. Of the three demons, the udug, the lama, and
the edu, all of which switch from one category of actsor one alignment, we
could sayto another, the first two will form the focus of this study; as they
are by far the most prevalent of the three to appear in Mesopotamian texts.2
In examining the potential angle of attack for a discussion concerning the
fluid role of demons and other supernatural beings in Mesopotamia, the best
approach may be a slightly circuitous one. Instead of approaching first and
foremost the nature and character of the demons themselves, I would rather
place them in the context of the texts wherein they appear. In treating the texts
themselves, which occupy a number of different genres in Mesopotamia, from
performative incantations to literary texts, as the narrative background for the
demons, we see that the demons quickly appear less as independent agents

1 I am thankful to Piotr Michalowski, Gary Beckman, and Ellen Muehlberger for their com-
ments on early drafts of this article.
 This contrast is particularly seen if we consider J. Z. Smiths assertion that demons in
antiquity, as well as cross-culturally, were presented as members of so rigidly organized a
realm in order to be more effectively combated. J. Z. Smith, Towards Interpreting Demonic
Powers in Hellenistic and Roman Antiquity, in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Rmischen Welt
II.16.2, ed. Wolfgang Hasse (Berlin, 1978), pp. 437438.
2 The edu echoed the characteristics of the lama more than those of the udug and often
appeared paired with the former when functioning benevolently, though it appears in a
malevolent duo with the udug as well.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_003

20 Konstantopoulos

than as characters occupying clearly defined roles: slotted into a very particu-
lar shape within a very particular section of each texts narrative.
If we stray further afield, we can find a useful framing for this argument
in Vladimir Propps work The Morphology of the Folktale, wherein accord-
ing to Propps analysis, the function of characters comprises a constant,
unchanging element of the fairytale and exists independently of how and,
more importantly for our purposes, by whom they are fulfilled.3 To fall back
on old favorites, there is a slot within a text for a wolf and another for a woods-
man, and the text requires that whoever occupies those roles appear when
and where the text demands, and with the characteristics those roles demand,
lest the entire structure of the narrative fall apart. In other words, the roles
require actors, and while the identity of the actors themselves is important, it
is superseded by the requirements of those roles themselves. In Mesopotamia,
the narrative requirements of a literary text or an incantation dictate the align-
ment of the supernatural figures that fill it, without theological contortions on
the part of the Mesopotamians, by all accounts. If a text requires that benevo-
lent demons appear at one point, and malevolent demons at another, then
that, more than any theological considerations of the nature of the demons
themselves, dictates their actions and alignment within a certain point in the
narrative of the text.
Mesopotamian incantations, a body of texts that stretched from the third
millennium BC through to the end of the Neo-Babylonian period in the late
first millennium, were, at their heart, performative texts, meant to create a
definitive and measurable effect; whether by driving out the demon of illness
within a patient and restoring him to health, or by acting apotropaically and
protecting an individual or location from further and future harm. Despite the
intended effective nature of these texts, they contained a structure similar to
that of literary texts, with imbedded narratives that require a protagonist (most
often the exorcist), with his assistants (helpful supernatural figures), and, of
course, an antagonist (the malevolent supernatural figure or hostile witchcraft
afflicting the patient). Incantations that focused on exorcism also followed a
pattern known as the Marduk-Ea formula, and understanding the demons in
the text requires a brief discussion on this topic.

3 Propp analysed one particular type of fairy tale, and the conventions he analysed held
together well given the narrow range of that corpus. Similarly, the arguments concerning
these figures in Mesopotamian texts are primarily limited to their appearances in incanta-
tion texts. Vladimir Propp, The Morphology of the Folktale, trans. Laurence Scott (Austin,
1968), p. 20.
Shifting Alignments 21

Within the Marduk-Ea incantation formula, the divine stand-in for the exor-
cist, Asallui (replaced, in later texts, by Marduk), examines the problemor
rather demonafflicting the patient, and attempts to identify the exact cause
of the illness. Asallui is invariably flummoxed in regards to both the identifi-
cation of the problem and the potential treatment, and, lacking the knowledge
to affect a solution, he consults with his father, Enki/Ea, the god of magic and
incantations, concerning the misfortune, witchcraft, or demons afflicting the
patient and summarily receives counsel and instructions on how to remove
the affliction. Here, the exorcist remains the primary actor in this text, and
Asallui is invoked early on as the child of Eridu, drawing on his link to the
mystical pure-water source, the Apsu, which lies beneath the city, and on his
father, Enki.4 The format of the incantation itself is strictly defined into rigid
sections: the naming and enumerating of the evil demons afflicting the patient;
Asalluis plea to his father and the instructions he receives from his father
in response; and finally, Asallui (and thus the exorcist) carrying out those
instructions to drive away the demons. These delineations created clear spaces
in the text for benevolent and malevolent demons, respectively, to occupy. The
benevolent demons appeared in the closing of the incantation, to aid the exorcist
in his work, whereas the malevolent demons were listed in the opening of the
text itself, as the forces afflicting the patient.5
The exorcist was not the only individual to combat demons in Mesopotamia.
In fact, we see several different figures in Mesopotamia who dealt with illness
and its supernatural causes, such as the as, who was similar to a physician, and
the mamau, who operated primarily in the cultic setting. The supernatural
figures known as the udug and the lama interacted predominantly with the
ipu.6 The business of the exorcist, most often the ipu, was very much a

4 The Sumerian Marduk-Ea formula contains our most consistent use of a narrative structure
in incantation texts, and thus it is no surprise that we see these irregular udug and lama
figures in this type of incantation, where the narrative conventions can force them into an
otherwise idiosyncratic service.
5 The Marduk-Ea formula was regular enough that even the particular grammar of each sec-
tion of the text could be predicted: the exorcist receives instruction in the form of direct,
second-person commands and is told of the expected results via the prospective once he has
completed them. On this formula, see: Adam Falkenstein, Die Haupttypen der sumerischen
Beschwrung, (Leipziger Semitistische Studien) 1 (Leipzig, 1968).
6 It should be noted, however, that these positions, particularly those of the ipu and as,
were not always mutually exclusive from one another. Concerning the relationship between
the two, see Nils P. Heeel, The Babylonian Physician Rab-a-Marduk: Another Look at
Physicians and Exorcists in the Ancient Near East, in Advances in Mesopotamian Medicine
from Hammurabi to Hippocrates, ed. A. Attia and G. Buisson (Cuneiform Monographs) 37
22 Konstantopoulos

matter of combat in Mesopotamia. The demons that both embodied and

acted as vectors for illness occupied a liminal space in Mesopotamian reli-
gious thought, and in order to combat them the exorcist found it necessary
to place himself in the same liminal territory these demons occupied, open-
ing himself up to the possibility of attack by the very demons he fought. The
ensuing battle could be either implicitly or explicitly stated in the text of
the incantation, and many incantations have a narrative quality that resem-
bles the structure and plot found in myths and literary epics. The stage then
set for the ipus epic struggles, the exorcist would have access to a number of
tools to aid him in achieving victory, thus driving out the demon or witchcraft
causing the affliction and so curing his patient.7
Incantation texts were a major weapon in the exorcists arsenal. He also had
access to divine favor in order to protect himself: first and foremost, the exor-
cist was viewed as acting in the stead and with the full authority of Enki, also
known in Akkadian as Ea, the god of magic, who gave him the necessary power
to combat demons. Added to this, the ipu had the protection of his own per-
sonal god, a protective spirit attached specifically to him, who would protect
him or appeal to the greater gods upon his behalf. In this same category of
protective spirits, we see benevolent demons coming to the aid of the exorcist,
being commanded to his service and protection.8 To confront a demon with-
out these protections was dangerous at best and fatal at worst. Incantations are
clear about the fate that awaits those who attempt it: in one instance, a man

(Leiden, 2009), pp. 1328; E. K. Ritter, Magical-expert (= ipu) and Physician (=as): Notes
on Two Complementary Professions in Babylonian Medicine, in Studies in Honor of Benno
Landsberger, ed. Hans G. Gterbock and Thorkild Jacobsen, (Assyriological Studies) 16
(Chicago, 1956), pp. 299311 and JoAnn Scurlock, Physician, Exorcist, Conjurer, Magician:
A Tale of Two Healing Professionals, in Mesopotamian Magic: Textual, Historical, and
Interpretative Perspectives, ed. Tzvi Abusch et al, Ancient Magic and Divination 1 (Leiden,
2000), pp. 6979.
7 Demons served as both vectors of disease and as the actualized embodiment of a particular
disease itself. One series of incantations detail the particular form of the demonic embodi-
ment of a particular ailment known as Samana. On this disease and the group of incanta-
tions which combated it, see Irving Finkel, A Study in Scarlet: Incantations against Samana,
in Tikip Santakki Mala Mamu: Eine Festschrift fr Rykle Borger zu seinem 65 Geburtstag, ed.
Stefan Maul, Cuneiform Monographs 10 (Leiden, 1998), pp. 71106.
8 There are other, ancillary, figures that appear to aid the exorcist in his work, such as heroic
figures more commonly found in literary texts, or natural forces. Our present focus is on
the supernatural assistants themselves, however. For an overview of the different types of
aid the exorcist could call upon: Cynthia Jean, Male and Female Supernatural Assistants
in Mesopotamian Magic, in Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East (Helsinki, 2002),
pp. 255261.
Shifting Alignments 23

without the protection of a personal god confronts one demon, and in the pro-
cess, the hapless, now vulnerable individual is attacked by other demons who
carry him off to his presumably grisly fate.9 The protection afforded the exor-
cist by his personal god, as well as by the other benevolent spirits who aided
him, was essential to his own continued well-being as the very act of exorcism
exposed him to the same dangers that confronted his patient.
Given the important role of these figures, it is at first surprising that we see
the same demon occupy different, and even opposing, roles. The good udug
could, and did, aid the exorcist against the evil udug, even within the narrative
space of a single text. Much of this dichotomy was, as discussed, a function of
the nature and requirements of the texts themselves; however, having done
my level best to open this study by robbing these supernatural figures of their
agency as independent beings in Mesopotamian texts, we can see that these
figures themselves are not without their own traits and tendencies.
In the full pandemonium of demons and monsters in Mesopotamia, we see
that some are firmly set in their roles and rarely shift from their positions as
benevolent or malevolent figures.10 Others, which form the focus of this study,
could change allegiances based upon the roles they playor the roles they
are required to playin incantations and literary texts. This mutable quality
of these supernatural figures, or demons, was an integral aspect of their own
composition, and is well represented in the two figures that are the focus of
this study, the udug and lama. These two demons serve as the exorcists assis-
tants, his supernatural protection in incantations, but may also function as the
very demons that threaten the patient the exorcist has come to cure. Their abil-
ity to switch from positive to negative roles within a text, however, is as much
a function of the structure of the texts wherein they appear as it is a result of
their own qualities. Before examining each figure in depth, it should be noted
that the terms demon and supernatural figure which I use in this study are
not perfect, and carry with them their own baggage that ill applies to how the
figures of the udug and lama properly functioned within the context created
by Mesopotamian texts.11

9 In this particular example, the man who had no personal god is not only possessed by
the demons he was unable to defeat, but these demons also appear to assume his form
entirely, killing the man and turning themselves into him. See: S. Lackenbacher, Note sur
lArdat-Lil, Revue dAssyriologie et dArchologie Orientale 65 (1971), pp. 395401.
10 Frans Wiggermann, The Mesopotamian Pandemonium: A Provisional Census, in
Demoni Mesopotamici, ed. Lorenzo Verderame (Rome, 2011), pp. 298322.
11 Where possible, both figures will be referred to primarily by their own native terminology,
with a similar logic to the argument presented by Rangar Cline in his work on angels in
24 Konstantopoulos

Despite that, these supernatural figures exist attached to a history of enor-

mous depth and complexity, and that, in turn, exerts its own influence on their
actions within texts. Thus, we will engage in a brief discussion of the character-
istics of the udug and the lama, before considering how the two figures work in
tandem to both help and hinder the exorcist.

The Udug

The udug claims the dubious honor of being the most nebulous and ill-defined
demon in Mesopotamia.12 As such, it is the most malleable figure that appears
in incantations, capable of fitting into any number of different roles as the text
requires. Particularly when set against other supernatural figures, such as the
demon Lamashtu,13 who has both a clearly defined genealogy and an equally
well-defined artistic representation, we see that there are few descriptions of
the udug demon, and no pictorial references to it on either seal impressions or
statuary. To further complicate matters, the word udug can itself apply to the
specific demon, or be used to indicate the broad category of demonic entities

the Roman empire: By maintaining the period-specific terminology I thus hope to avoid
the imposition of an anachronistic terminological category. This approach is intended to
more accurately reflect the religious views of the later Roman period rather than force
such views to conform to religious and scholarly terminological categories of a later age,
which would, by necessity, come laden with their own connotations and prejudices.
Rangar Cline, Ancient Angels: Conceptualizing Angeloi in the Roman Empire, (Religions in
the Graeco-Roman World) 172 (Leiden, 2011), pp. xvxviii.
12 Note that udug is the Sumerian term for the demon; in Akkadian, the demon would be
13 Lamashtu, the daughter of the god Anu, was exiled from the company of the other
gods thanks to her proclivity for the consumption of human flesh, particularly that of
infants. Infant mortality is primarily attributed to her, and she is notably depicted as
a monstrous female figure, lion-headed and eagle-taloned, suckling wild animals at
her breasts. Lamashtu is a corrupted inversion of the concept of motherhood, and her
attempts to fulfill a role (that of mother) for which she is not capable result in the death
of infants. On Lamashtu, see: Frans Wiggermann, Lamatu, Daughter of Anu: a Profile,
in Birth in Babylonia and the Bible: its Mediterranean Setting, ed. Martin Stol, Cuneiform
Monographs 14 (Groningen, 2000), pp. 217252. The incantations related to Lamashtu are
newly edited and published, a volume which was forthcoming at the time of the writ-
ing: Walter Farber, Lamatu: An Edition of the Canonical Series of Lamatu Incantations
and Rituals and Related Texts from the Second and Third Millennia B.C., Mesopotamian
Civilizations 17 (Winona Lake, 2014).
Shifting Alignments 25

in Mesopotamia.14 Even when it is an individual demon, as opposed to a col-

lective term, the udug appears in a broad range of texts, both chronologically
and geographically speaking, from the third millennium to the late first millen-
nium. The closest approximation we have of a physical depiction of the demon
comes from the prominent and broadly circulated standard Babylonian incan-
tation series, Udug Hul or Utukk Lemntu, Evil Demons, wherein the udug
is one of the many evils threatening mankind. In one textpart of a larger
bilingual Sumerian and Akkadian series of incantations which also features,
seen in the section quoted below, the Marduk-Ea formulathe god Asallui
describes the demon to his father, Enki/Ea, in the following terms:

O my father, the evil udug (udug hul/utukku lemnu), its appearance is

malignant and its stature towering,
Although it is not a god, its clamour is great and its radiance immense,
It is dark, its shadow is pitch-black and there is no light within its body,
It always hides, taking refuge, [it] does not stand proudly,
Its claws drip with bile, it leaves poison in its wake,
Its belt is not released, his arms enclose,
It fills the target of his anger with tears, in all the lands, [its] battle cry
cannot be restrained.15

As this text demonstrates, the udug is characterized by what it is not: the demon
is nameless and formless, even in its early appearances. An Old Babylonian
incantation featuring the udug identifies it as follows: The one who, from the
very beginning, was not called by name...the one who never appeared with
a form.16 Its definition is given in negative. Even in the text quoted above, the
udugs form is glossed over, and instead its terrifying abilities are highlighted.
Attention is drawn to its shadow, the absence of light surrounding it, its poi-
son, and the deafening power of its voiceall characteristics that are common
among demons and monsters in Mesopotamia as a whole. This description,
as tenuous as it already is, is made increasingly nebulous by the fact that it
is not uniformly maintained across the sources, and depictions of the udug

14 Markham J. Geller, The Faceless Udug-demon, in Demoni Mesopotamici, ed. Lorenzo

Verderame (Rome, 2011), p. 333.
15 Tablet 12: 1320. Following the edition in Markham J. Geller, Evil Demons: Canonical
Utukk Lemntu Incantations, (State Archives of Assyria Cuneiform Texts) 5 (Helsinki,
16 See: Markham J. Geller, Forerunners to Udug-ul: Sumerian Exorcistic Incantations,
(Freiburger Altorientalische Studien) 12 (Stuttgart, 1985), pp. 4647.
26 Konstantopoulos

are subject to change in other texts wherein the demon appears. In the text
above, its nature is clarified by the use of the adjective hul or evil, though the
adjective would not be required to inform the udugs nature in this malevolent
instance, as we otherwise see the udug in its malevolent role without the adjec-
tive present.
This shifting quality of the udug demon and its inherent malleable qual-
ity arise, in part, from the flexibility of the term itself; as udug may refer to
one demon or to a group of demons, when the udug appears as an individual
demon, it is a study in generic description, a template for a perfectly average
demon. We see it, for example, as an individual in one list of demons afflict-
ing a patient: An evil namtaru has seized his head, an evil utukku (udug hul/
utukku lemnu) has seized his throat, an evil al has seized his breast, an evil
eemmu has seized his shoulders, an evil gall has seized his hand, an evil god
has seized his hand, an evil rbiu has seized his feet: they have covered this
person like a net.17 Here, the udug is merely one demon among many, part of
a great and vast legion, and none of the list are given any greater importance
or significance when compared to the others. In this list of demonic figures we
can also see a behaviour typical to Mesopotamian incantations: the incanta-
tion hopes to cover all possible demons that could threaten the afflicted, ensur-
ing that no matter what the potential cause of the harm which has befallen
the patient, it will be driven away. The epitome of this practice may well be the
existence of the mimma lemnu, literally the anything evil demon, which was
to be protected against and could occur at the end of a longer list of specific
demons, to truly ensure that all potential threats were neutralized.18
The udug is the most widespread and frequently attested of all demons in
Mesopotamia, although it is without any noted personality or character. It
operates as a stand-in for demons as a whole in Mesopotamian texts, and is
the closest term within the entire category of supernatural figures to denote a
generic marker for demons. Even when it functions as an individual, its nature
is ill defined. It often acts as a vector for illness, be it physical or mental, and
acts thus in a persistently malevolent manner in incantations, a nature it tends
to express even when simply written as udug/utukku instead of the full udug
hul/utukku lemnu (evil udug). However, the demon is not exclusively malevo-
lent, and also functions as an aid to the exorcist, a behaviour we will turn to
after examining out next supernatural figure.

17 See E. E. Knudsen, Two Nimrud Incantations of the Utukku Type, Iraq 27 (1965), 160170.
18 JoAnn Scurlock, Magico-Medical Means of Treating Ghost-Induced Illnesses in Ancient
Mesopotamia, (Ancient Magic and Divination) 3 (Leiden, 2005), p. 503.
Shifting Alignments 27

The Lama

As opposed to the ambiguous udug, the lama is clearly defined, at least in

terms of its actions; with very few exceptions, the lama is a benevolent figure.19
Within incantations, the lama stands alongside the exorcist and provides
both protection and support. Beyond that role, the lama has a long history
of appearances within personal names, the earliest of which are dated to the
third millennium.20 In further contrast to the udug, the lama is most often
depicted as a female figure, with a long history of being identified as a deity
in Mesopotamia, although one with distinctly protective qualities, and as a
protective spirit, associated with an individual or a specific place.21 The oldest
references to the lama come from Lagash, a city in southern Mesopotamia,
which may suggest that this city is where the figure originated.22 Lagash itself
possesses a religious tradition that, while connected to the broader traditions
of Mesopotamia, retains its own unique aspects. The lama, however, quickly
spread far beyond Lagash itself, to appear in texts from the broad sweep
of Mesopotamia.
The oldest of these early Lagash texts is from the twenty-fourth cen-
tury BC; the text itself is a list of riddles, formatted as a simple list of canals,
each accompanied by the name of a fish and the name of a snake, and the
reader is meant to identify the city from these details. Here, the lama appears
as the citys patron deity and is thus responsible for its protection: its canal
is the Lama-igi bar, its deity is the good lama (dlama sa6-ga).23 The writing of
lama is also of importance: the lama is preceded by the determinative diir,
a classifier indicating divinity (attached to gods and occasionally kings) and

19 As with the udug/utukku, the figure claims the Sumerian term lama and the Akkadian
term lamassu.
20 See: Robert A. DiVito, Studies in Third Millennium Sumerian and Akkadian Personal
Names: the Designation and Conception of the Personal God, (Studia Pohl Series Maior) 16
(Rome, 1993).
21 Jean, Male and Female Supernatural Assistants, 256.
22 Lagash was home to its own pantheon, which was attested from the earliest recorded peri-
ods of the citys history. See: Gebhard Selz, Studies in Early Syncretism: the Development
of the Pantheon in Laga, Examples for Inner-Sumerian Syncretism, Acta Sumerologica
12 (1990), 111142; and Selzs longer monograph on the same subject: Untersuchungen zur
Gtterwelt des altsumerischen Stadtstaates von Laga, (Occasional Publications of the
Samuel Noah Kramer Fund) 13 (Philadelphia, 1995).
23 R. D. Biggs Pre-Sargonic Riddles from Lagash, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 32 (1973), 29.
28 Konstantopoulos

lama here is followed by the adjective good, sa6-ga.24 The udug, particularly
when it appears benevolently in texts, may also be written with this divine sig-
nifier preceding it. Although the lama is written with the divine determinative
so often that attestations without it are unusual, even anomalous, the udug
may be seen frequently with or without the diir determinative.
Once the lamas role as a patron deity of a city, and thus responsible for
its safekeeping, is established, we see an increasingly developed connection
between the lama and protection in other texts in Mesopotamia, all of which
reinforce this link between the protective power of the lama and its early role
as a protective deity. In particular, the image of the lama as the protector and
steward of cities is reinforced by the mention of specific temples that were built
and dedicated to the lama in this early period of the late third millennium BC.25
From these first attestations as an individual goddess, one who was tasked
with the protection and patronage of a particular city, the lama slowly develops
an identity as a protective spirit who can serve other deities but is not always an
independent goddess in her own right. While this pattern began to develop
in these early attestations from the city of Lagash, it is also present later, seen in
an Old Babylonian text where the lama appears as a spirit who is subservient
to the goddess Baba. Although the lama in this text is not described as good,
its function is clearly benevolent.26 Once again, the inclusion of the adjective
is not required to inform or clarify the lamas intentions within the text: even
without it, the lama can function benevolently. From here on, we see the lama
developed as a protective figure that may be attached to an individual as easily
as to a city, and whose removal or departure would cause that person harm or ill
fortune. Texts known as city laments, which describe the destruction of urban
centers, use the abandonment of a city by its protective spirits, one of which is
the lama, as one of the final signs before the citys complete and total destruc-
tion: [the citys] lama ran away; its lama (said) hide in the steppe!; [it] took
unfamiliar paths.27 In this text, the lama removes itself not only from the city,
but also from civilization entirely, retreating to the steppe or desert, the eden,
a liminal area that is more often associated with monsters and demons.

24 Determinatives are written in superscript preceding a word, and often abbreviated in

modern transcriptions. The diir, the only determinative that concerns us, is written sim-
ply as a superscript letter d. Thus, the dlama sa6-ga would, as a term, parse to the divin-
ized good lama.
25 Dietz Otto Edzard, Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia: Early Periods (Toronto, 2008).
26 See ke W. Sjberg, A Hymn to dLama-sa6-ga, Journal of Cuneiform Studies 26 (1974), 160.
27 M. W. Green, The Uruk Lament, Journal of the American Oriental Society 104 (1984), 268.
Shifting Alignments 29

In this vein as a benevolent spirit, the lama is one of the supernatural figures
that commonly serves as protection for the exorcist, aiding him in his work, and
can also be attached to individuals in literary textsa tradition which begins
early, as seen when it appears in a Sumerian literary epic featuring the exploits
of the hero and king Lugalbanda: (Lugalbandas) good udug (dudug sa6-ga)
hovered before him; his benevolent lama (dlama sa6-ga) walked behind him.28
This text identifies the typical behaviour of protective spirits in Mesopotamia:
to maintain a protected space around an individual, creating a space wherein
no harm, be it of demonic origin or otherwise, can threaten whomever they
are protecting. In incantations, their behavior is identical in that both udug
and lama come to the aid of the exorcist. This furthermore leads us to one of
the mutable qualities of the udug that serves as the next point to consider:
although the udug is most closely associated with its demonic qualities, it can
still act as a protective spirit, paired with the lama.
The lama is the product of its long history as a benevolent, apotropaic fig-
ure, first as a goddess in her own right, then as a protective spirit attached to
a city or an individual. Moreover, the lama fulfills these roles in many differ-
ent textual and artistic genres beyond incantations. As such, it is much more
rooted in its role, and shifts into an antagonistic role only rarely, and only then
in exceptional circumstances.

Changing Loyalties: The Good Udug and Evil Lama

Having established the general characteristics of both the udug and the lama,
we turn now to the circumstances where they act against the expected pattern
of said characteristics and behaviour; namely, when we see the udug appear-
ing in a positive role, or the lama in a negative one. The udug, with its mal-
leable character, takes to this change without too much trouble, and, despite
its continued role as a malevolent figure, appears benevolently in literary texts,
royal hymns, and incantations. The first category includes the literary text of
Lugalbanda, as discussed above, but the incantations provide the most interest-
ing examples of this ability. It should be noted, however, that both Lugalbanda
stories employ the good udug as one of the kings protective spirits.
Of course, the attestations to the benevolent udug are vastly outnumbered
by the number of times it appears in a malevolent role. In examining the texts
wherein the good udug does appear, one pattern becomes immediately clear:

28 Herman Vanstiphout, Epics of the Sumerian Kings: the Matter of Aratta, (Writings from the
Ancient World) 20 (Atlanta, 2003), p. 116.
30 Konstantopoulos

the ever-present pairing of the udug sa6-ga and the lama sa6-ga. When the
benevolent udug does appear, it appears alongside the lama, allowing the lat-
ter to act as the exemplar by which the udugs behaviour is patterned. Although
the udug appearing benevolently may be irregular, the pairing of a evil udug
(udug hul) and good lama (lama sa6-ga) would be unacceptable, particularly
in light of the position of such a line within the incantation, where either two
positive or two negative figures would be required.
The narrative of incantations falls into a very particular pattern when con-
sidering the aforementioned Marduk-Ea incantation formula, and even the
incantations that do not visibly cite the markers of the Marduk-Ea formula may
still mimic its structure, as seen in the incantation quoted below. This incan-
tation, an exorcism against the demon Lamashtu, follows the conventions of
structure and narrative that we would expect from an incantation conforming
to the Marduk-Ea formula. We see the standard conventions of the formula
within the textthe introduction of the affliction and list of evils causing it;
Asallui questioning Enki/Ea on how to solve said affliction, and then receiv-
ing instructions that he then carries out to drive away the evil and heal the
patient. In following along the Marduk-Ea pattern of the text, we come to
the section wherein Asallui is given instructions, to alleviate the demonic
presence, which is quoted in the excerpt below:

nam-ub eriduki-ga -me-m

dudug hul a-l hul dgidim hul gal5-l[] hul ddimx.a
l hul igi hul ka hul eme hul
bar- -im-ta-gub
dudug sa6-ga dlama sa6-ga h-im-da-su8-su8-ge-e29

Once you cast the incantation of Eridu,

The evil udug, evil ala, evil ghost, evil galla,
Lamashtu, Labau,
Evil man, evil eye, evil mouth, evil tongue
They [all] will stand aside!
The benevolent udug and benevolent lama will stand attendant!

In the closing lines of the incantation, we have the key aspects of how the good
udug (udug sa6-ga) and the evil udug (udug hul) interact. We see here that the

29 See M. V. Tonietti, Un incantesimo sumerico contro la Lamatu, Orientalia 48 (1979),

Shifting Alignments 31

evil udug appears in proximity to the good udug, and both appear divinized,
written with the divine marker, as do several of the other demons in the text.
The close proximity of the two seems to pose no particular quandaries for the
text or its audience.
Furthermore, the closing line of this incantation demonstrates another
aspect of the udugs benevolence: when it does appear in this role, it appears
in a set phrase. Thus it is even further distanced from any unique identifying
characteristics, sparse though they may be when seen in conjunction with the
evil attestations of the demon. That phrase, when appearing in incantations,
follows the general pattern of the line quoted at the close of the incantation
above, appearing as:

udug sa6-ga dlama sa6-ga h-em-da-su8-su8-ge-e

The benevolent udug and benevolent lama will stand attendant!

While there is some variation possible with the particular Sumerian verbs in
this line, the basic principle remains intact. The phrase appears close to the
end of pertinent incantations, an assurance that the patient will be relieved
from his sickness and returned to good health, and the supernatural figures
of the udug and lama maintain a clearly delineated and protected space
around the exorcist and the patient.
Conclusions concerning the udug are, in some regards, as tenuous as the
demon itself. What is clear, however, is that the udug is inherently malicious,
and even when the term is used to describe a group of demons, the demons
within its purview are equally malevolent. The demon is a direct threat to man-
kind in the incantations wherein it appears, inflicting the harm that required
the intervention of the ipu. Its origins are not detailed in incantations, and it
does not fall under the direct command of any major deity. Much like the term,
the nature of the udug appears to be one of chaotic malignancy, and it appears
benevolently only when paired with the lama.

The Malevolent Lama

Of the references to the lama, the overwhelming majority are positive, in which
the figure serves a benevolent function, protecting the exorcist in incantations
or standing as the protective spirit of a city or individual. Despite these tenden-
cies, there are occasions where the lama appears in a malevolent, antagonistic
context. There are three texts in particular that feature this behaviour, though,
32 Konstantopoulos

for our purposes, we will consider in greatest detail an Old Babylonian incanta-
tion against a demonized disease.30 In both of the other two texts, the lama hul
appears together with the udug hul, and, moreover, it appears in this fashion in
an appropriate place in the texts narrative; in one of the two texts, associated
with Inanna, the evil udug and evil lama are associated with the temple of the
steppe, the -gal eden.31 Though this section of the hymn is unfortunately frag-
mentary, the steppe would be more readily associated with malevolent super-
natural figures than their benevolent counterparts. The other literary text, one
dedicated to the goddess Ninisina and celebrating her healing qualities, pres-
ents the udug and evil lama in a section describing the various demons who
had attacked a man, and thus their antagonistic nature is inevitable given their
place in the text.32
The final text that details the dlama hul is an Old Babylonian incantation,
BM 92670, whichinclusion of the lama hul asidefollows a standard incan-
tation format. The reverse contains a drawing of a demon, and the text appears
matched, or perhaps one of a pair, to another incantation, BM 92669. The two
tablets share similar form and orthography, although they differ in content,
as the latter is a difficult incantation dealing with the possible binding and
removal of magic affecting the king through the scapegoat medium of a bird.
Regardless, the text reinforces the underlying theory of forcing the affliction
be it antagonistic magic or a malevolent demonaway from the patient. In
BM 92669, the affliction is removed through the use of a scapegoat medium,
and abstracted as something that may be manipulated and thus shifted from
one location to another, and, in doing so, forced away from the afflicted. In the
other text, cited below and treated in full in the appendix, the afflictions are
conceptualized as a number of evil demons, including the dlama hul, and all
are forced away from the patient to ensure his recovery:

30 The other two texts are both literary texts: a hymn to the goddess Ninegala and a hymn
to the goddess Ninisina. Their respective editions are: Hermann Behrens, Die Ninegala-
Hymne: die Wohnungnahme Inannas in Nippur in Altbabylonischer Zeit, (Freiburger alto-
rientalische studien) 21 (Stuttgart, 1998) and Willem Rmer, Einige Beobachtungen zur
Gttin Nini(n)sina auf Grund von Quellen der Ur III-Zeit und der altbabylonischen
Periode, in Lin mit[h]urti (Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1969), pp. 279305.
31 Behrens, Die Ninegala-Hymne, pp. 5859.
32 Rmer, Beobachtungen zur Gttin Nini(n)sina, p. 285: lines 4557.
Shifting Alignments 33

Figure 2.1

BM 92670: Reverse 16

1 xxx After you come forth,

2 After you burn away that poison by torch,
3 The evil ghost, evil ala demon from the body,
They will leave.
4 From the...they will leave
5 The evil udug, the evil lama
They will stand aside!
6 This is the wording (of the incantation) of the substitute goat.

Given the overwhelming presence of the lama as a protective spirit, we must

wonder why she is depicted as a malevolent spirit at all. The attestations of
34 Konstantopoulos

her in this context are scattered, and so it cannot be attributed to one scribal
mistake or idiosyncrasy. These attestations give us evidence for the persistent
malevolent presence of the lama in Mesopotamian texts.
In sum, the explanation for this behaviour lies in the pairing of the two
figures and the narrative demands of the text. Just as the good udug takes
its behavioural cues from the lama in texts where they appear benevolently
together, to the point where the good udug is never found without the good
lama in accompaniment, the lama here follows the lead of the normally malig-
nant udug. In these few instances, the connection between the two figures and
their constant repetition in texts as a paired set is a deliberate link to overcome
the inherent tendency of the lama to be a positive figure. In either case, attesta-
tions where they appear against their normal natures are always marked with
the appropriate adjectivethe evil lama is always marked as the lama hul,
while the good udug will be marked as udug sa6-ga, whereas these adjectives
are not required when the figures are acting in accordance with their antici-
pated behavioural patterns.
In these examples we see evidence for the lamas potential to be malevo-
lent, simply presented as an antagonistic figure that must be driven away
by the ipu, without apparent need for an explanation or theological con-
tortions to explain the lamas unusual nature. When compiling the evidence
for lamathe number of positive attestations, the presence of a benevolent
nature even when unaccompanied by the adjective sa6-ga, the long history
as a protective spirit and the attestations found in personal names, a clear
case is made for the lama as a positive figure. Similarly, the udugwith its
number of malevolent appearances, antagonistic actions in texts, associa-
tions with poison and bile, and frequent use of hul as an accompanying adjec-
tivepresents a clear and definite image as a malevolent supernatural entity
in Mesopotamia. The overall ambivalence and fluidity in description of the
udug allows for its more frequent appearances in a benevolent role, despite
these malevolent roots.


The behavior of the udug and the lama are clearly deeply involved in the overall
complexities of Mesopotamian incantations and the worldview that governed
their creation and use. However, both figures can only be understood in light
of their relationship with the textual tradition, and should not be interpreted
as independent figures with fixed actions and natures. In laying the argument
for why the udug and the lama behave as they do when they appear in texts, we
have seen it break down into five major points:
Shifting Alignments 35

1)Mesopotamian incantations themselves have a strong central narra-

tive that requires benevolent figures at one place and malevolent figures
in another.
2)The figuresin this study, the udug or lama, though other super-
natural figures are possiblemust conform to that requirement when
placed in that particular section of the narrative, which in turns works
with the principle seen in the following point.
3)The connection between the udug and lama, along with the desire
for symmetry, is strong enough that we do not see a pairing of evil udug
and good lama, even if such a pairing were permissible within the text.
4)The lama has a strong and grounded tradition of operating as a
benevolent figure, thanks to its long history as a goddess and then protec-
tive spirit in the Lagash region, while the udug has no such history and is,
by its nature, an ill-defined and shifting demon.
5)Thanks to the above four points, a text is far more likely to pair the
udug with the lama and shift them both into a benevolent role when a
pair of figures is required. It is more peculiar for the lama to act against
type, but the texts recognize that if the udug and lama are slotted into
the role for a malevolent pair within the text, they must be cast as such,
regardless of the lamas overwhelmingly benevolent nature, which may
predispose but does not inhibit the lama from acting malevolently.

In other words, what we see within these texts is a strong predisposition for
the lama and udug to act benevolently or malevolently, respectively. When
they appear otherwise, it is against their respective predispositions but these
actions are still permissible for each entity. In each case, that predisposition is
overcome through the presentation of the oddly-natured demons as a pair. The
symmetry of a good udug paired with a good lamaor an evil lama with an evil
udugseems to be the trigger for which role the entities will play, and this itself
seems a function of context. The evil lama appears in a list of other evil demons,
and the good udug in the proper place for a benevolent spirit within the incan-
tation framework. In these few instances, the connection between the two fig-
ures whereby they operate as a pair, and the demands of their place within the
narrative of the text, are deliberate links that overcome the inherent tendency
of the lama and udug to appear as positive and negative figures, respectively.


The following incantation, as discussed earlier, is one of a pair of two Old Babylonian
incantations noted for the drawings of demons they display on the reverse of each
36 Konstantopoulos

tablet. BM 92670, edited in full below from my own collations of the tablet, contains
one of the few definitive references to the lama hul, though the incantation itself is a
fairly standard scapegoat ritual, wherein the affliction is removed from the patient and
placed inside a substitute animal; in this particular case, a goat. The text, to date, has
not been fully edited; though the tablet has been published in handcopy,33 the incan-
tation itself has only been considered as one source for a created, composite incanta-
tion, and has not been edited as an independent text in its own right.34

BM 92670; CT 44 26

1 n -nu-r[u]
2 -sg gig-ga su l-k[a]
3 l-ul pap-hal-la tg-gin7 im-mi-[in-dul]
4 u-bi ri-bi nu-ub-i-in-[-]
5 nun gal den-ki en ka inim-ma-bi
6 den-ki-ne- dnun-ki-ne-[]
7 m sa gaba-ri-a ba-an-s
8 sa m sa l- ba-an-s
9 g m g l- ba-an-s
10 gaba m gaba l- ba-an-s
11 md m md l- ba-an-s
12 lipi m lipi l- ba-an-s
13 zi-da zi-da- ba-an-s
14 gb-bu gb-bu- ba-an-s
15 ti-ti- ba-an-s uzumurgu uzumurgu- ba-an-s
16 i-ge-en-ge-na i-ge-en-ge-na ba-an-s -mu-e-s

17 igi [su?] bar-ra-na u -mu-ni-su-<ub>-su-ub

1 xx [e] AN A ma-na -me-ni-
2 [z]-ba gi-izi-l -me-ni-bar7

33 Th. G. Pinches, Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum, Vol. 44
(London, 1963).
34 Wolfgang Schramm, Ein Compendium sumerisch-akkadischer Beschwrungen, (Gttinger
Beitrge zum Alten Oreint) 2 (Gttingen, 2008), pp. 4043, 113119.
Shifting Alignments 37

3 [gi]dim hul a-l hul su-l-ta

h-b-ta-zil xxx-di35
4 [x]-ra-ne-ta h-b-ta-x
5 [dudug h]ul dlama h[ul]
bar-<ta h-b>-da-su8-su8-g[e-e]36
6 ka-inim-ma m gaba-r[i-ga-kam]

1 Incantation:
2 The evil asag-demon is in a mans body,
3 It covers the patient like a garment,
4 He cannot raise his hand nor his foot,
5 The great prince Enki, this lord of incantations,
6 To the Enki and Ninki gods
7 He set a scapegoat as a substitute,
8 He set the head of the goat for the head of the man;
9 He set the neck of the goat for the neck of the man;
10 He set the chest of the goat for the chest of the man;
11 He set the blood of the goat for the blood of the man;
12 He set the innards of the goat for the innards of the man;
13 He set the right side [of the goat] for the right side [of the man];
14 He set the left side [of the goat] for the left side [of the man];
15 He set rib for rib; he set blood for blood;
16 He set limbs to limbs. Once you have placed,

17 The flesh he has seen; after you gather it together,

35 Schramm reconstructs this final verb as gu[ru]d; however, the tablet leaves space for at
least one additional sign between the zil and di signs, and he cites no parallel incantations
to compare against for this line and its reconstruction. We would expect a verb indicating
that the evil ghost and ala demon are driven away from the body of the patient.
36 Concerning the reconstruction of this verb, the line we see on the tablet itself was most
likely abbreviated out of concerns for space. The scribe has left considerable space for
the figure drawn on the bottom of the reverse of this tablet (with a similar figure seen in
an identical place on tablet BM 92669) and presented an abbreviated form of the line to
avoid needing to expand the text onto another line. We also see parallels in BM 92669 for
the indented lines that comprise the second halves of lines three and five on the reverse
of this text. An analysis of the broader and more complicated questions surrounding
the drawing of the figure itself, as well as how this text may be considered alongside BM
92669, is unfortunately beyond the scope of this present article.
38 Konstantopoulos

1 xxx After you come forth,
2 After you burn away that poison by torch,
3 The evil ghost, evil ala demon from the body,
They will leave.
4 From the...they will leave
5 The evil udug, the evil lama
They will stand aside!
6 This is the wording (of the incantation) of the substitute goat.37

37 Concerning the substitute goat, or scapegoat, and its role in incantations, see: Antoine
Cavigneaux, M-Hul-Db-Ba, in Beitrage zur Kulturgeschichte Vorderasiens: Festschrift
fr Rainer Michael Boehmer (Mainz, 1983), pp. 5367.

The Natural and Supernatural Aspects of Fever in

Mesopotamian Medical Texts

Andrs Bcskay

The cuneiform medical texts of Mesopotamia testify to the healing activity of

one of the oldest literate cultures. The clay tablets preserve numerous illness
names and symptom descriptions, hundreds of references to healing materials
and various methods of treatment. Although the vast majority of our sources
originate from a very restricted period (i.e. 8th7th centuries BC Assyria and
6th4th centuries BC Babylonia), we can testify that the medical texts were
copied from as early as the end of the third millennium.1 Besides the so-called
scientific medical texts (therapeutic prescriptions, diagnostic texts, lists of
stones and plants, pharmacological lists, and medical commentaries), the
practice and the social background of Mesopotamian medicine are attested
in administrative texts and collections of correspondence that refer mainly to
court medicine.2
Mesopotamian medicine was incorporated into the magical-religious
worldview of the culture and there was no sharp boundary between medi-
cine and magic. In fact, it has already been observed that medical as well as
magical means were used at the same time to handle certain medical prob-
lems, and incantations and other magical acts are documented in the cunei-
form medical corpus.3 Despite the wealth of information about Assyrian and
Babylonian medical lore, defining their scientific conception of disease is prob-
lematic because the various types of sources emphasised different aspects of

1 For an overview of the corpus of cuneiform medical texts, see Pascal Attinger, La mde-
cine msopotamienne, Le Journal des Mdecines Cuniformes 1112 (2008), 196; Markham J.
Geller, Ancient Babylonian Medicine: Theory and Practice (Chichester, 2010), pp. 89108.
2 Eleanor Robson, Mesopotamian medicine and religion: current debates, new perspectives,
Religion Compass 2/4 (2008), 472476; Geller, Ancient Babylonian Medicine, pp. 6288.
3 For the complementary attitude of magic, religion and medicine, see Jo Ann Scurlock,
Physician, Exorcist, Conjurer, Magician: a Tale of Two Healing Professionals, in
Mesopotamian Magic: Textual, Historical, and Interpretative Perspectives, eds. Tzvi Abusch
and Karel van der Toorn (Groningen, 1999), pp. 6979; Markham J. Geller, Ancient Babylonian
Medicine, pp. 164167.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_004

40 Bcskay

Mesopotamian medicine.4 The supernatural and religious background of the

illnesses is generally clear but we do not wholly understand the relationship
between the deities, symptoms, diseases and healing procedures. According
to the curse formulas and prayers, the deity could either be the sender of the
illnesses or, on the other hand, the names of some diseases refer directly to
specific gods.5 Furthermore the identification and invocation of the relevant
deity was a condition for successful treatment.6

4 Although cuneiform medical texts had been researched since the early 20th century, full
copies of these sources only became available with the monumental work of Franz Kcher,
who published all the medical texts known to him in a six-volume workFranz Kcher, Die
babylonisch-assyrische Medizin in Texten und Untersuchungen. Vols. IVI (Berlin, 19631980).
In addition to publishing 584 medical texts, Kcher discussed their content, their possible
connections with the standard medical series (which include redacted and serialised lists
of prescriptions ordered by medical rubrics), and he also indicated parallel passages. The
two main approaches to Mesopotamian medicine had emerged long before Kchers work,
already at the beginning of the 20th century: the so-called medical-assyriological approach
and the ethno-medical approach. The aim of the former is to identify ancient equivalents
of present day diseases and treatments by applying the results of modern medical symp-
tomologyrecent examples include Jo Ann Scurlock and Richard B. Andersen, Diagnoses
in Assyrian and Babylonian Medicine. Ancient Sources, Translations, and Modern Analyses
(UrbanaChicago, 2005); Martha Hausperger, Die Mesopotamische Medizin aus rztlicher
Sicht (Baden-Baden, 2012). The aim of the latter is to identify ancient diseases through
ethnological parallelsfor example, Marten Stol, Epilepsy in Babylonia (Groningen, 1993);
Marten Stol, Birth in Babylonia and the Bible. Its Mediterranean Setting (Groningen, 2000).
Kchers work has facilitated the recent growth in the number of monographs written on
this topic, and a new emic approach has evolved. This means that we can now attempt to
understand ancient Mesopotamian medicine on the basis of its own inherent scientific logic,
focusing on how medical problems were perceived and healed by the scientists of ancient
Mesopotamiafor example, Janette Fincke, Augenleiden nach keilschriftlichen Texten.
Untersuchungen zur altorientalischen Medizin (Wrzburg, 2000); Markham J. Geller, Renal
and Rectal Disease Texts. BAM 7 (Berlin, 2005).
5 In diagnostic texts, terms like hand of personal god, hand of personal goddess, hand of
ghost or hand of Itar are connected to various symptom descriptions and probably cause
diseases. Similar terms occur also in therapeutic prescriptions but the use of these terms is
not so widely attested and is limited to specific problems like ghosts and epilepsy. For the
interpretation of these terms, see Niels Heeel, The Hand of the Gods: Disease Names and
Divine Anger, in Disease in Babylonia, eds. Markham J. Geller and Irving L. Finkel (Leiden:
2007), pp. 120130.
6 Robert D. Biggs, Medizin in Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archologie
Bd. 7, ed. Dietz O. Edzard (BerlinNew York, 19871990), p. 624b; Hector Avalos, Illness and
The Natural and Supernatural Aspects of Fever 41

In the therapeutic prescriptions, the scientific conceptualisation of illness

is based on the medical rubric (e.g. if somebody has been ill with such-and-
such a disease), which could contain the name of the disease and a descrip-
tion of its symptomse.g. physical and mental problems, problems with
various parts of the body (head, eye, leg etc.), or various demons as causes
or personifications of diseases. On the other hand the therapeutic prescrip-
tions incorporate the three main aspects of Mesopotamian medicine, namely
the technical, the magical and the religious. The preparation of the healing
ingredients (crushing, mixing in liquids etc.) represents the technical aspect.7
The incantations (recited onto the medicament or in the course of making
or applying the medicament) or the use of a magical-analogical mechanism
(e.g. healing ingredients or procedures based on similarity or contrast) rep-
resents the magical aspect.8 The exposing of the medicament under the stars
(or under the star representing the deity Gula) or the prayer to various dei-
ties (generally to Ninisinna and Gula) represents the religious component of
Mesopotamian medicine. For the Mesopotamians, therefore, disease was not
simply a physical matter. Healing involved more than simply physically cur-
ing the patientthere were religious, magical, social, physical, psychological,
theoretical and empirical elements. In other words, illness is simultaneously a
natural and a supernatural phenomenon. This paper will discuss in detail one
example of this: the case of fever.

Terms for Fever

The cuneiform medical texts contain many scientific terms for a patients high
body temperature, and there are also many therapeutic prescriptions that deal

Health Care in the Ancient Near East. The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel
(Atlanta, 1995), pp. 135136.
7 For the technical aspects of Mesopotamian medicine, see Barbara Bck, On Medical
Technology in Ancient Mesopotamia, in Advances in Mesopotamian Medicine from
Hammurabi to Hippocrates, eds. Annie Attia and Gilles Buisson (Leiden, 2009), pp. 105128;
Barbara Bck, Sourcing, Organizing and Administering Medicinal Ingredients, in The
Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture, eds. Karen Radner and Eleanor Robson (Oxford
New York, 2011), pp. 697700.
8 For the medical incantations, see Markham J. Geller, Incantations within Medical Texts, in
The Babylonian World, ed. Gwendolyn Leick (Abingdon-New York, 2007), pp. 389399.
42 Bcskay

with curing this problem.9 When interpreting Mesopotamian sources, we have

to be careful not to interpret their various terms for high body temperature as
fever in the modern medical sense because they possessed neither a physi-
ological understanding of the evolution of fever nor any tools for measuring
the temperature of the body.10 The cuneiform medical sources refer to the
patients hot temperature with the following Akkadian lexemes: 1) emmu to
be hot and ummu heat; 2) hamu to be inflamed and imu inflamma-
tion, burning; 3) aru to heat up and iru or iritu heat; 4) tu heat-
radiance.11 The use of these medical terms differs according to context. For
example, ummu is the most frequent term for a high temperature in the thera-
peutic and diagnostic texts, but does not occurs in pharmacological lists. Such
differences in use do not indicate that these terms possess different meanings
but rather reflect their use in different genres. For example, in the Neo-Assyrian
letters from royal physicians and incantation priests, fever was expressed with
the term unu (the Assyrian form of Babylonian imu), but this term was
never mentioned in their scientific tablets.12
The verbal and nominal form of the lexeme emmu/ummu is the most com-
monly used term for a patients high body temperature, and it refers generally
to a symptom in the whole body or specific parts of the body.13 Besides the

9 The most comprehensive summary of this topic is Marten Stol, Fevers in Babylonia, in
Disease in Babylonia, eds. Markham J. Geller and Irving L. Finkel (Leiden, 2007), pp. 139.
Stol makes an essential distinction between the various terms for the patients high body
temperature and himi ti sun heat as a disease caused by the heat of the sun or some-
times the heat of the night. Stol focuses on symptom descriptions and does not analyse
the methods of treatment. An edition of therapeutic prescriptions for fever is forthcom-
ing by the present author.
10 Scurlock and Andersen interpreted fever on the basis of modern medical symptomol-
ogy and they identified it as a symptom of various illnessesScurlock and Anderson,
Diagnoses, pp. 2737 and 5260. For a criticism of this method, see Niels Heeel,
Reading and Interpreting Medical Cuneiform TextsMethods and Problems, Le
Journal des Mdecines Cuniformes 3 (2004), pp. 67; Barbara Bck, Diagnose im Alten
Mesopotamien. berlegungen zu Grenzen und Mglichkeiten der Interpretation
keilschriftlicher diagnostischer Texte, Orientalistische Literaturzeitung 104/45 (2009),
pp. 382398.
11 Literally what is coming out, which may refer to the sunrise or the light of the sun. The
term was interpreted by Stol as sun heatStol, Fevers, pp. 2223.
12 Niels Heeel, Babylonisch-assyrische Diagnostik (Mnster, 2000), p. 44. For the references
to fever in the Neo-Assyrian letter corpus, see Stol, Fevers, pp. 2122.
13 Stol has rightly observed that medical texts never give ummu as a diagnosis because the
word is too generalsee Stol, Fevers, p. 3. On the other hand, the medical rubrics use
this term as an illness-name: umma amla ummu ibassu If somebody has been seized
The Natural and Supernatural Aspects of Fever 43

general use of this term, more specific terms were constructed with this word:
ummu dannu strong heat, iriti ummi flaring-up heat, ummu aa or la
aa critical/not critical heat,14 ummu lazzu never-ending-heat, ummu
kajjmnu constant heat, ummu mitar or la mitar even/uneven heat.15 It
appears that all of these terms refer to empirical experiences of a change
in temperature: strength (mild or strong), duration (permanent or tempo-
rary) and intensity (even or uneven).16 The verbal form of the term amu
to burn occurs more frequently in symptom descriptions, referring mostly
to skin and epigastrium. Although references to the nominal term imu are
rare, it is combined with the expression tu in two ways: ta ami he is
inflamed with heat-radiance and imi ti inflammation of heat-radiance.17
Similarly, aru is generally used in symptom descriptions (in reference to the
belly or inner part or the head), whereas its nominal forms are rare. tu is com-
bined with two verbs: kadu to reach, to accomplish and amu to burn.18

by fever (BAM 143 1; BAM 315 i 28 and parallels) or ana ummi nasi/ul/ai/u
In order to release the fever (BAM 480 ii 64 // BAM 3 ii 3637).
14 I follow here the translation of Stol, Fevers, pp. 910.
15 I follow here the translation of Stol, Fevers, p. 8.
16 Although the Hippocratic theory and system of fever differ, the Greek terms for fever
make similar distinctions regarding the nature and duration of fevers, which could be
ephemeral or hectic, continuous or periodic and tertian, quartan, quintan, septan or
nonan. For the Greek parallels to Mesopotamian diagnostic, see Markham J. Geller, West
meets East: Early Greek and Babylonian Diagnosis, in Magic and Rationality in Ancient
Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman Medicine, eds. Herman F. J. Horstmanshoff and Marten
Stol (Leiden-Boston, 2004), pp. 1161.
17 The phrase imi ti is difficult to identify in modern medical terms. Scholars have
interpreted it as a type of fever or inflammation associated with the heat of the sun: e.g.
inflammation by sun heat in Stol, Fevers, pp. 2225, and sun-fever in Geller, Ancient
Babylonian Medicine, p. 151.
18 Cale Johnson suggests two separate meanings for the terms ud.da.s.s and ud.da kur-id
the first referring to the ongoing or agnostic situation of fever (ta ummur struggling
with a fever) and the second expressing the resulting state of this agnostic situation
(ta kaid he has been overtaken by fever)interpreting them as intermittent fever
and acute feversee Cale Johnson, Towards a reconstruction of SUALU IV: Can we
localize K 2386+ in the therapeutic corpus?, Le Journal des Mdecines Cuniformes 24
(2014), pp. 2326. Johnson rightly argues that some lexical references make a clear distinc-
tion between the reading and meaning of s.s = ummuru and s.di = kadu, but, on the
other hand, I do not know of any therapeutic prescription which includes both medical
logograms and it can be observed that the two terms were used separately (see the refer-
ences in the next note). Finally, BAM 111 ii 1517 has ud.da s.s, but its duplicate BAM 159
i 1520 has ud.da kur-id. I cannot exclude the possibility that both logograms can be read
ta kaid, thus having the same meaning.
44 Bcskay

The terms ta ami, imi ti and ta kaid occur in medical rubrics of

therapeutic prescriptions together with various symptoms.19 The literary
or symbolic term for fever is itu fire, which is attested in old-Babylonian
incantations dealing with various diseases and their parallels from the first
millennium.20 The use of itu for fever or heat could also be attested in the
medical term itu ksistu gnawing fire.21 Besides these terms, our sources
mention two expressions for shiveringurupp and hurbu.22 urupp
frost occurs with imi ti in a plant list,23 and is attested with bennu-
epilepsy and the alluhappu-demon in an amulet list.24 The connection between
bennu and urupp is probably based on the common symptom of trembling
in the patient. Hurbu is attested mainly in symptom descriptions in diagnos-
tic and medical texts together with ka cold feeling and as a symptom in
prescriptions against ta kaid.25 Both urupp and hurbu became part of
the standard catalogue of demons and diseases in the first millennium, but the
use of urupp is more frequent.

19 Prescriptions against ud.da tab = ta ami he is inflamed with heat-radiance (BAM

393 obv. 2326 and rev. 2225 etc.). Prescriptions against ud.da kur = ta kaid he has
been overcome by heat-radiance (AMT 14 7 // AMT 44 6+AMT 45 1 col. I 114 // BAM
66 rev. 425 etc.). Prescriptions against ud.da s.s = ta ummur struggling with heat
radiance (AMT 45,6 + 23 5 + 48 1 + 48 3 + 78 3 i 133 // AMT 44 6+AMT 45 1 ii 12 etc.).
Prescriptions against tab ud.da = imi ti burning of heat-radiance (BAM 171 rev. 1921
etc.). Prescription against ud.da gig = ta mari he is ill with heat-radiance and ud.da
diri = ta mal he is full of heat-radiance (BAM 52 rev 1222 // BAM 88 rev. 19 etc.).
20 Fire is one of the personified or demonised diseases. It descends from the sky or
from the mountain and eats the flesh and consumes the bone of the patient. See
Nathan Wassermann, Between Magic and MedicineApropos of an Old Babylonian
Therapeutic Text against kurrum disease, in Disease in Babylonia, eds. Markham J. Geller
and Irving L. Finkel (Leiden, 2007), pp. 4053. Stol discusses ittu fires and ummu
heat, used interchangeably in a group of Middle Babylonian letters from NippurStol,
Fevers, pp. 23. In some incantations from Egypt, the term fire was similarly used
as metaphor for feversee Joris F. Borghouts, Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts (Leiden,
1971), p. 52.
21 Only in an amulet listsee Anais Schuster-Brandis, Steine als Schutz- und Heilmittel.
Untersuchung zu ihrer Verwendung in der Beschwrungskunst Mesopotamiens im 1. Jt. v.
Chr. (Mnster, 2008), p. 129 (no. 109).
22 Stol translates these two terms as shivering fever and cold shiver, which he interprets
as the two forms of stadium frigoris preceding the stadium calorissee Stol, Fevers, p. 19.
23 See Henry Stadhouders, The Pharmacopoeial Handbook ammu ikinuAn Edition,
Le Journal des Mdecines Cuniformes 18 (2011), pp. 155.
24 See Schuster-Brandis, Steine, pp. 131132 (no. 116).
25 A MT 14,7:78 etc.
The Natural and Supernatural Aspects of Fever 45

We can conclude that fever was analysed in respect of: 1) the concept of
natural heat, burning, inflaming, warming and frost; 2) physical dysfunction,
such as high body temperature, shivering, sweating and trembling; 3) specific
medical terms for a feverish state like strong-fever, flaring-up-fever etc.

The Natural Aspect of Fever

The empirical aspect of Mesopotamian diagnostics was limited to what

could be observed on the external surface of the patients body, e.g. temper-
ature, colour, deformation or dysfunction. Without anatomical and physi-
ological information, the Mesopotamian medical texts very rarely mention
a direct connection between the illness and its symptoms. In the thera-
peutic texts, prescriptions for the brain,26 the head,27 the belly,28 and the
epigastrium29 contain the most references to the hot state of the patient, but
many other parts of body are also affected, including the feet,30 the eyes,31

26 di na ugu- km -kal If a mans brain contains fever (BAM 480 i 1//BAM 3 i 1); [di na
ug]u- If a mans brain is continually hot (BAM 480 ii 10).
27 [ana k]m sag.du zi-i In order to release the fever of the head (IM 132670 i 1); [di na
sag.du-s]u km tuku-ma If a mans head has fever (BAM 480 ii 12); di na [sag.du]-su If a mans head is continually hot (BAM 480 ii 61); [ana km s]ag.du u-ut-
bi-i In order to release the fever of the head (BAM 480 ii 64 // BAM 3 ii 36); di na sag.
du-su km-ma If a mans head is hot (BAM 480 iii 22 // BAM 3 ii 14); di na sag.du-su
e[m-ma ik?-ta?]-na-a-a If a mans head is hot and then becomes cold (BAM 480 iv 12);
di na ina ll- km ana sag.du- ip-pu-u-ma If a man is diseased and the heat expands
to his head (BAM 3 iii 42 // BAM 480 iv 26).
28 di na - km dab-su If somebodys inner body is seized by heat (BAM 579 i 1); di
na - km-im If somebodys inner body is hot (BAM 579 i 6 and 15); di na - km
tuku-i If a mans inner body has heat (BAM 168 obv. 62 // BAM 108 obv. 8); di na -
km -kal ninda u a la i-ma-ar If somebodys inner body holds heat (and) he does not
accept bread (BAM 579 i 8 // BAM 575 iii 6); a-na km u-li-i in order to remove the
heat of inner body (BAM 579 i 51 and 61 // BAM 174 4); di na km tuku If somebody
has heat of inner body (BAM 579 i 46 and AMT 80, 4 5).
29 di na sag - km - [m].m-u If somebodys epigastrium is hot, his inner body
is continually bloated (BAM 575 ii 31 // BAM 579 i 4) etc.
30 di na grII- um-ma -kal-la-ma mu-ne-e diri If somebodys feet are hot and they are
full of mun-pustule (BAM 120 1) etc.
31 di na igiII- km u a-an-a If somebodys eyes are hot and inflamed (AMT 20 2
rev. 7) etc.
46 Bcskay

the ears,32 the neck,33 the burst,34 the lung,35 the abdomen,36 the hip,37
and the penis.38
We still need a systematic analysis of the symptomatology of the various
terms for fever, but we can define one well-known complementary symp-
tom. As Stol observed, the term emmu to be hot is often contrasted with the
phrase ka to be cold.39 The diagnostic term immim u ikaa he is hot then
cold probably refers to the patient shivering and thus represents an empirical
observation within Babylonian medicine. But we could connect this opposi-
tion to other aspects of Babylonian diagnostics. In some therapeutic prescrip-
tions against ta ami and libu disease, the hot and cold state is linked with
human anatomy.40 In the letters of Marduk-akin-umi, the chief exorcist of
Assurbanipal, we read the following: My arms and feet (= legs) are without
strength. I cannot open my eyes; I am scratched and lie prostrate, (all) that
is because this fever (unu) has lingered inside the very bones.41 Based on
this passage, the term his bone is inflamed below could refer to hot legs,
and the opposition of flesh and bone to the trunk and legs of the human
body.42 Furthermore the opposition of above and below probably refers

32 di na km ana getuII- [ip]-pu-u-ma ne-mu- dugud lu ir -kal If somebodys

fever spreads into the inside of his ears and his hearing is wrong (lit. heavy) and he sweats
(BAM 503 ii 58) etc.
33 [di na ina ll- k]m ana g- ip-pu-u If somebodys fever during his sickness is
spread into his neck (BAM 3 iv 1).
34 di na u -al-la- i-i-la e-pe ka- dugud If somebodys
breast and his back are hot, his teeth exude (blood) his saying is confused (lit. heavy)
(BAM 159 i 38 // BAM 578 i 50).
35 [di na h] la--ba diri u [- illaku?] If the lungs of a man are con-
stantly hot, he is full with labu-disease and [his] spittle [flows?] (AMT 55, 2 4).
36 [di] na ina ll- km ana em-i- ip-pu-u If somebodys fever during his sickness is
spread into his abdomen (BAM 3 iv 7).
37 di na ina ll- km ana murub4- ip-pu-u If somebodys fever during his sickness is
spread into his hip (BAM 3 iv 9).
38 di na ina ll- km ana g- ip-pu-u If somebodys fever during his sickness is spread
into his penis (BAM 3 iv 10).
39 Stol, Fevers, pp. 3 and 12.
40 e-le-nu uzu- ed7 12[ap-l]a-nu gr.pad-me- ar-at his flesh is cold above, his bone
is inflamed below (BAM 145 1112 // BAM 146 89).
41 S. Parpola, Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars (Helsinki, 1993), p. 242 (= SAA X).
42 Based on the translation of Kcher: seine oberen Krperpartien kalt, die un[te]ren
(jedoch bis in) seine Gebeine (hinein) glhend hei sind)see Franz Kcher, Ein Text
medizinischen Inhalts aus dem neubabylonischen Grab, in Uruk. Die Grber, eds. Rainer
M. Boehmer, Friedhelm Pedde, and Beate Salje (Mainz, 1995), p. 213. According to the
The Natural and Supernatural Aspects of Fever 47

to the difference between symptoms appearing on the surface or inside the

patients body.
In Mesopotamian medicine the hot and cold state is related also to day and
night43 or to midday and shadow.44 The identification of the hot state with
midday, for instance, testifies to the use of natural phenomena to refer to
The various verbs used in therapeutic prescriptions for healing a hot patient
are common in the medical corpus: nasi to release; ul or au or u
to remove.46 The therapeutic treatments for fever are not specific and
are also well attested for curing other illnesses. The most frequent thera-
peutic treatments are napaltu ointment, namattu bandage, maru
rinse or clisma and maqtu drink. It appears that the consistency (solid,
liquid or semi liquid) and method of application depend mainly on part of the
body to which with medical treatment is to be applied. Generally, bandages or
ointments were used for external treatment, while enemas or drinks were used
for internal treatment. For example:

If a mans head is continually hot, you shave (his head), knead emmer in
the water of kas-plant, bandage (him) for 15 days.
If [ditto] you crush and sieve mud (which) has been overwhelmed by
heat-radiance, you knead (it) in the water of kas-plant, bandage (him)
for 3 (or) 15 days. You pound tarmu-plant, knead (it) in the water [of
kas-plant and do not untie for three days.

letters of Neo-Assyrian scholars, the term examination of the flesh refers generally to
the diagnostic observation of the patients body (SAA X no. 202: rev. 89) to distinguish
between the healthy and ill flesh (SAA X no. 160:36; 230: 3; 304: rev. 3). The medical texts
use ru flesh as a metonym for the bodyfor references, see CAD III pp. 115116.
43 di kal u4-mi ed7-ma ina ge6 e-em If (the patient) is cold during the day and hot in the
evening (Sagig XVII 76).
44 [n ki]-i ud.da e-me-em u gin7 gissu lik-i He is hot like the midday and may he be cold as
the shadow! (K 2581 obv. 13).
45 Compare illness names like ibi ri blast by wind, ibit ri seizure of the wind,
nikimtu ri accumulation of wind or the therapeutic rubric [di na] im i-bi-su-ma If
a wind has blasted a man (BAM 146 rev. 30 catchline)see Markham J. Geller, Phlegm
and Breath: Babylonian Contributions to Hippocratic Medicine, in Disease in Babylonia,
eds. Markham J. Geller and Irving L. Finkel (Leiden, 2007), pp. 187199.
46 See note 7 above for references.
48 Bcskay

In order to release the heat of the head, you knead potsherd from an
oven (and) isqqu-flour in the water of kas-plant, you bandage his head
(BAM 480 ii 6165 // BAM 3 ii 3639).47
If a mans feet are hot and full of mun-sore: (You crush) together
sal-cress, cedar tree, cypress tree, juniper aromatic [kukru?]-aromatic
seed of kamantu-plant, (mix) with iqtu-beer, (then) you close (it) in an
oven. Lift (it) out and rub his feet, then you mix old oil with these plants,
and salve it on his feet, then he will recover (BAM 120 iii 15).
If a mans belly is hot, (in order) to take off the heat of the belly, you
crush together cucumber, baluu-aromatic, nuurtu-plant, a-plant,
put (them) into beer, leave (it) out over night (lit. under the stars), in the
morning you cook (and) sieve (it) (and) put date syrup and pressed oil
into it. When it is hot (lit. in its boiling condition), you pour (the medi-
cine) into his anus, (his inner part) will be normal and he will recover
(BAM 168 = BAM 7, 34 Ms. HH).

Although our sources rarely directly mention the cooling of the patient,48 the
application of liquid or semi liquid medicine (namely drinks, bandages or
lotions) often occurs in cures for hot temperature. The Babylonian scientific
background of this praxis is probably based on the opposition between hot/
dry and cold/wet.
Although the therapeutic prescriptions and diagnostic texts do not mention
any medical-theoretical cause of fever, we can find cause-effect connections
between heat and other physical forms of suffering in the sources. The follow-
ing letter was written by Nabu-nair, an exorcist of Assurbanipal, about the
cause-effect connection of teething problems:

To the king, my lord: your servant Nab-nair. May Nab and Marduk
bless the king, my lord!...As to what the king, my lord, wrote to me:
Write me truthfullyI am speaking the truth to the king, my lord. The
burning wherewith his head, arms, feet were burnt was because of his

47 See Martin Worthington, Edition of BAM 3, Le Journal des Mdecines Cuniformes 7

(2006), pp. 1848; Martin Worthington, Edition of UGU 1 (= BAM 480 etc.), Le Journal des
Mdecines Cuniformes 5 (2005), pp. 643.
48 Incantation against an eye problem: le-ke-e-a-a km i-ri-i-tam igiII- may it
cool the burning heat which (affects) his eyes inside (BAM 510 iii 3). Therapeutic pre-
scription against ta ami: [...] x-su tu-ka-a--ma ti [...] him, you cool him and
he will recover (BAM 146 obv. 23). Therapeutic prescription against a head problem:
[...pe10.d]d ta-qal-lu ina +gi sag.du-su tu-ka-a id-ra mun ta-qal-lu ina sag.du-su
tu-ka-a you roast [...kibr]tu-sulphur, you cool him with oil (or) you roast salty(?) salt-
petre (and) you cool his head with oil (BAM 494 i 34).
The Natural and Supernatural Aspects of Fever 49

teeth: his teeth were (trying) to come out. Because of that he felt burnt
and transferred it to his innards. Now he is very well and has fully recov-
ered. (SAA X, no. 302 obv. 11-rev. 7).

In this letter, Nabu-nair explains to the king that the inflamed state of his
body originated from teething. A similar idea can be found in diagnostic texts:

If the infant has no fever (but) his head is hot, his teeth are coming out.
For twenty-one days the woman will see hardship but he will recover.49

We can conclude that the conception and treatment of fever probably did
not have the kind of theoretical or scientific system that we can observe in
respect of epilepsy or paralysis. This is perhaps because a patients high body
temperature was conceptualized simply as a medical complaint, similar to
physical pain,50 hence the occurrence of references to this affliction not only
in scientific texts but also in letters written by court healers.

The Supernatural Aspect of Fever

The supernatural aspect of the Mesopotamian conception of disease is clearly

seen with illnesses that have magical causes such as witchcraft, the attack
of a harmful demon or ghost, or divine anger. The above mentioned lexeme
izi = itu fire probably refers to the personified or demonised disease,51 but
our sources also mention two other harmful demons who can cause a rise in
body temperature: first, the female demon Lamatu, whose destructive activ-
ity was connected to heat and fever;52 and, second, the male demon Asakku,

49 Ren Labat, Trait akkadien de diagnostics et pronostics mdicaux (ParisLeiden, 1951),

p. 230.
50 See Geller, West meets East, pp. 2526.
51 Walter Farber, LamatuAgent of a Specific Disease or a Generic Destroyer of Health?
in Disease in Babylonia, eds. Markham J. Geller and Irving L. Finkel (Leiden, 2007),
pp. 137145; Frans Wiggermann, The Mesopotamian Pandemonium, Studi e Materiali
di Storia delle Religioni 77 (2011), pp. 298322. Bck observes that, although some diseases
were conceptualised as both a physical illness and a demon (for example amurriqnu
jaundice), there is not any difference between the treatmentssee Barbara Bck, The
Healing Goddess Gula (Leiden, 2014), p. 182.
52 Farber, Lamatu, pp. 139142, with references to earlier literature. The close connec-
tion between ummu and the Lamatu demon occurs in a medical commentary from
Hellenistic Uruk: um-mu [dumu.m] d60 : ME : um-mu Lamatu is fever (and)
daughter of Anu. ME means fever (SpTU I 27 obv. 25). Two prescriptions from BM 42272,
50 Bcskay

who frequently appears in connection with the diu and urupp illnesses.
Diu refers to some kind of infection with a high body temperatureprob-
ably malaria.53 urupp frost, referring to an illness that causes a drop in
body temperature, was interpreted by Stol as stadium frigoris in malaria.54 So
the Asakku demon could be considered the demonised form of this illness.55
Although ummu was not associated with a specific god, in the diagnostic texts
some deities and supernatural beings, such as Lamatu,56 Sn57 and ghost,58
were connected with diseases with various forms of fever. On the other hand,
imi ti is always attributed to qt il abu the hand of the personal god of
(the patients) father.59
The supernatural aspect of fever is also demonstrated by its treatment with
amulets and phylacteries. Although references to amulets against hot tempera-
ture are rare in the magical-medical corpus,60 we have more prescriptions for
phylacteries.61 The following text is from one of the most comprehensive tab-
lets from Aur, and it contains a separate section of phylacteries for ummu:

to be published by the present author, mention two different Lamatu incantations for
the application of phylacteries against fever.
53 Stol, Fevers, pp. 1518, with references to earlier literature.
54 Stol, Fevers, p. 19.
55 In general, Asakku was associated with the breaking of a taboo and its consequences
see Wiggermann, The Mesopotamian Pandemonium, p. 310; Andrs Bcskay, Asakk:
Demon and Illness in Ancient Mesopotamia, in Studies on Magic and Divination in the
Biblical World, eds. Helen R. Jacobus, Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme and Philippe
Guillaume (Piscataway, 2013), pp. 18.
56 Sa-gig 19/20:45see Heeel, Babylonisch-assyrische Diagnostik, pp. 229 and 236.
57 Sa-gig 19/20:114see Heeel, Babylonisch-assyrische Diagnostik, pp. 233 and 239.
58 Sa-gig 26:38see Heeel, Babylonisch-assyrische Diagnostik, pp. 281 and 288.
59 Niels Heeel, Diagnosis, Divination and Disease: Towards an Understanding of the
Rationale Behind the Babylonian Diagnostic Handbook, in Magic and Rationality in
Ancient Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman Medicine, eds. Herman F. J. Horstmanshoff and
Marten Stol (Leiden-Boston, 2004), pp. 97116, pp. 108109.
60 For amulets against ibit ummi, see Schuster-Brandis, Steine, pp. 137138 (no. 130). For
amulets against itu ksistu, see Schuster-Brandis, Steine, p. 129 (no.109). Besides the
amulet list, there is one amulet in the therapeutic prescriptions of the UGU series against
fever of the head and for preventing hair loss (BAM 3 ii 2023 // BAM 480 iii 2931)see
Schuster-Brandis, Steine, p. 112 (no. 67); Martin Worthington, Edition of BAM 3, Le Journal
des Mdecines Cuniformes 7 (2006), pp. 1848; Martin Worthington, Edition of UGU 1,
Le Journal des Mdecines Cuniformes 5 (2005), pp. 643. Furthermore, a description of
an amulet can be found in the therapeutic prescription against ummu from Emarsee
Schuster-Brandis, Steine, p. 138 (no. 130a).
61 A phylactery is generally a leather bag containing various drugs, stones and magical ingre-
dients (like dust from various places or parts of animals), which is applied to the neck of
the patient. On phylacteries, see Walter Farber, ina ku.d.d(.bi) = ina maki taappi,
The Natural and Supernatural Aspects of Fever 51

1If somebody is seized by fever hair of skull [...] flea broken 2place (it) in
his neck and rub him with ankintu-plant62 (then) he will recover.
3If ditto bone-of-mankind [...] 4armnu-plant (and) salve (him).
4If ditto (you wrap) fly-catching spider [into a fleece].
5If ditto you wrap black (hair from) the leg of donkey,63 fungus of leath-
erworker into a piece of leather.64
6If ditto (you wrap) scale of snake mother scorpion, bone of mankind,
7soiled rag, black frit, mu-stone auntu-plant into a piece of leather.
8If ditto (you wrap) hul-mouse, andahu-plant65 into a fleece (and)
place (it) in his neck.
9If ditto (you wrap) nuurtu-plant, thread of [...] lizard (from) the steppe
(and) oil into a piece of leather.
10If ditto you crush cumin, kammantu-plant, male and female nikkiptu-
plant, kukru-plant,66 11buru-juniper, fox-vine-plant, these plants you
mix together with oil, boil (them) in a bronze tamgussu-vessel, 12throw a
lizard into it, you roast (it) on fire, [ soon as] it has been boiled, lift (it)
out, 13throw down, cool (it) and recite the incantation The Sky is destroyed,
the Earth is destroyed three times then salve him and he will recover.
14Eight poultices in order to remove the fever that has seized the man
(BAM 315 i 2842).

The use of phylacteries pertains to the magical-medical aspect of Mesopota-

mian medicine. In some prescriptions the phylactery served as a supplemen-
tary treatment to therapeutic medicine:

9If in his illness he experiences [recurrent] attacks of fever (lit. heat), he

becomes numb, and also 10he has no sa[li]vaHand of Zqiqu, Deputy

Zeitschrift fr Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archologie 63 (1973) 5968; Stol, Epilepsy,

p. 108; Jo Ann Scurlock, Magico-Medical Means of Treating Ghost-Induced Illnesses in
Ancient Mesopotamia (LeidenBoston, 2006), p. 62; Schuster-Brandis, Steine, pp. 6667;
Geller, Ancient Babylonian Medicine, p. 84. The phylacteries against fever remain as yet
unstudied. The following published texts belong to this group: BAM 315 col. I. 2842; AMT
63 2+AMT 19, 1 col. ii; BAM 147 rev. // BAM 148 rev.; K 2581 obv.; BM 42431+ 43196+F223 912.
All these texts will be edited in my forthcoming book about fevers. The use of this healing
method was ordered by the Neo-Assyrian court physician Urad-Nanaya (SAA X no. 315
rev. 1517).
62 Treatment with ointment is omitted in all the parallel texts.
63 Ms.KK: black (hair from) the leg of donkey, black (hair from) the leg of horse.
64 Only in Ms.KK.
65 Ms.KK: plant of Lamatu.
66 Ms.KK: white-plant; Ms.FF: nn-plant.
52 Bcskay

11Power of [...]. In order to release him from the hand of Zqiqu 12you
put...and coral, male and female (part) of nikkiptu-(plant) 13around his
neck; finally, you repeatedly rub him with fox-grape and he will recover.67

Concluding Remarks

By way of conclusion, I would like to concentrate on the so-called standard

catalogue of demons and diseases that can be found in the anti-witchcraft
and apotropaic incantation series.68 In these magical texts we find three com-
ponents of the conception of disease: 1) harmful demonic beings causing
diseases (evil Utukku, evil Al, evil ghosts, evil Gall, evil gods, evil Rbiu,
Lamatu, Labau Aazu, Lil, Lilith, Ardat Lil, Sagulaza); 2) personified
harmful forces (Hand of a god, Hand of a ghost, Hand of a curse etc.); 3) physi-
cal pains and diseases like epilepsy, swelling, paralysis, numbness or fever.
I distinguish the following main groups of diseases: general terms for all ill-
nesses (muru lemnu evil disease or muru l bu not good disease etc.),
terms for harmful magical activity (kip sorcery or ru hex etc.), terms for
epidemic illnesses or infections (silitu infection, garbu leper, lipit namtari
touch of Namtar demon etc.), terms for illnesses in specific parts of the body
(muru libbi illness of belly, ks libbi bond of belly, muru qaqqadi illness of
head etc.), terms for specific diseases (diu, a, uququ, bnu, kissatu etc.),
terms for physical pains (siiltu, mungu etc.), terms for skin problems (ritu,
ekketum, agbnu etc.), terms for swelling (diki r, isiltu, imertu etc.), terms
for fever (itu, libu, ummu, inu, imi ti, kibbu) and shivering (urupp,
urbu, urbu, rabu), terms for jaundice (azu, amurrqnu), terms for
anxiety and depression (autu, gilittu, pirittu, marutu), terms for epilepsy
(bennu, antaubb, miqit am, miqtu, hand of Lugalurra), terms for paralysis,
muscle and sinew disease (immatu, rimtu, miittu, andu, makadu, adnu,
sagallu, ernu lemnu), and terms for bodily fluids such as blood, pus, saliva
and phlegm. The terms for fever and shivering are the most varied and com-
monly attested, so we can conclude that fever (especially libu and urupp)
was among the more common ailments caused by a demon or witch.

67 Stadhouders, The Pharmacopoeial Handbook, p. 47.

68 The catalogue can be found in the following incantations: Maql II. 5769, V 6478;
Udug-ul tablet II 6271, III 138144, VI 5563, XIIIXV 220230, XVI 168175; Muu IV/a
and f, V/a and d, VI; VII/a; VIII/k.

Illness as Divine Punishment: The Nature and

Function of the Disease-Carrier Demons in the
Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts
Rita Lucarelli

In modern English, the word demon or daimon has a mainly negative con-
notation, referring mostly to the court of evil, dreadful beings at the service of
Satan in the Christian hell and opposed to the angelic creatures populating the
celestial abode of God. In pre-Christian, polytheistic civilizations however, and
in particular in pharaonic Egypt, speaking of demons can be misleading if we
are not aware that the choice of this term is just a scholarly convention when
referring to supernatural creatures or minor deities of pre-Christian religions,
whose nature and function is more complex and multi-faceted than the word
demon indicates.
As a matter of fact, of all Egyptian religious concepts, the notion of demon
has always been one of the most difficult to interpret for modern scholars. The
first difficulty lies in the fact that in the Egyptian terminology and iconography
there is not always a clear ontological distinction between demon and deity.
In fact, there are no ancient Egyptian terms that could be translated as the
modern English demon and which could be interpreted as a lexicographical
evidence of demons being other than the deities, which in ancient Egyptian
are called nr.w. However, the names of a few inimical or potentially malevo-
lent beings are written in red ink in magical and funerary texts and often the
determinative for death or enemy is added to the phonetic signs, showing that
the Egyptians did recognize at least evil demons as an ontological category in
their own right and linked them with illness and death.1

1 For a more detailed and recent discussion on the definition of demons in ancient Egypt, see:
Rita Lucarelli, Demons (benevolent and malevolent) in UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology,
ed. Jacco Dieleman and Willeke Wendrich (Los
Angeles, 2010); Kasia Szpakowska, Demons in Ancient Egypt, Religion Compass 3, (2009),
799805; Christian Leitz, Deities and demons, in Religions of the Ancient World, ed. Sarah I.
Johnston (Cambridge MA, 2004), pp. 392396; Panagiotis Kousolis (ed.), Ancient Egyptian
Demonology. Studies on the Boundaries between the Demonic and the Divine in Egyptian Magic,
(Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta) 175 (Leuven, 2011). For an overview of ancient Egyptian

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_005

54 Lucarelli

The main difference between demon and deity in ancient Egypt is that,
generally speaking, demons received no cult, at least not until the late New
Kingdom.2 Within the hierarchy of supernatural beings, demons are subordi-
nated to the gods; although they possess special powers, they are not universal
but rather limited in nature and scope. In general, their influence is circum-
scribed to one single task, and in certain cases they act under the command
of a deity, as for the disease-carriers sent to earth by angry gods. The available
sources do not elaborate on the origin of demons, nor are they explicitly men-
tioned in creation accounts. However, as they often act as emissaries of deities
and are subject to their will, we may deduce that demons are a creation of the
gods and act as their messengers.
According to the descriptions occurring in ancient Egyptian magical texts
and to the depictions attested on apotropaic objects, ancient Egyptian demons
mostly manifest in hybrid, composite forms with teriomorphic and anthropo-
morphic components, but also in full animal form;3 disincarnated spirits and
the beliefs in ghosts, generally indicated as akhw (spirits) are also attested in
incantations of daily magic, in the so-called Letters to the dead and in some
literary accounts as well.4
According to the Christian reception of the Greek term daimon in Late
Antiquity, demonic entities were classified as evil, in contrast to angels who
were classed as good; in the ancient Egyptian religion however, the notion of
evil (isfet) does not belong exclusively to demonic entities but was mostly
conceived as a cosmic force occurring in creation and incarnated in Apopis,
the giant snake attempting to stop the solar boat during its daily journey

demonology and a comparative perspective with Mesopotamia, see Rita Lucarelli, Towards
a Comparative Approach to Demonology in Antiquity: The Case of Ancient Egypt and
Mesopotamia, Archiv fr Religionsgeschichte 14 (2013), 1125.
2 For deified demons receiving a cult in Greco-Roman Egypt, see Rita Lucarelli, Demonology
during the Late Pharaonic and Greco-Roman Periods in Egypt, Journal of Ancient Near
Eastern Religions 11 (2011), 109125.
3 Among the most popular apotropaic objects that depict hybrid and animal demons, a very
special role is played by the so-called magic wands, also known as Apotropaia, which
were first published by Hartwig Altenmller, Die Apotropaia und die Gtter Mittelgyptens
(Munich, 1965). Hybrid demons are depicted as guardians of the gates of the netherworld
also in many ancient Egyptian funerary compositions such as the Book of the Dead and the
Book of the Gates.
4 On beliefs in ghosts and spirits of the dead in ancient Egypt, see Christopher J. Eyre, Belief
and the dead in pharaonic Egypt, in Rethinking Ghosts in World Religions, ed. Mu-chou Poo
(Leiden, 2009), pp. 3346.
Illness as Divine Punishment 55

through night and day.5 As liminal entities, demons always act on the borders
between order (maat) and chaos/evil (isfet) and have the capacity, by divine
command, to bring chaos into the ordered world but also to mediate between
order and chaos, the sacred and the profane, by protecting sacred places on
earth and in the netherworld from impurity. Because of their multifaceted
character and forms of appearance, we cannot identify a single ontological
category of demonic beings but on the basis of their function and location,
two main classes of demons are recognizable in ancient Egypt: stationary/
guardiandemons and wandering/messengerdemons.
Stationary demons are tied to a well-defined place, such as a region or gate
of the netherworld, or a temple or tomb entrance on earth; their main function
is to protect the place where they are located and to block the access to those
who do not possess the magic, secret knowledge to face them. On the con-
trary, wandering demons constantly travel between this and the other world,
often being sent as punishment from angry deities or also bringing misfortune
on their own will; the disease-carrier demons should be considered as a sub
category of the wanderers.
Due to this recurrent demonization of illnesses, magical practices and spells
were used together with medical prescriptions in ancient Egypt, as attested
in the so-called magico-medical papyri, which were particularly en vogue
during the Ramesside Period (12921077 BCE) although already appearing in
the Middle Kingdom (20551650 BCE).6 This kind of document testifies that
magic and exorcistic rites to expel illness-demons from the body were consid-
ered powerful remedies complementing medical science. As in other ancient
civilizations and in particular Mesopotamia, in ancient Egypt spells to avert
the influence of the disease-demons are well attested although, if compared
to Mesopotamia, the exorcism genre is not so popular in ancient Egypt during
the Pharaonic period.7 From the available sources it seems that those illnesses
not presenting visible physical symptoms, such as headache and epilepsy,

5 On the notion of evil in ancient Egypt, see Mpay Kemboly, The Question of Evil in Ancient
Egypt, (Golden House Publications, Egyptology) 12 (London, 2010).
6 Although there are several studies on the magical spells incorporated into medical papyri,
we do not have a comprehensive study of them yet; for an overview on the genre, see Joris F.
Borghouts, Lexicographical aspects of magical texts, in Textcorpus und Wrterbuch. Aspekte
zur gyptischen Lexicographie, ed. Stefan Grunert and Ingelore Haffmann,(Probleme der
gyptologie) 14 (Leiden, 1999), pp. 149177, in particular pp. 159164.
7 A clear increase of exorcistic rituals is attested in the Greco-Roman period and later in the
Coptic period in Egypt; some of them are traceable in a few spells belonging to the corpus of
the so-called Papyri Graecae Magicae, written in Greek and Demotic: see Hans D. Betz, The
Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. Including the Demotic Texts (Chicago, 1986).
56 Lucarelli

were more commonly demonized than other types of conditions such as

poisonous insect bites; skin diseases were also commonly seen as demonic
Besides individual demons personifying specific illnesses, we have also
collective gangs of demons controlled or sent by gods and represented as dis-
ease-bringers as well. This category is well represented in the ancient Egyptian
sources under the general names of the wpwty.w, the messengers, hty.w, the
slayers and the my.w, the wandering ones, which mostly act as divine agents
of punishment. The popularity of these demonic gangs seems to increase espe-
cially in the later periods; in the Ptolemaic Period the magical spells intended
to repel them are attested also in texts written for temple rituals; in the latter,
these demonic legions are even represented on the temple walls together with
the god or goddess who masters and sends them on earth, such as in the case
of the so-called Seven Arrows controlled by Tutu or Bastet.9
Moreover, some astral demons, namely astral bodies depicted as hybrid
demonic creatures, were demonized or divinized because of the influence they
were believed to have on humankind; planets, stars and other celestial bod-
ies are represented in the so-called astronomical ceilings of the temples and
occasionally also in funerary compositions decorating tomb walls. The decan-
stars, for example, are often personified in later texts as malevolent demons,
which could bring pestilence and illness on earth, especially during some cru-
cial periods of the year such as the epagomenal days, namely the last five days
of the lunar calendar.
These various demonic gangs are often undefined in number and gender
and they are not described in detail as far as their whereabouts are concerned;
the main information provided from the texts is that, when they appear in the
world of the living, it is because they have been sent by deities in order to bring
to humankind plagues and diseases, exploiting what seems to be a clear divine
punishment coming from the sky which is avoidable only through the perfor-
mance of the temple rituals and magical rites. This is especially the case of
the hty.w and the my.w, whose fearful action is mentioned in magical, funer-
ary and ritual texts as early as the Old Kingdom (26862181 BCE) and into the
Ptolemaic Period (33231 BCE). Angry feline goddesses such as the lion-headed

8 This is the case, for instance, with the tmy.t and nsy.t-illnesses that are mentioned in a num-
ber of magical spells, in particular in the Ramesside papyrus BM EA 10059, which includes
a series of skin complaints. See Christian Leitz, Magical and Medical Papyri of the New
Kingdom, (Hieratic Papyri in the British Museum) 7 (London, 1999), pp. 5557 and 8081.
9 See Lucarelli, Demonology during the Late Pharaonic and Greco-Roman Periods in Egypt,
JANER ( Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions) 11 (2011), 109125.
Illness as Divine Punishment 57

Sakhmet and the cat-headed Bastet are among their most popular masters, but
the messenger-demons may be also designed as emissaries of the sun god Re
and of the god of the dead Osiris.
In the main magical textual corpus of the Middle Kingdom, the so-called
Coffin Texts inscribed mainly on wooden coffins, the messenger-demons are
especially related to Osiris and characterized as a special gods army of the
underworld; the influence of the messengers is therefore not only active in this
world but also in the next. This is clear from a funerary instruction attached
to a spell occurring the late funerary papyri, Spell 163 of the Book of the Dead,
which says:

If this book is used on earth, he (i.e. the deceased) shall not be seized by
the messengers who attack those who commit wrong in the whole earth.10

In many magical and medical texts of the New Kingdom (15501069 BCE) and
especially in the temple texts of the Ptolemaic Period, the wandering demons
are instead related to the so-called d.t rnp.t, the pestilence of the year; similar
to the slaughterer-demons (hty.w), they were considered executors of aggres-
sive goddesses, who could arrive on earth and bring misfortune and illness.
This kind of textual evidence, where disease-demons operate on a double
level, namely in the netherworld, mainly at the service of Osiris, and on earth
as emissaries of terrifying goddesses, speaks for the blurred borders existing
between mortuary and daily magic in ancient Egypt. As a matter of fact, they
are not only mentioned in the funerary texts but also in the magical texts of the
New Kingdom and later, which are concerned with daily magic and the world
of the living. This means that, although it is true that two different realties
must be distinguished when discussing demons in ancient Egyptthe world
of the dead and the world of the livingthese realties however seem to com-
plement each other in the religious belief in evil spirits. The demons of daily
religion and those mentioned in amuletic and magical texts may occasionally
be the same as those appearing in funerary texts; the idea of seeking divine
intervention and protection for deflecting those demonic forces stays the same
in both the world of the dead and of the living.
For instance, the demonic category of the hty.w, the slaughterers, whose
earliest occurrence is found in the Pyramid Texts inscribed in the royal tombs

10 Rita Lucarelli, Demons in the Book of the Dead, in Totenbuch-Forschungen. Gesammelte

Beitrge des 2. Internationalen Totenbuch-Symposiums. Bonn, 25. bis 29 September 2005, ed.
Burkhard Backes, Irmtraut Munro and Simone Sthr (Wiesbaden, 2006), pp. 203212, in
particular p. 205.
58 Lucarelli

of the Old Kingdom and therefore can be considered as originally belonging to

the netherworld, occurs in a variety of other textual genres, from the incanta-
tions of daily use of the Ramesside Period to the ritual texts inscribed in the
temples of the Ptolemaic Period. We have also textual evidence speaking of
a local cult, in Ptolemaic Thebes, of the htyw-demons; their epithet has also
been inserted in demotic personal names with a protective function.11
In these kinds of text, which are used in non-funerary contexts, the hty.w
are disease-bringers; their name recalls a word used for describing illness,
namely hy.w, disease,12 and the deity most often mentioned as their master
is the lioness-headed Sekhmet, who was characterized especially in the Late
Period as a dreadful goddess who needed to be propitiated with special cults.
Her name derives from the word sh m (sekhem), the term for power in ancient
Egyptian; her power was especially terrifying since it included the capacity to
spread pestilence among humankind, as narrated in a popular myth which
sees her as protagonist; one of her epithets was that of Dangerous goddess.13
The need to appease her fury therefore resulted in her acquiring also an impor-
tant role in healing practice. Her priests were effective as swnw, doctors, in
the practice of medicine and there are hints that they also functioned as vet-
erinary surgeons.14 Sekhmet, together with Osiris, was also often considered
the sender of the wpwty.w, the messengers who, similar to the slaughterers
(hty.w), may act as punishers and executers of the divine will, as already clear
from their names.
It is also interesting to note how, in magical texts, the names of these three
main demonic gangs (hty.w, my.w and wpwty.w) seem interchangeable, prob-
ably due to the fact that they share the same basic function: inflicting punish-
ment through plagues, diseases and famine.
These demonic gangs of disease-bringers can be instead distinguished from
certain more individually characterised illness-demons, which unlike the
demonic gangs are not an explicit symbol of illness but whose occurrence in
the texts illustrates even more clearly how the ancient Egyptians believed that
many illnesses were the manifestation of a demon which would possess the
patient or a part of his body. This kind of demons may also cause wounds in

11 Robert Ritner, An Eternal Curse Upon the Reader of These Lines, in Ancient Egyptian
Demonology. Studies on the Boundaries between the Demonic and the Divine in Egyptian
Magic, ed. Panogiotis Kousoulis,(Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta) 175 (Leuven, 2011),
pp. 324.
12 For a more complete discussion on the etymology of the term hty.w, see Ritner, op. cit.
13 On the mythology of Sekhmet, see Philippe Germond, Sekhmet et la protection du monde
(Geneva, 1981).
14 See Geraldine Pinch, Magic in ancient Egypt (London 1994), pp. 5355.
Illness as Divine Punishment 59

the human body, as in the so-called spell for a mother and his child of the
Middle Kingdom, where the already mentioned tmy.t-demon occurs,15 which
is said to be able to break the bones of a man.16 In the medical papyri of the
Ramesside Period we have also a consistent number of illness-demons pre-
sented as malign influences entering the body from the outside. In Papyrus
Ebers, for instance, it is said that the breath of life enters into the right ear and
the breath of death enters into the left ear.17 Another medical case described
in the same papyrus (Papyrus Ebers, 854e) ascribes deafness to breathing air
from the beheading demon (heseq). Finally, a medical case occurring in the
surgical papyus Edwin Smith describes a skull fracture through which a malign
entity can find its way from the outside to the inside of the body: as for some-
thing entering from outside, it means the breath of an outside god or death. It
is not an entering of that which is created by his flesh.18
As is clear from the evidence presented above, different types of demons
are mentioned as causes or as bringers of diseases, many of them manifest-
ing as gangs with collective names. It is still an open issue, among scholars of
ancient Egyptian magic and medicine, how to interpret the texts where dis-
ease-demons are mentioned. Are they to be intended as personified illnesses
or were they mere technical names, within a medical language, employed in
order to express the idea of illness as a noxious external intruder in the patients
body?19 I believe that, in order to answer such a question, we need a more in-
depth lexicographical study of the magical and medical texts, something that
was advocated some years ago but still remains to be done.20

15 See footnote 8.
16 See Joris F. Borghouts, Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts (Leiden, 1978), pp. 4142. See also
the German translation of the spell on the website of the Leipzig project Digital Heka:
17 On the medical Papyrus Ebers, see Reinhold Scholl, Der Papyrus Ebers. Die grte Buchrolle
zur Heilkunde Altgyptens (Schriften aus der Universittsbibliothek) 7 (Leipzig, 2002).
18 On the contents of Papyrus Ebers, see John F. Nunn, Ancient Egyptian Medicine (London,
1996), pp. 3034.
19 For an overview of this issue, see, for instance, Nunn, Ancient Egyptian Medicine,
pp. 96112; Geraldine Pinch, Ancient Egyptian Magic (London, 1994), pp. 133146.
20 Joris F. Borghouts highlighted the need for such a lexicographical studysee Joris F.
Borghouts, Lexicographical Aspects of Magical Texts, in Textcorpus und Wrterbuch:
Aspekte zur gyptischen Lexikographie, ed. Stefan Grunert and Igelore Hafemann
(Probleme der gyptologie) 14 (Leiden, 1999), pp. 149177. Currently, scholars of ancient
Egyptian magic and medicine can only refer to the rather technical work of Herman
Grapow and Wolfhart Westendorf on ancient Egyptian medicine, which focuses on strictly
medical texts and not on the magical-medical ones; see Hermann Grapow, Grundriss der
Medizin der alten A gypter (Berlin, 1954).
60 Lucarelli

In any case, it is interesting that the above-mentioned disease-demons

occur also in non-medical contexts, namely in ritual temple texts as well as
in incantations of mortuary magic. This evidence speaks of a multi-facetted
nature of the demonization of illnesses, which bears a close relationship with
the world of the divine and its ritual sphere. Impurity and failure to fulfil the
ritual duties necessary to appease potentially angry deities, such as the previ-
ously mentioned lion-goddess Sekhmet, would lead to a punishment manifest-
ing under the form of a demonised disease.
The rituals to chase away the disease-demons, which are described in many
incantations of daily and funerary magic, certainly had a beneficial psycho-
logical effect on the patient, who would also feel absolved from a prior state
of pollution when the favour of the gods could not be granted. The ancient
Egyptian experts in medicine and magic (doctors, magicians, healers and
priests) were aware of such a psychological need for patients to be released
from the disease-demons, which often came from the other world, and there-
fore fostered the beliefs in their dangerous influence and their characteriza-
tion as semi-divine, dangerous demonic beings. In order to deal with them, it
was not sufficient to use medical receipts; the cure had to be completed with
the acquisition of a magical amulet or spell and through the intercession of a
ritual specialist who could re-establish the favour of the gods and eliminate the
influence of the demons on the patients body.

Demons at Work in Ancient Mesopotamia

Lorenzo Verderame

In most cultures, demons are considered menacing forces whose attack brings
as a consequence the manifestation of what from a modern bioscience per-
spective we could call illnesses.1 In modern biomedicine, disease is perceived
as an organic dysfunction which undermines the psycho-physical state of the
patient. In Mesopotamia, disease was only part of a more complex, holistic
system, which involved each single aspect of the patients world and that could
be related to the general concepts of misfortune and suffering.
While a close and unambiguous association between illness and demonic
action cannot be fully traced,2 the way demons attack their victims follows
certain formulaic patterns that are easily recognizable in cuneiform texts. In
this paper I will therefore analyse the different ways demons act, as well as
the role they play in relation to suffering, according to the different Mesopota-
mian sources.

1 See in general G. Zisa, Sofferenza, malessere e disgrazia. Metafore del dolore e senso del
male nellopera paleo-babilonese Un uomo e il suo dio: Un approccio interdisciplinare,
Historiae 9 (2012), 130, with previous bibliography; for the illnesses caused by ghosts, see
J. Scurlock, Magico-Medical Means of Treating Ghost-Induced Illness in Ancient Mesopotamia
(Leiden, 2002); M. . Couto-Ferreira, Los espectros furiosos como causa de enfermedad en
Mesopotamia, Historiae 2 (2005), 2753. There is a great and constant temptation to identify
ancient illnesses with modern ones, even by those scholars who warn against such equa-
tions, as in the work of J. ScurlockB. R. Andersen, Diagnoses in Assyrian and Babylonian
Medicine: Ancient sources, translations, and modern medical analyses (ChicagoUrbana,
2005); for the epistemological problems retrospective diagnosis poses, see K.-H. Leven,
At times these ancient facts seem to lie before me like a patient on a hospital bed
Retrospective Diagnosis and Ancient Medical History, in Magic and Rationality in Ancient
Near Eastern and Graeco-roman Medicine, eds. H. F. HorstmanshoffM. Stol (Leiden
Boston, 2004), pp. 369386.
2 This assumption is, however, uncritically adopted in most major academic works, such as
dictionaries and general studies, but it is groundless, as ancient Mesopotamian sources prove.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_006

62 Verderame

The Problem of Evil and Illness Aetiology

The First Millennium BC composition Ludlul bl nmeqi (I will praise the lord
of wisdom), also known as the Poem of the righteous sufferer,3 is the latest of
a series of texts devoted to suffering and its causes that can be considered a
precursor to or parallel of the Biblical Job. In this composition, the sufferer
describes in the first person his slow descent into misfortune due to the aban-
donment by his god, the cause of which he cannot figure out. The sufferer
resorts to prayers, divination, and other means in order to put an end to his
situation, but these have no success and, in fact, only the mercy of the god will
revive the lost worshipper in extremis and rescue him from death.

From the day the Lord punished me,

And the warrior Marduk became furious with me,
My own god threw me over and disappeared,
My goddess broke rank and vanished.
The benevolent angel who (walked) beside me split off,
My protecting spirit retreated, to seek out someone else.
(Poem of the righteous sufferer I 4146)4

The abandonment of the god brings as a consequence an absence of protec-

tion that results in the exposure of the human being to all kinds of vicious
attacks. These resolve into a series of misfortunes that affect all the spheres of
human life. Physical suffering, thus, cannot be separated from social exclusion
and other conditions produced by this state of defencelessness and exposure
to evil.
The basic idea is that good and evil are only the result of a gods favour. Without
him, man is lost, an idea that is confirmed by parallels in wisdom literature,5

3 W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford, 1960), pp. 2162; see also A. Lenzi
A. Annus, Ludlul Bl Nmeqi: The standard Babylonian Poem of the Righteous Sufferer
(Helsinki, 2010). For an English translation see B. R. Foster, Before the Muses: An anthology
of Akkadian literature (Bethesda, 20053), pp. 392409; Zisa, Sofferenza, malessere e disgra-
zia, has produced a study on modern approaches to ancient healing practices based on this
4 Foster, Before the Muses, p. 396.
5 Under the ambiguous but conventional label wisdom literature a variety of texts that do not
fit properly in other typologies have been grouped together. These compositions are works
dealing with the problem of evil and the human condition (Poem of the righteous sufferer,
The Babylonian theodicy, The dialogue of pessimism, etc.), dialogues, proverbs, sayings,
Demons at Work in Ancient Mesopotamia 63

as well as by passages in other compositions, such as the introduction of an

incantation against the Asakku demon:6

It (Asakku) attacks the man without a god

This man has been attacked and it has confused his mind,
It has struck his head and [...] the skull,
It has slapped his face and made his eyes sleeping.

This central theological view, however, is not exclusive but coexists with other
aetiological explanations. Particularly in the narrative descriptions, both phys-
ical and mental suffering are vividly described through the association with
demonic attack.

The Class of Beings Defined as Demons

The class of harmful beings improperly defined as demons7 encompasses dif-

ferent entities that are usually grouped together because of their common
evil purposes. Therefore they are usually treated in incantation collections as
if they were part of an indivisible entity. In general, we can describe them
as chaotic natural forces which can harm humans, but which can also be
adjured or subdued, as their apotropaic uses against other demons testify.8 In
fact, the heads of the demons Huwawa and Pazuzu9 were used as apotropaic
protection. Images of Pazuzu and the Seven demons10 are often depicted

instructions, tales, and humoristic compositions. See in general Lambert, Babylonian

Wisdom Literature.
6 W. Schramm, Ein Compendium sumerisch-akkadischer Beschwrungen (Gttingen, 2008),
pp. 3435.
7 For an overview of the demons class and its definition from a history of religions perspec-
tive, see A. M. G. CapomacchiaL. Verderame, Some Considerations about Demons in
Mesopotamia, Studi e materiali di storia delle religioni 77 (2011), 291297.
8 CapomacchiaVerderame, Some Considerations about Demons in Mesopotamia,
p. 295; L. Verderame, Their Divinity is Different, Their Nature is Distinct! Nature, Origin,
and Features of Demons in Akkadian Literature, Archiv fr Religionsgeschichte 14 (2012),
9 For Huwawa see S. B. Graf, The Head of Humbaba, Archiv fr Religionsgeschichte 14
(2012), 129142; for Pazuzu see N. P. Heeel, Pazuzu. Archologische und philologische
Studien zu einem altorientalischen Dmon (Leiden, 2002).
10 For the Seven demons (Sebettu) see below and L. Verderame, On the Early History of the
Seven Demons (Sebettu), in From the Four Corners of the Earth. Studies in the Iconography
64 Verderame

on amulets against the Lamatu, a being which will become the main baby-
snatching demon in Mesopotamian tradition,11 and are invoked in order to
neutralize the latter as well. Furthermore, Pazuzu, who is considered the king
of demons, appears in the sources mainly, if not exclusively, with this apotro-
paic function.
In the pantheon, demons are considered primordial beings, not properly
gods. Their primeval nature is characterised by their incompleteness, both
physicalthey are hybrid monsters, whose body is composed of parts of
aggressive animalsand functionalthey are not independent beings, but
subjects and messengers of the gods.12
Despite their monstrous and aggressive features, demons bodies are incor-
poreal. They are made of air and associated or even identified with winds.13
Thus, they can slip through openings and enter the house or the human body;
in the same manner, when expelled they are exhaled as vapour or smoke from
the victims body:14

They are billowing clouds which cause gloom in Heaven,

They are the blast of the rising winds which cause darkness on a bright
day (UH XVI, 1516)

of the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean and Near East in Honour of F. A. M. Wiggermann

(Leiden, in press), with previous bibliography.
11 W. Farber, Lamatu, in Reallexikon der Assyriologie VI, ed. D. O. Edzard (Berlin
New York, 1980), pp. 439446; Id., Lamatu, Enlil, Anu-ikur: Streiflichter aus Uruks
Gelehrtenstuben, Zeitschrift fr Assyriologie und vorderasiatische Archologie 79
(1989), 223241; J. Scurlock, Baby-snatching Demons, Restless Souls and the Dangers of
Childbirth: Medico-medical means of dealing with some of the perils of motherhood
in ancient Mesopotamia, Incognita 2 (1991), 135183; F. A. M. Wiggermann, Lamatu,
Daughter of Anu. A Profile, in M. Stol, Birth in Babylonia and the Bible. Its Mediterranean
Setting (Groningen, 2000), pp. 217252. During the copy editing of this article, the Lamatu
texts corpus was published by W. Farber, Lamatu (Winona Lake, 2014).
12 Verderame, Their Divinity is Different, Their Nature is Distinct!, pp. 123124;
L. Verderame, Osservazioni a margine dei concetti di ibrido e mostro in Mesopotamia,
in Monstra, I. Costruzione e percezione delle entit ibride e mostruose nel Mediterraneo
antico, I, ed. I. Baglioni (Roma, 2013), pp. 160172.
13 F. A. M. Wiggermann, The Four Winds and the Origins of Pazuzu, in Das geistige Erfassen
der Welt im Alten Orient. Beitrge zu Sprache, Religion, Kultur und Gesellschaft, ed.
C. Wilcke (Wiesbaden, 2007), pp. 125165; Verderame, Their Divinity is Different, Their
Nature is Distinct!, pp. 123126.
14 M. J. Geller, Evil Demons. Canonical Utukk Lemntu Incantations (Helsinki, 2007), 178 and
251, 147 and 228, 117 and 207, 121 and 210, 135 and 219, 94 and 191.
Demons at Work in Ancient Mesopotamia 65

Figure 5.1 Bronze plaque from the Louvre (AO 22205; by Rama, licensed under CeCILL).
66 Verderame

[You, demon] who will have entered the house [from the window], when
I shout, fly far away through the window (UH IX, 32)
Fly off to heaven, although you have no wing (UH IV, 176; V, 72; VI, 185)
May you ascend in heaven like incense (UH I, 35)

Despite their aerial nature, demonic attack is described mainly in physical

terms. The Old Babylonian incantations against the Lamatu highlight these
two aspects. The Lamatu slips through the doors pivot like smoke, but she
then attacks the human beings belly, her long claws ready to grasp the victim.

She entered the door of the house,

Slipping through the door socket.
Once slipped through the door socket, she saw the boy:
She seized him seven times in his abdomen.15

Aetiologies of Illness

Illnesses are not strictly related to demonic attack. In fact, literary composi-
tions offer a wide repertoire of different aetiologies. These go from the natural
(for instance, seasonal diseases or the consequences of excess food and alco-
hol consumption) to the unnatural causes.16 In a letter sent to the Assyrian
king Esarhaddon, one of his exorcists (ipu), Marduk-kin-umi, reassures
the king about his cold, stating that this is caused by seasonal illness.

Concerning the chills about which the king, my lord, wrote to me, there
is nothing to be worried about. The gods of the k[ing] will quickly cure
it, and we shall do whatever is relevant to the matter. [It is] a seasonal
illness; the king, my lord, should not [wor]ry (about it).17

Among the unnatural causes, as we have seen, the abandonment of the indi-
vidual by the personal or main god constitutes the necessary premise that
leaves the victim unprotected. Apart from the mechanical transmission of

15 Old Babylonian incantation against the Lamatu (BIN 2, 72): 69, see Foster, Before the
Muses, p. 173.
16 This is of course a term used here for convention and that needs a more precise definition.
See in general M. Stol, Diagnosis and Therapy in Babylonian Medicine, Jaarbericht van
het Vooraziatisch-egyptisch Genootschap Ex Oriente Lux 32 (1992), pp. 4447.
17 S. Parpola, Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars (Helsinki, 1993), p. 188 no. 236.
Demons at Work in Ancient Mesopotamia 67

disease through contact with dirty or polluted substances,18 the unnatural

causes involve the active intervention of harmful agents, human (witch, sor-
cerer, evil-doer) as well as supernatural, such as demons and ghosts, but also
gods.19 This active harmful intervention is usually expressed with the locution
touch/hand of...(agents name).

If a man has vertigo, his limbs are poured out, he continually suffers from
depression (and) fear, (then) there is hand of mankind against him.20
If a burning pain is firmly established in his abdomen on the left/right
side and he vomits blood: hand of Itar, he will die.
If his ears make strange noises: hand of ghost.21

Demonic Attack

Generally speaking, demons infect the victim by attacking him/her when the
individual finds him/herself in an unprotected situation, that is to say, when
he/she is out of his/her natural context. It will be thus in the open field, in
the darkness and silence, opposed to the protected space of the city with its
sounds and lights, where the demonic encounter usually takes place.22

18 For the concept of pure/impure in Mesopotamian sources and a discussion of current

approaches to the topic in Assyriology, see M. . Couto-FerreiraA. Garcia-Ventura,
Engendering Purity and Impurity in Assyriological Studies: A Historiographical
Overview, Gender & History 25 (2013), pp. 515516, with previous bibliography.
19 Couto-Ferreira, Los espectros furiosos como causa de enfermedad en Mesopotamia;
A. C. Rendu Loisel, Gods, Demons, and Anger in the Akkadian Literature, Studi e mate-
riali di storia delle religioni 77 (2011), 323332.
20 Remedies for undoing witchcraft (ana pierti kip), see T. AbuschD. Schwemer, Corpus
of Mesopotamian Anti-Witchcraft Rituals (Leiden, 2011), p. 50.
21 Diagnostic and Prognostic series, see R. Labat, Trait akkadien de diagnostics et pronostics
mdicaux. I. Transcription et traduction (Paris, 1951), pp. 120 and 70.
22 Verderame, Their Divinity is Different, Their Nature is Distinct!, p. 120; for the cultural
construction of otherness by means of negation/inversion of features and values of the
human urban life see L. Verderame, Limmagine della citt nella letteratura sumerica,
in Citt nel Vicino Oriente e nel Mediterraneo. Linee di storie e di simboli dallantichit ad
oggi, eds. R. DolceA. Pellitteri (Palermo, 2011), pp. 99126; Id., Aspetti spaziali nella
costruzione dellimmaginario infero dellantica Mesopotamia, Studi e materiali di storia
delle religioni 80 (2014), 2341.
68 Verderame

As for the evil Utukku-demon who walks in the steppe,

(And) the evil Al-demon who envelops (one) in the steppe,
The dangerous Asakku-(demon) who always roams around in the steppe
(UH VII, 98100)23

However, demons can even penetrate the house in particular situations (at
night, for example) by way of slipping through openings such as windows, the
doors pivot, threshold, and bolt.

(You must) not return [to] the house,

Nor will you sit with him at the threshold of the house,
Nor go up with him to the roof.
You must not lean out of the window to him,
Nor strike him down via the ribbed window,
Nor cry out to him from the karratu-window,
Nor may you look at him through the upper window,
Ditto (= nor may enter to him) through the leaning-out window,
Ditto, through the lattice window,
Ditto, through the tomb-opening (lit. window),
Ditto, through the ventilation-window,
Ditto, with fireballs produced by the sun,
Ditto, in broad daylight,
Ditto, in the daytime,
Ditto, in the dark,
Ditto, through the well,
Ditto, through the bathing cistern,
Ditto, through the roof-eaves
Ditto, through the bound roof-eaves,
Nor must you always slither through the door, bolt, or lock of the house to him.
You must not blow in with the wind and heat towards him.
You must not enter (the house) with a man going out,
Nor may you enter it when he enters.
You must neither be present nor occupy (the house),
And neither keep returning nor prowling around.
(UH IX, 91115)24

23 Geller, Evil Demons, pp. 139 and 223.

24 Geller, Evil Demons, pp. 149150 and 230.
Demons at Work in Ancient Mesopotamia 69

The human victim may come across25 demons, apparently by chance, while
the latter wait and lurk in dark and unclean places. The encounter and contact
with demons is expressed through a series of motion verbs that characterise
demonic attack. They stay, sit, go, follow, approach, circulate, draw near, walk
behind and in front of their victims; they enter or slip into the house or climb
the roof, and stay in the corner or in the niche.

May evil ones not approach my body;

May they not go in front of me,
May they not go behind me, nor enter my house,
And may they not clamber up to my roof, nor slip into [my] living room.
You may not stand where I stand,
Nor may you sit where I sit,
May you not go where I go,
Nor enter where I enter.
(UH III, 7376 and 159162)26

Or (you [= demons]) who keep entering the houses,

Or who keep frequenting thresholds,
Or who keep going into the toilets,
Or who keep sitting in dung heaps,
Or who keep seeking out attractive lads and lasses in the street,
Or who is the watcher of midday,
Or who is the inspector of human speech,
Or who are always present at the patients head,
Or who are always sitting at the patients head,
Or who are always walking at the patients head,
Or who always eat with him when he dines,
Or who always drink with him when he imbibes,
[Or who] always frighten any such patient,
Or who always terrify any such patient,
Or who always scare any such patient,
Or who always lash about before the patient,
Or who always sneer before the patient,
Or who always scowl before the patient,
Ditto, who always take a seat

25 The expression means to block (the victims way) (parku).

26 Geller, Evil Demons, pp. 103 and 199, 107 and 201.
70 Verderame

Ditto, who always grind your teeth,

Ditto, who always stick out your tongues,
Ditto, who always open your mouths.
(UH XI, exc. 7)27

Once they have engaged their victim, they do not let him/her go, being with
him/her always and everywhere:

Whether you are the let me eat with him dailydemon,

Or whether you are the let me drink with him dailydemon,
[Whether] you [are the] let me be anointed with him dailydemon,
Or whether you are the let me get dressed with him dailydemon,
Whether you are the let me enter and dine with himdemon,
Or whether you are the let me enter and drink with himdemon,
Whether you are the let me enter and be anointed with himdemon,
Or whether you are the let me enter and get dressed with himdemon,
[Whether you are the] let me eat with him when Im hungrydemon,
Or whether you are the let me drink with him when Im thirstydemon,
Whether you are the let me get anointed with him when Im
Or whether you are the let me get dressed in his lap when Im cold
(UH IV, 158169)28

The physical or sensorial contact (eye-voice-touch)29 that the demons estab-

lish with the human being triggers the engagement with the target that will
ultimately lead to the complete seizing of the victim.

You must not place your head upon his head,

Your hand upon his hand,
Your foot upon his foot.

27 Geller, Evil Demons, pp. 156157 and 235.

28 Geller, Evil Demons, pp. 116 and 207.
29 See L. Verderame, Means of Substitution: The use of figurines, animals, and human
beings as substitutes in Assyrian rituals, in Approaching Rituals in Ancient Cultures,
eds. C. Ambos and L. Verderame (Pisa, 2013), pp. 301323; for the implication of senses
in rituals against the utukks see A. C. Rendu Loisel, Noise, Light and Smoke: The sen-
sory dimension in Akkadian rituals, in Approaching Rituals in Ancient Cultures, eds.
C. AmbosL. Verderame (Pisa, 2013), pp. 245259.
Demons at Work in Ancient Mesopotamia 71

You must not touch him with your hand,

Nor incline your neck towards him,
Nor raise your eye towards him,
Nor look behind you,
Nor call out above him.
(UH IV, 179186)30

The incorporeal one pursued her relentlessly.

He struck her hand and placed (it) on his (own) hand,
He struck her foot and placed (it) on his foot,
He struck her head and placed (it) upon his head.
(UH V, 185188)31

Demonic attack, therefore, is described in cuneiform textual records as a grad-

ual approach and spatial progression towards the victim. The aggression starts
in the open field or in the street, and it is followed by a process of getting closer
to the victims abodethe house or the bed chamberuntil the demon gains
possession of the bodies, which usually happens through slipping into the vic-
tims body openings, as if the body were a house.32
However, the texts give more relevance to the physical and aggressive fea-
tures of demonic attack. In general, the victim is seized and blocked. Afterwards,
a series of actions, which recall those of a fight, take place, so that the demon
strikes, bites and smashes the victim.
The imagery of violence and battle is not accidental but, in fact, demons
relate to war in many ways. The epithet warrior, fierce (Sum.
qarrdu) is used for the Seven demons (Sebettu),33 who accompany the war
and plague god Nergal, as well as for other demons. From an iconographic
viewpoint, the lifted right arm, which is characteristic of demonic iconogra-
phy, recalls the aggressive act of attacking. Features of the demons composite
body are metaphors of the physical assault on their victim. The canine or feline
teeth-grinding face expresses fierceness. The long nails and the eagle talons
are symbols of a tight grip. On a mythical plane the idea of demonic attack as
a fight against and imprisonment of the victim is grounded in the motive of

30 Geller, Evil Demons, pp. 117 and 208.

31 Geller, Evil Demons, pp. 126 and 213214.
32 For the idea of the human body as a house, see A. Zgoll, Der oikomorphe Mensch. Wesen
im Menschen und das Wesen des Menschen in sumerisch-akkadischer Perspektive, in
Der ganze Mensch, ed. B. Janowski (Berlin, 2012), pp. 83106.
33 See Verderame, On the Early History of the Seven Demons (Sebettu).
72 Verderame

Figure 5.2 Fragment of a clay plaque from the Louvre (AO 7088; by Rama, licensed under

the god Dumuzi chased, captured, and led to the Netherworld by the Galla-
demons, which is the core theme of the compositions of the gods cycle.34

(Demons) surrounded him and drained the standing water (in the ditch).
They twisted a cord for him, they knotted a net for him.
They wove a reed hawser for him,
they cut sticks for him.
The one in front of him threw things at him,

34 T. Jacobsen, Treasures of Darkness: A history of Mesopotamian religion (New Haven, 1976).
Demons at Work in Ancient Mesopotamia 73

the one behind him loosened the rope a cubit.

His hands were bound in handcuffs,
his arms were bound in fetters.
(Dumuzis Dream 156163)35

Like Dumuzi, the sick man is chased and seized by the demon and then struck.
The victim is paralyzed by the demons bond and becomes slowly unable to
move leading to his/her complete immobilization and death.36

(Against) him whom the evil Utukku seized, whom the evil Al seized.
(When) evil Fate and Asakku-demon binds (victims), (when) the Utukku-
demon binds (victims),
Creatures of the land are equally affected.
(UH XIIIXV, 149151)37

(The Utukkus) have struck the shepherd down in the grazing place,
The herdsman in the pen,
The soldier in the battlefield,
The maiden in her apartment,
And the children in the playground.
By attacking the godless heros physique,
They introduced distress into his body.
(UH VII, 7379)38

Specific Demonic Features

For most demons it is difficult to define specific and fixed features and behav-
iour. Some of them lose their main identities when they are depicted as part
of a group, as in the case of the Seven, the Galla, and the Utukku. The same
Lamatu and Pazuzu have no fixed traits. The reason for this indeterminacy
comes from the stratification of different traditions, but it can also be related

35 B. Alster, Dumuzis Dream. Aspects of oral poetry in a Sumerian myth (Copenhagen, 1972).
36 For the metaphor of the sick or dying man as a prisoner see L. Verderame, La morte nelle
culture dellantica Mesopotamia, in Le dimensioni della linea. Storia dei confini tra vita e
morte, ed. F. P. De Ceglia (Milano, 2014), pp. 2829.
37 Geller, Evil Demons, pp. 172 and 247.
38 Geller, Evil Demons, pp. 138 and 222.
74 Verderame

to the indefiniteness that constitutes one of the main features of the interme-
diate and primordial nature of demons, as we have already discussed.39
The above mentioned Old Babylonian incantation against Lamatu40 offers
a detailed narrative description of the demons attack. The Lamatu enters the
house slipping through the door socket and, once she has targeted her victim,
a child in this case, she seizes his abdomen. Another incantation highlights
Lamatus connection with the risks of childbirth:41

She is fierce, she is quick(?), she is...

She is roaming around the little-ones...
Although she is not a physician, she bandages [the umbilical cord(?)]
Although she is not a midwife, she wipes off the new-born,
She keeps counting the months of the pregnant women,
She is blocking regularly the gate of the woman who is giving birth.
She keeps accompanying the stride of the livestock.
She is examining the land in a demons rage:
She takes hold of the young man in the street,
Of the young woman in the dance,
Of the little-one on the shoulder of the nurse.42

In later compositions, narrative descriptions of demons are scantier. The col-

lection Utukk lemntu (UH) contains some that mainly describe the two main
groups of the evil utukks and the Seven. In these groups, the features of each
being dissolve in those of the group and, in fact, the only large section devoted
to a single demon concerns the Al:

Whether you be evil, whether you be evil,

Whether you are the evil Al-demon,

39 L. Verderame, Osservazioni a margine dei concetti di ibrido e mostro in Mesopotamia.

40 See n. 15.
41 The role of the baby-snatching demon is mythically established in the Babylonian narra-
tive of the Deluge (Atra-ass), where the Lamatu, here named with the epithet Paittu,
is created in order to limit the number of births by snatching the baby from the child-
bearers lap (Atra-ass III vii 35; see W. G. LambertA. R. Millard, Atra-ass: The
Babylonian story of the Flood, (Oxford, 1969), pp. 102103).
42 Old Babylonian incantation against Lamatu (YOS XI, 19: 111); see Foster, Before the Muses,
p. 174. The references to the livestock and the young woman and man show, however, how
different traditions related to the Lamatu stratified in a unique figure with the main fea-
ture of the baby-snatching demon; see Farber, Lamatu.
Demons at Work in Ancient Mesopotamia 75

Whether you are the evil Al-demon who is like a wall that caves in and
collapses upon the man,
Whether you are the evil Al-demon who muzzles the mouth and binds
the hand and foot;
Or whether you are the evil Al-demon who has no mouth,
Whether you are the evil Al-demon who has no limbs,
Whether you are the evil Al-demon who does not listen,
Whether you are the evil Al-demon who has no face,
Whether you are the evil Al-demon who is not seen (even) by daylight;
Or whether you are the evil Al-demon who, in bed at night, copulates
with a man in his sleep,
Whether you are the evil Al-demon, sleep-snatcher, who stands ready
to carry off a victim,
Whether you are the evil Al-demon who is a god stalking at night, who
does not wash (his) filthy hands;
Whether you are the evil Al-demon who urinates like an ass while
crouching over a man;
Or whether you are the evil Al-demon who knows no oblation nor has
any meal offering,
Or whether you are the evil Al-demon of a man who is sailed (ridden)
like a ship,
Or whether you are the evil Al-demon of a man who lies recumbent like
a bed,
Whether you are the evil Al-demon who caused a man to wander like a
bad dream;
Or whether you are the evil Al-demon who always flies about like a bat
in the clefts at night,
Whether you are the evil Al-demon who always flies around at night like
a bird in the dark,
Or whether you are the evil Al-demon who covers the victim like a gill
Whether you are the evil Al-demon who snares the victim like a
Or whether you are the evil Al-demon who has no vision, as if at night,
Whether you are the evil Al-demon who prowls about quietly at night
like an urban fox
(UH VIII, 123)43

43 Geller, Evil Demons, pp. 143144 and 225226.

76 Verderame

This long and detailed description only serves to reveal the relevance of the
Al demon as an important figure in the Babylonian pandemonium, because
most of the features used to describe its actions are not exclusive to the Al,
but common to the other demons.
More detailed is the description of Asag/Asakku in the bilingual mythologi-
cal introduction to the so-called Incantation of the piglet:44

Incantation: evil asag, who rises like the flood,

He is clad in splendour, he fills the vast earth,
Covered by awe-inspiring aura, endowed with awesomeness.
He roams in the streets, infiltrates the alleys,
He places himself at the side of the man, but no one can see him,
He stays at the side of the man, but no one [...].
When he enters the house, his mark cant be recognised,
When he comes out from the house, he is not noticed,
Like a wave is removed, like a wave is posed.
Like in front of a sweeping dust storm that no one can resist,
He dont retreat, he sheds blood like drizzle,
He constantly cause deaths of livestock.
The living beings, as many as they have a name and are in the country,
from East to West They are in his power.
A man, without his god, [...]
He has ensnared this man and then confused his mind,
He has smitten his head and [...] his skull,
He has smitten his face and he make him drop his gaze,
The evil disease stays in his limbs,
Hardship [...].

However, these late descriptions are exceptional. In the first millennium,

incantations are redacted and collected in large series. Most demons, treated
or gathered together in large groups, lose their specific features and dissolve
in a homogenisation favoured by the formulaic language of these composi-
tions. Despite this process of indeterminacy, traits of individuality for some
demons may emerge from the descriptions of their attacks. For some of them,
in fact, specific features, which are often reduced to a single adjective or epi-
thet, reveal the original nature and imagery of this demon. This is again the
case of the Al demon, whose attack is usually described as a dress covering or
enveloping (Akk. katmu) the victims body.

44 Verderame, Means of Substitution, pp. 313314 and n. 50.

Demons at Work in Ancient Mesopotamia 77

Conclusions: Demons and Illness

In ancient Mesopotamia, demons are one of the main causes of suffering. Not
properly gods, they belong to a primordial and chaotic phase of creation that
results in an incomplete state in comparison with the gods of the pantheon.
Composite or absent, their body is not defined. Lacking autonomy and an
independent will, demons are subject to the gods. Uncontrolled, chaotic, and
destructive powers of nature, demons may be subdued and thus controlled
for private purposes. While this is a prerogative of the gods, human beings may
direct demonic forces through rituals as well.
However, the relation between humankind and demons is that of a con-
stant harming menace. Demons attack human beings and lead them to death
through diseases. Their body as well as their behaviour is constructed on the
functions they are appointed to in the religious system and express the idea
of viciousness and fierceness. The animal parts that constitute the demons
composite body are powerful symbols and metaphors of their wild, aggressive,
chaotic, and dangerous nature. Conversely, their aerial features are expressions
of elusiveness, inconsistency, invisibility, and a capacity to penetrate closed
protected places, as well as the body openings of the victim. Lurking in silent
darkness and isolated places, demons wait to engage their target. Once contact
is established, the demonic attack results in the imagery of a physical struggle
that ends with the seizure of the victim, who is immobilized like a prisoner and
ordained to death.
All the features that characterise demons in ancient Mesopotamia are
expressions of the human idea and perception of suffering. In fact, the distress
and illness that afflicts humankind undergo a process of personification that is
widespread and productive even nowadays. In other words, we can say that this
is a means to build, to describe, and to conceive the unseen. The concepts
of harm and danger can be personified as vicious beings, mainly demons or
demonized creatures (both human and animal), through processes of symbol-
ization well known from other studies of the so-called magical thought. The
demonic iconography is still a powerful metaphor of suffering in popular cul-
ture as well as in the semiotic of advertising and mass communication.45

45 This topic is vast and goes beyond my competence. The pictures included here represent
revealing examples of the demonization of diseases in contemporary cultures.
78 Verderame

Figure 5.3 The Gout by James Gillray (published May 14, 1799; public domain).

Figure 5.4 Father Thames Introducing His Offspring to the Fair City of London by John
Leech (published in Punch 35:5, 1858; public domain).
Second Temple Judaism and Late Antiquity


Demons and Illness in Second Temple Judaism:

Theory and Practice

Ida Frhlich

Biblical and nonbiblical texts from the Second Temple period testify to the
notion that illnesses and physical dysfunctions were linked to demons.
The Qumran library is a rich repository of both biblical and nonbiblical texts
from this period. Fragments of the texts of the Masoretic canon (with the
exception of the book of Esther) have been discovered among the Dead Sea
Scrolls. Besides these, works labelled today as apocryphal and pseudepigraphal
books are represented by several copies in their original languageusually
Hebrew or Aramaic, but both in the case of the book of Tobit which appears to
have had authoritative status in the tradition of the Qumran community,1 and
which demonstrates a belief in demons even being able to kill humans.
Ancient near eastern cultures considered demons and spirits to be an axi-
omatically coherent part of the world, liminal beings that are neither human
nor divine. Their relation to gods (or to God in monotheistic religions) is often
doubtful and controversial. In contrast to gods, they do not receive regular
offerings from humans. However, their activity concerns the human world.
They can be good or evil, although the latter is much better represented and
usually more characteristic than the other former. They are usually imagined
as aeriform figures, often with a wind-like nature. Demons can also appear in
the form of animals.2 Their residences are remote places, the desert or ruins,

1 Represented by four Aramaic (4Q196199) and one Hebrew copy (4Q200), the book of Tobit
is a unique example of a work documented both in Aramaic and Hebrew. All the copies
were written between 100 and 50 BC. Other apocryphal and pseudepigraphic works whose
original Hebrew or Aramaic versions were found in Qumran are 1 Enoch (Aramaic), Jubilees
(Hebrew) and Ben Sira (Hebrew).
2 For Egypt, Rita Lucarelli, Demonology during the Late Pharaonic and Greco-Roman periods
in Egypt, Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 11 (2011), 110125, gives a good overview of
ancient beliefs on demons. For Mesopotamia, see Jeremy A. Black and Anthony Green, Gods,
Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary (Austin, 1995). For
demons in the ancient near eastern world, see Karel Van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter
Willem Van der Horst, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, second edition (Leiden
and Grand Rapids, 1999).

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_007

82 Frhlich

outside the boundaries of the regular human world. They are often referred to
as related in some way to the nether world. As for their origin, Mesopotamian
texts very often refer to them as the spawn of Anu, begotten by the sky-
god with Eretu (Earth), but no systematic statements are given about
their origin.3
The Hebrew Bible is usually not favourable to demons. However, several
chance remarks testify to beliefs in spiritual beings that may have a decisive
effect on human life.4 When they are mentioned, demons are referred to as
a natural part of the (human) worlde.g. the spirit sent by God to cause dis-
cord between Abimelech and the lords of Shechem (Jud 9:23). The reference
(probably penned by a Deutenronomic redactor) to the rw rh sent by God
(1 Sam 16:14) to cause madness in Saul relates to an illness that is psychiatric in
nature.5 The therapy of Sauls illness, Davids playing (ngn) on the lyre (knwr) in
1 Sam 16:23, is clearly magical in nature, simultaneously pointing to the magical
side of Davids character. The exact way the spirit works is not explained in the
narrative.6 It can be assumed, however, that a belief in demons and associated
magical practices had been an integral part of ancient Israelite thought since
preexilic times. This assumption is supported by the amulets found in Ketef
Hinnom (near Jerusalem), originating from the late preexilic period. These
silver plates, bearing texts of blessing, attest to a special form of apotropaic
object in ancient Judah: wearing a holy text on the body with the purpose of
warding off demonic harm.

The Foundation of Jewish Demonology

As mentioned above, ancient near eastern and classical texts give only scant
explanations regarding the origin of demonsreports like the myth of

3 A recurring element in the descriptions of UDUG.HUL, the evil utukku demons, is their ori-
gin from Anu and Eretu; see Markham J. Geller, Evil Demons: Canonical Utukk Lemntu
Incantations (Helsinki, 2007).
4 See Ann Jeffers, Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria (Leiden, 1996), who dis-
cusses a variety of magical techniques in the Bible.
5 Sauls illness is generally taken to be bipolar disorder. The demonological literature shows
that demons were believed to cause mental illness; see Markham J. Geller, Freud and
Mesopotamian Magic, in Mesopotamian Magic: Textual, Historical, and Interpretative
Perspectives, ed. Tzvi Abusch and Karel van der Toorn (Groningen, 1999), pp. 4955.
6 New Testament reports of exorcisms often reflect the idea that the demon was inside the
body of the victim. Other manifestations can also be imagined, however, such as the spirit
residing outside the body, near to the victim.
Demons and Illness in Second Temple Judaism 83

the origin of the demon Lamatu/Labartu are exceptional. Systematic and

theoretical demonology is rare among the texts produced in ancient near
eastern cultures.7
The Second Temple period is a time of the recrudescence of Jewish demon-
ologyat the same time, it is an age of creating a theoretical demonology
explaining the origin of evil. The establishing of an etiology of demons and
a demonological system occurs in various cultures when practice related to
demons needs a legitimation. Demonology is formulated in myths on the ori-
gin of evil. In Judaism, an etiology of demonic evil was shaped between the
fifth and third centuries BC in the Enochic corpus as an independent tradi-
tion, providing an answer to the question of the origin of evil in the world.8
Texts are social products, and Mesopotamian culturethe background of the
exileprovided a strong impetus to this, the Babylonian exile being when
the self-identification of the exilic community was shaped against a foreign
milieu. The means of this self-identification were, first of all, practising special
customs that were presented as traditional, insisting upon endogamy, main-
taining genealogical purity, and shaping distinctive ideas on the origin of evil.9
The latter was done in the core tradition of the Enochic collection. Fragments
of the Aramaic original of a group of Enochic writings were found in the
library of the Qumran community. These Enochic writings were the source of

7 A rare exception is the utukk lemntu tradition, about the seven evil spirits, which gives sys-
tematic descriptions of evil demons that cause infertility, impotence, drought, famines, and
mortality among humans and animals. This tradition was documented in both Sumerian and
Akkadiana canonical collection was compiled in the Neo-Babylonian period; see Geller,
Evil Demons.
8 Gen 111 gives a very different etiology of evil; see Joseph Blenkinsopp, Creation, Un-creation,
Re-creation: a Discursive Commentary on Genesis 111 (London, 2011).
9 The prohibition of intermarriage and the ideal of endogamy are widely documented
in postexilic Jewish sources, from Ezra and Nehemiah through to Tobit, Jubilees, and the
Qumran Genesis Apocryphon, as well as in later Rabbinic works. See Thomas Hieke,
Endogamy in the Book of Tobit, Genesis, and Ezra-Nehemiah, in The Book of Tobit: Text,
Tradition, Theology, ed. Gza G. Xeravits (Leiden, 2005), pp. 103120; William Loader, The
Dead Sea Scrolls on Sexuality: Attitudes towards Sexuality in Sectarian and Related Literature
at Qumran (Grand Rapids, 2009), p. 291 (on the Genesis Apocryphon); Christine E. Hayes,
Intermarriage and Impurity in Ancient Jewish Sources, Harvard Theological Review 92
(1999), 336; Christine E. Hayes, Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and
Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud (Oxford, 2002); Christine E. Hayes, Palestinian
Rabbinic Attitudes to Intermarriage in Historical and Cultural Context, in Jewish Culture and
Society under the Christian Roman Empire, ed. Richard Kalmin (Leuven, 2003), pp. 1164. This
subject was recently treated in a conference volumesee Mixed Marriages: Intermarriage
and Group Identity in the Second Temple Period, ed. Christian Frevel (London, 2011).
84 Frhlich

the collection known to us as 1 Enoch or Ethiopic Enoch.10 The earliest Enochic

manuscripts from Qumran, containing 1 En 136, were written at the end of
the third century BC, well before the establishment of the Qumran settlement
in middle of the second century BC.11 The Qumran library offers a continuous
tradition of the Enochic manuscripts. The story of the Watchersthe founda-
tion of Second Temple period Jewish demonologyis preserved in the earliest
Enochic texts found at Qumran. The story of the Watchers in 1 En 611 is a myth
that relates the origin of evil, which is represented in the Enochic tradition by
evil demons.12 According to this narrative, evil came into the world as a result
of two hundred heavenly beings called Watchers descending to the earth in
order to mate with human women, and then teaching witchcraft to them. The
Watchers thus became impure, and their activity caused further impurities:
their giant offspring, having devoured all that humans could provide for them,
then devoured humans and finally each other. The activities of the Watchers
and their giant offspring defiled the earthhence the Flood was sent, as both
punishment against and purification of the earth.13 A later commentary in
the Enochic collection (1 En 15) explicitly connects the origin of evil spirits
to the Giants, asserting that they emerged from the dead bodies of the giants
who perished in the Flood. The activity of these evil spirits is directed, first of
all, against women and children.

10 1 Enoch is fully preserved in an Ethiopic translationfor the text, see Michael A. Knibb,
The Ethiopic Book of Enoch. Text and Apparatus: A New Edition in the Light of the Aramaic
Dead Sea Fragments (London, 1985).
11 The first edition of the Aramaic fragments of the Enochic literature from Qumran,
including the Book of Giants, is Jzef T. Milik, The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of
Qumrn Cave 4 (London, 1976). The fragments of the Book of Giants were edited by mile
Puech, Qumrn Grotte 4 XXI: Textes aramens, premire partie: 4Q529549 (Discoveries
in the Judaean Desert) XXXI (Oxford, 2001); Loren T. Stuckenbruck, The Book of Giants
from Qumran: Texts, Translation, and Commentary (Tbingen, 1997). The earliest Enochic
manuscripts, which contain 1 En 136, come from the third century BC, but the literary
tradition predates this and may originate as far back as the fifth century BC.
12 The story of the Watchers, or Fallen Angels, was first treated as a myth of the origin of evil
by M. Delcor, Le mythe de la chute des anges et de lorigine des gants comme explica-
tion du mal dans le monde dans lapocalyptique juive histoire des traditions, Revue de
lhistoire des religions 95 (1976), pp. 353. On 1 Enoch and the origin of evil demons, see
Archie T. Wright, The Origin of Evil Spirits (Tbingen, 2005); Ida Frhlich, Theology and
Demonology in Qumran Texts, Henoch 32 (2010), pp. 101129.
13 S. Bhayro, The Shemihazah and Asael Narrative of 1 Enoch 611: Introduction, Text,
Translation and Commentary with Reference to Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical
Antecedents (Mnster, 2005), p. 33.
Demons and Illness in Second Temple Judaism 85

Thus, according to the Enochic myth, evil entered the world as a result of
the physical and ethical impurities caused by the activities of the Watchers
and their giant offspring. The Giants are described in the Enochic tradition in
terms of Mesopotamian demonology as attested in Neo-Babylonian sources
the devouring nature of the Giants is similar to that of the evil demons that
cause various plagues, infertility and illnesses. In the Enochic tradition, these
Giants become evil demons that work in the world, so the demons retain their
characteristics: impure and harmful beings that bring about plagues, infertility,
illnesses and death to humans. This is the basis of Qumran demonology and
their concept of illness.

Types of Texts Relating to Demons

Enochic demonology seems to have been an integral part of the worldview

of Second Temple Judaism, both within and outside Qumran. The story was
reinterpreted several timesbut the core beliefs, that evil spirits are at work in
everyday life and that they derive from celestial beings, remained unchanged.
1 Enoch is a theoretical text that gives a systematic explanation of the origins
and activities of demons. The book of Jubilees, a narrative based on Genesis,
also presents a systematic demonology.
Another genre that can help us understand beliefs about demons is literary
demonism, i.e. narrative works in which demons play a role. The book of Tobit
and the Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon (1Q20) are good examples of this.14 Such
literary texts do not present a systematic demonology because their demonic
figures are used for literary aims.
Finally, apotropaic texts like 4Q560 (in Aramaic) and 11Q11 (in Hebrew),
both discussed below, may have been used for practical purposes, i.e. to pre-
vent or heal illness, physical harm, and mental disorders. Practical texts thus
reflect the everyday ideas of their users regarding illness and healing.15

14 The Genesis Apocryphon is clearly well acquainted with the Enochic tradition of the ori-
gin of demons. There is no direct reference in Tobit to the Enochic tradition. The success
of the heavenly-matched marriage over demonic influence, however, can be taken as a
counter-example to the mixed marriages that result in demons as described in 1 En 611.
15 It is worth noting that some texts that were later canonised were used for apotropaic
purposes even before the Exile, e.g. the Priestly blessing of Num 6:2327 was used in the
Ketef Hinnom silver amuletsgeneral apotropaic texts without the mention of any spe-
cial danger; see Gabriel Barkay et al., The Amulets from Ketef Hinnom: A New Edition
and Evaluation, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 334 (2004), pp. 4171.
The background for the use of amuletic texts is well illustrated by the list of blessings and
86 Frhlich

Taken together, the theoretical, literary and practical texts attest to a strong
interest in demonology. The use of Aramaic for many of the texts indicates a
possible Mesopotamian origin for these traditions and texts.16 Aramaic was
the language of mediation for the Mesopotamian sciences, including demon-
ology. 1 Enoch was written before the Essene settlement at Qumran, and
was probably brought there by members of the community.17 It is likely that
the rest of the Aramaic texts were also written outside the community and
brought there. Many of the Qumran Aramaic texts reflect the Mesopotamian
milieu and its scholarly traditions, which suggests that they originated among
Mesopotamian Jewish diaspora communities.

4Q560 (4QExorcism ar)

This is a partially preserved text that consists of two fragments.18 The manu-
script is usually described as containing an exorcistic or an apotropaic healing
text that seeks to counteract demonic illness.19 Fragment 1 consists of two col-
umns while fragment 2 contains two lines.

curses in Deut 28, in which the dangers and plagues correspond well with those listed in
apotropaic texts (e.g. barrenness, drought, rust, enemy hordes etc.).
16 The Aramaic texts from Qumran are clearly acquainted with Mesopotamian traditions.
The Prayer of Nabonidus (4Q242) is based on the historical legend of Nabonidus (r. 555
539 BC), the last Neo-Babylonian king. The Astronomical Book of the Enochic corpus
was influenced by Mesopotamian astronomical texts. Some of the Watcher traditions
show striking similarities with Mesopotamian scholarly literature, particularly that of
the Babylonian omen series Enma Anu Enlil; see Rykle Borger, Die Beschwrungsserie
bit meseri und die Himmelfahrt Henochs, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 33 (1974),
pp. 183196. The demonic traits of the Giants reflect the series Utukk lemntu; see
Frhlich, Theology and Demonology; Henryk Drawnel, The Mesopotamian Background
of the Enochic Giants and Evils Spirits, Dead Sea Discoveries 21 (2014), pp. 1438.
17 The sectarian settlement was established in the middle of the second century BC, while the
earliest manuscripts found in Qumran are dated to the fourth and third centuries BC; see
G. Bonani et al., Radiocarbon Dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Atiqot 20 (1991), pp. 2732.
18 The standard edition of the text is mile Puech, Qumrn Grotte 4 XXVII: Textes aramens,
deuxime partie: 4Q5504Q575a, 4Q5804Q587 et Appendices (Discoveries in the Judaean
Desert) XXXVII (Oxford, 2009), 291302. Earlier editions: Douglas L. Penney and Michael
O. Wise, By the Power of Beelzebub: an Aramaic Incantation Formula from Qumran
(4Q560), Journal of Biblical Literature 113 (1994), pp. 627650; Joseph Naveh, Fragments of
an Aramaic Magic Book from Qumran, Israel Exploration Journal 48 (1998), pp. 252261.
19 Philip Alexander thinks that 4Q560 has preserved the remnants of a recipe book con-
taining the texts of amulets, which a professional magician would have copied out and
Demons and Illness in Second Temple Judaism 87

The text begins with a title followed by a list of demons against whom the
incantation was written (4Q560 1 i:3). It is followed by an exorcistic formula,
a summons to the demons not to harm the patient: [nh mwmh lk kl] ll bbsr
[I adjure all you who en]ter into the body (4Q560 1 i:3). Line 4 contains a
reference to Ex 34:7, a reference to YHWH as the source of magical power,
and then continues with a new list of demons, those summoned not to
disturb the patient. This is followed by an exorcism that ends with words that
exile the spirits to the nether world: wnh rw mwmh [lk] And I, O spirit, adjure
[you] (4Q560 1 ii:5).
The malevolent agents are listed as myldth mrdwt yldyn pqr by [yd]
from the midwife, the punishment of childbearers, an evil madness, a
de[mon] (4Q560 1 i:2). Thus the text refers to something related to or com-
ing from the midwife (yldth), which is a punishment or chastisement (mrdwt)
for the parturient (yldn).20 This chastisement is seemingly identical with an
illness called pqr by an evil madness and yd a demon. The next line men-
tions male and female agents of the illness that enter the body: [nh mwm lk
kl] ll bbsr ll<l>y dqrwllyt <> nqbt [I adjure all you who en]ter into the
body, the male Wasting-demon and the female Wasting-demon (4Q560 1 i:3).
After this, there is a tripartite series of terms that appears to refer to various
symptoms of fever: fire, ry chill, and t lbb pain in the heart (4Q560 1
i:4).21 Similar series occur in later Jewish amulet texts.22
The fever is most probably caused by a rw spirit (4Q560 1 ii.5), which may
be identical with the previously mentioned pqd by evil visitor that ll bbr
enters the flesh (4Q560 1 i.23).23 Using a series of names to refer to the agent
of an illness is a regular custom in magical medical texts. Coupled with the
reference to both male and female entities, this represents a holistic approach

personalized for the clients use; see Philip S. Alexander, The Demonology of the Dead
Sea Scrolls, in The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years: a Comprehensive Assessment, ed.
Peter W. Flint and James C. VanderKam (Leiden, 1999), pp. 331353, esp. pp. 345346.
20 mrdwt punishment, chastisement; the semantic field of the root mrd II includes to run,
discharge matter, be sore, be inflamedsee Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim,
Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (New York, 1903), p. 836.
21 Puechs translation reads fivre et frisson, et feu/fivre de coeur.
22 Examples can be found in Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls:
Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity (Jerusalem, 1985), pp. 4647, 5657, 8283, 102103.
23 Contra Puech: est entr dans la chair le poison mle, et le poison femelle. E.g., a Genizah
text mentions seven spirits that enter into the entrails of women and spoil their offspring,
and that she should not abort her foetussee Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked, Magic
Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity (Jerusalem, 1993), pp. 152155.
88 Frhlich

that aimed to avert all possible causes of harm.24 The same method occurs in
Mesopotamian incantation texts, in which a long list of demon names often
ends with the expression mimma lemmu anything evil.
According to one reconstruction and interpretation of the next line, it
appears that the text refers to when the demon is active: [wsyr lbhlh blyly
blmyn w bymm]h bn prk dkrw pkyt <prkyt> nqbt mt [You are forbidden
to disturb by night in dreams or by da]y during sleep, O male Shrine-spirit and
female Shrine-spirit, O you demons who breach (4Q560 1 i:5). The interpreta-
tion of bn as during sleep, however, is far from plausible. Sleeping during
the day is not documented in apotropaic texts. It is more likely that masculine
prk and feminine prkt, when followed by bn, refers somehow to teeth. The
Aramaic root prk means crumble or crush. The translation male Shrine-
spirit and female Shrine-spirit probably supposes a meaning of the word as
spirit of the dead.25 An earlier translation rendered it as that which comes
during sleeping in/through the tooth of the male prk and female prkyt, strikes
down.26 This may refer to toothache or tooth decay, or a disease that was
thought to enter through the teeth. 4Q560, therefore, visualises a spirit that
brings fever, and that can enter under various forms, male or female, and per-
haps through the teeth.
Line 6 also mentions the yn byt[] evil eye, which, together with the
midwives mentioned in line 2, play an important role in the origin of fever.27
The presence of the midwife, the punishment of the mother, and a fever, in the
same passage, suggests that the text relates to the illness of an infant, which
may be taken to be a punishment for the parturient.
Wet nurses are mentioned in several Mesopotamian incantation textsand
never positively. The list of types of demons in Utukk Lemntu series includes
the mueniqtu wet nurse together with the demons Lamatu, labau and
ahhazu (5:2123).28 An incantation text, ASKT 11 VII, mentions the mueniqtu

24 Magical texts tend to be holistic, trying to include all possible dangers, so demons are
often mentioned according to both sexessee, e.g., Naveh and Shaked, Amulets and
Magic Bowls, pp. 5657, 6869, 7071.
25 The translation is that of Michael Wise in The Electronic Library of the Dead Sea Scrolls,
4Q 560.
26 Puech tranlates the two expressions as broyeur/une idole mle, et la broyeuse/lidole
femelle, allowing an interpretation that supposes the devouring activity of the demon.
27 There is insufficient space at this point in the manuscript for a concluding formula and
the beginning of a new paragraph.
28 For the text, see Geller, Evil Demons.
Demons and Illness in Second Temple Judaism 89

whose milk is mru bitter.29 The favourite trick of the baby killer Lamatu is
to pose as a wet nurse and, once in possession of her victim, to kill it either with
her venomous milk or by strangulation.30 Incantations were written, therefore,
with the purpose of warding off both fever and the Lamatu. The negative
role of wet nurses in incantations written against Lamatu allows us to sup-
pose that the midwives mentioned in 4Q560 had a similar role, and were
somehow related to the fever that attacks newborn children. To ward off the
demon, the text reads wnh rw mwmh...wmytk rw I adjure you, spirit...I
compel you, spirit (4Q560 1 ii.56). The demon is thus made ineffective by
an mwmh oath, the reciting of a fixed text, which is probably the above
It could seem unusual to have a text dealing with midwives and infant fever
in the library of a celibate communityhowever, it is not so implausible. The
Qumran halakhic fragments of the Damascus Document treat themes relating
to marriage and female impurity,32 and may have served as a rule for those
members of the Essene community that lived in families. This may illuminate
the purpose of 4Q560. It can be supposed that it was an apotropaic text rather
than the description of a real exorcism. Apotropaic incantations, like amulets,
were written in order to avert demonic attacks. The authors of these docu-
ments used an active voice, describing a demonic attack that ends with the
exorcism of the demon. Considering this phenomenon it is to be supposed
that 4Q560 was a master text for an incantation against infant fever.

29 Rykle Borger, Die erste Teiltafel der zi-p Beschwrungen (ASKT 11), in lin miturti, ed.
Manfried Dietrich and Wolfgang Rllig (Kevelaer, 1969), pp. 122, esp. p. 9.
30 Frans A. M. Wiggermann, Lamatu, daughter of Anu. A profile, in Birth in Babylonia and
the Bible: Its Mediterranean Setting, ed. Marten Stol (Groningen, 2000), pp. 217152, esp.
pp. 230231.
31 The grammar of incantations has been well established; see Wilfred L. Knox,
Jewish Liturgical Exorcism, Harvard Theological Review 31 (1938), 191203; Bonner
Campbell, The Technique of Exorcism, Harvard Theological Review 36 (1943), 3949;
Todd E. Klutz, The Grammar of Exorcism in the Ancient Mediterranean World:
Some Cosmological, Semantic, and Pragmatic Reflections on How Exorcistic Prowess
Contributed to the Worship of Jesus: Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on
the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, in The Jewish Roots of Christological
Monotheism, ed. Newman C. Carey (Leiden, 1999), pp. 156165.
32 A fragment of the Damascus Document deals with the question of impurity after child-
birth; another treats various cases relating to menstruation and childbirth.
90 Frhlich

The Two Incantations in 11Q11

11Q11 contains four songs that are probably to be identified with the four Davidic
songs that are mentioned at the end of the Great Psalms Scroll (11QPsa = 11Q5)
as being l hpgym for the stricken.33 The list of songs attributed to David for
every day, sabbath, and festival of an ideal 364-day year has a definite calen-
drical background. The four songs of 11Q11 may have been recited on the four
liminal days of the year: Song 4 (identical to Psalm 91) at the summer sol-
stice; Song 3 at the spring equinox; Song 2 at winter solstice; and Song 1 for
the autumn equinox. Only Song 4 is known in extenso, while, from Song 3, the
beginning is readable. Songs 1 and 2 are too fragmentary to draw any conclu-
sion concerning their contents.34

Psalm 91 in the Context of 11Q11

Psalm 91 is an ar-psalm.35 The title in the manuscript of 11Q11 attributes it to

David. The plagues threatening the righteous are listed in three sequences, each
separated by sentences affirming that the plagues are not to smite the righ-
teous. The three sequences comprise, respectively, three, four, and five names
of plagues.36 The first and second series mention, among other names, words
that refer unambiguously to pestilence: deber (second in the first sequence,
and third in the second sequence), and qeteb (fourth in the second sequence).37

33 mile Puech, Les psaumes davidiques du rituel dexorcisme (11Q11), in Sapiential,

Liturgical and Poetical Texts from Qumran, ed. Daniel K. Falk (Leiden, 2000), pp. 160181.
34 See Ida Frhlich, Healing with Psalms, in Prayer and Poetry in the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed.
Jeremy Penner, Ken M. Penner, and Cecilia Wassen (Leiden, 2012), pp. 197215. The struc-
ture of Songs 13 is very different from that of Psalm 91. The three songs contain typical
exorcistic formulae and show general characteristics of incantations. On the structures of
the songs in 11Q11, see Ida Frhlich, Incantations in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in Oral Charms
in Structural and Comparative Light, ed. Tatyana A. Mikhailova, Jonathan Roper, and
Andrey L. Toporkov (Moscow, 2011), pp. 2227.
35 Named after its opening formula.
36 This 3 + 4 + 5 = 12 arrangement was probably loaded with numeric symbolism, which
would explain the repeated reference to certain plagues by different synonyms and
37 dbr bpl yhlwk pestilence coming in darkness and qtb ywd rym destruction devastat-
ing at noon (11Q11 6.910).
Demons and Illness in Second Temple Judaism 91

The other plagues in the first series are p yqw the fowlers snare and
wwt destruction (Ps 91:3, 11Q11 6.6).38 The other plagues in the second
series are nocturnal dread pd lylh and ywp ywmm arrow that flies by
day (Ps 91:58). The metaphor of the arrow may refer to sunstroke39 or to
pestilence.40 The third series of plagues lists physical dangers (Ps 91:1213),41
which are without any obvious demonic connotation.
However, deber and keteb are not mere names for illnessesthey are
demonic represtentatives of plague, and can be considered to be demon
induced illnesses in Psalm 91 and 11Q11.42 The immediate causes of the illness
are visualised as physical objectsarrows that smite humans and transfer ill-
ness into the body. This may be compared to the prayers offered at the solstices
to the Mesopotamian diety Nergal, who was represented by arrows, and was a
god of the burning heat of the sun, the netherworld and pestilence.

Song 3 in the Context of 11Q11

Beside Psalm 91, the very fragmentary text of 11Q11 contains three more com-
positions (Songs 13) that are not found elsewhere. The third composition
(11Q11 5.46.3) is attributed to David, and, according to its title, is a charm
for the stricken, in YHWHs name (11Q11 5.4). The generic term l charm
clearly refers to a magical song that is used against demonic forces. The title
refers also to the time or occasion when the song is to be recited: [qr bk]l t
l hm[ym r] ybw lyk bly[lh [Invoke at a]ny time to the heav[ens when] it

38 On the fowlers snare, see Andr Caquot, Le Psaume XCI, Semitica 6 (1956), 2137,
esp. 27.
39 Compare Job 6:4, where Jobs plague is caused by the arrows of God. The heat of the
arrows results in fever.
40 The arrows of the sun were associated with pestilence in several cultures of antiquity,
e.g. loimos in Homer is due to the arrows of Apollon Smintheus (god of both sun and
pestilence). In Mesopotamia, the arrow symbolised the deities Erra, Ninurta, and Nergal,
with the latter described as bearing bow, arrow, and quiversee Egbert von Weiher,
Der babylonische Gott Nergal (Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1971), p. 71. Both Erra and Nergal were
associated with pestilence and demons. The biblical metaphor for pestilence is the sword
of YHWHs angele.g. 2 Sam 24:1017.
41 Namely bn stone, l lion, ptn adder, kpyr young lion, and tnyn serpent.
42 Andr Caquot, Sur quelques dmons de lAncien Testament (Reshep, Qeteb, Deber),
Semitica 6 (1956), pp. 5368. Caquot argues that the names are not simply personifica-
tions of diseases, but that they stand for demonic beings.
92 Frhlich

comes to you during the ni[ght] (11Q11 5.5).43 If we were to read l hm[ym]
to the heav[ens] as l hm[rym] at the immurim, we would then be able to
place the text into a calendrical context.44 The term mrym is mentioned in Ex
12:42 as the vigil before the day of the exodus, a fixed nocturnal point in the
calendar. Thus the interpretation of the passage would be Invoke at any time
at the vig[il of Passover when] it comes.45 This would almost coincide with
the day when Song 3 was uttered, as the timing of Passover was determined by the
first full moon after the spring equinox.46
The song depicts a meeting with a demon who is to be made inoffensive. The
first step involves asking the demon Who are you?47 This is followed by a
description of the demon, which was probably either a horasis, a demonic
vision during the night of the vigil, or a nightmare experienced during the night
that was prescribed to be spent awake. The demon has human traits (face)
and animal characteristics (horns): pnyk pny []ww wqrnyk qrny l[w]m For
your appearance is [nothing,] and your horns are horns of vision (11Q11 5:7).48
The fragmentary state of the text does not allow us to form a clear idea of this
figure. It seems that the demon is a phantasma, mentioned not only in vision-
ary literature but also in Jewish amulet texts.49 The demonic illness could
either result from the shock caused by seeing such a monstrous figure or from
some physical harm caused by its activity.50
Looking for the image of the horned demon, one finds a demon with ani-
mal characteristics on the list of Utukk Lemntu, among the demons that

43 There is room in the lacuna for an extra re.

44 There are no examples of apotropaic prayers addressed generally to the heavens. The
addressee, who is the source of the magical power, is always well defined in this type of
prayerin Jewish tradition, God is the source. A reconstruction of the text as l hm to
the Name would be too short for the gap.
45 The Hebrew of Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel occasionally uses l in the sense of l,
which allows the interpretation on, at in this context.
46 The ideal calendar of 364 days determines the feasts solely by the days of the solar year;
thus, the day of the feast would coincide with the spring equinox.
47 Compare the first phase in Jesuss exorcism of the demon named Legion in Mark 5:9 and
Luke 8:30.
48 Non-human beings, if visualised, usually appear in human form in Jewish literature, e.g.
Gen 1819, Tobit 5. Greek sources usually depict evil daimones as visible figures, ghosts
(eidla, psukhai) and apparitions (phasmata, phantasmata).
49 E.g. Naveh and Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae, pp. 122124: this is the figure of the
tormentor (mbklt) that appears in dreams and takes various forms, which may be refer-
ring to a female night demon. Greek Christian literature calls this a phantasma, probably
referring to erotic dreams and visions.
50 See Geller, Freud and Mesopotamian magic.
Demons and Illness in Second Temple Judaism 93

bring disease (5:124141). This long list mentions the sheriff-demon as a goring
ox (5:127128). This demon, one of the Seven (5:129), is ruthless, a demon who
knows not how to act kindly (5:130). Its assignment is eating flesh, causing
blood to flow, (then) drinking from the veins (5:134). Filled with malevolence,
the sheriff-demons do not cease consuming blood (5:137138). Another part
of the same collection, that describes the characteristics of the evil utukku-
demons (6:139), mentions the sheriff-demon among the evil utukku together
with the evil ghost (6:14) and fate-demon (6:11). The sheriff-demon does not
listen, has no shame, and performs sex crudely (6:57). The bailiff-demon,
the evil ghost, and the sheriff-demon, who do not sleep (6:79), attack domes-
tic animals and human families, fathers and mothers, together with their chil-
dren: They strike down the cattle in the pen, they slaughter the sheepfold
(6:8182); They seize the one lying in his wifes room, having taken the son
from the nurse-maids lap. They murder the father and children together, and
they spear the mother together with children like fish in the water (6:8386).
It seems that the sheriff-demon appears to humans in the figure of a horned
demon.51 As already stated, the Mesopotamian background of the Jewish
Aramaic texts from Qumran is well known. It would not be surprising, there-
fore, to find the antecedent of a demon depicted in a Jewish Aramaic incanta-
tion in a Mesopotamian demon.52 The Mesopotamian sheriff-demon has many
similarities with the myt of the Passover tradition, who is told in Exodus to
kill the firstborn. The occasion of this attack is Passover night, the evening of
the fourteenth day of the month, when YHWH goes through (ps) the land
to strike the firstborn of Egyptians, but when he sees the blood on the door-
frame he will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer
(ha-mat) to enter the house and strike (Ex 12:23).
The precise nature of the destroyer is not revealed in the text. According to
Ps 78:49 the name may refer to a band of destroying angels. The Passover nar-
rative does not predate the Priestly source (P) in Exodusthus, it may coin-
cide with the Babylonian exile. The other source in Exodus, J, depersonalises
the term mat into an action (lmyt; Ex 12:23). This may lead one to think
that the textual development moved from Ex 12:21b23 to Ex 12:114 rather

51 The horned sheriff-demon is the negative counterpart of the protective demon kusarikku,
the bull-man, who was characterised in Mesopotamian and Syrian iconography as a door
keeper protecting those inside from malevolent intruders; see Frans A. M. Wiggermann,
Mischwesen, in Reallexikon der Assyriologie, Volume 8, ed. Dietz Otto Edzard (Berlin,
1993), pp. 222246, esp. p. 225.
52 In addition to the references given in footnote 16, see Helge S. Kvanvig, Primeval History:
Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic. An Intertextual Reading (Leiden, 2011).
94 Frhlich

than in the reverse direction. The myt in the J source works as a hypostasis of
YHWH according to the late Jewish doctrine of angels.53
As for the nature of the Passover festival, Ex 12:21b23 describes it as a
blood ritual to be performed by the family in order to protect the family in its
house during the night of the ritual, thus placing the family in the situation of
the exodus night. The protection of the family is then complemented by the
destruction of Israels enemies.54 In Exodus, Passover is a ywm lzkrwn memo-
rial day, commemorating deliverence from the myt destroyer, a festival to
YHWH, and a lasting ordinance for the generations to come (Ex 12:14).
Passover is highlighted in the book of Jubilees, a rewriting of the narra-
tives of Genesis and Exodus until the giving of the Law on Sinai.55 Beside the
striking similarities between the calendar of Jubilees and the calendrical texts
from Qumranthe accordance between the 364-day calendars of Jubilees, the
Temple Scroll (11QT), and 4QMMT, is well known56there are further similari-
ties between Jubilees and various literary texts from Qumran. In the Passover
scene of Jubilees, the destroyer is called Mastema, the instigator, who raises
animosity. Mastema is the head of a demonic host who provoke spiritual error
and improper religious practicea topic that pervades Qumran literature.57
Passover in Jubilees is a ritualisation of an immanent divine law, a propos of
a divine rescue from a demonic attack on the firstborn: when all the powers
of Mastema had been let loose to slay all the first-born in the land of Egypt
(Jub 49:23). It is a ritual that is to be kept in perpetuity as a protection against
demonic plagues, annually on the day of its fixed time. Observing Passover
thus ensures that no plague shall come upon them to slay or to smite in that

53 So Eckart Otto, psa, pesa, in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament Volume 12,
ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry (Grand Rapids,
2003), pp. 123, esp. p. 12.
54 On the origin and function of Passover, see Otto, psa, pesa, pp. 1213.
55 The earliest Hebrew fragments of Jubilees from Qumran are dated to around 125 BC,
although they must have been preceded by an earlier written traditionsee James
C. VanderKam, Textual and Historical Studies on the Book of Jubilees (Missoula, 1977),
pp. 215217. The suggested dates for the creation of the book range from the third to the
first centuries BC. The terminus ante quem is set by the Damascus Document (CD 16:34),
which mentions the book of the divisions of the times according to their jubilees and
their weeks, and the Qumran fragments of Jubilees. The terminus a quo is set by 1 Enoch,
which is very much used in Jubilees. See also John C. Endres, Biblical Interpretation in the
Book of Jubilees (Washington DC, 1987).
56 On the calendars, see Jonathan Ben-Dov, Head of All Years: Astronomy and Calenders at
Qumran in their Ancient Context (Leiden, 2008).
57 The figure is like Satan in the book of Job, who proposes Jobs testingJob 1:612.
Demons and Illness in Second Temple Judaism 95

year in which they celebrate the Passover in its season in every respect accord-
ing to His command (Jub 49:1516).
The New Testament alludes to the idea of the demonic attack against
the firstborn on Passover night: By faith he [Moses] kept the Passover and the
sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch
the firstborn of Israel (Heb 11:28). Passover has been celebrated since antiquity
by a night vigilance. The Last Supper, a Passover meal, was followed by singing
psalms and vigils,58 although it is not known which psalms were sung.
The apotropaic formula preserved in 11Q11 survived, with variations, for over
a thousand years. Variants are found in the Sasanian period magic bowls and
in a fragmentary magic text from the Cairo Genizah.59 The bowl texts were
written for women. One of them, MS 2053/7 was written for Mahdukh daugh-
ter of Nevandukh, against various demonic harms. The formula occurs at the
end of the text, between a double citation of Zech 3:2 (which refers to Satan).
The formula is preceded by a reference to the events of the first Passover and
reads: I adjure you who are barred, who are subdued. Your face is the face
of a lowly creature, your horn is the horn of animate beings. May God smite
you and put an end to you, for you shall die if you come near and if you touch
Makhdukh daughter of Newandukh.
The Genizah fragment dates to at least one millennium after the Qumran
text. It is an amulet that seeks to protect from various harms, preceded by
incantations relating to crying infants. The last part of the text lists demons
and other causes of sudden fear: and it c[omes] up[o]n you whether by day or
by night, and says to you: Who are you, whether from the seed of man or from
the seed of cattle. Your face is the face of old age (?) and your horns are (like) a
water-current. You shall come out (?)....
The bowl texts were written for women while the user of the Genizah text is
not known.60 In all cases the formula stands at the end of the text. MS 2053/7
clearly refers to the Passover tradition, which could be the occasion of its use,
whereas the Genizah text is intended for demonic attack, whether by day or
by night. In the context of the characteristics of the Qumran text and the date
for its recital, and the concept of Passover in Jubilees, it can be suggested that

58 Matt 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:78.

59 Gideon Bohak, From Qumran to Cairo: The Lives and Times of a Jewish Exorcistic
Formula (with an Appendix from Shaul Shaked), in Ritual Healing: Magic, Ritual and
Medical Therapy from Antiquity until the Early Modern Period, ed. Ildiko Csepregi and
Charles Burnett (Florence, 2012), pp. 3152.
60 The grammatical features of the text refer to a female owner. Moreover, the formula is
preceded by a series relating to children; see Bohak, From Qumran to Cairo, p. 50.
96 Frhlich

Song 3 of 11Q11 is an apotropaic text that was uttered at the spring equinox
against a demon that was similar to the myt of Exodus, i.e. that may cause
the death of members of the household, most probably of children. Some
aspects of this are reflected in the magic bowls and the Genizah text, but their
purpose appears to have been a general protection for the house and children
rather than simply for Passover.
The address to the demon in 11Q11 clearly reflects Qumran demonology,
whereas the bowls do not mention either the mixed (heavenly and earthly)
origin of demons or their relation to darkness and injustice. It is the Genizah
text alone that reflects some elements of the Qumran formula in its mention
of the questionable origin of the demon: whether from the seed of man or
from the seed of cattlethere is, however, no mention of a heavenly origin
of the demon.

Concluding Remarks

There are important distinctions to be drawn between the demons who

cause illness in 4Q560 and 11Q11. In 4Q560 the demon is invisibleit pene-
trates the body and generates symptoms of fever, the feeling of heat inside
and outside the body. In 11Q11 the demon is visibleit is similar to that of the
Mesopotamian sheriff-demon who kills either by fear or by physical harm, and
was later related to the Passover narrative. Interestingly enough, ethnography
offers no parallels of folk beliefs relating to a demonic destroyer endangering
the firstborn around the time of the spring equinox. Rather, it seems that this
figure is a literary construction of the P source in Exodus, the final and con-
cluding element of the series of ten plagues in Egypt (Ex 7:1410:29). It seems
that postexilic Jewish traditions were acquainted with the demonic dangers of
the Passover vigil.

Illness and Healing through Spell and Incantation

in the Dead Sea Scrolls

David Hamidovi

The 950 manuscripts found in eleven caves around the site of Khirbet Qumran,
located at the North-West of the Dead Sea shore, constitute one of the most
amazing discoveries of the twentieth century. Following the final publication
of the scrolls at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we are continuing to
discover how complex ancient Judaism was at the turn of the era, far beyond
what we had previously imagined. Indeed, one third of these manuscripts
constitute the oldest physical witnesses to the Hebrew Bible; the diversity of
versions for the same passages provides new insights into the canonisation
process of the Hebrew Bible and a new understanding of the status of these
texts within Judaism. The other two thirds present mostly unknown Jewish
texts. Many of them deal with the life of a community named in Hebrew
yaad, designating a set of groups belonging to the Jewish movement known
as the Essenes, already known from the ancient notices of Flavius Josephus,
Philo of Alexandria and Pliny the Elder. For other documents, it is difficult to
recognize an Essene milieu; they seem to have been composed before the birth
of Essenism, yet are also preserved within the Qumran caves. The Qumran
manuscripts are therefore not only the so-called library of the Essene move-
ment, as is often said, but also a conservatory of Jewish documents from the
final centuries BC. The common point of these texts and their raison dtre in
the caves is their deliberate selection by the Essenes due to the correspon-
dence of the ideas they espoused with Essene doctrine. For example, studies
on Judaism and on the Jesus movement have been renewed after the discovery
of the Qumran scrolls, especially studies on wisdom, messianism, apocalyptic,
eschatology, and belief in an afterlife.
Several manuscripts among the new documents discovered in the Qumran
caves are particularly concerned with the role of demons1 in causing illness

1 I use the word demon by convention in this article, but it would be more accurate to use
evil celestial being or evil messenger. For the cognate Greek words usually translated by
demon, see the overview of Greg J. Riley, Demon, in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in
the Bible (DDD), ed. Karel van der Toorn et al. (Leiden, 1995), pp. 445456.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_008

98 Hamidovi

and the proper way to expel them in order to heal. They often attest to motifs
known later in Judaism, such as the relationship between sin, impurity and
illness, and the use of an intermediary for exorcism. They also present one
of the first Jewish attestations of formulas in the first person and the use of
imperatives in spells and incantations. Most of these documents preserved in
the Qumran caves do not seem to have been composed by the Essenes; they
seem to have circulated among Jewish groups at the turn of era. However, a few
manuscripts may be an Essene adaptation of these documents and formulas.

Sin, Impurity and Exorcism (4Q560)

We propose to study the manuscript 4Q560, which is preserved in two

fragments.2 Despite its fragmentary nature, we can surmise that the manu-
script seems to depict demons attacking pregnant womenthus fragment 1,
column 1, line 2, reads: the punishment(s) of child-bearers () . The
first preserved word is to his/her midwife (), but the context is unclear.
The text may associate the demonic attack of pregnant women with the mid-
wife.3 The attack is named in the same line as an evil madness ( 4).
The matter is clearly linked to the impurity that was associated with pregnancy
by all Jewish groups around AD.5 Indeed, line 4 preserves the end of Exodus
34:7 and Numbers 14:18 which attribute to YHWH the power to forgive iniquity
and transgression () . This implicit quotation may recall the impure
state of pregnancy that only God can cancel. The only preserved word in line 6
is the plural adjective w]icked ()[, which can be used to refer to impu-
rity. Furthermore, pregnant women, like menstrual women, are excluded from
the Temple according to Leviticus 12:24. Therefore, this instance of demonic
attack accords with well-known notions of impurity in Judaism. It seems to be
even a logical extrapolation. But such an observation does not allow us to con-
clude that the Essenes composed the document preserved in 4Q560, because

2 Emile Puech, 560. 4QLivret magique ar, in Qumrn Grotte 4. XXVII. Textes aramens.
Deuxime partie, ed. Emile Puech, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert XXXVII (Oxford, 2009),
pp. 291302.
3 The motif is well-known in many Semitic incantations; see the summary in Douglas L.
Penney and Michael O. Wise, By the Power of Beelzebub: An Aramaic Incantation Formula
from Qumran (4Q560), Journal of Biblical Literature 113 (1994), p. 635, n. 30.
4 Florentino Garca Martnez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, II
(Leiden, 1998), p. 1117, read , visitor, but the last letter is rather a resh. The scribe draws
the dalet with two prominent heads in comparison with the resh.
5 See, for example, Damascus Document (4Q266 6 ii and 4Q272 1 ii).
Illness and Healing Through Spell and Incantation 99

they were not alone in assuming strong links between earthly sin, impurity and
heavenly agents. All Jewish groups broadly shared such a celestial imagination.
It is more cautious to understand the preserved text of 4Q560 according to the
dialectic movement of sin and impurity between the earth and the heavens
where angels and demons inhabit. Therefore, the identification of the redac-
tional milieu is difficult.
Lines 3 to 5 seem to explain that demons created evil madness, what
we would today call illness. Nevertheless, the Aramaic expression desig-
nated more precisely both the symptoms and the course of the illness inside
the body, according to lines 35. The text in line 3 presents this idea as all
those who] enter into the flesh: the male wasting6 and the female wasting7
()[ . The chosen verb gives the
idea of a demon progressively gnawing on a corpse. The actions of demons
are described as symptoms experienced by the patient in line 4: the fire
( )for the fever, the chill (8 )for the cold sweat, and the fire of heart
( ) for headaches or heart palpitations.9 The next line seems to present
the moment of suffering for the patient, the moment when the demons act
against him, as during sleep (). The male demon and the female
demon ><are then named after their evil actions. The names are
unknown with this orthography, but they are derived from the root which
means to break, to grind, to crush rather than to shrine as in other contexts.10
Literally, the name of the demons may mean the grinder. It is undoubtedly
an image of demons who enter the body to destroy it, as seen in the picture of
the body suffering with illness. The end of the line preserves the action of the
female demon, she who grinds, literally one who strikes so that () .
While it is clear that the demon strikes something or somebody, the beginning
of the next line is lost. The context may suggest the object of her attack is the
body or parts of the body. The lines are fragmentary but it seems difficult to
understand a male demon attacking a man and a female demon attacking a

6 Puech, 560. 4QLivret magique ar, p. 296, translates by poison.

7 Puech, 560. 4QLivret magique ar, p. 296, translates by poison.
8 Contra the reading of Puech, 560. 4QLivret magique ar, p. 296.
9 The name of the demon Beelzebub has been read in 4Q560 1 i 1; see Penney and Wise, By
the Power of Beelzebub, 627650, esp. 631634, but we only read and the heart ( )at
line 1.
10 See Herbert Donner and Wolfgang Rllig, Kanaanische und aramische Inscriften, 1
(Wiesbaden, 1962), KAI 2606. See also Puech, 560. 4QLivret magique ar, p. 299 and n. 26,
who finds parallels with Syriac and Mandaean words, and Aramaic incantation bowls.
100 Hamidovi

female.11 Both demons, he who grinds and she who grinds, attack pregnant
women at the same time.
Column 2 of the same fragment is also badly damaged but lines 5 and 6
twice preserve the aphel form of the verb , to swear or to adjure in con-
text. After a description of demonic actions against pregnant women during
the night, the new passage affirms the abjuration of the demons with the first

[...][ ...]

And I am this one who adjures, O spirit [...] I adjure you, O spirit [...]

The text is fragmentary but we clearly see a personal address to the demon(s)
named spirit (). This designation is common in Late Antiquity. For exam-
ple, another Aramaic contemporary document also discovered in Qumran
cave 1, the Genesis Apocryphon, has a similar use of the word spirit. The work
retells passages mainly preserved in Genesis and the book of Jubilees.12 For
example, a narrative explains that Sarai, the wife of Abram, was taken by force
in order to go to Pharaohs court. During the night, Abram prayed to God to
avoid the defilement of his wife. God listened to Abram in sending a spirit
of wound to strike him (i.e. Pharaoh) and every man of his household, an evil
spirit, and continued to strike him and every man of his household (1QapGen
XX 1617). Consequently, Pharaoh was unable to have sexual relations with
Sarai. The end of the narrative concludes that none of the healers, magicians
and wise men were able to heal him; on the contrary, the spirit struck all of
them (1QapGen XX 20). Thus, in a complete passage, the word spirit clearly
designates the demon. Therefore, this passage of 4Q560 seems to be an adjura-
tion addressed to the demon(s) in order to heal pregnant women. The use of
the verb , to swear, to express the demons adjuration is not unique. We
also find an example in another passage of the Genesis Apocryphon. The patri-
arch Lamech, the father of Noah, knowing the story of the angelic Watchers
who had descended to take human wives, was afraid that his wife, Bitenosh,
had engaged in sexual relations with one of them. When he questioned her,
she answered: I swear to you by the Great Holy One, by the King of He[ave]n

11 Garca Martnez and Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, II, 1117. Ida Frhlich,
Theology and Demonology in Qumran Texts, Henoch 32 (2010), 126, notes this difficulty,
but she does not improve the reading of Garca Martnez and Tigchelaar.
12 See Daniel A. Machiela, The Dead Sea Genesis Apocryphon, (Studies on the Texts of the
Desert of Judah) 79 (Leiden, 2009).
Illness and Healing Through Spell and Incantation 101

[...] that this seed comes from you, this pregnancy was by you, the planting of
[this] fruit is yours (1QapGen II 1415). The dialogue reveals more a consider-
ation about purity of lineage than a modern preoccupation with fatherhood.
The wife of Lamech swears by God that Lamech is the father. The swearing
in this context sounds like a supplication addressed to her husband and not a
juridical act. In the same document, at the end of the narrative of the abduc-
tion of Sarai by Pharaoh, the king swore to me with an oath that [he had not
touched] her (1QapGen XX 30). Again, the swearing sounds like a supplica-
tion. It is striking that 4Q560 presents many common points with the retelling
of the Genesis Apocryphon on the subject of pregnancy and demonic actions.
But 4Q560 in its current state does not seem to be a narrative. Column 1
describes demonic attacks against pregnant women during their sleep and its
consequences on the body. The novelty of column 2 is that it adds an adjura-
tion of the demons in the first person. To my knowledge, it is the first preserved
example of this phenomenon in Jewish literature.
Thus the way to heal is to adjure, but what is the identity of the person who
adjures?13 As the text is fragmentary, we could understand that the possessed
one (probably a pregnant woman) had to implore the demon(s) to leave her
alone.14 Indeed, the ends of lines 5 and 6 are not preserved and, without this
context, fragment 2, or at least this passage from column 2, could look like a
kind of self-exorcism. But such a formula is not unique and it is likely that it
presents a different meaning. For example, another text of exorcism,15 attrib-
uted to the legendary magician Pibechis from Egypt presents common formu-
las in Greek. An introductory sentence describes the addressees thus: for those
possessed by demons. The text preserves many nomina barbara (i.e. barbarous
names) which finish with a call to the demons to come out from the per-
son. Then the document gives instructions to wear a tin lamella with nomina
barbara. The names are of a divine nature in order to terrify the demons. In a
practical way, the scribe/magician places the patient opposite himself and he
conjures according to numerous formulas in the first person according to the
pattern: I conjure you by... This text contains many references to Pharaoh

13 I am grateful to Siam Bhayro for bringing this question to my attention.

14 Flavius Josephus (AJ VIII 4546) explained that the Essenes used formulas by which they
drive away demons so that they never return.
15 See Karl Preisendanz et al., Papyri Graecae Magical. Die Griechischen Zauberpapyri (1928
31; repr. Stuttgart, 19731974), IV 30073086; Wilfred L. Knox, Jewish Liturgical Exorcism,
Harvard Theological Review 31 (1938), 191203. The text preserved in Paris (Bibliothque
Nationale, P.Bibl.Nat. Suppl. Gr. No. 574) was copied during the fourth century AD. See also
John G. Gager (ed.), Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World (Oxford, 1992).
102 Hamidovi

and the plagues of Egypt. As 4Q560 1 ii 7 preserves the localization on earth,

in clouds () , Pibechis charm invokes the heavens many times.
Other details in the papyrus seem to have been directly borrowed from Jewish
formulas. Although the Pibechis document is in Greek and the Qumran text
is in Aramaic, the formula of invocation, respectively I conjure you by God
and I adjure you, seems to be the same. Before discussing the identity of I
in both documents, we also remark that numerous late Jewish incantations
contain a spell with the formula I adjure you with the same Aramaic verb
.16 The Jewish Babylonian bowls which contain the verb are later than 4Q560
but the formula is clearly a part of the spells pattern.17 In the Jewish Babylonian
Aramaic bowls, the Pichechis papyrus and the Qumran manuscript 4Q560,
the identity of the speaker remains open to interpretation. Two possibilities
emerge: the person attacked by the demon or the scribe who tries to ward
off the demon. Therefore we may postulate that the fragmentary manuscript
4Q560 presented an adjuration of demons by the possessed one in the first
person and invocations of YHWHs power over the demons. The appropriate
way to categorize this literary genre would belong to a self-exorcism to expel
demons.18 But the preserved text of 4Q560 is not explicit to confirm this view
and the other uses of the same formula in other corpora lead us to prefer the
second hypothesis. The scribe/the magician engaged an adjuration to ward off
and expel the demon(s) in presence of the victim.
The Egyptian papyrus and the Jewish Babylonian bowls may allow us to
understand the nature of the Qumran document more precisely: 4Q560 may
be a part of a book of incantations.19 The practice of copying an extract of such
a book on a sheet of leather, on papyrus, on a bowl, or on a lamella in metal
has been noted elsewhere.20 The scribe would personalize the extract with

16 Beyond a lot of attestations in many articles, see a part of the corpus in Charles D. Isbell,
Corpus of Aramaic Incantation Bowls, SBLDS 17 (Missoula, 1975), and most recently in
Shaul Shaked, James N. Ford and Siam Bhayro, Aramaic Bowl Spells. Jewish Babylonian
Aramaic Bowls, vol. 1, Magical and Religious Literature of Late Antiquity 1 (Leiden, 2013),
p. 300 for occurrences. For a part of the corpus of Jewish Palestinian texts, see Joseph
Naveh and Shaul Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls (Jerusalem, 1985).
17 Shaul Shaked, James N. Ford and Siam Bhayro, Aramaic Bowl Spells, p. 11.
18 Penney and Wise, By the Power of Beelzebub, 628, recall the literary genre of proverbs,
already suggested by the initial editors of the Qumran manuscripts.
19 The modern title given by Puech, 560. 4QLivret magique ar, p. 291, may be understood
this way.
20 See Emil Schrer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, 2 III (Edinburgh,
1886) pp. 151155; Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magical, IV 7982; XIc 119; Shaul Shaked,
James N. Ford and Siam Bhayro, Aramaic Bowl Spells, p. 10: We may imagine a recipe book
Illness and Healing Through Spell and Incantation 103

the name of the client. A text on leather or papyrus would be rolled and put
inside an amulet or buried in the floor of a house, often under the threshold of
the door.21 4Q560 does not seem to fit this function because both fragments
of the manuscript have not been rolled. We know in the Qumran corpus of
some scrolls with a small size which seem to be portable scrolls.22 4Q560 may
belong to this physical category. However, the fragmentary state of the manu-
script does not permit us to evaluate the size of the whole scroll. Therefore it
remains difficult to choose between part of a handbook of incantations or an
individual scroll with these tiny preserved fragments.
Analysing the potential link with the Essene community may give us more
information. There is no textual hint of Essene composition, but the manu-
script is preserved in Cave 4, very close to the site of Khirbet Qumran (one
settlement of the Essene community). Therefore, there is no doubt that the
manuscript is somehow linked to the community: Was it just deposited by a
new member in the community or was it used by a member of the community?
It is difficult to say. Moreover, very few or even no women resided there accord-
ing to recent studies of excavated tombs in the cemetery close to the site.23

of spells in which all the spells used by magicians are quoted with the appropriate head-
ings indicating their purpose and aim.
21 It is difficult to know if the phylacteries and mezuzot discovered in the Qumran caves
were intended to protect against demons or if they simply represent a respect for bibli-
cal prescriptions; see Yehudah B. Cohn, Tangled up in text. Tefillin and the Ancient World,
(Brown Judaic Studies) 351 (Providence, RI, 2008); David Hamidovi, Du culte des anges
aux dveloppements du Shema dans le judasme ancien, Judasme ancien-Ancient
Judaism 2 (2014), 135156.
22 For example, 4Q260 and 4Q264, which belong to the textual cluster of the Community
Rule, measure 7.6 cm and 4.4 cm respectively.
23 See Joe Zias, The Cemeteries of Qumran and Celibacy: Confusion Laid to Rest? Dead
Sea Discoveries 7 (2000), 220253; Susan G. Sheridan et al., Anthropological Analysis of
the Humain Remains: The French Collection, in Khirbet Qumrn et An Feshkha. tudes
danthropologie, de physique et de chimie, II, ed. J.-B. Humbert and J. Gunneweg, Novum
Testamentum et Orbis Antiquus. Series Archeologica 3 (Fribourg, 2003), pp. 129169.
Tomb A in cemetery North (today destroyed) and tomb 7 in the western part of an align-
ment of graves in the northern sector of the main cemetery may contain female skeletons.
However, the woman of tomb 7 does not seem to have been buried according to usual
practice. More recently excavated, the resting places of female bodies have been found
in the eastern extremity of the central promontory. On two occasions it seems to have
constituted a reburial (BE2a and BE2b). Despite the limited graves excavated (around
60 of 1200), it is possible that the Qumran cemeteries are exclusively composed of male
graves. Tombs T7 and BE2a, BE2bboth reburials performed a short time after death
are located at the margins of the main cemetery. These tombs are contemporary with
104 Hamidovi

Therefore, it is hardly possible to imagine a woman wearing this amulet in the

community. The manuscript seems rather to be part of a document preserving
information about demons that act against pregnant women on account of
their impurity. This explanation may correspond to a passage in the Damascus
Document, preserved in Cave 4, concerning the impurity of menstrual women
and parturient women, and how to restore purity.24 Such a preoccupation
of the Qumran community is well documented in the description of Flavius
Josephus:25 many Essenes lived in establishments in the desert named camps
and other Essenes resided in urban sites, but all wished to remain in a state of
high purity. All these observations lead us to consider that 4Q560 is part of a
book rather than an individual amulet for a pregnant woman. Its presence in
Cave 4 may be because it addressed demonic actions against pregnant women,
thus confirming their impurity according to the Torah. Thus, the presence of
4Q560 in Qumran Cave 4 may correspond to a secondary use of the text in
order to prove and confirm that the members of the Essene community must
avoid contact with women to maintain a state of purity.
The passages importance does not lay in that it presents demons as being
expelled by a self-exorcism, but it constitutes one of the first attestations in
time of a textual structure of a Jewish incantation which requested a bystander.
Other contemporary documents tell a similar story of demons being expelled
but always with the help of an intermediary. For example, the angel Raphael
acts in favour of Sara in Tobit 3:17. The angel healed the illness in Tobits eyes,
and then he expelled the demon Asmodeus, the evil demon, from Sara.
Tobit 6:17 adds a ritual to expel the demon with the liver and heart of a fish
on ashes of perfume. Prayers and benedictions seem to be recited at this
moment according to Tobit 8:48. Another narrative preserved in the work of
Josephus, Jewish Antiquities VIII 4648, introduces another medium: a ring.
Before Vespasian, his sons and his officers, a Jew named Eleazar expelled a
demon from the body of someone who was possessed. He used a ring whose
seal corresponded to one of the roots indicated by Solomon. He also repeated

the Essene occupation of Qumran: do these marginal graves in the cemetery pertain
to the community? Either way, such a sex ratio is unique in the cemeteries of Palestine,
the Transjordan and across the Dead Sea shores.
24 4Q266 6 ii and 4Q272 1 ii.
25 See Jewish War II 160: There is another order of Essene which agrees with the others on
the way of life and customs, but they disagree concerning marriage. Indeed, they think
that a celibate person removes a very important part of life, that is the propagation of the
species; it will be even more the case if everybody adopted the same view: the human race
will disappear very quickly.
Illness and Healing Through Spell and Incantation 105

incantations of Solomon inscribed in a book. Such a book attributed to Solomon

is also known in the Jerusalem Talmud26 and the Babylonian Talmud.27 The
Christian bishop Theodoret of Cyrus interpreted 1 Kings 5:1328 at the begin-
ning of the fifth century and referenced the medical books attributed to
Solomon. The compilation named decree of Gelasius at the beginning of the
sixth century lists a book called Contradictio Salomonis. A Greek Testament
of Solomon still exists but has been heavily transformed, collecting a variety
of traditions concerning the medical powers of Solomon. Nevertheless, it is not a
set of incantations attributed to Solomon, and the text does not give rituals of
exorcism where the possessed one exorcises himself or herself. Thus, it is dif-
ficult to link 4Q560 to a Solomonic tradition. The Qumran manuscript seems
to be one of the first attestations in Judaism of an adjurations pattern with the
practice of an intermediary. The discovery of the text in the so-called library of
the Essenes in the Qumran caves is not clear evidence that this was an original
practice of the Essenes otherwise not known in Judaism, because there exist
no textual hints of Essene composition. It is best understood as a document
that was preserved by the Qumran community, as other Aramaic documents
discovered in the Qumran caves,29 on account of its ideas standing in accord
with the Essene conception of purity and impurity. The document reveals the
necessary practice of exorcism with textual support to expel demons around
the turn of the era.

The Four Incantations in 11Q11 and Literary Patterns

Another document discovered in Qumran Cave 11, 11Q11, illustrates another

facet of exorcism and healing in Qumran and its literary patterns. 11Q11 tells
of how an evil spirit took possession of a person and caused illness.30 11Q11

26 y. Pes. 9:2.

27 b. Ber. 10b; b. Pes. 56a.
28 Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologiae Graecae, Paris, 1864, 80.465.XVIII.
29 Katell Berthelot and Daniel Stkl ben Ezra (ed.), Aramaica Qumranica. Proceedings of
the Conference on the Aramaic Texts from Qumran in Aix-en-Provence 30 June2 July 2008,
Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 94 (Leiden, 2010).
30 Emile Puech, Les deux derniers Psaumes davidiques du rituel dexorcisme, 11QPsApa IV
4-V 14, in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Forty Years of Research, ed. Devorah Dimant and Uriel
Rappaport (Leiden, 1992), pp. 6489; Florentino Garca Martnez, Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar
and Adam van der Woude, 11. 11Qapocryphal Psalms, in Qumran Cave 11. II. 11Q218,
11Q2031, ed. Florentino Garca Martnez, Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar and Adam van der Woude,
Discoveries in the Judaean Desert XXIII (Oxford, 1998), pp. 181205.
106 Hamidovi

contains four incantations in Hebrew, the first three of which were unknown
before its discovery. The fourth incantation is a version of Psalm 91.31 Such
a use of the Psalm is later known in the Jerusalem Talmud, Eruvin 26c, and
the Babylonian Talmud, Shevuot 15b. Another Psalms scroll (11Q5) discovered
in the same cave explains the function of 11Q11. It lists the writings of David. In
11Q5 XXVII 910, we read: canticles to be performed on the possessed ones:
four () . The number and the function correspond to
11Q11. The four psalms are recited at the bedside in order to exorcise the demon.
The possessed ones answered after each incantation ( )a double amen, for
example, the angel [...Ra]phael has healed [them. Amen! Amen! Slah] in
11Q11 V 3. The victim is called to confront the demons him- or herself through
the power of God. Thus, the verbs to invoke ( )and to make strong, to
support ( in hifil) YHWH in imperative masculine singular forms are used
in 11Q11 II 810. Column V relates that the demon comes during the night and
what the patient (or an intermediary) must say to it in 11Q11 V 68:

[ ] [] [] []

Who are you, [offspring of] man or of seed of the ho[ly one]s? Your face
is a face of [delu]sion and your horns are horns of illu[si]on. You are dark-
ness and not light, [injus]tice and not justice.

Here the demon is described for the first time in Judaism as a horned being, a
well-known image applied to Satan in the Middle Ages. The horn was a symbol
of power for the Seleucid rulers32 during the last centuries BC; it may derive
from the horns of a bull god, the symbol of its strength. The canonical book
of Daniel changed the symbol to one with negative connotations. The last
and worst beast in the vision of four beasts in Daniel 7:78 had ten horns. The
beast represented Antiochos IV Epiphanes who oppressed the region of Judea

31 Bilhah Nitzan, Qumran Prayer and Religious Poetry, Studies on the Texts of the Desert of
Judah 12 (Leiden, 1994), pp. 227272; Emile Puech, 11QPsApa: un rituel dexorcisme. Essai
de reconstruction, Revue de Qumrn 1415 (1990), 377408; Emile Puech, Les psaumes
davidiques du rituel dexorcisme11Q11, in Sapiential, Liturgical and Poetical Texts from
Qumran, ed. Daniel K. Falk, Florentino Garca Martnez and Eileen M. Schuller, Studies
on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 35 (Leiden, 2000), pp. 160181.
32 See portraits on Seleucid coins.
Illness and Healing Through Spell and Incantation 107

between 175 and 163.33 The horns became a symbol of violence, a symbol of
evil perpetrated against Israel. Thus, demonic action against people in 11Q11
is related to this negative symbol. The discussion between the patient and the
demon at nightfall also contains information about the nature of demons. Its
nature is blurred: Is it a human being or an angel? It may be an allusion to
the fallen angels, the Watchers, who had sexual relations with women; God
punished this prohibited union by allowing evil on earth. Such an allusion is
not clear in the preserved passage though. The redactor may have created a
numinous picture to suggest that the demon is between the human and God.
The words delusion and illusion to describe the face of the demon and its
horns contribute to an evanescent atmosphere. Thus we can only imagine a
silhouette and a feeling of fear.
But the function of the demon is clear: it brings darkness and injustice.
The creative power of God is also opposed to sin and evil in 11Q11 III 19. The
end of the struggle is known in 11Q11 IV 4, because YHWH will strike you with
a [grea]t blo[w] to destroy you ( ) [ ] and a pow-
erful angel ( in 11Q11 IV 5) will be the avenging arm of God. Then
YHWH will bring down ( ]in 11Q11 IV 7 with the object you) the demon
to the abyss and the Sheol by the curse of Ab[addon] ( ) [accord-
ing to 11Q11 IV 710; V 811. It is also likely that the possessed one (or more
probably an intermediary) invoked Solomon ( )in 11Q11 II 2, but the
passage is fragmentary. Nevertheless, it is the first attestation of such a context
with King Solomon. As we have said previously, many documents and tradi-
tions have associated the figure of Solomon with medical and magical powers
in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Moreover, the literary genre of these
incantations is close to the prayers recited by Tobit and Sara after the expelling
of Asmodeus in Tobit 8:48. Therefore, it is not surprising to have discovered
the book of Tobit in Cave 4 with four manuscripts in Aramaic (4Q1964Q199)
and one copy in Hebrew (4Q200). Thus, 11Q11 documents at the turn of era the
diffusion of literary patterns of exorcism and healing within Judaism.

An Essene Literary Adaptation: Canticles of the maskil

(4Q510; 4Q511)

Two other manuscripts from Cave 4, 4Q510 and 4Q511, attest to the diversity
of literary genres circulating in Judaism about these topics. Both manuscripts

33 See John J. Collins, Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, Hermeneia, Minneapolis,
1993, p. 299.
108 Hamidovi

preserve remains of a collection of canticles in Hebrew recited by a maskil,

a sage or more precisely a teacher, an instructor who is a specialist in
the knowledge of Torah.34 Its modern editors named the document Canticles
of the Sage.35 The teacher speaks in the first person and he exalts the power of
God over evil forces in a hymnal genre in 4Q510 1:47:

] ... [

I, the teacher, declare the splendour of his glory in order to fear and
terri[fy] all the spirits of angels of destruction, spirits of the bas-
tards, demons, Lilith, those who scream and [the inhabitants of the
desert...] and those who suddenly strike to lead astray the spirit of
understanding and to make leave their hearts. You have been put in the
period of evil dominion.

The canticles seem to be composed by members of the Essene movement

because they present Essene considerations.36 For example, the sense of liv-
ing during a period dominated by evil is frequently conveyed by the Essene
documents.37 The teacher must instruct the members of the community and
he must be the spiritual rampart of the righteous ones ( )according to
4Q510 1:8. God will destroy evil after a judgment of vengeance ()
(4Q511 35:1). The teacher clearly takes the role of intermediary. However, he
does not act for a single person, unlike the texts seen before, but for the mem-
bers of the community. Therefore, the document seems to be a collective or
sectarian adaptation of circulating patterns and ideas.

34 See David Hamidovi, Lcrit de Damas. Le manifeste essnien, Collection de la Revue des
tudes Juives 51 (Louvain, 2011), p. 3.
35 Maurice Baillet, 510. Cantiques du sage (premier exemplaire: Shira) and 511. Cantiques
du sage (second exemplaire: Shirb), in Qumrn grotte 4. III. (4Q4824Q520), ed. Maurice
Baillet, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert VII (Oxford, 1982), pp. 215219 and pp. 219262;
Nitzan, Qumran Prayer and Religious Poetry, 227272.
36 Johann Maier, Songs of the Sage, in Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2, ed. Lawrence
H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam (Oxford, 2000), p. 890, noted some parallels with
Essene texts.
37 See David Hamidovi, Leschatologie essnienne dans la littrature apocalyptique: tem-
poralits et limites chronologiques, Revue des tudes Juives 169 (2010), 3755.
Illness and Healing Through Spell and Incantation 109

In this document, the distinction between the literary genre of hymn and
that of incantation is thin. Other Essene documents present the same empha-
sis on impiety which characterizes the perception of the contemporary period
according to the members.38 The presentation and use of incantations against
demons seem to be justified by the dualistic worldview. The incantations of
the teacher celebrating the divine glory are a means to eliminate the evil forces
on earth. Once again, we see a correlation between illness on the one hand and
sin and impurity on the other.

Illness and Practices of Healing in the Texts of Qumran

Demons are explicitly described as evil agents who introduce sin and impu-
rity on earth. Illness and its symptoms are perceived as manifestations of
demonic acts; healing needs a process of exorcism involving prayers, incanta-
tions with a human intermediary. Behind these representations, we seek to
reconstruct the practices of ancient Judaism. The Qumran texts seem to be in
conformity with ancient Near Eastern practices, especially in Mesopotamia.39
We therefore should wonder whether there is some specificity in the Qumran
texts, and raise the question of whether these were actual practices within
Judaism or only within the Essene movement. This question is difficult or
even impossible to answer. We know that the texts are often rhetorical screens
in trying to explain the unexplainable or to depict the practices in confor-
mity with the communitys ideals. In this case, the text and the ideas chase
after the practices. One of the famous examples in the Qumran documents
is the manuscript 4Q242, which tries to combine a Mesopotamian tale, an
historical event, the deuteronomistic conception of history, and the rep-
resentations of illness and healing. The document in Aramaic is named the
Prayer of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon between 556 and 539 BC. He
is presented as a suffering king because of his evil ulcer ( [in
4Q242 13:6). He was healed at Teima, in Arabia, with prayers offered to the
Jewish God and with the help of a Jewish exorcist ( in 4Q242 13:4) who
removed ( in 4Q242 13:4) his sin. We do not know his name but he asked
Nabonidus to write the story in order to glorify the name of the Jewish God.
A closely related narrative seems to have been taken and modified for the
famous king of Babylon Nebuchadnezzar, who took the city of Jerusalem in

38 See, for example, the Instruction on the two spirits in the Community Rule
(1QS III 13IV 26).
39 Frhlich, Theology and Demonology in Qumran Texts, 101129.
110 Hamidovi

587 BC, in Daniel 4. Thus the modern dualistic difference between magic and
religion, between popular piety and practices on the one hand, and official,
elitist ideas and practices on the other, seems too simplistic if we are to explain
representations of illness and healing in Antiquity. Concepts feed practices and
practices feed concepts; elites wrote for different reasons, such as to explain or
to modify common representations and practices. To understand illness and
healing in Antiquity, we must decipher, therefore, a complex worldview, that
was likely entangled with practices.

Conceptualizing Demons in Late Antique Judaism

Gideon Bohak

The world of Jews in Late Antiquity was full of demons. This much is clear
from the many passages in the Babylonian Talmud that refer to the demons
great numbers, offer much advice on how to avoid demonic attacks, tell stories
of demonic-human interactions, and discuss the production of anti-demonic
amulets. To most medieval Jewish readers, these talmudic statements and sto-
ries posed no difficulty whatsoever, as their world too was full of demons, though
not necessarily the same demons mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud.1 But
with the onslaught of Modernity, one of whose main characteristics is the dis-
enchantment of the world and the disappearance of demons, the Talmudic
discussions of demons became a very touchy issue. For some of the Jewish
rationalists and reformers of the nineteenth century, the Talmudic claims
about demons were a source of embarrassment, or a proof of the superstitious
nature of the entire rabbinic projecthence their frequent appearance both
in polemical and in apologetic contexts from the nineteenth century to this
very day.2 More objective studies, especially of the rabbinic evidence, were also
produced, but they were few and far between.3 For more recent scholarship,
the subject proved too embarrassing, or too incomprehensible, the result being

* In what follows, I use the following abbreviations: AMB = Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked,
Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity (Jerusalem, 1985); MSF =
Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late
Antiquity (Jerusalem, 1993).
1 For medieval Jewish demonology, see Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition:
A Study in Folk Religion (New York, 1939; repr. Philadelphia, 2004 with an Introduction by
Moshe Idel), pp. 2560.
2 For the nineteenth century polemics see, for example, Shmuel Werses, Magical and
Demonological Phenomena as Treated Satirically by the Maskilim of Galicia, Jerusalem
Studies in Jewish Folklore 17 (1995), 3362 (Heb.); repr. in Awake, My People: Hebrew Literature
in the Age of Modernization (Jerusalem, 2001), pp. 353384; Jonathan Meir, Marketing
Demons: Joseph Perl, Israel Baal Shem Tov and the History of One Amulet, Kabbalah 28
(2012), 3566. Today, much of this polemical/apologetical discourse is carried out on the
3 See Gideon Brecher, Das Transcendentale, Magie und magische Heilarten im Talmud (Vienna,
1850), pp. 4059; Ludwig Blau, Das altjdische Zauberwesen, 2nd ed. (Berlin, 1914).

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_009

112 Bohak

that most books on rabbinic Judaism, for example, hardly devote any atten-
tion to the place of demons in the rabbis world.4 Moreover, I cannot think of
a single monograph devoted to late antique Jewish demonology, even though
the centrality of this topic in the rabbis world and the abundance of the avail-
able sources clearly call for such a monograph.5
The present paper will not try to fill that glaring lacuna. Its aims are far more
modest, namely, to try to come to terms with some of the Jewish conceptual-
izations of demons in Late Antiquity. It seeks to do so by pointing to the differ-
ent sources available for any study of late antique Jewish demonology, and by
offering one perspective from which these abundant sources might be exam-
ined. It is therefore divided in two parts of unequal length: in the first, I shall
offer a broad survey of the available evidence, and of the kinds of data pro-
vided by the different bodies of evidence. In the second, I shall try to develop
an analogy between the late antique Jewish conceptualization of demons and
some of our own cultural assumptions. The aim of this analogy is to help us
arrange the ancient evidence in a meaningful manner, and to highlight both
the similarities between Jewish demonology in Late Antiquity and some of our
own worldviews and the differences between them. It is, however, only one
of many possible manners of looking at this rich material, and is in no way
intended to exclude all others.

Part I: The Sources

Any study of Jewish demonology of Late Antiquity can, and should, rely on two
types of sources. On the one hand, we have the rabbinic textsthe Mishna,

4 A classic example is Ephraim E. Urbach, Khazal: Pirkei Emunot ve-Deot (Jerusalem, 1969; Heb.)
= Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, trans. Israel Abrahams, 2 vols.
(Jerusalem, 1975; repr. Cambridge, MA, 2001), where demons are almost never mentioned. Isaiah
M. Gafni, The Jews of Babylonia in the Talmudic Era: A Social and Cultural History (Jerusalem,
1990), pp. 167172 (Heb.), and Isaiah M. Gafni, Babylonian Rabbinic Culture, in Cultures of
the Jews: A New History, ed. David Biale (New York, 2002), pp. 244253, provides a basic dis-
cussion of demons, but is less interested in their place within the rabbis own worldview.
5 For useful starting points, see Ruben Knoll, Demonology in the Literature of the Sages: The
Demons and their Characteristics, unpubl. MA thesis, Tel-Aviv University, 2005 (Heb.); Yuval
Harari, The Sages and the Occult, in The Literature of the Sages, Part II (Midrash and
Targum, Liturgy, Poetry, Mysticism, Contracts, Inscriptions, Ancient Science, and the Languages
of Rabbinic Literature), ed. Shmuel Safrai, Zeev Safrai, Joshua Schwartz and Peter J. Tomson
(Assen, 2006), pp. 521564, on pp. 533542; Sara A. Ronis, Do Not Go Out Alone at Night,
unpubl. PhD thesis, Yale, 2015.
Conceptualizing Demons in Late Antique Judaism 113

the Tosephta, the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmudim, the halakhic and
aggadic Midrashimand these tell us much about what the rabbis of late
antique Palestine and Babylonia had to say about demons. On the other hand,
we have a large, and ever growing, body of Aramaic and Hebrew amulets and
incantation bowls written by Jews, for Jewish and non-Jewish clients, in Late
Antiquity. Unlike the rabbinic corpus, which represents the views of the Jewish
religious elite and which passed through elaborate processes of redaction and
transmission, the amulets and the bowls were produced on an ad hoc basis, by
many different producers, in many different times and places. They often carry
the names of their users, though not of their producers, and as many of them
are anti-demonic in nature, they provide an invaluable ground level view of
ancient Jewish demonology, free of later theological or textual interference.
In addition to these two main types of sources, we also have some evidence
from later Jewish magical texts, especially from the Cairo Genizah, that pre-
serve earlier magical spells and recipes, and these too tell us much about the
place of demons in late antique Jewish society. However, as these sources do
not stem from Late Antiquity, but are medieval copies of what are likely to be
late antique originals, they are less useful than the amulets and incantation
bowls that come from Late Antiquity itself.
To get a sense of what some of these sources look like, we may begin with four
concrete examples, representing each of these sources. Beginning with rabbinic
literature, we may cite the famous rabbinic dictum that:

Six things were said about demonsin three (things) they are like the
angels of service, and in three (things) they are like human beings. In
three things they are like the angels of servicethey have wings like the
angels of service, and they fly from one end of the world to the other
like the angels of service, and they know the future like the angels of ser-
vice...And in three things they are like human beingsthey eat and
drink like human beings, and procreate like human beings, and die like
human beings.6

This statement offers an interesting generalization about the demons, their

nature, and their place in the worldin fact, it is the only such generalization
found in ancient Jewish sources.7 Elsewhere in rabbinic literature, there are

6 bt Hag 16a.

7 In the Middle Ages, and probably under Christian influence, some Kabbalists would develop
more elaborate demonological tractates, like the maamar al ha-atzilut ha-smalit, but such
developments need not detain us here.
114 Bohak

dozens, and maybe even hundreds, of references to demons, including both

general statements and statements about specific demons, but there are no
other attempts to explain where exactly demons belong, and what is their place
in the divine hierarchy. Looking at this specific statement we see that it tells us
much about the rabbis conceptualization of demons: They have wings and
can fly great distances, they have access to various secrets, they procreate
and they die. Implicitly, it also tells us where the demons belong in the celes-
tial hierarchy of Jewish monotheismfirst comes God, then the angels, who
are his underlings and messengers, and then the demons, below whom are we,
human beings, who somehow must learn to live in a world influenced by this
complex hierarchy of invisible forces. And it is especially the demonic rung of
the celestial hierarchy that is complex, since whereas God and his angels do
not procreate and never die, which means that their number, and presumably
their activities, are fixed and stable, the number of demons alive and active at
any different moment clearly fluctuates, adding a measure of instability to an
otherwise orderly celestial realm.
While this statement tells us much about the demons, it also leaves much
that is unsaid, including the intriguing question of where the demons come
from and why exactly they were created; the angels, we all know, are Gods
messengers who carry out his orders, but what is it that demons do and why
did God deem their existence necessary? Moreover, the reader of this passage
might know that demons often cause many troubles, and wonder why this is
so, but the above statement offers no clues on this issue. In fact, it is strik-
ing to note that the demons are not said to be evilwe might have expected
the rabbis to say that angels are good, demons are bad, and that humans have
a choice of being either good or bad, but they clearly do not say this. As we
shall see below, this is no accident, for in other rabbinic texts we meet not
only many harmful demons, but some friendly ones as well. Thus, in the rabbis
world, the angels and demons dichotomy is not necessarily a matter of good
versus evil.
Now we turn from the Babylonian Tamlud to a Babylonian incantation
bowl, with a long list of demons that it seeks to thwart. I will quote the entire
text here, even though we shall later use only small parts of it:

Bound and sealed are you who are the Lilith, the evil tormentor. Making
for your name. So, for your name I am making (this magical act).
May there be healing from heaven for the house of Abandad son of
At your right Uziel, at your left Susiel, in front of you Michael, behind
you Hananel, above you, the presence of God.
Conceptualizing Demons in Late Antique Judaism 115

I adjure and put you under oath that you may depart and go out from
the house of Abandad son of Batgada and from the dwelling of Sami
daughter of Parsita. You demons and plagues and satans and devs and
shadow-spiritsyou will not go with them on to the bed and you will not
go down with them to the land.
In the name of YHWH YHWH the God of Israel whom thousands upon
thousands will serve before him and myriads upon myriads will attend
before him.
Again, I put under oath and adjure you evil, sorcerous, strong and pow-
erful demons in order that you shall depart and go out from the house of
Abandad son of Batgada and from the dwelling of Sami daughter of Parsita.
In the name of Zahuvari YHWH the God of Israel and in the name of
Zachiriel YHWH the God of Israel, and in the name of Metatron the Prince
of the Countenance. For the name of the servant is similar to the name of
his master, for it is said: for my name is within him (Ex 23:21).
In the name of the twelve names, and by means of the great seal by
which are sealed the heavens and the earth, and in the name of Ashmedai
the king of the demons, and by means of the signet-ring of Solomon son
of David the king of Israel, that you may depart and that you may go out
from the house of Abandad son of Batgada and from the dwelling of Sami
daughter of Parsita.
If you appear as a pig I adjure and put you under oath by means of
YHWH YHWH Sabaoth. If you appear as a pig I adjure and put you under
oath by means of YHW YHW.
If you appear as a ram I adjure and put you under oath By Alef-
Daleth or by Yod-He or by Shaddai or by Sabaoth or by the Merciful
and Gracious or by him that is long suffering and of great kindness, and
by any substituted name.
If you appear as a dog I adjure and put you under oath by means of I
am that I am.
And if you do not depart and go out of the house of Abandad son of
Batgada and from the dwelling of Sami daughter of Parsita I shall bring
against you the shard of a fortunate man and I shall defile you.
And if not, I shall bring against you the staff of a leprous man and I
shall strike you.
And if not I shall bring against you a rod of seven pieces that seven
sorcerous women are riding and their eight ghosts.
And if not I shall bring against you water from the mouths of seven
people with gonorrhoea/discharge and I shall pour it on you and I shall
remove you.
116 Bohak

And if you do not flee and go out from the house of Abandad son of
Batgada and from the dwelling of Sami daughter of Parsita his wife, you
demons and afflictions and satans and shadow-spirits, you shall all be
under the ban of Rabbi Joshua bar Perahia, Amen Amen Selah.
Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who surround yourselves with sparks;
walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that you have kindled. This
came to you from my hand; you shall lie down in sorrow (Isa 50:11).
The Lord preserves the simple (Ps 116:6). The Lord the simple
For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your
ways (Ps 91:11).8

This is an extremely long and detailed incantation, intended to drive Lilith,

and a whole list of other types of demons, out of the house of Abandad son
of Batgada and Sami daughter of Parsitapresumably, a married couple.
These demons may appear in the form of a pig, a ram, a dog, and perhaps
other animals as well, and are driven out with an impressive set of adjurations
and threats, coupled with angelic and divine invocations, references to bibli-
cal and rabbinic figures, and the citation of biblical verses. In passing, we also
learn of their king, Ashmedai, who is well known from rabbinic literature as
well. But why these demons came into being, or why they are so dangerous,
are questions to which incantation bowls such as this provide no answer. Their
aim is to keep the house and its dwellers safe from demons, not to speculate
about their exact nature.
From this bowl we turn to a third type of source, namely, Aramaic and
Hebrew amulets written on thin sheets of metal and found mainly in present-
day Israel, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Italy. Here, we may briefly look at two dif-
ferent examples, both found in the apsis of the Horvat Maon synagogue (in
the North-Western Negev) and probably dating to the sixth century CE.9 In the
first, we read:

[...] I-am-who-I-am. In the name of [] Shnrwn, Ereschiel, []el,

Mashnid Heshmagron Saksak Dokon Dokon and []el, Barqiel, Uriel,
Milhamiel, Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, [] that you should depart from

8 Text and translation based on Dan Levene, If You Appear as A Pig: Another Incantation
Bowl (Moussaieff 164), Journal of Semitic Studies 52 (2007), 5970.
9 For the intriguing question of why a hoard of amulets was found inside a synagogue, see
Gideon Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic: A History (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 314318.
Conceptualizing Demons in Late Antique Judaism 117

the head of Natrun, the daughter of Sarah, Amen, Amen, [the spirit10]
that is called kephalargia that goes into the auditory passage of her ear
and does not []. In the name of Nagdiel the angel who is bound by
chains which are not of bronze, and [] not of iron, and in the name of
Nahshur and in the name of Suriel the angel [] blast-demons, tormen-
tors and shadow-spirits should flee away from her. Ioel, Ioel [Na]trun,
daughter of Sarah. In the name of Owh hlwsa, El, Bael [] remove from
the auditory passages of her ear and from her head [].11

This amulet clearly was commissioned by, or for, a certain Natrun, daughter of
Sarah, in very specific circumstances. Suffering from headaches, and perhaps
also ear aches, she needed an amulet to drive away all kinds of blast-demons,
tormentors and shadow-spirits, but especially one specific demon, called keph-
alargia (which happens to be the Greek word for headache), a demon that
entered her ears and lodged inside her head. This demon and all his comrades
are adjured in the name of several angels to be uprooted from Natruns ears
and head. But where did this demon come from, and why did he attack poor
Natrun, and not her next-door neighbour? Such questions will not be answered
by the amulets, which seek to expel the demons or to keep them at bay, and not
to speculate about them.
A second amulet, found in the same location, introduces us to a different
patient and a different scenario:

[...] An amulet proper for Esther, daughter of Tatis, to save her from evil
tormentors, from evil eye, from spirit, from demon, from shadow-spirit,
from [all] evil tormentors, from evil eye, from [...] from imp[ure] spirit,
[...] If thou shall diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and
shall do that which is right in his sight, and shall give ear to his command-
ments, and keep all his statutes, I shall put none of these diseases upon
thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians. For I am the Lord that
heals thee (Ex 15:26) [...].12

Reading this amulet, we know that it was commissioned by, or for, a certain
Esther, daughter of Tatis, as a protection against many different kinds of dan-
gers, including the evil eye and a whole host of evil demons. It may have been

10 For the expression the demon called + name of disease, see, for example, AMB A9, line 1:
Against you, the spirit which is called fever (and) shivering.
11 A MB, A11.
12 A MB, A13.
118 Bohak

commissioned because this Esther was suffering from some illness or some
misfortune, and did not know its source, but the very vague list of dangers,
and even the citation of Exodus 15:26, which only speaks of Gods granting of
health in a very general manner, tell us that this amulet probably was not com-
missioned for the treatment of a specific condition, but was a general apotro-
paic device, commissioned to protect Esther from all kinds of evil even before
they actually harm her.
From the incantation bowls and the amulets, we turn to the magical recipe
books used by Jews in Late Antiquity. Here, we are confronted by a slight prob-
lem, since such collections were normally written on papyrus and parchment,
and thus disintegrated long ago, but for a few fragments of Aramaic magical
papyri from the dry sands of Egypt, which are too small to be of real help for
our enquiry.13 But the Aramaic magical recipes kept on being copied by their
Jewish users into the Middle Ages, and some of them ended up in the Cairo
Genizah, where we finally get access to them. And here too, I would like to
cite just one example, which is found in an eleventh-century booklet whose
shredded remains I have elsewhere tried to reconstruct.14 Here, we find the last
section of an Aramaic adjuration that states:

...him, and you will perform the mission for me [] to his master?, and
you will descend upon NN and make [him] bellow like a pig, and make
him bellow like a bull and make him bleat [like a], and make him bark
like a dog, and you will not say [to him? that?] I sent you, and do not
come out of him until [we loosen you?] and we say, Come out! A(men)
A(men) S(ela).15

Here, we see a piece of aggressive magic, intended to send a demon upon its
hapless victim, and make him bellow, bleat and barkeither figuratively, as an
expression of pain and grief, or in reality, as an expression of sheer madness.
And as we already saw that demons can appear in the form of various animals,
the fact that they can make one behave like such animals should cause no sur-
prise. We also learn that the demon should not divulge the identity of the one
who sent it, who might otherwise run into great trouble, either with the law
or with his intended victim. He might also encounter a magician as power-
ful as himself, who would send the demon back upon those who had sent it,

13 See Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic, pp. 165169.

14 See Gideon Bohak, Reconstructing Jewish Magical Recipe Books from the Cairo Genizah,
Ginzei Qedem 1 (2005), 9*29*.
15 See Bohak, Reconstructing, pp. 20*21*.
Conceptualizing Demons in Late Antique Judaism 119

even without knowing their identity. This, we may add, is a type of counter-
offensive that is found in several incantation bowls, that seek to deflect the
harmful demons upon those who had sent them, the assumption being that
the demons know very well who the culprit is, even if the bowl producers
do not.16
These, then, are four rather representative examples out of many hundreds
of demon-related passages in ancient Jewish texts. The problem, as you can
already see, is not the absence of the sources, but their abundance and their
sheer complexity. The question, therefore, is what do we do with all these
sources, and how can we arrange them in some meaningful manner? And it is
here that I turn to the second, and more detailed, part of my analysis.

Part II: Ancient Demons and Modern Germs

Given the great abundance, and varied nature, of the available evidence, the
question must be asked, how do we go about turning these numerous bits of
data into some comprehensive conceptualization of demons in late antique
Jewish society? One way would be to begin arranging the evidence and clas-
sifying the datacollecting the different types of demons mentioned in our
sources, listing all the demons mentioned by name, tabulating all we know
about their origins, appearances and activities, and assembling all the evi-
dence for the anti-demonic techniques utilized by Jews in Late Antiquity. Such
studies, which should also be attentive to differences between and incon-
sistencies within the different sources, would be very useful, and would also
enable broader comparisons of late antique Jewish demonology with other
demonological systems in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. But in the present
paper I wish to use a different technique, that of cross-cultural comparison
and analogy. I shall try to do so by asking a single question, namely, in what
ways do ancient Jewish conceptions of demons resemble our own conceptions
of germs, and in what ways do they differ from them?
Before embarking on this attempt, let me explain what it is not. In contem-
porary Orthodox Jewish circles there is a recurrent attempt to compare the data
found in classical Jewish texts, and especially the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud
and the Zohar, with the discoveries of modern science. Within these efforts, it

16 For these counter-charms, see Dan Levene, This is a Qybl for Overturning Sorceries:
Form, FormulaThreads in a Web of Transmission, in Continuity and Innovation in
the Magical Tradition, ed. Gideon Bohak, Yuval Harari and Shaul Shaked (Leiden, 2011),
pp. 219244.
120 Bohak

is common to compare the demonology of the classical rabbinic texts with the
germ theory of modern science.17 This is, of course, a direct continuation of
the process with which I began the present study, namely, the disenchantment
of the modern world, a process that left many Torah-observant Jews with a cor-
pus of sacred texts replete with things that our science-based culture sees as
utterly ridiculous. Faced with such a situation, some pious Jews today are try-
ing to prove, at least to other pious Jews, that everything that modern science
claims to have discovered was already known to the Jews of old, except that
their terminology was slightly different. Thus, when the Babylonian Talmud
says that failing to wash your hands in the morning exposes you to the dangers
of the demon Shibbeta which lurks on the bread you eat (bt Yoma 77b and
Hull 107b), it is actually giving us sound advice against invisible germs, the kind
of advice that modern science began advocating only after the discoveries of
Louis Pasteur.18 This is, of course, a very interesting project that offers a won-
derful point of entry into the response to modern science in some Jewish cir-
cles, which can result in apologetic exercises in retrograde reconstructions of
ancient Jewish culture as far more scientific than you might have assumed.19
But all this is quite irrelevant for the historical study of rabbinic literature and
of late antique Judaism, and if I have mentioned it here, it is mainly to stress
that this is not what I shall try to do in the following discussion. My aim is not
to show that ancient Jewish demonology was a precursor of modern bacteriol-
ogy, but to use the comparative analogy between an ancient thought system
and a modern one in order to organize the abundant evidence for the ancient
system in a more coherent manner. In so doing, I seek to highlight not only the
similarities between these two systems of thought, but also to stress the many
differences between them. In other words, I use modern views of germs as a
heuristic device with which to sort out and classify the abundant data about
ancient Jewish demonology.
Let us begin with a few similarities. Perhaps the most obvious similarity is
that both our germs and the ancient demons are invisible, yet found in great

17 See, for example, Ahron Soloveichik, Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind: Wisdom and
Reflections on Topics of Our Times (Jerusalem, 1991), pp. 5052.
18 See, for example, Marcia Reines Josephy, Magic & Superstition in the Jewish Tradition: An
Exhibition Organized by the Maurice Spertus Museum of Judaica (Chicago, 1975), where an
allusion to the talmudic discussions of the Shibbeta demon and of demons that live in
places that we now consider unhygienic is followed by the general claim that The danger
from demons or germs (as we refer to them today) are equally great...Many of the anti-
demoniacal charms and physical agents were really medicinal and therapeutic.
19 Moreover, such reconstructions often imply that a pious Jew need not really study modern
science, since it is all there in the classical Jewish texts.
Conceptualizing Demons in Late Antique Judaism 121

abundance. Note, for example, two famous rabbis insistence that the demons
are all around us:

It has been taught: Abba Benjamin says, If the eye had the power to see
them, no creature could endure the demons. Abaye says: They are more
numerous than we are and they surround us like the ridge around a field.
R. Huna says: Every one of us has a thousand on his left side and ten thou-
sand on his right side.20

Change the word demons to viruses and bacteria, and the exact numbers to
something slightly less specific, and you get a statement that will make sense
to every modern reader. The same applies to the statement that we already
saw, about demons procreating and dying, which is true for germs as well,
and which has two important implications: On the one hand, both germs and
demons sometimes die, which means that they are far from invincible, if you
only know how to fight them. But on the other hand, they can procreate, which
further stresses their great abundance, and the endlessness of the fight against
them. Kill one, and ten others will come in its stead. Hence the need for per-
manent caution, and for the realization that their existence and the dangers
posed by them are a fact of life, and something that one simply has to learn
to live with.
But such statements raise one major problemif these creatures are invis-
ible, how do we know that they are there, all around us? In both cultures, there
are two major proofs of their existence. First and foremost, we can detect their
presence from the harm they causeif I have a sore throat, and I did not get
it from burning my throat with hot soup or from a failed attempt at sword-
swallowing, it must be some virus or bacteria, of the sore-throat variety, that
has caused this harm. Similarly, if poor Natrun had an ear ache and/or a persis-
tent headache, clearly not brought about by banging her head on the door or
by drinking too much wine, it must have been a demon, the headache demon,
that entered her ears and settled in her head. Such beliefs, and the identifica-
tion of the illness with the demon that caused it, are well attested in rabbinic
literature, as well as in many ancient near eastern cultures.
But in addition to detecting the germs presence from the harm they cause,
we also know that other people, who are the experts in such issues, have seen
them, or have some indirect means of detecting their presence. This was also

20 bt Ber 6a. The specific numbers are based on Psalm 91 (see verse 7), used both in the
Second Temple period and in rabbinic literature as a powerful anti-demon spell.
122 Bohak

true of the ancient Jewish view of demons, as may be seen from the following
talmudic passage:

If one wants to detect their (i.e. the demons) presence, let him take sifted
ashes and sprinkle around his bed, and in the morning he will see some-
thing like the footprints of a cock. If one wishes to see them, let him take
the after-birth of a black she-cat, the offspring of a black she-cat, the first-
born of a first-born, let him roast it in fire and grind it to powder, and then
let him put some into his eye, and he will see them. Let him also place it
in an iron tube and seal it with an iron seal lest they should steal it from
him. Let him also close his mouth, lest he come to harm. R. Bibi b. Abaye
did so, saw them and came to harm. But the rabbis prayed for him and
he recovered.21

As we can see from this passage, there were two ways of detecting the demons
presence. There was an indirect way, which involved seeing their footprints,
quite like those modern techniques of detecting the germs presence from
their chemical footprints, and there was a direct way, quite like our use of the
microscope to actually see the germs. In passing, we may note the description
of the demons footprints as resembling those of a cock, a description that fits
well with what we have already seen about their animal characteristics.
But if germs or demons are all around us, how can we go on living a nor-
mal life? One answer to this question is that both our germs and the ancient
demons are often evil and harm inducing, but many are harmless, and even
beneficial. In the amulets and the incantation bowls, we usually hear only
about the evil demons, mainly because these are implements designed for
the prevention or rectification of the harm they cause, but in rabbinic litera-
ture, we also hear of some good demons. One example is Joseph the demon,
who sits in the rabbis study house and studies Torah with them (bt Pes 110a).
Another is that of the story of the villagers who helped the good demon who
dwelt in their water fountain by driving an evil demon away (Lev. R. 24.3,
pp. 553555 Margalioth). Of course, we have far more good germs in our own
world, and I cannot think of anything in Antiquity that would resemble a mod-
ern advertisement for macrobiotic yogurt, on the lines of its full of beneficial
demons, and therefore good for you. Moreover, we tend to think of bacteria
as essential components in the production of some of our most basic staples,
including bread, cheese, beer and wine. This is a notion that the Jews of Late
Antiquity would have found quite puzzling, even though they too used bacteria

21 bt Ber 6a.

Conceptualizing Demons in Late Antique Judaism 123

to produce these staples, but without ever realizing that this is what they were
doing, and without assigning demonic agency to processes of fermentation.
And while the Jews of Late Antiquity could tell stories of how Solomon had
used the demons assistance in constructing his temple (bt Gitt 68a-b), or of
how a bath-house demon helped two rabbis perform instantaneous telepor-
tation from Tiberias to Paneias (Gen. R. 63.8, pp. 688690 Theodor-Albeck),
I know of no evidence of attempts to use them for menial labour or as flying
carpets.22 Their use for purposes of divination may have been more common,
but even this use is not very well attested in our sources (see, e.g., bt San 101a,
on the ministers of oil and ministers of eggs). Thus, whereas we see some
germs as bad, others as neutral, and others as useful, and even extremely ben-
eficial, ancient Jews thought of demons mostly as evil, or potentially evil. The
good demons were few and far between, useful demons were quite rare, and
extremely beneficial demons were quite inconceivable.
Since demons were mostly harmful, quite a lot of effort was invested in try-
ing to fight them. And viewed from our comparative perspective, we may think
of the different modes of fighting demons as paralleling two types of germ-
fighting practices today, which may broadly be divided into prophylactic and
Beginning with prophylaxis, in our own world, we have numerous general
precautions against the onslaught of viruses and bacteriawe frequently
wash our hands, we brush our teeth, we try to avoid eating in a place that looks
unhygienic, we avoid drinking tap water in some Third World countries, and
so on. Rabbinic literature too provides extensive advice about precautions to
be taken so as not to be harmed by the demons. We already noted the injunc-
tion to wash your hands in the morning, for fear of the demon Shibbeta, to
which we may add that toilets, bath-houses and old ruins were notoriously
full of demons, this being yet another example of where the rabbis precau-
tions partly overlap with ours.23 But the rabbis also stressed that sitting under
a water drain will expose you to demonic attacks (bt Hull 105b), that urinating
between a palm tree and a wall might leave the demon who resides there no
choice but to attack you (bt Pes 111a), that the demoness Lilith will seize you if

22 In the Middle Ages, we find far more developed techniques for summoning demons, sub-
duing them, and using them as messengers and servants, but there too the prevailing
assumption is that such practices could be extremely dangerous for those who practice
23 Bath house demons: Gen. R. 63.8; toilet demons: bt Shab 67a and Avigail Manekin
Bamberger, An Akkadian Demon in the Talmud: Between ulak and Bar-iriqa, Journal
for the Study of Judaism 44 (2013), 282287; demons in ruins: bt Ber 3ab.
124 Bohak

you sleep alone in the house (bt Shab 151b), and that two people have a greater
chance of avoiding demonic attacks than a single person (bt Ber 3ab). These,
of course, are bits of advice that find no parallels in our own world.
Thus we see that in the Jewish world of Late Antiquity, just like today,
observing some basic rules was supposed to help you minimize the danger
of demonic or microbic attack. But as we all know, no method of passive
prevention provides a complete defensive shield, and these must be supple-
mented by other, more active, methods. In our own world, one common type
of prophylaxis against germs is the administration of immunizations. Some
of these are given to the entire population, and from a very young age; oth-
ers are given only to those suffering from specific conditions, or traveling to
specific countries; in some cases, an immunization is good for life; in others,
it has to be repeated once, or even renewed every year or every few years. And
in all cases, an immunization is only effective against one type of germ, and is
useless against all the others. In a similar vein, most of the Babylonian incan-
tation bowls were aimed as a protection for an entire household against all
kinds of demons. But such bowls probably offered protection only within the
confines of ones house, since, unlike modern immunizations, they were spa-
tial rather than personal. Thus, it may safely be assumed that when the users
of such incantation bowls left the immunized environment of their home
they took some portable amulets with them, even though such amulets from
Sasanian Babylonia unfortunately did not survive, perhaps because they were
normally written on perishable materials.24 But in Palestine and other areas
where some amulets were inscribed on thin sheets of metal, a few dozen amu-
lets did survive, and whereas some amulets were produced against a specific
illness caused by a specific demon, many others were all-purpose, or multi-
purpose, amulets, intended to protect their bearers against various types of
demons. In this respect, the amulet that was intended to protect Esther daugh-
ter of Tatis and to save her from evil tormentors, from evil eye, from spirit,
from demon, from shadow-spirit, from [all] evil tormentors, from evil eye, from
[...] from imp[ure] spirit, was not unlike our DPT shots, intended to immu-
nize those who receive them against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, all at
once. Rabbinic literature, on the other hand, took a different road here, and
insisted on other types of prophylaxison Passover Eve, for example, every-
one is immune to demonic attack (bt Pes 109b and bt RH 11b). And if you recite
the Shema prayer on your bed before you go to sleep, the demons will not harm

24 For a possible exception, see the ink-on-lead Babylonian Jewish amulet published by
Markham J. Geller, More Magic Spells and Formulae, Bulletin of the School of Oriental
and African Studies 60 (1997), 327335.
Conceptualizing Demons in Late Antique Judaism 125

you throughout the night, even though the night is the time when they tend to
be most active (pt Ber 1.1 (2d); bt Ber 5a). To the modern historian, well trained
in the hermeneutics of suspicion, such claims, and stories about the rabbis
own successful dealings with demons, sound like an obvious attempt by the
religious elite to use the presence of invisible dangers in order to promote its
own agenda by convincing people that observing the commandments, in their
rabbinic interpretation, is an excellent protection against demons.25 This, of
course, is something for which we rarely find modern parallels, and it is an
issue to which we shall soon return.
From prophylaxis we turn to therapy. As we all know so well, even when one
takes all the necessary precautions, and receives all the required immuniza-
tions, one still becomes sick every now and then, and goes to a specialist in
search of a cure. In the modern world, this search comprises of highly sophis-
ticated methods of diagnosis, for which ancient demonology provides no real
parallel.26 In late antique Jewish society, if you had a headache it was prob-
ably caused by the headache demon, and if you became sick after approach-
ing a sorb-bush, it probably was the sorb-bush demons that attacked you (as
we may deduce from a famous talmudic story in bt Pes 111b). Such knowledge
was even taught in the rabbinic academies, but it clearly did not develop into
a very sophisticated system of demonological prognosis.27 And if the special-
ist to whom you turned did not really know which demon attacked you, he
could write an amulet, or perform an exorcism, that were meant to cover as
many possibilities as he or she could imagine. Incantations against all demons
and harmful spirits, all those which are in the world, whether male or female,
from their big ones to their young ones, from their children to their old ones,
whether I know its name or I do not know it (AMB, Bowl 5) were quite com-
mon in incantation bowls and amulets alike.
Not only the diagnosis, but also the aim of the treatment was quite different
in Late Antiquity from what they are today. In the ancient Jewish world, most
amulets and exorcisms only sought to drive the demon out, not to kill it. This
also means that the demon was then free to attack someone else, an issue that
seems not to have bothered most patients and most exorcists and amulet pro-
ducers. This is very different from what we see in the modern world, where a

25 See Harari, The Sages and the Occult, pp. 540541; Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic,
pp. 366370.
26 In later periods, there were some attempts to classify demoniacs according to their
symptoms, as in Hibbur Neelavim.
27 See, for example, Sifre Deut. 321: By the way, you learn that whoever has a demon inside
him drools spittle.
126 Bohak

physician will usually prescribe antibiotics for more days than you really need
it, only to make sure that none of the harmful bacteria inside you remain alive
and spread to your neighbors. Demons, on the other hand, were not really con-
ceived as contagious, a point to whose wider implications we shall soon return.
So far, I have focused on some of the similarities between late antique
Jewish demonology and modern germ theory. It is now time to look at some
of the differences. One major difference is that the range of malevolent activi-
ties that ancient Jews attributed to demons is somewhat larger than that
which we attribute to germs. In the medical sphere, we may note that what
we today would classify as mental disorders were in Antiquity often attributed
to demonic attacks. Think, for example, of Jesus exorcising the demoniac(s)
in Gadara, who lived among the tombs and would beat up the people who
passed by (Mt 8:2834; Mk 5:120; Lk 8:2639)in our world, such patients
would be treated by a psychiatrist, not by an epidemiologist, since we do not
normally think of madness, or of social deviance, as having anything to do with
germs. But in Antiquity, the madman often was treated as a demoniac, as may
be seen, for example, from the Arabic word majnun, madman, i.e., he who
was attacked by a jinn, or from the recipe we quoted above, in which a demon
sent by a spiteful magician makes its victim bellow, bleat and bark. The same
type of attribution of psychological phenomena to demonic intervention may
also be seen in other ancient sources as well, including the rabbinic distinction
between dreams sent by an angel and those sent by a demon (bt Ber 55b). In
our own world, we might think of germs as causing an illness whose symp-
toms include all kinds of hallucinations, but we would not think of dreams and
visions as brought about by germs.
But the demons evil activities extended far beyond the realm of medicine,
and they often caused harm to inanimate objects as well. One obvious example
is the talmudic story of a demon who caused a large barrel to explode when it
was inadvertently stuck in its ear (bt Hull 105b); we might be aware of fungi and
bacteria making food rot, or wreaking havoc on walls, clothes, and so on, but
we do not usually think of germs as harming inanimate objects. Thus, whereas
with us evil germs are intimately connected with disease, demonology in the
ancient Jewish world could also be connected with many other misfortunes,
though it is interesting to note that such examples are not so common, and
there is little evidence that every misfortune was attributed to demonic activ-
ity, an issue to which we shall return below.
Another obvious difference between ancient demons and modern germs
has to do with the above-quoted statement about the demons knowledge
of future events, something that we would never attribute to germs. In Late
Antiquity, and even more so in the Middle Ages, such assumptions led to the
Conceptualizing Demons in Late Antique Judaism 127

great popularity of numerous rituals for summoning demons and question-

ing them about hidden or future facts, a branch of applied demonology that
finds no parallel in modern germ theory. In fact, we might even suggest that,
whereas for us germs can be used to produce many different goods, in Late
Antiquity demons could be used to divulge hidden secrets.
A more important difference emerges when we try to ask why demons and
germs actually attack a given person. In our own world, there are two basic
assumptions as to why germs attack us. The first is contagion, which means
that it is not only a fact that germs are all around us, but also that they move
from inanimate objects to human beings (as happens with tetanus, for exam-
ple), from animals to human beings (as in the case of rabies, or some types of
the flu), and from one person to another (as with the common flu). This also
means that the war against them is not just an individual affair, but also a pub-
lic affairin our modern world, governments invest many efforts and much
money in trying to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. For example,
many countries not only subsidize immunizations, but virtually force parents
to immunize their children, not only in order to protect these children, but also
in order to prevent the spread of epidemics. But in late antique Jewish society,
almost all the fight against demons was an individual affair, whether we are
thinking of the precautions and spells provided by rabbinic literature, or of the
many amulets and incantation bowls, clearly ordered and paid for by individu-
als who had to defend themselves, their families and their properties against
evil demons.28 Occasionally, we hear a more generalizing, community-wide
statement, such as the rabbinic claim that Passover night is free of demonic
attacks (bt Pes 109b and bt RH 11b), presumably for the entire population, but
such statements are a rare exception. In the Second Temple period, we know
that in the Qumran sect the war against demons was a community affair, run
by the maskil, but in rabbinic Judaism, there is no sign of a community-based
or even synagogue-based war on demons.29

28 In passing, I would add that, in a rather paradoxical manner, this is one reason why we
know so much about Jewish demonology in Late Antiquity; being a private enterprise, it
generated numerous artefacts, many of which included texts inscribed on durable writing
29 For the Qumran sects war on demons, see Philip S. Alexander, Wrestling Against
Wickedness in High Places: Magic in the Worldview of the Qumran Community, in The
Scrolls and the Scriptures: Qumran Fifty Years After, ed. Stanley E. Porter and Craig A. Evans
(Sheffield, 1997), pp. 318337; William J. Lyons and Andy M. Reimer, The Demonic Virus
and Qumran Studies: Some Preventative Measures, Dead Sea Discoveries 5 (1998), 1632.
128 Bohak

Another difference between our bacteriology and the demonology of

ancient Jews has to do with the explanation of why it is that these creatures
are so harmful. In our world, germs attack us not because they are inherently
evil, but because they too have selfish genestheir main aim in life is to pro-
create and multiply and fill the earth, as it were, and we are just their acci-
dental carriers. And if they preyed upon one person, and not upon his or her
neighbor, it might be sheer coincidence, or maybe he or she did not follow
all the preventive advice we already examined above, or is inherently more
vulnerable to such attacks because of a weaker or weakened immune system.
But in ancient Jewish culture, demonic attacks were quite a different story. On
the one hand, ancient Jews often asked a question that we are mostly unboth-
ered by, namely, where do these demons come from, and why are they here?
This question does not usually appear in the amulets and incantation bowls,
which are only interested in driving the demons away, but it does appear in
many strands of ancient Jewish literature. The answers given to the question of
the demons origins varied greatly: One famous aetiology, that was extremely
popular in the Second Temple period but mostly rejected by rabbinic litera-
ture, held that they are the offspring of the unholy unions between the Fallen
Angels and the daughters of man, which means that they were conceived in sin
and are hybrid creatures, half-way between angels and humans (compare the
rabbinic dictum with which we began our paper).30 Another explanation held
that they were the souls of evil people who had died, roaming the earth and
causing trouble wherever they went (see Josephus, War 7.185). A third explana-
tion was that they were created on Friday night, just before the Sabbath set in,
and so their creation was left unfinished (m Avot 5:6), whence their peculiar
properties, and presumably their aggression as well. A fourth explanation was
that demons were generated from the union between Adam and the first Eve,
also identified as Lilith (Gen. R. 17.7 and 22.7; bt Eruv 18b), and there were other
explanations as well, such as the claim that some of the builders of the Tower
of Babel were turned by God into monkeys, spirits, demons, and lil-demons (bt
San 109a). The different explanations did not necessarily compete with each
other, since the presence of many different types of demons probably called
for more than one explanation of their origins. And most of these aetiologies
provided some kind of explanation of why demons could be so harmful to
human beings. Thus, whereas we more or less take it for granted that there are

30 For this explanation, see Esther Eshel, Demonology in Palestine during the Second Temple
Period, unpubl. PhD Diss., Jerusalem, 1999 (Heb.); Anette Yoshiko Reed, Fallen Angels and
the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature (Cambridge,
Conceptualizing Demons in Late Antique Judaism 129

evil germs all around us, and that it has always been that way, many ancient
Jews were more worried about the demons behavior, and tried to understand
why exactly it is that they came into being at all, and why they can be so aggres-
sive. This is, of course, partly due to the need to fit the demons into a wider reli-
gious worldview, in which one good God governs the universe with justice, an
issue to which we shall soon return.
An understanding of why demons can be inherently evil does not yet answer
the question of why they harmed one specific person, and not his or her neigh-
bor. And here too, several different answers could be offered. One answer was
that they harmed those who had offended them first, for example by urinat-
ing on a palm tree, or who failed to observe the basic rules of prevention, for
example by not reciting the Shema prayer at night or by carelessly approach-
ing a sorb-bush. Such explanations are not that different from our assumption
that by eating at that market stall that did not look too clean we were in fact
inviting the germs to attack us. Another type of explanation, assumed in some
of the incantation bowls and attested in some magical recipes, was that a pow-
erful magician, hired by a spiteful client, had sent the demon upon its victim,
and we saw above what one such recipe looked like. This kind of explanation
is not very common in our world, but it is, of course, the basic assumption
behind our notions of biological warfare. In other words, because of the great
scientific expertise needed to handle aggressive germs in an effective manner
without being harmed by them, we tend to think of states as able to conduct
germ warfare, but do not usually think of an individual person sending germs
to harm an offensive neighbor, or hiring a scientist to do it for him. But in Late
Antiquity, not only the defense against demons, but also their recruitment for
aggressive purposes were an entirely private affair, left to the forces of personal
demand and professional supply, and not even regulated by the religious or
secular Jewish authorities.31
In looking for ancient answers to the question of why a demon attacked one
person and not another, we must note the glaring absence of one explanation,
namely, that it was God who had sent the demon, as a punishment for that per-
sons sins. This absence is especially striking because this kind of explanation
has deep biblical roots, as when we learn that Saul was tormented by an evil
spirit from God (1 Sam 16:14), or when we read the story of God permitting Satan
to send a whole set of afflictions upon the blameless Job (Job 1:12, 2:6). In rab-
binic literature, we sometimes find a suggestion that when an affliction comes
upon someone, that person should turn to God for help, but we do not find the

31 I leave aside the question of the attitudes of imperial legislationRoman and Sasanian
towards the production of amulets or the use of aggressive spells.
130 Bohak

claim that the affliction itself was sent by God. And when we read the amulets
and incantation bowls, we see hundreds of people who commissioned these
prophylactic and therapeutic devices and sought protection against demons,
regardless of their own perceived merits in Gods eyes, which are almost never
mentioned in these texts.32 Moreover, while the rabbis did claim that some
rabbis might be immune against demonic attacks (e.g., Rav Papa, in bt Pess
111b), they made it clear that most people, including most rabbis, are not. In so
doing, they let an element of randomness enter their monotheistic worldview,
which assumed that a single God ruled the universe, and that he ruled it in
justice. In this respect, the late antique Jewish view of demons was not that
different from our own views of germs, since it did not seek a single unified
explanation of why the demons had attacked one person and not the other,
and did not search for religious causes of, or solutions to, demonic attacks.
Taking our cue from Evans-Pritchards famous study of witchcraft and
sorcery among the Azande, we may thus suggest that, for late antique Jews,
demons offered an excellent explanation of misfortune.33 Moreover, whereas
among the Azande the use of witchcraft accusations to explain misfortunes
could quickly generate social tensions, in the Jewish society of Late Antiquity
this was a matter of personal choice. When misfortune struck, it often was
attributed to demons, but whether these demons were sent by an evil sor-
cerer, or acted on their own accord, had to be decided on an ad hoc basis. In
the former case, there was good reason to search for the sorcerer and destroy
him or her, or prevent them from using such spells again (just as we would do
with someone who is spreading the HIV virus), or at least to send the demon
back upon them. But in the latter case, there was no sense in searching further,
just as when we get the flu, we do not try to think who we got it from; we just
assume the flu-germs to have been all around us, and the fact that we got the
flu and our neighbour did not is just tough luck, devoid of any moral or theo-
logical significance. In a similar vein, demons could be seen in Late Antiquity
as the forces behind random misfortune, thus allowing God to remain entirely
good and just, free of the vindictiveness that sometimes characterizes the God
of the Hebrew Bible.

32 For some rare exceptions, see AMB, A3, an amulet for Rabbi Eleazar son of Esther, the
servant of the God of heaven, and the incantation bowl published by Ali H. Faraj, Coppe
magiche dellantico Iraq, con testi in aramaico giudaico di et ellenistica (Milan, 2010),
no. 10, for the protection of Hodimo bar Yahudi, the servant of heaven. Such references
may have been intended to make God more likely to intervene on the owners behalf.
33 See Edward E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (Oxford,
Conceptualizing Demons in Late Antique Judaism 131

The absence of God and his angels from the explanation of demonic attack
becomes even more pronounced when we notice that the biggest difference
between ancient demonology and modern germ theory lies in the techniques
used to fight the evil creatures. In our own world, it all has to do with sub-
stances, be they weakened or dead germs that are used for immunizations or
an endless array of chemicals which have proven their efficacy against specific
germs. In the ancient world, there was a common belief that some mineral,
vegetal and animal substances and many man-made rings, bells and other
implements have anti-demonic powers, and we may assume that most unin-
scribed amulets worn by Jews in Late Antiquity were made of such substances
and implements, and that many exorcistic rituals made use of them.34 But in
the case of the incantation bowls and inscribed amulets it is not the substances
of which they were made but the incantations inscribed upon them that had
anti-demonic powers, and the same applies to the anti-demonic oral incan-
tations recommended by the rabbis. A detailed examination of the contents
of all these incantations would take us too far afield, but we may note some
recurrent techniques, including the adjuration of the demons in the name of
God and his angels, the second-person taunts hurled at the demons, the recita-
tion of biblical verses that were deemed to possess exorcistic or appropriate
powers, and so on. What is common to all these techniques is the belief that
the demons are sentient creatures, that they hear and understand the incanta-
tions, and that they can be made to flee if only one knows how to adjure and
threaten them correctly.
And this, I believe, is where the analogy between the ancient views of
demons and our notion of germs really breaks downfor us, germs are tiny
creatures devoid of any senses, and it would make no sense at all to recite or
write elaborate incantations in order to ward them off. It is, of course, a rather
depressing thought, since it means that when our chemicals fail us (as they do
with some killer germs, and with many viruses), there is virtually nothing else
we can do. Hurling curses and abuses at these germs would have no benefit,
not even that of psychological reliefit would merely make us look absolutely
To sum up, there are many similarities, and just as many differences,
between the Jewish views of demons in Late Antiquity and our views of germs.
But perhaps the most important difference is that for us, germs are an utterly

34 See Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic, pp. 8994; Gideon Bohak, Jewish Exorcisms Before and
After the Destruction of the Second Temple, in Was 70 CE a Watershed in Jewish History?
On Jews and Judaism before and after the Destruction of the Second Temple, ed. Daniel S.
Schwartz and Zeev Weiss (Leiden, 2012), pp. 277300.
132 Bohak

impersonal matterthey attack everyone with equal zest, they penetrate

those whose immune system happens to be weakest at that specific moment,
and they use that victim to multiply and to jump at their next victims. There is
no real sense in speculating about why germs are there at all, or worrying about
why they attacked one person and not his or her next-door neighbor, and there
is no sense at all in trying to address them directly. In the ancient world, on the
other hand, the onslaught of demons was not thought of as contagious, but as
personalif a demon attacked you, it is either because you harmed it first, or
because someone had sent the demon to hurt you. Moreover, being part of a
wider monotheistic worldview, which assumes that the world is governed by
one God, who is essentially just, ancient Jewish demonology in fact contrib-
uted to the ongoing Jewish attempt to bridge the gap between its theological
axioms and the realities of daily life. In contrast with biblical theology, in late
antique Jewish thought misfortunes did not necessarily come from God, for
they could easily be the work of evil demons, or of evil sorcerers who used evil
demons as the executors of their nasty plots. There was no sense in attributing
these attacks to Gods grand plan for the universe, and much sense in asking
for the help of specialists, who could provide the best prophylactic and thera-
peutic devices that money could buy. Thus, the war on demons was carried out
by clients and specialists wherever Jews lived, and this war left many traces
in the archaeological and literary recordsmore evidence, in fact, than any
other activity conducted by Jews in Late Antiquity.
Thus, we can conclude by noting that the ancient Jewish conceptualization
of demons was in some ways similar to our views of germs, and in others quite
different. But there is one more aspect to this comparison, which to us might
seem like the most important one, namely, the scientific validity and practical
value of these belief systems. This is especially true of the effectiveness of the
treatment of illnesses within a demonological aetiology versus the effective-
ness of modern medicine. Such a comparison is no doubt valid, but it is rel-
evant only when one has a choice between these two systems. When we have
a severe and persistent headache, we do not start writing amulets, but go to a
doctor, who will perform elaborate tests, identify the cause of the pain, and
offer a treatment that in a vast majority of the cases would be far more effective
than the amulet used by Natrun daughter of Sarah. But Natrun herself did not
have this choice; she could, perhaps, go to the nearest pagan temple, to seek
the gods advice, but some members of her community would have been quite
unhappy with this move, and only Asclepius knows whether his temples were
more effective than the Jewish specialist in fighting evil demons. She could
also, perhaps, seek the advice of a Hippocratic-Galenic physician, and here
a comparison could have been made between the demonological theories of
Conceptualizing Demons in Late Antique Judaism 133

most late antique Jews and the humoral theories of some Greek physicians
and philosophers in Late Antiquity, a comparison that would have included
a discussion of their potential efficacy. This, however, is not what I set out to
do in the present study. My question was not, whether the system workedI
know it did, since we have all these amulets and bowls, which clearly prove
that people used them and trusted in their efficacy; we also have all these tal-
mudic statements, which show that the religious elite shared the same basic
worldview, even if it may have differed on some of the smaller details. My
question also was not about how could they believe all this silly stuffas was
asked, with polemical zest or apologetic horror, by some nineteenth and twen-
tieth century Jewish rabbis, free-thinkers and scholars. My question was about
how ancient Jewish conceptualizations of demons made sense within their
own world, and my answer would be that they were as integral to their general
worldview and to their everyday behavior as microbiology is to ours. Moreover,
while the treatments they developed on the basis of their aetiologies were not
nearly as effective as our own, they were no less coherent within their society
than our treatments are in ours. For in a world full of demons, talking about
them, adjuring them, writing amulets and incantation bowls against them or
sending them upon ones enemies all made perfect sense.

Oneiric Aggressive Magic: Sleep Disorders in Late

Antique Jewish Tradition

Alessia Bellusci


Modern medicine distinguishes between several sleep disturbances and

disorders, which may be primary conditions or may be secondary to other
physiological or psychiatric disorders. At least once in a lifetime, a person
experiences a sleep disorder, such as night terror, insomnia, hypersomnia,
bruxism, and suffers a certain level of discomfort caused by the alteration of
his/her regular sleeping and dreaming faculties. Depending on their frequency,
duration and recurrence, even common sleep disorders might result in severe
daytime impairments and may require pharmaceutical, somatic or behavioral-
psychotherapeutic treatment. Similarly, chronic sleep disorders and sleep dis-
turbances, that are secondary to physical or mental pathologies, are treated or
managed in different manners by modern sleep medicine.1
Sleep disorders are not exclusive to the modern world, but clearly affected
our ancestors as well. Nevertheless, recognizing references to sleep impair-
ments in ancient writings is often quite challenging. In most cases, the termi-
nology used in ancient textual corpora to refer to sleep disorders hardly finds
intelligible parallels in contemporary medical science.2 Often, in antiquity,

* I would like to express my deep gratitude to Gideon Bohak of Tel Aviv University for his con-
stant guidance throughout the writing of this article. I am very grateful also to Siam Bhayro of
the University of Exeter, James Nathan Ford of Bar Ilan University, Matthew Morgenstern of
Tel Aviv University, Dan Levene of the University of Southampton and Attilio Mastrocinque
of the University of Verona, for their valuable comments and for the useful material they
kindly sent me.
1 For an introduction to sleep disorders, see Lori A. Panossian and Alon Y. Avidan, Review of
Sleep Disorders, Medical Clinics of North America 93 (2009), 407425.
2 Scholars should acknowledge the discrepancy between the ancient and modern designa-
tions of sleep impairments and avoid anachronistically adopting categories formed in the
later western tradition in order to interpret references to these phenomena in ancient texts.
This methodological problem is discussed in length in relation to the identification and
study of nightmares in ancient texts in Sanskrit, ancient Greek, Hittite, Akkadian, Egyptian,

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_010

Oneiric Aggressive Magic 135

sleep disturbances were not perceived as a phenomenon pertaining to the bio-

logical and medical sphere, but were related to archaic conceptions of dreams,
according to which the oneiric experience represented the bridge between the
human and extra-human domains.3 Ancient cultures generally understood
sleep disorders in the context of magical and demonic traditions and devel-
oped magical rituals either to protect themselves from a particular sleep ail-
ment or to affect the regular sleep of a certain victim, as is proved by several
sources from the Ancient Near East and the Mediterranean.
In the present article, I discuss a selection of late antique Jewish sources
that attest to the existence of magical rituals relating to sleep disorders within
late antique Judaism. After a brief introduction to oneiric aggressive magic, I
present some passages referring to magical practices relating to insomnia and
nightmares, respectively from Sefer ha-Razim, arba de-Moshe, and the corpus
of Babylonian magic bowls. These sources demonstrate that, at least since Late
Antiquity, Jews were well aware of the distress caused by sleep disorders. They
attempted to treat or to manage such disturbances with magical aids and, in
certain instances, attempted to cause sleep impairment in their victims.

Jewish Oneiric Aggressive Magic

Since antiquity, Jews, like their neighbours, paid great attention to phenomena
relating to sleeping and dreaming. The occurrence of dream accounts in the
Hebrew Bible legitimized the discussion of the oneiric experience also in later
Jewish texts.4 The practice of oneiric magic, i.e., magical and divinatory rituals

Hebrew and Aramaic, in the introduction by Jean-Marie Husser and Alice Mounton to Le
Cauchemar dans les Socits Antiques (Paris, 2010), pp. 920.
3 Although a few Greek and Roman intellectualssuch as Heraclitus of Ephesus, Xenophanes,
Democritus, the medical school of Hippocrates and Galen, Aristotle, and Ciceroconsid-
ered the phenomenon of dreaming a nonsensical product of the mind, the ancients, in gen-
eral, placed the origin of oneiric communication in the extra-human world and believed that
dreams convey a supernatural message. For an exhaustive discussion of ancient naturalistic
explanations of the oneiric phenomenon, see William Vernon Harris, Dreams and Experience
in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge MA, 2009), pp. 229278.
4 Since the Hebrew Bible referred to dreams as divine messages, even the rabbis could not
completely deny the authority of the oneiric experience as a medium between God and
man, concluding that dreams are one sixtieth of prophecy (bBerakhot, 57b). On dreams
in the Hebrew Bible, see Ruth Fidler, Dreams Speak Falsely? Dream Theophanies in the Bible:
Their Place in Ancient Israelite Faith and Tradition (Jerusalem, 2005) [Heb.]; on dreams in the
Babylonian Talmud, see Philip S. Alexander, Bavli Berakhot 55a57b: The Talmudic Dream
136 Bellusci

including within their structure a specific stage of dreaming, or aimed at inter-

fering with the natural activity of dreaming and sleeping, is attested to within
Jewish culture, at least from Late Antiquity.5 Unfortunately, only a few Jewish
sources mention sleep disturbances. Yet these texts turn out to be particularly
important, providing us with an insight into ancient Jewish conceptions of the
origins of dreams and sleep ailments, as well as into specific developments in
Jewish demonology.
Most of the Jewish writings concerning sleep impairments, and all the tex-
tual excerpts discussed in this paper, refer to specific techniques, which belong
to a category of ancient magic that I suggest we call oneiric aggressive magic.
By the term oneiric, I refer to the natural and universal human experience of
sleeping and dreaming.6 In this study, I regard these two interwoven activities
as somatic techniques, which can be managed, regulated and even provoked
according to different socio-cultural models.7 By aggressive magic, I refer to

Book in Context, Journal of Jewish Studies 46 (1995), 230248 and Haim Weiss, All Dreams
Follow the Mouth: A Reading in the Talmudic Dreams Tractate (Beer Sheva, 2011) [Heb.].
5 Examples of oneiric magic are the haavat alom, a practice aimed at reversing a bad dream,
and the sheelat alom, a technique aimed at obtaining hidden information in a dream; for
a general overview on these techniques in Jewish tradition, see Weiss, All Dreams Follow
the Mouth, respectively, pp. 3946 and pp. 8189. Seventeen recipes for Sheelat alom are
edited in Alessia Bellusci, Dream Requests from the Cairo Genizah, unpubl. MA Thesis (Tel
Aviv University, 2011); in my PhD dissertation, which is currently in preparation, I study the
development and evolution of this oneiric technique in late antique and medieval Jewish
6 In my work, I often use the term oneiric, which etymologically derives from the Greek -
, instead of the English word dream, in an adjectival meaning. With that, I do not
intend to indicate necessarily a Greek connotation of the phenomenon that I discuss, nor
do I refer to Artemidorus five categories of dreams, on which, see Artemidorus Daldianus,
ONEIPOKPITIKA, ed. Robert J. White, The Interpretation of Dreams (Park Ridge, 1975). For
scientific information on sleeping and dreaming activities, see John Allan Hobson, The
Dreaming Brain (New York, 1988); Id., Sleep is of the Brain, by the Brain and for the Brain,
Nature 438 (2005), 12541256.
7 Sleeping and dreaming are behavioural activities susceptible to cultural and historical
influences like any other wakeful act. With the expression somatic technique I follow two
important anthropological contributions. On the one hand, I refer by the term technique
to Marcel Mauss notion of technique, i.e. every act, which is traditional and functional,
and to his definition of techniques of the bodyamong which also the techniques of
sleepingas highly developed bodily actions that embody aspects of a given culture; see
Marcel Mauss, Les techniques du corps, Journal de Psycologie 32 (1936), 365386. On the
other hand, the term somatic is taken from Claudia Mattalucci-Yilmazs work and alludes
to the concept of embodiment. The body is not only a biological entity, but embodies
also cultural and historical phenomena; similarly, culture and history can represent, in a
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 137

every magical act aimed at wielding a certain power on individuals, either on

their psychophysical faculties or on their properties.8 By the expression onei-
ric aggressive magic, I indicate every magical act aimed at wielding a certain
power on individuals, by operating on their sleeping and dreaming behaviour.9
Under the category of oneiric aggressive magic, I include techniques for
causing insomnia, controlling/orienting dreams, sending a dream or a night-
mare. From an etic point of view, these techniques all share the use of psycho-
logical means, in order to operate on the conscious and unconscious mind of
an individual. From an emic point of view, they all aim to achieve a certain
influence on another person.
Oneiric aggressive magical techniques involve at least two characters. On
the one side of the magical chain, the user of the incantation actively engages
in the ritual, on his/her behalf or on behalf of a client, attempting to exert
some sort of influence on the sleeping and dreaming behavior of a third party.
On the other side, a victim, generally unaware of the occurrence of the magi-
cal practice perpetrated to his/her detriment, experiences an alteration of his/
her regular sleeping and dreaming faculties. There are also sources attesting to
inverse ritual dynamics, in which victims, or experts on their behalf, actively
engage in the magical practice as an act of defense or revenge. In these cases,
the victim overcomes her/his unawareness and passiveness through protective
spells aimed at interrupting or reversing the sleeping/dreaming impairment
caused by the original curse. Occasionally, the roles are inverted and the per-
petrator becomes the new victim of the oneiric aggression.
Oneiric aggressive magical techniques are, generally, undertaken either
to achieve an erotic purpose, by sending a spell of attraction to the victim
through a dream, or to induce victims to fulfill the users will, by blackmailing
them with insomnia or by sending them a coercive dream. A third and most
extreme use involves the actual damage of victims, generally enemies of the
perpetrator, both from a physiological and psychological point of view, by pro-
voking in them insomnia or by sending them disturbing nightmares. Oneiric
aggressive rituals of this kind, aimed at gravely harming a third person, imply
a certain level of awareness that physiological sleep is indispensable for good

certain measure, corporeal phenomena; see Claudia Mattalucci-Yilmaz, Introduzione,

Corpi, Annuario di Antropologia 3 (2003), 518.
8 On aggressive magic, see Yuval Harari, If You Wish to Kill A Man: Aggressive Magic and the
Defense Against it in Ancient Jewish Magic, Jewish Studies 37 (1997) [Heb.], 11142.
9 Recently, Yuval Harari has been working on a series of papers devoted to dreams in Jewish
magic. Hararis forthcoming studies mainly cover materials and examples that date from
later periods than those studied below.
138 Bellusci

health and that the lack of natural rest leads to serious physical and psycho-
logical impairments.
Evidence for late antique Jewish aggressive magic is either in the form of
general and impersonal recipes preserved in magical handbooks, or finished
products written by a professional magician for a certain client or for a group of
individuals.10 Finished products are generally represented by protective amu-
lets, aimed at preventing the demons from appearing to users in their dreams,
defending the users-victims from an oneiric aggressive spell perpetrated by a
human party, or revenging the users-victims oneiric aggression by sending the
aggressor a counter-spell.
In the next three sections, I will examine Jewish magical recipes and fin-
ished products, respectively excerpts from Sefer ha-Razim, arba de-Moshe,
and the corpus of the Babylonian magic bowls, which attest to the practice
of oneiric aggressive magical rituals for causing insomnia and sending night-
mares within late antique Judaism.

A Recipe for Causing Insomnia from Sefer ha-Razim

[SHR I137140]

The name Sefer ha-Razim (SHR), The Book of Mysteries, refers to a book of
magic, whose earliest edition was probably written in late antique Palestine
before the Muslim conquest, by an erudite Jewish author familiar with both
the Jewish orthodox tradition and Pagan magical knowledge.11 After a brief

On the difference between recipes and finished products, see Gideon Bohak,
Reconstructing Jewish Magical Recipe Books from the Cairo Genizah, Ginzei Qedem 1
(2005), pp. 929, especially pp. 1213, and Id., Ancient Jewish Magic (Cambridge, 2008),
pp. 144148.
S HR was first published in an eclectic edition in Morderchai Margalioth, Sepher
Ha-Razim, A Newly Recovered Book of Magic from the Talmudic Period Collected from
Genizah Fragments and other Sources (Jerusalem, 1966) [Heb.]. Margalioth dates the
composition of SHR to the Talmudic era, between the first and the fifth centuries AD,
probably in third century Alexandria, ib., pp. 2128. Nowadays, there is a scholarly consen-
sus that SHR was composed in Late Antiquity, before the Muslim conquest. Particularly,
according to Bohak, the reference to the fifteen-year indiction cycle, which might estab-
lish the date only of a specific recipe in the book, represents the terminus post quem of
the composition, while the lack of Arabisms in the text suggests the Muslim conquest as
terminus ante quem. According to Bohak, the book was composed in any region where
Hebrew-writing Jews came into contact with Greco-Roman culture and Egyptian magic";
see Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic, pp. 173175. A synopsis of the most relevant manuscripts
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 139

preface describing its use and its chain of transmission,12 the book is organized
in seven main sections, which reflect an imaginary celestial environment and
are, therefore, called firmaments. The first six firmaments are divided into
further subsections, each of which is inhabited by angels assigned certain
functions and endowed with specific powers. Every subsection contains sev-
eral magical recipes for different purposes, generally related to the role of the
angels appointed in that specific part of the book. Arguably, some of these
magical recipes might once have circulated independent of the literary frame-
work of the book.13 The angelic names listed in the book were originally meant
to be uttered, or written down, during the actual magical practice associated
with them.14 SHR preserves twenty-eight magical recipes for different pur-
poses, whose goal is in part anticipated in the preface of the book.15

of Sefer ha-Razim is published in Bill Rebiger and Peter Schfer, eds., Sefer ha-Razim I und
II: Das Buch der Geheimnisse I und II, 2 vols. (Tbingen, 2009). This edition includes also a
later redaction of the book, SHR 2, generally known under the name Sefer Adam. On SHR,
see Jens-Heinrich Niggemeyer, Beschwrungsformeln aus dem Buch der Geheimnisse
(Sefr ha-Razim): Zur Topologie der magischen Rede (Judistische Texte und Studien) 3
(Hildesheim, 1975); Ithamar Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism, (Arbeiten
zur Geschichte des antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums) 14 (Leiden, 1980),
pp. 22534; Philip S. Alexander, Incantations and Books of Magic, in The History of the
Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, ed. Emil Schrer, vol. 3.1, (Edinburgh, 1986) pp. 342
379; Shifra Sznol, Sefer Ha RazimEl libro de los secretos introduccion y comentario al
vocabulario griego, Erytheia 10 (1989), pp. 26588; Philip S. Alexander, Sepher ha-Razim
and the Problem of Black Magic in Early Judaism, in Magic in the Biblical World: From
the Rod of Aaron to the Ring of Solomon, ed. Todd Klutz (Journal of the Study of the New
Testament Suppl. 245) (London, 2003), pp. 17090. For the Arabic version, see Alexander
Fodor, An Arabic Version of Sefer Ha-Razim, Jewish Studies Quarterly 13 (2006), 412427.
In this paper, when I refer to SHR, I follow the numeration of paragraphs of the synopsis
in Rebiger and Schfer, Sefer ha-Razim I und II.
12 The angel Raziel transmitted the book to Noah, according to ms. Oxford Heb. C 18/30,
or Adam, according to ms. JTSL ENA 2750.45, and then to different biblical figures. The
chain of transmission described in SHR follows a common pattern attested also in Pirqei
Avot and in Jewish Apocalyptic and Pseudepigraphic texts, and was probably aimed
at legitimizing the composition in the eyes of a Jewish public; see Michael D. Swartz,
Scholastic Magic: Ritual and Revelation in Early Jewish Mysticism (Princeton, 1996), p. 188.
13 Alexander, Sepher ha-Razim, p. 173.
14 S HR follows a well-known structure typical of ancient books of magic, which describe
each magical technique together with the magical or angelical names essential to activate
the spell; see, for instance, the Jewish book arba de-Moshe discussed below.
15 The count is according to Margalioth, Sepher Ha-Razim; if we count separately the differ-
ent applications of certain recipes, in which some alterations are required, the total num-
ber of recipes is thirty-eight. The seventh firmament does not contain magical recipes.
140 Bellusci

In the fourth step of the second firmament, a celestial section inhabited by

angels who prevent human beings from their natural and vital rest,
[ 136], SHR registers an oneiric aggressive magical recipe for
causing insomnia [137140].16 The recipe immediately follows a magical
procedure aimed at nullifying someones intentions and thoughts [132134],
enabled by angels in charge of shaking and agitating the hearts of men, mak-
ing void their intentions and nullifying their thoughts,
]131[ .17 The proximity of the angels
controlling, respectively, the vigilant and dreaming human mind reflects a cul-
tural understanding of the sleeping/dreaming state as a mental phenomenon
comparable to the act of thinking, willing and making choices. Yet, the separa-
tion of offices between the angels of the third and fourth encampments points
also to the idea that dreams and vigilant thoughts express slightly different
perceptions on the spectrum of human consciousness.
In what follows, I offer a transcription and English translation of, and an
extensive commentary on, the oneiric aggressive magical recipe preserved in
SHR I137140.18

The later edition of the magical handbook (SHR 2) does not preserve any magical proce-
dures, but a long divinatory ritual based on dream incubation; see Rebiger and Schfer,
Sefer ha-Razim I und II, vol. 2, p. 12.
16 The recipe registered in this section represents one of the three references to dreaming/
sleeping preserved in SHR. The other two are found in the prologue [10] and in the sev-
enth encampment of the first firmament [109114].
17 The belief in demonic creatures affecting human thought is attested also in a Babylonian
incantation bowl, aimed at protecting the user from BNQ the TWT spirit, who confounds
the thoughts of the heart, , and from the
evil spirit that sits on the brain and makes the eyes weep, greed, gonorrhea, fluid of the
eyes, imaginations,
,see Cyrus Herzl Gordon, Aramaic and Mandaic Magical Bowls, Archiv
Orientln 9 (1937), p. 87.
18 For the transcription and translation of the recipe, I follow the tenth century Genizah
fragment St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, Antonin 238, fol. 1b (from now on,
Ant. 238), published in Rebiger and Schfer, Sefer ha-Razim I und II, vol. 1, pp. *44*46; for
an image of the fragment, see Figure 9.1. The English translation is mine; see also Michael
A. Morgan, Sepher Ha-Razim (The Book of Mysteries) (Chico, 1983). The other relevant
manuscripts for this passage are: Moscow, Russian State Library, Gnzburg 738 (from
now on, Gnz. 738), an Italian XV century codex; Tel Aviv, Bill Gross Private Collection,
Bill Gross 42 (from now on, Gross 42), a Yemenite XIX century codex; Moscow, Russian
State Library, Gnzburg 248 (from now on, Gnz. 248), a Sefardi-Oriental XVI century
codex; Paris, Bibliothque nationale de France, Hb. 849 (from now on, Hb. 849), an
Ashkenazi XVXVI century codex; Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, Plut. 44.23 (from
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 141

Figure 9.1 Fragment Antonin 238, fol. 1b.

Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of
142 Bellusci

] \ \ 137[
' \
] \ 138[
\ ''''\

] ' \ {} \ 139[
\] \ 140[

[137] If you want to make your enemy sleep disturbed, take the head of
a black dog that never saw light and take a lamella of PSWKWTRWN,19
and write on it (the names of) these angels and say this:
[138] I consign to you, O Angels of Wrath who stand in the fourth
encampment, the life, the soul and the spirit20 of N son of N, so that you
bind him in iron chains and tie him in bronze rods. And do not give sleep,
neither light sleep nor deep sleep, to his eyelids. And he will cry and
scream like a parturient woman. And do not give any man permission to
release him (from the spell).
[139] And write this and put (it) in the mouth of the dog and put wax
on the mouth and seal (it) with a ring, which has a lion engraved upon
it. And go and hide it (the dogs head) behind his house or in a place in
which he goes out and enters.
[140] If you want to release him (from the spell), take it (the dogs
head) from the place where it is hidden and remove its seal and take out
the (lamella with the) text and throw it in the fire and he will immedi-
ately fall asleep. Do this with humility and you will succeed.

Like other ancient magical compositions, the recipe in SHR I137140 is

structured according to definite patterns, including a title aimed at convey-
ing the purpose of the recipe, instructions on the required materia magica, an

now on, Plut. 44.23), an Italian, XVI century manuscript; New York, Jewish Theological
Seminary in New York, JTS 8117 (from now on, JTS 8117), an Italian, XVIIXVIII century
codex; on these manuscripts, see Rebiger and Schfer, Sefer ha-Razim I und II, vol. 1,
pp. 3, 18, 2022, 24, 26, 27.
19 Or take a lamella from the cold water pipe, for which see below.
20 For , read .
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 143

invocation of the non-human entities involved in the magical practice, further

ritual prescriptions, and a conclusive formula.
The magical text starts with an introductory expression, which functions
as the title of the recipe and is aimed at helping users to orientate them-
selves within the book. All the different lectines convey the idea of damag-
ing an enemy in relation to his/her sleep faculties, as is demonstrated by the
use of the substantive , meaning sleep, and verbal expressions from
the root *, which assumes, in this contest, the meaning of being torn
apart/disturbed.21 Mss. Ant. 238, Gnz. 738, Gross 42 preserve the expression
\ , if you want to make your enemy
disturbed during his/her sleep, thus referring to an undetermined disturbance
experienced while sleeping.22 With the lecto ,
Mss. Gnz. 248, Hb. 849 and Plut. 44.23 explicitly refer to the act of depriv-
ing someone of sleep.23 The goal of the recipe is explicitly repeated in138,
, and seems to correspond to the
psychophysical impairment known in contemporary medicine as insomnia.24
After stating the purpose of the magical procedure, the recipe continues
with a first series of instructions, aimed at directing the user in the selection
of the materia magica. The first required element for the spell is the head of a
dog, probably a puppy born dead or a fetus, which, according to the lectines
in mss. Ant. 238, Gnz. 738, and Gross 42, has to be black.25 While the use of a

21 For the root *, see Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, The Talmud Babli
and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, 2 vols. (1903, repr. New York, 2004), pp.
22 A similar use of the root *in the piel, passive participle, is found in BeMidbar Rabah,
10:8, , see Jastrow, A Dictionary, p. 556.
23 In Mss. Gnz. 248, Hb. 849, Plut. 44.23, the root *is used in the paal, infinitive,
probably rephrasing the expression , they separate sleep from
human beings, in136.
24 By the term insomnia contemporary medicine refers to a pathologic alteration in the
sleep/wake rhythm, which results from an interaction of biological, physical, psycho-
logical, environmental and, in some cases, genetic factors. According to epidemiological
studies, insomnia represents a common sleep disorder and about one-third of a general
population suffers from at least one of the insomnia symptoms, whether as quantita-
tive or qualitative sleep deficit; see Daniel J. Buysse, Insomnia, Journal of the American
Medical Association 309 (2013), pp. 706716.
25 The expression , which never saw light, might refer to either an
embryo or a puppy born dead. The embryo of a dog is mentioned in PGM IV.24412621
(vv. 257879), an incantation also aimed at sending dreams and accomplishing dream rev-
elations, and in PGM IV.26222707 (vv. 264546), a spell for protection, attraction, send-
ing dreams, causing sickness, producing dream visions and removing enemies,see Hans
144 Bellusci

dog is not attested elsewhere in Sefer ha-Razim, dead dogs and canine organic
material (magical material, embryos, blood, excrements, afterbirths, ticks,
dog-bitten stones) are listed among the common magical ingredients regis-
tered in the Corpus of the Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri (from now on,
PGM and PDM), especially in the spells of the fourth papyrus.26 The second
material required in the magical ritual is a metallic surfaceeither a foil
or a tablet , according to the different lectineson which to engrave the
magical names and the spell. All the manuscripts report an incomprehensible
corrupted word, probably derived from the Greek term .27 This
term occurs in the expressions (a cold-water pipe) in
a magical recipe preserved in PGM VII.396404 and (a
cold-water system) in PGM VII.42958.28 Both the recipes from the seventh

Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. Including the Demotic Texts (Chicago,
1986), respectively, pp. 85, 87. Black animals and organic material obtained from black
animals, mainly cats and dogs, have been often employed in magicsee, for instance, the
use of the afterbirth of a black she-cat, descendant of two generations of black she-cats,
in a practice for seeing demons in bBerakhot 6a.
26 Magical material of dog or magical material of a dead dog is mentioned in three spells
of attraction: PGM IV 24412621 (vv. 257879), see above (note 26), in PGM IV.270884
(v. 2690) and in PGM IV.28912942 (v. 2875)see Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri, respec-
tively, pp. 85, 88, 92. In PGM XI.a 140, which preserves the spell of Apollonius of Tyana
for causing the apparition of a woman, the blood of a black dog (v. 3) is used as ink, with
which to inscribe an asss skullsee ib., p. 150. The Eight Book of Moses in PGM XIII.
1343 preserves a spell for making someone repulsive by placing dogs excrement in the
post-hole of the victim (v. 241)see ib., p. 179. PGM XXXVI.36171, another spell of attrac-
tion, instructs to place the required magical material in the mouth of a dead dog (vv.
370371)see ib., p. 278. The magical procedure described in PGM LXII.2446 requires
the afterbirth of a dog called white which is born of a white dog (vv. 4546)see ib.,
p. 293. In PGM CXXVII. 112, one has to rub a tick from a dead dog on the loins in order
to get a certain lover at the baths (v. 4) and to throw a dog-bitten stone into the middle
in order to cause a fight at a banquet (v. 9)see ib., pp. 32223. For the embryo of a dog,
see above (note 26).
27 The lectines are: in Ant. 238; , in Gnz. 738;
, in Gross 42; \ , in
Gnz. 248; , in Hb. 849 and Plut. 44.23;
, in JTS 8117,
where corresponds to the Italian lamina [Latin: lmna] and might
refer to the Italian word alambicco, for alembic. The term Greek means
frigidarium,see this lemma on the Online Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon
(from now on, LSJ); see also Margalioth, Sepher Ha-Razim, pp. 34.
28 For PGM VII.396404 and PGM VII.42958, see Karl Preisendanz et al., eds., Papyri
Graecae Magicae, Die Griechischen Zauberpapyri (Leipzig, 19281931), vol. 2, respectively,
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 145

papyrus attest to the customat least in Greco-Egyptian magicof scrap-

ing lead from the pipes of an aqueduct or any other water system in order to
produce a lead lamella, which will be subsequently inscribed during the ritual
practice. This use is confirmed also in a fourth or fifth century Roman dfixo
[DefixTab 155] belonging to the so called Sethianorum Tabellae,29 in which the
term , occurs twice in an adjectival form, in the expression

p. 18 and pp. 1920; Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri, respectively, p. 128 and p. 129. The term
, translated as pipe in LSJ, also entered Hebrew vocabulary as , with an
analogous meaning. is translated as water pipe in LSJ and Rohr
einer Kaltwasserleitung in Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, vol. 2, p. 18. According
to the recipe in PGM VII.396404, the user has to take lead from a cold-water pipe (
) and make from it a lamella ( ) on which
to inscribe, with a bronze stylus ( ), a series of magic names
and charactres, which are listed afterwards in the text ( )see ib. In PGM
VII.42958, the recipe instructs to engrave in a plate made of lead from a cold-water
channel, ,see ib., p. 20.
29 The Sethianorium Tabellae, or defixiones of Porta San Sebastiano, were discovered along
the Appia road (Rome) in 1850 and first studied by Carl Richard Wnsch, who dated them
to the end of the IV centurysee Carl Richard Wnsch, Sethianische Verfluchungstafeln
aus Rom (Leipzig 1898). Only three tablets remain today, preserved in the Roman National
Museum in Rome. Several of these lead tablets include drawings of anthropomorphic
figures characterized by a horse-like/ass-like head, which were identified by Wnsch with
the Egyptian god Seth. Wnsch considered the Sethianorium Tabellae to be the product
of a lower form of Gnosticism, which recognized in Seth, the spiritual son of Adam who
was identified with Adam and Christ, the source of Gnosissee ib., p. 103. Auguste Marie
Audollent, relying on Wnschs publication, related the tablets to the Sethianorium secta
cuius erant participes qui exsecrationibus huiuscendi utebatur, in primisque de Typhone-
Seth, Osiri et ceteris Aeguptiorum diis aut demonibus qui ab eis figurati sunt et invocati,
see Auguste Marie Audollent, Defixionum Tabellae quotquot innotuerunt tam in Graecis
Orientis quam in totius Occidentis partibus praeter Atticas in Corpore Inscriptionum
Atticarum editas (Paris, 1904), p. XXIX. Attilio Mastrocinque agrees with the identification
of the figure with the equine head with Seth. Nevertheless, he believes that the tablets do
not express a form of Gnosticism, but the relics of the Egyptian religion. Mastrocinque
considers Osiris the main deity invoked in the tablets and understands the reference to
Sethin figure in most of the Sethianorium Tabellae and quoted in DefixTab 155as a
threat to coerce Osiris, in relation to the Egyptian myth of Seth and Osirissee Attilio
Mastrocinque, Le defixiones di Porta San Sebastiano, MHNH: Revista Internacional de
Investigacin sobre Magia y Astrologa Antiguas 5 (2005), pp. 4560, particularly pp. 5051.
For DefixTab 155, see also John G. Gager, Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient
World (New York, 1992), pp. 6771.
146 Bellusci

, a tablet made out of a cold-water pipe.30 In light of the

aforementioned Greek parallels, the lecto in ms. Ant. 238 appears
to be the most correct, corresponding to the Hebrew translation and corrupted
transliteration from the Greek in DefixTab 155.31 The lack
of understanding of the Greek term , evident already in the ninth
century ms. Ant. 238, determined the textual additions in the later testimonies.
After the description of the materia magica, the recipe instructs the user
to inscribe the lamella with the names of the angels appointed to the fourth
encampment. Although the typical formula for the adjuration,
, is absent in the recipe, the angels are commanded to bind the victim
in chains, a common feature of aggressive magic, and make him/her suffer
from lack of sleep. The juxtaposition of the specific terms , and
emphasizes the condition of absolute restlessness brought about by
the curse. These expressions, attested to also in the Bible, might refer to the
prayer Birkat ha-mapyil, which represents, in my view, the orthodox counter-
part of the prophylactic spells against oneiric aggressive magic that I will dis-
cuss below.32 The recipe aims at harming the victim in his/her entire persona,

30  , DefixTab 155, A2728 and B2223see Audollent, Defixionum

Tabellae, pp. 208 and 210. John Gager translates: tablet [taken from a water conduit],
see Gager, Curse Tablets, pp. 7071; for an Italian translation, see Mastrocinque, Le defix-
iones, pp. 47 and 49.
31 For the other lectines, see note 28.
32 For the use of in the Bible, see, for instance,
; - ,
, Prov. 6:4 (Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyes); ,
, Prov. 6:10 (Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to
sleep). For the use of , see , -
, Gen. 2:21
(And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept);
- , , Gen. 15:12 (And when the sun was going down, a deep
sleep fell upon Abram). The two terms are used together in Job 33:15, ,
, ; -( In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep
falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed). The source for the Birkat ha-mapyil
is in bBerakhot 60b:
( Blessed is He who causes the bands of sleep to fall upon my eyes and slumber on
my eyelids, and gives light to the apple of the light). Quotations from the Qriat shemah
al-ha-miah prayer, recited together with the Ha-mapyil benediction, are found in a few
magical textssee Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic
Incantations of Late Antiquity (Jerusalem, 1985), p. 42 and Dan Levene, If You Appear as
A Pig: Another Incantation Bowl (Moussaieff 164), Journal of Semitic Studies 52 (2007),
pp. 5970, particularly, p. 66. Interestingly, both the Qriat shemah al-ha-miah and Birkat
ha-mapyil are in part quoted in an eleventh-twelfth century Genizah recipe for sheelat
alom, proving a possible relationship between these tefilloth and oneiric magic.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 147

as is suggested by the conjunct use of the terms , and . The

pain wished for the victim is very intense and is compared to that suffered
in childbirth. The expression , attested with minor changes in all the
manuscripts, might be a mistranslation of the Greek , like a dog,
misunderstood for a participle from the verb , to give birth.33 The victim
is compared to a barking dog in mss. Gnz. 248, Hb. 849, Plut. 44.23 and JTS
N8117. The metaphor of a barking dog might refer to an ill mind, confused and
troubled with voices and fright, indicating that one of the effects of insomnia
could be madness.34 The mention of a dogs head and a barking dog possibly
suggests a strong association of dogs with disturbed sleep.35 The invocation
ends with a command to the angels to prevent anyone else, besides the user,
from releasing the victim, thus wielding complete power over the victim and
nullifying any counter spell intended to break the first incantation.
After the invocation and the curse, the recipe continues in 139 with fur-
ther ritual instructions, regarding the introduction of the inscribed lamella
inside the dog head, its seal and burial. According to the logic of sympathetic
magic, the head of the dog symbolizes the head of the victim. The inser-
tion of the lamella, upon which the curse is inscribed, into the head of the
dog figuratively represents the entrance of fury and madness into the head
of the chosen victim and, therefore, brings about the sleep disorder. As long
as the lamella is in the dogs head, the victim is granted no rest at all. The detail
that the dogs mouth has to be hermetically sealed with wax refers to the indis-
solubility of the curse, which can be broken only by the user who activated
it. The lion engraved on the signet ring, requested in the recipe, might per-
sonify the power of a certain deity, originally invoked in the Greco-Egyptian

33 For a similar misunderstanding of the Greek word , which in Greek assumes the
meaning of both a dog and pregnant, see Gideon Bohaks discussion of an Aramaic
Genizah recipe translated or adapted from GreekBohak, Ancient Jewish Magic, p. 236.
34 For instance, see , no one could keep the
dogs off your head, Iliad 22.348.
35 In his study on Pan and the nightmare, Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher observed that in many
cultures the nightmare is often associated with the apparition of a black dog. For instance,
Roscher reports the collective nightmare dreamt by a complete battalion of French sol-
diers quartered in an old abbey near Tropea in Calabria, in which the devil in the shape
of a large black shaggy dog had entered through the door, rushed on their chests with
the speed of lightening and then disappeared through a door opposite the entrance,
Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, Ephialtes: ein pathologisch-mythologische Abhandlung ber
die Alptrume und Alpdmonen des Klassischen Altertms (Saxon Academy of Sciences,
vol. 20.2) (Leipzig, 1900), republished in James Hillman, Pan and the Nightmare: Two
Essays (New York, 1972), pp. 106108.
148 Bellusci

parallel of this ritual. Although the image of the lion is common on ancient
seals, glass pendants, rings and magical gems, it is impossible to establish the
effective function of the seal ring depicting a lion in this specific recipe, in its
present Jewish form in SHR.36
The last section of the recipe contains instructions for releasing the victim
from the spell and some general purity rules that need to be observed for the
success of the incantation.
The recipe preserved in SHR I137140 corresponds, in all respects, to an
oneiric aggressive magical procedure that aims to harm a certain victim using
sleep disorders. Although the Hebrew text does not employ a technical term
for insomnia, it clearly refers to this specific sleep disturbance. According to
the text, the impossibility of experiencing sleep, light sleep, or deep sleep,
i.e. an extended phase of insomnia, is a curse dreadful enough to be sent to an
enemy. Although the recipe does not specify why the enemy is inflicted with
insomnia, the final clause regarding the release of the victim might indicate
that the user employs insomnia to blackmail the victim about a certain issue.
Whatever reasons drove users to punish or threaten their enemies with lack of
sleep, the recipe in SHR demonstrates that this specific sleep impairment was
regarded as an annoying and dangerous condition, difficult to endure, espe-
cially when protracted over a long period. Further evidence for the belief that
a healthy life demands physiological sleep is provided by a recipe for restoring
someones sleep preserved in a published eleventh century fragment from the
Cairo Genizah, which reads as follows: \
\ \
' '''\ \ ''
'( (') For sleep, when a person cannot sleep: Healing
from/ Heaven, in the name of STQYL, RYRL, RYL/ PYL/ HNDYL, You are
the holy angels who are appointed/ to the indulgence of sleep, bring sleep of
good life to N son of N/ quickly, Amen Amen Selah. And the Lord God caused
a deep sleep to fall upon [Gen. 2:21]/ N son of N, And he slept and dreamed
[Gen. 41:5] etc., And he lighted [Gen. 28:11] etc.) [T.-S. K 1.28, 2b, 27].37 The

36 For the quotation, see Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic, p. 174, n. 78. On ancient magi-
cal gems and rings, see Campbell Bonner, Amulets Chiefly in the British Museum:
A Supplementary Article, Hesperia 20 (1951), pp. 301345; Simone Michel, Die Magischen
Gemmen im Britischen Museum, 2 vols. (London, 2001); Jeffrey Spier, Late Antique and
Early Christian Gems (Wiesbaden, 2007); Gideon Bohak, The Use of Engraved Gems and
Rings in Ancient Jewish Magic, in Magical Gems in their Contexts, ed. Arpad Nagy and
Ildiko Csepregi (forthcoming).
37 See Peter Schfer and Shaul Shaked, Magische Texte aus der Kairoer Geniza (Tbingen,
19941999), vol. 1, p. 137.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 149

above-mentioned text cannot be regarded with certainty as a counter spell

against a recipe for causing insomnia such as the one found in SHR, since it
does not mention whether the users sleeplessness was imputed to a demonic
or human magical activity. Like the recipe in SHR, however, the Genizah recipe
(a.) concerns human sleep (or lack of sleep), (b.) uses the specific term
(deep sleep) and (c.) refers to the belief that specific angels control the sleep-
ing faculties of human beings. It is not surprising that the angel names in the
two magical texts do not match, since the angels adjured in the recipe for caus-
ing insomnia in SHR are in charge of preventing human beings from natural
rest ( , 136), while those invoked in the Genizah recipe
for restoring sleep are believed to be appointed to the indulgence of sleep
( , T.-S. K 1.28, 2b, 45).
The recipe for causing insomnia in SHR shows several analogies with non-
Jewish late antique spells and seems largely indebted to Greco-Egyptian magic.
Above, I discussed some of its linguistic features that also occur in PGM VII.396
404, PGM VII.42958 and DefixTab 155. The similarities between the aforemen-
tioned Greek spells and the recipe in the Jewish book of magic are not limited
to the materia magica, but also relate to the scope of the recipes and some
ritual patterns. Although PGM VII.396404 does not explicitly indicate that its
purpose is to cause insomnia, it represents a spell for silencing people, bring-
ing people into subjection and inhibiting people (
), i.e. an aggressive incantation aimed at gaining power
over a certain individual, like the recipe in SHR I137140. Furthermore, both
texts instruct users to insert the inscribed lamella into a dead body, a person
who died prematurely in the Greco-Egyptian recipe ( ), and
a dog in the Jewish incantation [139].38 The recipe in PGM VII.42958 is not
explicitly aimed at making a victim insomniac; nevertheless, it is a restrain-
ing rite for anything that works even on chariots (
), and which also causes sickness ().39 The
aggressive spell preserved in DefixTab 155 is a fourth century finished prod-
uct probably written by a charioteer or by someone acquainted with circus
magic.40 It aims at provoking a cruel death for a certain Kardelos son of

38 P GM VII.396404, Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, vol. 2, p. 18.

39 See Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, vol. 2, p. 19; Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri,
p. 129. The mention of the efficacy of the spell on chariots might imply the familiarity of
the author of the recipe with circus magic, as in the case of DefixTab 155; on this argu-
ment, see below. Interestingly, among the deities invoked in the recipe preserved in PGM
VII.42958, there are Osiris and Mnevis, like in DefixTab 155.
40 See Mastrocinque, Le defixiones, pp. 5859. On circus magic, see Florent Heintz, Circus
Curses and their Archaeological Contexts, Journal of Roman Archaeology 11 (1998),
150 Bellusci

Fulgentia, most likely a rival charioteer, within five days: ,

, Kardelos son of Fulgentia, so that
you make possible that he is punished and die of a bad death within five days
[DefixTab 155, A5058].41 Again, the magical procedure described in the dfixo
does not refer to insomnia, yet, as with the recipe in SHR [138], it mentions that
the victim, the impious and damned and miserable Kardelos son of Fulgentia,
is bound and handed over to the non-human entities that are coerced to harm

, like we deliver to you this impious, outlaw and damned Kardelos,
son of Fulgentia; bound, bound together, bound below, so that together you
fasten him, hold him and deliver him to the (god) of the underworld in the
house of Tartaros, of the Inferno, the impious, outlaw and miserable Kardelos,
son of Fulgentia [DefixTab 155, B310].42 The will to magically and fatally bind
the victim is emphasized by a detail from the picture carved on the tablet,
which shows a human figure tied with ropes. Following John Gagers inter-
pretation, I argue that the figure portrays Kardelos.43 In my view, the black
circle in the torso of the figure (see Figures 9.2 and 9.8) might represent the
heart of the victim, fatally perforated by two ropes that seem to be serpents
with the head of a dog.
In the Jewish world, the Babylonian incantation bowls, which will be dis-
cussed below, sometimes preserve images portraying demonic and human
figures bound with chains and shackles (see Figures 9.3, 9.4, 9.5, 9.6 and
9.7), possibly implying that they are prevented from attacking the users of
the bowl.

337342; Id., Agonistic Magic in the Late Antique Circus, PhD dissertation (Harvard
University, 1999), where the author also discusses a recipe for victory in a horse race pre-
served in SHR I193196see ib., pp. 155158.
41 Analogous expressions are also found in A1218, A3740 and B1016see Audollent,
Defixionum Tabellae, p. 209. For an English translation of these passages, see Gager, Curse
Tablets, p. 70; for an Italian translation, see Mastrocinque, Le defixiones, pp. 47 and 49.
42 Similar expressions are used in A2936 and A4752, see Audollent, Defixionum Tabellae,
pp. 208209.
43 The mummified figure at the bottom [of the tablet], being attacked by two snakes, prob-
ably represents the target of the binding action, in this case a rival jockeysee Gager,
Curse Tablets, p. 69.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 151

Figure 9.2 Drawing by Carl Richard Wnsch, reproducing the Roman lead tablet,
DefixTab 155. The human figure at the bottom probably represents the
victim of the spell, bound by two ropes/snakes with the head of a dog.
Reproduced with the kind permission of the National
Roman Museum and the Special Superintendence for the
Archaeological Heritage of Rome.
152 Bellusci

Figure 9.3 Babylonian Incantation Bowl in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Schyen Collection,
MS 1927/34. The human figure, whose hand and feet are bound, probably
represents a female Lilith demon.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Martin Schyen and
Matthew Morgenstern.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 153

Figure 9.4 Babylonian Incantation Bowl in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Schyen Collection,
MS 2053/198. The figures bound with chains probably represent the demons.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Martin Schyen and
Matthew Morgenstern.

Some of these human figures depicted upon the bowls might even represent
the cursed magician, who becomes the victim in counter-spells (see Figures
9.5, 9.6, and 9.7).
Furthermore, a published bowl in Aramaic includes the drawing of a human
figure, which might be bound by a serpent, with an iconography similar to that
observed in DefixTab 155 (see Figure 9.8).44

44 See Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations
of Late Antiquity (Jerusalem, 1993), pp. 124126 [Bowl 19, Plate 24]. The wraps of the
serpent around the human figure might also be interpreted as the arms of the anthro-
pomorphic character; see Naama Vilozny, Figure and Image in Magic and Popular Art:
between Babylonia and Palestine, during the Roman and Byzantine Periods, Heb., unpubl.
PhD Thesis (The Hebrew University, 2010), p. 59. In general, on the iconography of the
Babylonian incantation bowls, see Vilozny, Figure and Image; Naama Vilozny, The Art of
the Aramaic Incantation Bowls in Aramaic Bowl Spells, Magical and Religious Literature
of Late Antiquity 1, ed., Shaul Shaked, James N. Ford, Siam Bhayro (with contributions
from Matthew Morgenstern and Naama Vilozny) (Leiden and Boston, 2013), pp. 2937.
154 Bellusci

Figure 9.5 Babylonian Incantation Bowl in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Schyen Collection,
MS 1929/12. The human figure appears to be bound and might represent the victim
of the spell.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Martin Schyen and
Matthew Morgenstern.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 155

Figure 9.6 Babylonian Incantation Bowl in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Schyen Collection,
MS 2053/250. The human figure appears to be bound and might represent the
victim of the spell.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Martin Schyen and
Matthew Morgenstern.
156 Bellusci

Figure 9.7 Babylonian Incantation Bowl in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Schyen Collection,
MS 2053/259. The human figure appears to be bound and might represent the
victim of the spell.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Martin Schyen and
Matthew Morgenstern.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 157

Figure 9.8 On the bottom, a detail from DefixTab 155, depicting a human figure bound by two
ropes/snakes with the head of a dog. On the top, drawing by Alessia Bellusci of a
detail from an Aramaic incantation bowl [Bowl 19 in Naveh and Shaked, Magic
Spells and Formulae] depicting an anthropomorphic figure that is also possibly
bound by a serpent.
158 Bellusci

Like in the oneiric aggressive recipe in SHR [138], in the dfixo the entire per-
sona of the victim is harmed:

, freeze him like this pionepi is freezed,
strangle, destroy, extinguish, strangle him, who is synzari and damned, the
soul, the bones, the marrow, the nerves, the flesh, and the vigor of Kardelos,
son of Fulgentia [DefixTab 155, B1015].45 While the Greek text mostly refers
to the physical body of the victim, bones (), marrow (),
nerves (), flesh (), adopting only two terms for the immate-
rial body, soul () and vigor (), the Hebrew recipe entirely
considers the spiritual body of the victim, life (), soul ( )and
spirit ().46 Nevertheless, on account of the above-mentioned similari-
ties, the two magical texts are, in my view, deeply related.47 At least six reci-
pes in the corpus of PGM are explicitly aimed at producing wakefulness, as
indicated by their title .48 Although the Greek verb
might possess the meaning lying in bed and thinking of and, metaphorically,

45 Audollent, Defixionum Tabellae, p. 209.

46 A similar list of physical and non-physical terms used to refer to the entire persona of
Kardelos occurs in DefixTab 155, B2426. Particularly, the list includes the terms ,
, ; the reference to Kardeloss strength is given by the term and the
expression , referring to the vigor in (his) age and, thus, implying that
the charioteer Kardelos was in his youth when the spell was written against him.
47 The finished product in DefixTab 155 and the recipe in SHR137140 are both aggressive
spells, sharing a very technical and, yet, rare term, , referring to the handover
of the entire persona of the victim to non-human entities and employing the metaphor
of ropes and chains in order to represent the pain inflicted on the enemy. In DefixTab 155,
Osiris, Apis and Mnevis are invoked and asked to cause the death of the victim; yet, the
manner of death is not indicated in the textmight it be lack of sleep? The Sethianorum
Tabellae are considered examples of circus magic, since most of these tablets were
intended for causing the death of one or more charioteers/horses in order to enable the
user of the spell to win the horse racesee Gager, Curse Tablets, p. 68; Mastrocinque, Le
defixiones, p. 58. The recipe for causing insomnia in SHR137140, among other pur-
poses, might have been used for damaging a charioteer and prevent his participation
and possibly victoryin a horse race. Such a hypothesis is plausible especially if we
consider that SHR includes a recipe for assisting the user in winning at the racetrack [SHR
48 P GM IV.325574, PGM VII.37476, PGM VII.37684, PGM VII.65260, PGM XII.37696,
PGM LII.2026; see Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri, respectively pp. 100101; pp. 127
128; p. 136; pp. 166167; p. 284. For insomnia in ancient Babylonia, see Sally A. L. Butler,
Mesopotamian Conceptions of Dreams and Dream Rituals (Mnster, 1998), p. 43.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 159

being watchful, it is clear that the derived substantive refers to

a spell aimed at making a victim insomniac, since all the incantations with this
title in PGM exhibit an aggressive character.49 Most of them involve a female
victim or declare an erotic purpose, such as in PGM VII.37476:
, IPSA IAAI, let
her, NN, daughter of NN, lie awake because of me.50 One of these recipes pre-
dicts the death of the woman within seven days through lack of sleep (
), emphasizing, once again, the
awareness of the importance of natural sleep in antiquity.51 Another recipe for
making a female victim insomniac, preserved in PGM VII. 37684, prescribes
an iron tablet ( ) inscribed with the formula turn
cold, iron, and become snow (, , ).52 The reference
to the coldness of the tablet in PGM VII. 37684 is reminiscent of the expres-
sion a lamella made from the cold-water pipe in the recipe in SHR and in
DefixTab 155, and of the command to the gods to freeze him like this pionepi
is freezed, in the latter. While in the dfixo coldness symbolizes the death of
the victim, in the recipe for causing insomnia in PGM VII. 37684 it might refer,
as well, to a state of distress and disease experienced by the victim. Two of the
spells for producing wakefulness in PGM employ a bat in the ritual.53 The use
of a bats head, either dried and sewn up in a leather amulet or sewn up in a
pillow, is considered a useful aid for wakefulness by the third century author
Julius Africanus [Kestoi, 7.17].54

49 See the lemma in LSJ.

50 See Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, vol. 2, p. 17.
51 P GM XII.37696, Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, vol. 2, p. 82.
52 See Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae Magicae, vol. 2, p. 17.
53 P GM VII.65260 and PGM XII.37696.
54 Dried and sewn up in a leather amulet, its head keeps the one who has fastened it awake
for however long he happens to wear it,
; Julius Africanus, Kestoi, 7.17see
Martin Wallraff, Carlo Scardino, Laura Mecella and Christophe Guignard, eds., William
Adler, trans., Iulius Africanus Cesti. The Extant Fragments, Die Griechischen Christlichen
Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte, Neue Folge 18 (Berlin, 2012), pp. 8687. Another
version of the spell, used to play a prank on someone and induce in them sleeplessness,
consists in removing the head of a live bat and sewing it on the pillow on which he nor-
mally sleeps, ,
, ib.. According to Africanus, the
symptoms of sleeplessness are headache, lack of appetite, and enervation of the body,
which might lead to fatal consequences when experienced regularlyKestoi, 7.2.
160 Bellusci

In light of the Greek terminology adopted in the recipe in SHR and its paral-
lels with Greco-Egyptian magical texts, it is plausible that the Jewish incanta-
tion was originally adapted from a Greco-Egyptian spell, expunged of explicit
non-Jewish elements, such as the names of the invoked deities and the more
pagan iconography on the signet ring. Although there is no concrete evidence
of the effective use of SHR before the twelfth century, we cannot aprioristically
exclude that it circulated widely within Jewish society and that, even before
its final redaction, the individual recipes were used by Jews.55 Unfortunately,
the lack of material sources prevents us from conjecturing which part of the
Jewish population may have actually engaged in magical rituals for hurting an
enemy with prolonged sleeplessness as in the recipe discussed here.

A Recipe for Sending Dreams in arba de-Moshe [dM Recipe N 70]

arba de-Moshe (dM), The Sword of Moses, is a late antique Jewish magical
treatise. It underwent several stages of redaction and exists in at least three
different versions, all of which are preserved in relatively late manuscripts.56
In its longest version, dM includes a literary-theoretical introduction, a long
list of magical names, which represents the sword itself, and a collection of
about one hundred and forty recipes for various purposes, all based on the
recitation of a particular section of nomina barbara from the sword.57 In its
extant forms, dM is a late antique Babylonian composition, although it might

55 There are at least two eleventh-twelfth century Genizah fragments that quote directly
from SHR. These represent the earliest finished products, found so far, that were com-
posed following a recipe from SHR. These two fragments will be published respectively
in Gideon Bohak and Alessia Bellusci, The Greek Prayer to Helios in Sefer Ha-Razim, in
Light of New Textual Evidence, (forthcoming), and Alessia Bellusci, Literary Books of
Magic and Finished Products: A Genizah Finished Product for Sheelat Halom Based on
Sefer Ha-Razim, (forthcoming).
56 dM is edited and translated in Moses Gaster, The Sword of Moses (London, 1896); Yuval
Harari, arba de-Moshe: A New Edition and a Study (The Sword of Moses) [Heb.] (Jerusalem,
1997); Id., The Sword of Moses (arba de-Moshe): A New Translation and Introduction,
Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 7 (2012), 5898; see also Alexander, Incantations and Books
of Magic, pp. 350352; Yuval Harari, Sword, Moses, and The Sword of Moses: Between
Rabbinical and Magical Traditions, Jewish Studies Quarterly 12 (2005), 293329; Bohak,
Ancient Jewish Magic, pp. 175179.
57 This version was known by Hai Gaon; Simcha Emmanuel, Newly Discovered Geonic
Responsa [Heb.] (Jerusalem and Cleveland, 1995), pp. 131132.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 161

have originally also included late antique Palestinian materials, both Jewish
and Greco-Egyptian.58
Among other magical procedures, the third part of dM preserves also an
oneiric aggressive magical recipe:59


' ' [ ] ''

To send a dream against someone, write on a silver plate from BNSNS

until QYRYWS and place (it) in the mouth of a cock and slaughter it
while it is placed in its mouth and turn its mouth around and place
it between its thighs and bury (it) at the bottom part of a wall. And put
your heel on its place and say thus: in the name of [ ] may the swift mes-
senger go and torment N, son of N, in his dreams until my will is fulfilled.

The recipe in dM appears to be quite similar to the one preserved in SHR,

in respect of both structure and content. As is clear from the title, the text
represents an oneiric magical recipe aimed at sending dreams. The expression
'', at the end of the text, clarifies the aggressive nature of the spell,
aimed, in all likelihood, at inducing a nightmare or a coercive dream in a vic-
tim, in order to damage and blackmail him/her for a certain purpose.60
As in SHR, the materia magica required for the ritual include a metallic tab-
let, in this case a silver plate, and the corpse of an animal, this time a rooster,
which has to be taken alive and then killed during the magical practice.61
According to the recipe, the silver lamella has to be inscribed with a specific
section of magical words from the sword and then inserted into the mouth
of the rooster while still alive.62 Contrary to the procedure described in SHR,

58 Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic, pp. 178179.

59 The transcription and English translation are according to, respectively, Harari, arba
de-Moshe, p. 42 and Id., The Sword of Moses, p. 89.
60 For an introduction on nightmares according to contemporary medicine, see James F.
Pagel, Nightmares and Disorders of Dreaming, American Family Physician 61(7) (2000),
61 The percentage of recipes requiring a silver lamella is quite low in dMsee Bohak,
Ancient Jewish Magic, p. 177. Like dogs, roosters were commonly employed in ancient
62 The string of magical names from the Sword reads ' '
' ,see Harari, arba de-Moshe, p. 33.
162 Bellusci

there is no need to seal the mouth of the animal with wax and a signet ring.
Once the silver tablet is inserted in its mouth, the rooster is slaughtered and
its body is twisted so that its beak is between its thighs. Finally, it is buried
at the base of a wall. Besides functioning as a sacrifice to the non-human
entities involved in the ritual, the body of the animal clearly symbolizes the
victim. The magical knot created using the body of the rooster might indi-
cate the subversion of the victims physical and mental faculties as a result of
the sleep disorder.
A recipe for erotic purposes, preserved on a magical rotulus from the Cairo
Genizah that dates to the early tenth century, describes almost the same ritual
dynamics: the placement of an inscribed lamella inside the body of a white
rooster; the slaughter of the animal; the twisting of its body; and its burial.63
Both texts present a strong aggressive component: the recipe in dM being
aimed at coercing the victim to have a certain dream and the Genizah recipe
being intended to coercively induce a man and a woman to make peace.64 The
analogies with the erotic incantation in the Genizah rotulus might suggest an
erotic character also for the recipe preserved in dM, whose purpose may have
thus been sending a spell of attraction to the victim through a dream.
Spells of this kind are well attested also in PGM and PDM under the title
.65 Among them, an incantation in PGM XII.107121 prescribes
a strip of papyrus, written with myrrh, placed in the mouth of a black cat that

63  [ ] : [ ]
] () [: (!) [ ] ()
, and take a tin lamella, and write th[ese words] upon it.
And take a thread from the clothes of the man [and place it] in the lamella and tear the
cock apart and place the writing inside it [and place] fine flour of ??? inside its intestines
and twist the head of the cock to its intestines and bury it at a crossroads, (Bodleian
Library, Heb. a3.31, recto 126130)see Gideon Bohak, The Magical Rotuli from the
Cairo Genizah, in Continuity and Innovation in the Magical Tradition, ed. Gideon Bohak,
Yuval Harari, and Shaul Shaked, (Jerusalem Studies in Religion and Culture) 15 (Leiden,
2011), pp. 335336; for an exhaustive discussion of the whole Genizah rotulus written in
Palestinian Jewish Aramaic and Hebrew and exhibiting several Greek loanwords, see ib.,
pp. 321340.
64  [] , ib., p. 335.
65 For instance, PGM XII.10721; PGM XII.12143; PDM Suppl. 16; PDM Suppl. 718; PDM
Suppl. 1927; PDM Suppl. 2840; PDM Suppl. 4060; PDM Suppl. 60101; PDM Suppl.
10116; PDM Suppl. 11730see Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri, respectively, pp. 157158;
pp. 323327; on this subject, see Samson Eitrem, Dreams and Divination in Magical
Ritual in Magica Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion, ed. Christopher A. Faraone
and Dirk Obbink (New York and Oxford, 1999), pp. 175187. On sleep disorders in ancient
Babylonian texts, see Butler, Mesopotamian Conceptions of Dreams, pp. 4372.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 163

died a violent death, thus coinciding with the magical procedure described in
dM and in the Genizah recipe.66
The recipe in dM lacks instructions for releasing the victim and the typi-
cal concluding formulae. It ends with an invocation to the swift messenger
() , a supernatural entity who is also mentioned, at the beginning
of the book, as being sent down to earth by God to search for a righteous per-
son to whom he can deliver the mysteries. A similar epithet, the swift prince,
also occurs in a historiola in the Babylonian incantation bowls, where the
supernatural entity is described as helping a woman against demonic attacks
against her children.67
The brief recipe for sending a dream in dM is much less sophisticated
than the spell in SHR and contains no Graecisms.68 Nevertheless, it exhibits all
the main features typical of oneiric aggressive magic and shows several analo-
gies with other ancient Jewish magical texts, both Babylonian and Palestinian,
as well as with magical textual corpora outside the Jewish tradition.

Evil Dreams and Insomnia in the Babylonian Incantation Bowls

The corpus of Babylonian incantation bowls (BIB) consists of about two thou-
sand clay bowls that were produced in Sasanian Babylonia between the fifth
and eight centuries CE. They preserve magical texts written in five different
scripts: square Aramaic script, Mandaic, Syriac (both Estrangelo and Proto-
Manichean), Pahlavi and Arabic.69 The spells inscribed upon the bowls, which

66 [] [],
, charm of Agathokles for sending dreams: take a completely black cat that died
a violent death, make a strip of papyrus and write with myrrh the following, together with
the [dream] you want sent, and place it into the mouth of the cat, (PGM XII.10709); see
Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri, p. 157.
67 See the reconstruction of the lecto in bowl M142 and its parallels in Dan
Levene, A Corpus of Magic Bowls: Incantation Texts in Jewish Aramaic from Late Antiquity
(London, 2003), pp. 9399.
68 This is true in general for the majority of the recipes in dM, at least in the longer
versionsee Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic, p. 177.
69 For an introduction to the BIB, see James A. Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts
from Nippur (Philadelphia, 1913), pp. 7116; Cyrus H. Gordon, Adventures in the Nearest
East (London 1957), pp. 160174; Naveh and Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls, pp. 1921;
Shaul Shaked, Magical Bowls and Incantation Texts: How to Get Rid of Demons and
Pests [Heb.], Qadmoniot 129 (2005), 213; Bohak, Ancient Jewish Magic, pp. 183194. The
164 Bellusci

were probably transmitted both orally and textually, are generally apotropaic,
aimed at preserving and restoring the health and welfare of the user against
demons and the evil eye. Some bowls, and particularly those exhibiting the
qybl formula, are explicitly aggressive and were intended to harm another
human.70 Since good health also meant restoring sleep and good dreams, the
BIB were often used to keep insomnia and nightmares away from the user.
Furthermore, a few bowls also contain oneiric aggressive techniques.
Ancient Mesopotamians believed that certain demonslil, incubus,
the male form, or liltu or ardat lil, succubus, the female form,sexually
assaulted the dreamer and were responsible for erotic dreams.71 The BIB

major publications of BIB are: Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts; Cyrus H. Gordon,
Aramaic Magical Bowls in the Istanbul and Baghdad Museums, Archiv Orientln 6
(1934), 319334; Id., An Aramaic Exorcism, Archiv Orientln 6 (1934), 466474; Id., An
Aramaic Incantation, Annual of the American School of Oriental Research 14 (1934),
141143; Id., Aramaic and Mandaic Magical Bowls, Archiv Orientln 9 (1937), 84106;
Id., Aramaic Incantation Bowls, Orientalia 10 (1941), 116141, 272276, 278289, 33960;
Id., Two Magic Bowls in Teheran, Orientalia 20 (1951), 306315; Edwin M. Yamauchi,
Mandaic Incantation Texts, (American Oriental Series) 49, (New Haven, 1967); Charles D.
Isbell, Corpus of the Aramaic Incantation Bowls (Dissertation Series, 17) (Missoula, 1975);
Markham J. Geller, Eight Incantation Bowls, Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 17 (1986),
101117; Judah B. Segal, Catalogue of the Aramaic and Mandaic Incantation Bowls in the
British Museum (London, 2000); Levene, A Corpus of Magic Bowls; Christa Mller-Kessler,
Die Zauberschalentexte in der Hilprecht-Sammlung, Jena, und weitere Nippur-Texte anderer
Sammlungen [Texte und Materialen der Frau Professor Hilprecht Collection of Babylonian
Antiquities im Eigentum der Friedrich-Schiller-Universitat, Jena, Vol. 7] (Wiesbaden, 2005);
Ali H. Faraj, Coppe Magiche dallAntico Iraq con Testi in Aramaico Giudaico di Et Ellenistica
(Milano, 2010); Shaul Shaked, James N. Ford, and Siam Bhayro (with contributions from
Matthew Morgenstern and Naama Vilozny), Aramaic Bowl Spells, (Magical and Religious
Literature of Late Antiquity) 1 (Leiden and Boston, 2013); Dan Levene, Jewish Aramaic
Curse Texts from Late-Antique Mesopotamia: May These Curses Go Out and Flee, (Magical
and Religious Literature of Late Antiquity) 2 (Leiden and Boston, 2013); Marco Moriggi, A
Corpus of Syriac Incantation Bowls. Syriac Magical Texts from Late-Antique Mesopotamia,
(Magical and Religious Literature of Late Antiquity) 3 (Leiden and Boston, 2014).
70 See Dan Levene This is a qybl for overturning sorceries: Form, formulathreads in a
web of transmission in Continuity and Innovation in the Magical Tradition, ed. Gideon
Bohak, Yuval Harari, and Shaul Shaked, (Jerusalem Studies in Religion and Culture) 15
(Leiden, 2011), pp. 219244.
71 For the Akkadian incubi and succubi, see Butler, Mesopotamian Conceptions of Dreams,
pp. 6263. For a Greco-Roman parallel, see Roscher, Ephialtes, pp. 131140. On the history
of erotic dreams, nightmares and erotic nightmares, see Charles Stewart, Erotic Dreams
and Nightmares from Antiquity to the Present, Journal of the Royal Anthropological
Institute 8 (2002), 279309.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 165

appear to continue this tradition, with demons (especially Lilith, the direct
descendent of the Akkadian demoness) assigned a primarily nocturnal nature
by the Aramaic-speaking communities living in Sasanian Babylonia.72 Among
the evil deeds performed by demons to the detriment of their victims, the BIB
register both nocturnal and diurnal apparitions to humans. For instance, one
of the bowls from the collection of the British Museum reads:
, the evil Lilith that causes the heart of the sons of men to go
astray and appears in the dream of night and appears in the vision of day; that
burns, casts down with nightmare [BM 136204, 34];73 similarly, a bowl from
Nippur reads: []
{} , Bound and sealed are the demon, the dev, the satan, the
curse, and the e[vil] liliths which appear during the night and during the day
[Text 20, 24].74
The scene of such demonic attacks was generally the victims bedroom.
Expressions like , bed/bed chamber, and , pillow,
often occur, in fact, in the lists of people/objects for whom/which protection
is invoked in the incantation bowls. For instance, a bowl from Nippur reads:
... , from their house,
from their dwelling place, from the threshold, and from all...the place of
the bedroom, (Text 9, 8);75 another bowl reads:
] [, get out of her house and out of

72 For Lilith and her legend, see Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts, pp. 6869 and
258264; Naveh and Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls, pp. 111122.
73 Gordon, Two Magic Bowls in Teheran, p. 306, and Segal, Catalogue of the Aramaic and
Mandaic Incantation Bowls, p. 99.
74 Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts, p. 201. The practice of distancing visions
( )or, presumably, evil dreams, from a certain client/dreamer is attested to also in a
late antique amulet inscribed on a strip of silver from the Bernard W. Gimbel Collection
(Jerusalem), which reads: \] \ [ ]
)] []() (rnl, Radbiel, Nutiel, Bahnael/ []el, Ganiel, Utiel. Drive
out the visions/ [and] from Maximion, his son mky y(m) [Amulet 20, Plate 5a]see
Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked, Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late
Antiquity (Jerusalem, 1993), pp. 6768.
75 Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts, pp. 161162; for comparanda with incantation
bowls in Mandaic, see, for instance, Text 21 in Yamauchi, Mandaic Incantation Texts,
pp. 230231.
166 Bellusci

her dwelling and out of her bedchamber and out of all bad dreams and out of
[hated] apparitions, [Bowl 2, 5].76
To refer to demonic attacks or to command the demons not to appear to
their human victims, the BIB generally adopt a formula of the type the demon/s
that appears in a dream of night and in a vision of day/in the sleep of the day.
For instance, a formula of this kind occurs twice in a bowl aimed at divorc-
ing demons in the name of Rabbi Joshua son of Peraiah:
<> []
[ ] ...
, I am writing divorces for them, for all liliths which appear to
them, in this <house> of Babano the son of Qayom[ta] and of Saradust the
daughter of irin, his wife, in a dream by night and in sleep by will
not appe[ar to them] either in dream by nigh[t or] in sle[ep] by day [Text 9,
36 and 9].77 Another bowl for divorcing demons with an act of divorce in
the name of Rabbi Joshua son of Peraiah, produced for a certain Ardoy and
conserved in the Iraq Museum, reads:
, Do not appear to him, to this
Ardoy, and to his wife Iwita daughter of Mama, not in dreams of the night nor
in the sleep of the day, [IM 142131, 910].78 A bowl for subduing the demons
attached to the son and daughter of the user reads:
[] ,
and may they not appear to Adaq the son of atoi and Ahat the daughter of
atoi and to their children, neither in a dream of the night nor in sleep of the
day [Text 6, 910].79 Other bowls exhibit similar formulae, but list additional
couples to the standard parallelismus dream-vision, i.e., sleep-waking and
twelve hours of the night-twelve hours of the day. For instance, a bowl from
the Schyen Collection reads: [] [
][] []
, and do not appear to them, neither by dream of n[igh]t nor by
vi[sion of] d[a]y, and neither during their sleep nor during th[e]ir waking,
and neither during the twelve hours of the night nor during the twelve hours

76 Gordon, Aramaic Incantation Bowls, pp. 119120. For another example, see a bowl from
the Schyen Collection: ...
, (Depart from)...their houses and from their dwelling and from their
lying down and from their getting up and from every place of their sleeping quarters
[JBA 55 (MS 1928/1), 1213]see Shaked, Ford and Bhayro, Aramaic Bowl Spells, p. 247.
77 Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts, pp. 161162.
78 Faraj, Coppe Magiche, pp. 8889.
79 Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts, p. 141.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 167

of the day [JBA 15 (MS 1927/43), 1011].80 In the Mandaic bowls the formula
employed is similar to that attested in the Jewish Aramaic bowls: for dreams
of the night and visions of the day; we read, for instance,
, do not show yourselves, neither in their
dreams of the night nor in their visions of the day [Text 21, 1415].81 In all the
examples discussed above, the specific formula is built by the juxtaposition of
the expressions a dream of/by night and a vision/sleep of/by day, in a sort
of parallelismus membrorum. The term dream, in Aramaic , is always
associated with the night and, yet, is paralleled to a diurnal dream-like expe-
rience, rendered either by vision, , or sleep, . In one case, the
term dream ( )is replaced with thought (): <>
, not in visions of day nor in thoughts of night [Bowl G, 8].82
This particular construction might indicate that, from the perspective of the
users of the bowls, the oneiric phenomenon was perceived as a direct continu-
ation of the waking experience, and that various categories of dreams, visions
and apparitions were all regarded as part of the same spectrum of reality. The
verb form employed in these formulae is either the active participle, ,
or the imperfect, , Ethpeal, from the root *, which in the Peal means
to see and is used in locutions such as ( Lit. when

80 Shaked, Ford and Bhayro, Aramaic Bowl Spells, p. 111. For other examples, see JBA 16 (MS
1929/16), 34; JBA 28 (MS 1927/25), 78; JBA 29 (MS 1927/51), 89; JBA 39 (MS 2053/162),
89; JBA 47 (MS 2053/258), 78; see ib., respectively, p. 114, p. 162, p. 190, and p. 211. An
interesting example is found in JBA 25 (MS 2053/280), 23, where the expression if [I]
sleep in any place might confirm the oneiric nature of the demonic apparitions:
] [] [][] ---[[] []
< > [] , and that [you should] not show yourself to
Bahmanda[d] son of Magita and to [---]ta daug[hter of] Immi, his [w]i[f]e, in the form of
Adam and Eve, whether by day <or by night>, and if [I] sleep in any place,see ib., p. 140.
81 Yamauchi, Mandaic Incantation Texts, pp. 232233.
82 Gordon, An Aramaic Exorcism, pp. 467471; Gordon translates the expression
as impure fancies. The terms and ( thought) are often used in the
Book of Daniel in relation to the oneiric experience, suggesting an analogy between the
dreaming and thinking facultiessee, for instance, -( your thoughts
<while you were> on your bed) in Dan. 2:29 and -( and the thoughts
<while I was> on my bed) in Dan. 4:2. A similar relation between the terms
(dream) and ( thought) is found in the Babylonian Talmudsee, for instance,
R. amuel ben Namans statement [ bBerakhot
55b], which implies that men see in a dream only what is suggested in their own thoughts.
The above-mentioned passages suggest that the oneiric experience was regarded as an
inner mental formation built according to the same mechanism by which thought is pro-
duced; on this subject, see my discussion of SHR above.
168 Bellusci

Samuel saw a bad dream) in bBerakhot 55b, or ( Lit. what

shall I see in my dream) in bBerakhot 56a. In the incantation bowls, the use
of this specific predicate to refer to demonic manifestations suggests that the
apparition of evil creatures was imagined as a physical experience visually
perceived. In the BIB, the neutral term dream, , generally takes on a
negative connotation, due to the negativity implied in the demonic appari-
tion, and might partially render the meaning of what contemporary science
regards as a nightmare. The BIB show that those who wrote and used the bowls
were aware of what it means to experience nightmares, and they understood
them to be the result of a demonic power penetrating human sleep. Besides
demons, the dead were also sometimes imagined to trouble the living in their
dreams. For instance, a Mandaic bowl produced for Bardesa, daughter of
Terme, daughter of Dadi, and for her unborn child, lists, among other demons,
hateful ghosts and the deceased niece of the user:
, bound is the lilith that appears
to her in [the shape] of Tata, her sisters daughter; bound are all the hateful
ghosts, [Text 39, 9].83 A belief in the appearance of the dead in dreams was
also widespread in ancient Mesopotamia. Akkadian sources show that a vision
of a deceased family member was often perceived as an unpleasant torment
rather than a comforting memory, and were explained as an act of revenge for
the cessation of funerary offerings.84
In several bowls, unpleasant dreams and nightmares are not referred to
as by-products of the demonic torment, but are instead listed among other
demons as if they are the personification of the oneiric phenomenon. This
would appear to be according to the same logic by which places of worship
and diseases are personified in the corpus of BIB.85 For instance, a bowl for
protection reads: ...[] []
() [], I ban and I decree
and I confirm (the ban against) liliths, monsters, demons, bands (of spirits),
plagues, satans, evil dreams, powerful satans, male liliths and female liliths,
[Bowl K, 13].86
In an incantation bowl produced for a certain Daday daughter of irin and
for her daughter Buzrin, hated apparitions, , and evil dreams,

83 Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts, p. 248; on the appearance of ghosts in the BIB,
see ib., p. 82.
84 See Butler, Mesopotamian Conceptions of Dreams, pp. 5961.
85 See Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts, pp. 6793; on dreams, see ib., pp. 8283.
86 Gordon, Aramaic and Mandaic Magical Bowls, pp. 9293; for comparanda, see BM 91719,
79, in Segal, Catalogue of the Aramaic and Mandaic Incantation Bowls, p. 53.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 169

, are listed among medical illnesses from which the women

attempted to be healed:

, let there be health
from the heavens for Daday daughter of irin and for Burzoy the daughter of
Daday and may she (Daday) be healed, by the love of heaven, from the impious
spirits and from devils and from plagues and from strokes and from no-good-
ones and from hated apparitions and from devils and from strokes and from
hated apparitions and from all bad sorts [Bowl 2, 15].87 The fact that night-
mares are listed together with medical illnesses might indicate, at least in this
specific case, an understanding of sleep disorders from a medical perspective,
although generally it was believed that diseases have a demonic origin.88
At least one bowl [BM 91771] can be classified in the category of oneiric
aggressive magic, intending to cause insomnia and to send nightmares, per-
formed by humans to the detriment of other humans.89 With this bowl, the
user, a certain Malafa son of Batiton, not only aims at nullifying the spell of
which he and his family were the victims, but also at damaging his enemy, a
certain Mar Zura son of Ukmay, by sending back upon him all the evil charms
they received:
, and everything that was
sent against him, Malafa son of Batiton, (that) they may be sent against Mar
Zura son of Ukmay, may they be returned against him and against his heirs
and inheritance, [BM 91771, 89].90 According to the incantation, Malafa
sends back upon the sender a series of evil entities with the intention of harm-
ing him. Among other commands, the evil creatures are instructed to cause
certain sleep disorders in Mar Zura until he dies:

87 Gordon, Aramaic Incantation Bowls, pp. 119120.

88 Ancient Babylonian lists of woes also include unpleasant dreamssee Butler,
Mesopotamian Conceptions of Dreams, p. 50.
89 For the bowl, see Segal, Catalogue of the Aramaic and Mandaic Incantation Bowls,
pp. 7981; Christa Mller-Kessler, Die Zauberschalensammlung des British Museum,
Archiv fr Orientforschung 48/49 (2001/2002), 125128; Levene, Jewish Aramaic Curse Texts,
pp. 117118. The bowl is related to two other bowlssee Segal, Catalogue of the Aramaic
and Mandaic Incantation Bowls, pp. 8186. The bowl contains the qybl formula and thus
represents a counter-charm for both protective and aggressive purposes; on the function
of multiple copies of the same text belonging to the qibl category, see Levene, This is a
qybl for Overturning Sorceries, pp. 219244.
90 Levene, Jewish Aramaic Curse Texts, p. 117.
170 Bellusci

, And
send against Mar Zura son of Ukmay your maid servants and your jailors
and your masters and your messengers, may you release dogs from leashes and
cubs from chains. May they inflame him and burn him and heat him up
and frighten him, and may they subdue him. And may they not give sleep to his
eyes and not give him rest in his body in his dreams and in his visions, and may
they terminate his life and not give him life [BM 91771, 1214].91
Like in the oneiric aggressive spells in SHR and dM discussed above,
insomnia and nightmares are used in this bowl to threaten and bewitch a vic-
tim. According to the bowl, the user is aware that, by distorting the victims
sleeping/dreaming faculties, he will be able to physically exhaust him until his
death. The forecast of the victims death might imply the belief that prolonged
and pathological insomnia might lead to death.92
The magical logic and the language employed in the bowl are reminiscent
of those expressed in the recipes for causing insomnia in SHR and in dM.
The expression used in the bowl for indicating the intent of causing insomnia
in the victim, , and may they not give sleep to his
eyes [BM 91771, 13] is analogous to that employed in SHR,
, and do not give sleep to his eyelids [SHR I138].93 Furthermore, both
texts create a figurative image of the insomniac characterized by animal confu-
sion and agitation: SHR employs the symbolic image of a dogs head and the
metaphor of a barking dog to refer to the troubled mind of the insomniac,
while the bowl describes the victim as assaulted and subdued with fire by dogs
and wild animals.94 In the bowl, the periphrasis used to express the command
to the deity to send her messenger against the victim,
..., I adjure you, Nanay mistress of the
world...that you send against him your messenger (BM 91771, 10) is similar
to that employed in dM, although in this text the name of the non-human

91 Ib., p. 118.
92 One could imagine that the writer of this bowl had knowledge of the rare prion dis-
ease called fatal familiar insomnia (FFI), which is the only lethal pathology associated
with insomnia. On FFI and on the development of sleep disorders in prion diseases, see
Pasquale Montagna and Federica Provini, Prion Disorders and Sleep, Sleep Medicine
Clinics 3 (2008), 411426.
93 Levene, Jewish Aramaic Curse Texts, p. 118.
94 On animals in the BIB, see Levene, If You Appear as A Pig, pp. 5970, and Marco Moriggi,
Devilish apparitions in Mesopotamian incantation bowls. Preliminary Remarks about
Demons in the Guise of Animals, in Animals, Gods and Men from East to West. Papers on
archaeology and history in honour of Roberta Venco Ricciardi, ed. Alessandra Peruzzetto,
Francesca Dorna Metzger and Lucinda Dirven (Oxford, 2013), pp. 119122.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 171

entity adjured is not preserved, ' [ ] '', in the

name of [ ]may the swift messenger go and torment N, son of N [dM, 70].95
In the bowl, seeing an evil dream is regarded as an indication of a curse.
Alongside other illnesses such as fever (), shivering ( )and head-
ache (), insomnia and nightmares play an essential role in the curse
that is to be returned to the sender, suggesting, at least in this case, the associa-
tion of witchcraft with oneiric phenomena in a similar manner to that argued
for the Akkadian anti-witchcraft series Maql.96
A Mandaic bowl [BM 91715], composed of two independent incantations,
registers the nightmare dreamt by the user, Baniray daughter of ahafrid, in
which she is violently bound and tortured: <>
, The signs that
I, Baniray, saw in my dream: it seemed I was strapped and doubly strapped,
strapped with straps of iron and chained with chains of lead, indeed thrown
face down beneath a bed of iron, copper and lead, and I was lled with the
water of sahras and (my) head was placed upon the skulls of liliths [BM 91715,
1318].97 The vivid images used in this dream-report correspond, in part, to
the description of the victim bound by angels with iron chains and copper
rods in SHR I138, , and the vic-
tim punished on a bed of punishment and condemned to a bad death in the

95 Levene, Jewish Aramaic Curse Texts, p. 117; Levene translate the expression as
visitation; I follow Segals translation, messenger,see Segal, Catalogue of the Aramaic
and Mandaic Incantation Bowls, p. 80.
96 Ancient Babylonians believed that sorcery could cause bad dreams as well as alienating
ones personal deities, who themselves then sent nightmares,Butler, Mesopotamian
Conceptions of Dreams, p. 53. Tzvi Abusch relates the later stage in the demonization of
the witch in the anti-witchcraft series Maql to the association of witchcraft with dreams,
stating that the notion of witchcraft has merged with the idea of the dream, since to
dream an evil dream is to be bewitched,see Tzvi Abusch, The Demonic Image of
the Witch in Standard Babylonian Literature: The Reworking of Popular Conceptions
by Learned Exorcists, in Religion, Science, and Magic in Concert and Conflict, ed. Jacob
Neusner, Ernest S. Frerichs, and Paul V. McCracken Flesher (Oxford, 1989), p. 46. According
to Abusch, whether the witch appears in the dream or not, in the Maql series, the witch
becomes the one who sends the dream or its associated forms and the one to whom they
are to be returned,ib., p. 47.
97 Segal, Catalogue of the Aramaic and Mandaic Incantation Bowls, pp. 111113; James N. Ford,
Another Look at the Mandaic Incantation Bowl BM 91715, Journal of the Ancient Near
Eastern Society 29 (2002), 3147; for the transcription and translation, I have followed
172 Bellusci

Figure 9.9 Babylonian Incantation Bowl in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Schyen Collection,
MS 2053/233. The drawing might represent either a human figure or a demon in a
bed. The rectangular shape dividing the feet from the head might be a blanket and
the half-circle behind the head a pillow.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Martin Schyen and
Matthew Morgenstern.
Oneiric Aggressive Magic 173

Roman dfixo, ,
[DefixTab 155, A, 1114].98
On the basis of a parallel found in a later Mandaic text, James Ford argues
that the dream report preserved in the bowl was not an actual dream, but a
once well-known magical motif.99 Since the bowl mentions the bed and pil-
low of the user, [ BM 91715, 4, 12], and expresses the request
that the user receives pleasant dreams while her hater, the piyarta-demon, is
shown hateful dreams,
, [BM 91715, 1920], it might be considered an
oneiric aggressive incantation that adopts a conventional magical motif to
depict and reverse the sleep impairment of the user/victim.
The BIB clearly show a belief in nocturnal demonic attacks, either provoked
by demons, the dead or the living (sorcerer/enemy). This belief was quite wide-
spread in the surrounding context in which these texts were written and used.
The BIB are finished products that preserve the names of their users, their fam-
ily members and, sometimes, the enemies/victims for whom the spells were
intended. For this reason, they are very important sources that provide crucial
information about the world of the clients who commissioned the incanta-
tions and the scribes who produced them.


It is clear that oneiric aggressive rituals played an important role in late antique
Jewish tradition. According to the sources examined above, late antique Jews
feared that an evil dream might draw misfortune to the dreamer and sleep-
lessness might even lead to death. Like their Babylonian ancestors and Greco-
Egyptian neighbors, late antique Jews usually explained the occurrence of

98 There is a bowl in the Schyen Collection that might include a sketch of a bedMS
2053/233 (see Figure 9.9). The drawing on this bowl might represent either a human fig-
ure or a demon in a bed. The rectangular shape dividing the feet from the head might be
a blanket and the half-circle behind the head might be a pillow. The inscription on the
bowl reads, you are a demon, go out. If the anthropomorphic figure is the suffering per-
son on behalf of whom the bowl was commissioned, the reference might be to a demonic
apparition, which is commanded to leave the dreaming/thinking faculties of the victim/
client. If the figure represents the demon itself, the reference is to the exit of the demonic
entity from the bed of the victim/client. For a different interpretation of the drawing, see
Vilozny, Figure and Image, p. 55.
99 The parallel is Drower Collection, Bodleian Library, ms. Drower, fol. 37a; see Ford, Another
Look, pp. 4447.
174 Bellusci

good/evil dreams and lack of sleep as a result of a divine/demonic attack. The

ancient belief that demons and other non-human beings were in charge of
sleep and dreams gave rise to various magical rituals, aimed at controlling and
affecting the sleep of a third person with the aid of a demonic/angelic assis-
tant. Therefore, spells for sending evil dreams or causing insomnia in a chosen
victim were commonly used by Jews in Late Antiquity for different purposes,
as is demonstrated in the passages from SHR, dM, and the BIB discussed in
this article. Equally, people turned to magicians in order to prevent demons
from appearing in their dreams or troubling their sleep and to protect them-
selves from possible oneiric aggressive incantations, perpetrated to their detri-
ment by a sorcerer or an enemy.
Even though the Jewish oneiric aggressive techniques discussed in this essay
exhibit, in part, foreign elements (either Old Babylonian or Greco-Egyptian),
the extant sources are clearly Jewish and certainly prove a Jewish use of these
practices. It is clear that Jews believed and feared oneiric aggressive magic and
turned to magicians to purchase apotropaic or aggressive oneiric spells.

The Influence of Demons on the Human Mind

according to Athenagoras and Tatian

Chiara Crosignani

The aim of this paper is to analyze the effects of demons actions on the
human mind according to Athenagoras and Tatian. Both of them are second
century Christian apologists, but they come from very different backgrounds.
Athenagoras biography is still unknown. The only certain date in his life is
1767 AD, when he composed his apology, the Embassy for the Christians. The
tradition transmitted by the fifth century Christian historian Philip of Side, that
Athenagoras was the first director of the School of Alexandria, is unreliable.1
It is probably better to accept that Athenagoras was a philosopher from
Athens, as attested in the earliest extant manuscript that contains his works.
The Athenian background agrees with the philosophical ideas of Athenagoras
Embassy. Nevertheless, it is possible that Athenagoras had some acquaintance
with Alexandrian culture, as suggested by the presence of some similarities
between his On Resurrection and the Corpus of Philo of Alexandria.2 He is
almost never quoted by the church Fathers, but this does not mean that he
is not important in the history of the Christian thought.3
The identity of Tatian (c.120180 AD) seems to be better known. Epiphanius
and Eusebius, among others, explain that he was an Assyrian who went to

1 Athenagoras, Supplique au sujet des Chrtiens et Sur la Rsurrection des mort, ed. Bernard
Pouderon (Paris, 1992), pp. 922.
2 If we admit that Athenagoras is the author of De Resurrectione. See David Runia, Verba
philonica, , and the authenticity of the De Resurrectione attributed to
Athenagoras, in Vigiliae Christianae 46 (1992), pp. 31327.
3 See Drago-Andrei Giulea, The Watchers Whispers: Athenagorass Legatio 25, 13 and the
Book of the Watchers, in Vigiliae Chistianae 61 (2007), pp. 258281: according to the author,
Athenagoras could have had some influence on Evagrius Treatise on the Various Evil Thoughts.
See also David Ian Rankin, Athenagoras: philosopher and theologian (Farnham-Burlington,
2009). Pouderon, in his introduction to the French translation of Athenagoras works
(cit. n. 1), explains his misfortune in terms of him being considered a philosopher and his
distance from Origens position on the resurrection: this would explain the lack of interest
from Eusebius, who admired greatly Origen and his statements on the resurrection.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_011

176 Crosignani

Rome and studied under Justin Martyr.4 After Justins martyrdom, Tatian apos-
tatized, becoming part of a Gnostic group. The Assyrian origin and connection
with Justin is universally accepted. Despite the ancient witness of Eusebius,
Epiphanius and Iraeneus, however, his apostasy after the death of Justin is
still disputed.5
The different origins of the two apologists are reflected in their different atti-
tudes toward apologetic: while Athenagoras aims to identify the philosophical
God with the Christian God, by using Hellenistic knowledge, Tatian attacks all
Hellenistic knowledge, even the rhetoric traditions, in order to shun as much
as possible the pagan milieu.6 These different attitudes are well evident in their
approach to demonology.
In both, there is a well defined demonological passage, where the origin, the
nature and the effects of demons are studied in detail.7 Tatian and Athenagoras
are the only apologists who wrote such a demonological passage, and they
both use it for a similar purpose.
At first glance, the aim of these two demonological passages is to explain why
Christians must not worship demons: particularly in Athenagoras Embassy,
the author wants to demonstrate that the gods of the nations are ,
in order to defend Christian refusal of the pagan religion.8 By explaining that
demons are not really gods, while the Christian God is more similar to the pla-
tonic idea of God, he wants to emphasise that Christians cannot be considered
atheists: pagans, who worship gods that are not really gods, are instead the
real atheists.9

4 Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica V.13.1, 8.

5 See Emily Hunt, Christianity in the Second Century: the case of Tatian (LondonNew York,
6 See Rankin, p. 2: Justins pupil Tatian, whose approach is offensive more than defensive
7 Athenagoras, Legatio pro Christianis, ed. Bernard Pouderon (Paris, 1992), pp. 2327; Tatianus,
Oratio ad Graecos, ed. Molly Whittaker (Oxford, 1982), pp. 720.
8 Athenagoras, Legatio, 26.12: K
, . K
. O , ,
, .
. O
, .
9 Athenagoras, Legatio, 46. This idea is evidently explained at 5.1:
. The Christian attitude towards God is a philosophical
The Influence of Demons on the Human Mind 177

Both Tatian and Athenagoras are aware that common people attribute great
power to demons, which can turn believers away from Christianity. For this
purpose, demons can affect humans, according to a long tradition which ties
demons and illness, and which the two apologists (particularly Tatian) seem to
know well. But, as both clearly explain, their effect is only on the human mind,
being so powerful to make men believe that their action also affects the body.
In analysing the effects of demons on the human mind, body and soul, both of
them want to stress that demons can only really affect the human mind, and
only if the human mind shows some weakness that ultimately derives from
having a weak faith in Christ. Even if their initial perspectives and philosophi-
cal backgrounds differ, they are both responding to a common need in the sec-
ond century AD: they explain not only who demons are and why they hate
humans (a topic that is not central) but also how people can protect them-
selves from their attacks and malevolence.
Above all, humans fear demonic possession, which shows itself as an ill-
ness and is well known, in this period, among Jews, Christians and Pagans. The
victim of possession appears as wicked in both body and mind. The aim of
the two apologists is to show that the demons action is only apparent and is
conveyed to the body only because the mind works as the demon wants. So,
Tatians and Athenagoras ultimate goal seems to be to assert that, if people can
take control over their minds, demons will not affect them.

Athenagoras and Tatians Demonologies in the Context of the

Second Century AD

Only Tatian and Athenagoras dedicated an entire part of their work to demon-
ology. This does not mean that demonology was not important for other
Christian authors of the second century AD, such as Justin Martyr, whose refer-
ences to demons are of great importance for reconstructing Christian demon-
ology. Unlike Tatian and Athenagoras, Justin does not speak of demons in a
dedicated section of his workhis references to this topic are not organised
systematically. He prefers to focus on some aspects of demonology, for exam-
ple how demons act in the world, but without explaining what power they
have and why. Nevertheless, his references to demons in the Apologies help us
to reconstruct the relationship between Christian and pagan demonologies.
Furthermore, in the Dialogue with Tripho we find some references to biblical

one. According to Athenagoras, Christians are the only true philosophers, because their
knowledge of God comes from Gods will. See Athenagoras, Legatio, 6.2.
178 Crosignani

demonology. It seems, therefore, that, unlike Athenagoras and Tatian, Justin did
not feel the need to write a specific work on demonology. This prevents us from
completely understanding Justins demonology. But, by the seemingly haphaz-
ard references to demons in Justins works, particularly in the Second Apology,
we know that Christians were acquainted with many traditions: not only the
ones influenced by the Gospels, but also those influenced by Hellenistic and
Jewish apocalyptic traditions.10
The existence and actions of demons are also discussed in Ermas Shepard,
a Christian text dated to the first part of the second century AD. Erma, the
brother of the Roman Bishop Pius according to an ancient tradition, reported
the teaching of an angel that appeared to him as a shepherd. This text, which is
no longer considered canonical, greatly influenced the early Christian authors
Irenaeus, Clemens of Alexandria and Origen, who believed it to be inspired. In
this text, the word is not present, as the author prefers the form
, usually used in the Gospels: his demonology is quite important,
because it reflects the hypothesis of a demonic presence inside the human
mind. Demons, or spirits, can enter into humans and each of them represents
an evil inclination of the human mind: their presence does not allow the Holy
Spirit to stay inside humans anymore.11
Barnabas Letters, many of the Apostolic Acts of the second century, par-
ticularly the Acts of John, and the Ascension of Isaiah, contain references to
demonology too, in many different ways, testifying that in this period Christian
thought about evil spirits was open to various influences, not only of Hebrew
origin, but also to Hellenistic and oriental knowledge.12 Authors of the later
second century, such as Irenaeus and Clemens of Alexandria, treat the argu-
ment too.13 All of them speak of demons and particularly of their effects on

10 Iustinus, Apologia Minor, 5.26, ed. Charles Munier (Paris, 2006).

11 See Erma, Pastor, 5.1.14 and 6.2.14, ed. Robert Joly (Paris, 1968).
12 See Barnabae Epistula, 18.1, ed. Pierre Prigent (Paris, 1971), and the Ascensio Isaiae, 1.89
and 2.1, ed. Enrico Norrelli (Turnhout, 1995), where the demon Sammael Malkira pos-
sesses Manasse. Both parts of this work show a great interest in demonology, not only in
terms of how demons act against humans, but also about their place in the universe and
their future. See Acta Iohannis, 4854, ed. Eric Junod and Jean Daniel Kaestli (Turnhout,
1983), where demonic possession is very similar to that described in Ermas Shepard.
However, in Acts of John 565 there is an example of an exorcism that resembles what we
see in the Gospels.
13 Irenaeus is quite concerned with the origin of the devil, especially in the Demonstratio
apostolicae praedicationis, 1112, ed. Lon M. Froidvaux (Paris, 1959), while in his
Against Heresies he reports only heretics opinions. Clemens, on the other hand, often
speaks about demons acting against a humans mind, but they always need the humans
The Influence of Demons on the Human Mind 179

human life. But none of them present a complete theory of the origins and the
actions of demons. They only show that demons were a common topic where
these authors lived.
As a matter of fact, this interest in demonology is not at all strange for the
Mediterranean world of the beginning of the Christian Era: the actions of
demons in the world is not only a Christian question, since pagan literature
analyzes the problem too, as demonstrated by Plutarch of Cheronea.14 Greek
tradition played an important part in Christian demonology even at this early
point, as Athenagoras work clearly demonstrates: he shows a little knowledge
of platonic themes, particularly by quoting Timaeus and Epinomis.15 He evi-
dently reads only abstracts or fragments of other platonic works, and con-
sequently his knowledge of the complex platonic demonology is not wide.16
He tries to investigate more about this theme, searching for the origin of the
Greek traditions concerning demons and finding it in a fragment that he, like
Aetius, attributes to Thales of Miletus, a pre-Socratic philosopher of the sixth
century BC: according to Athenagoras, Thales would have been the first to
establish the difference between gods, demons and heroes.17

permission to do thisfor example, Clemens of Alexandria, Stromata, 2.20.111, ed. Otto

Sthlin and Ludwig Frchtel (Berlin, 1960).
14 There are a lot of studies about Plutarchs demonology. The most recent is Andrei Timotin,
La dmonologie platonicienne: histoire de la notion de daimn de Platon aux derniers
Noplatoniciens (Leiden, 2012). Brenks studies are very important, particularly Frederick
E. Brenk, In the Light of the Moon: demonology in the Early Imperial Period, in Aufstieg
und Niedergang der rmischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms in Spiegel der neueren
Forschung 2.16.3 (Berlin, 1986), pp. 20682145; and In mist apparelled: religious themes in
Plutarchs Moralia and Lives (Leiden, 1977).

15 Athenagoras, Legatio, 23, 5:
, ,
. Here, Athenagoras quotes Timaeus 40 d-e and seems to
have in mind also Epinomis 984d985d, but he is interpreting the Platonic thought by
radicalizing it. In Athenagorass day, this was not strange at allcompare Apuleius inter-
pretation of Platonic demonology, as it appears in De Platone I, 11. It is worth recalling
that Philos demonology, with which Athenagoras seems to have something in common,
is very close to that of Apuleius, as observed by Valentine Nikiprovetzky, Sur une lecture
dmonologique de Philon dAlexandrie, in tudes Philoniens, (Paris, 1996).
16 See Abraham J. Malherbe, The structure of Athenagoras, Supplicatio pro Christianis,
Vigiliae Christianae 23 (1969), 120.
17 Athenagoras, Legatio, 23.4:
. ,
, ,
180 Crosignani

Athenagoras does not seem to be acquainted with demonology as theo-

rised by Platos second heir Xenocrates and, after him, by some of the most
important philosophers of Middle Platonism such as, for example, the above
mentioned Plutarch of Cheronea, but something in his thought comes from a
Hellenistic source, maybe Philo or the Epinomis:18 for example, fallen angels
belong to the place .
Yet, Athenagoras sources are really diverse: in the Embassy, beside Hellenistic
references, there is an ample proof that the author knows well the Enochic tra-
dition of the fallen angels: in chapter 24, he speaks about the angels fall due
to their desire for human women and their love of material things. He could
have taken this information from Genesis 6:14, but immediately after he says
that the sons of the angels and women are the Giants, a tradition that is found
in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and in the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 136),
which was sometimes considered at this time to be inspired.19
He probably reveals his source in chapter 25.1, while speaking about demons
as the souls of the dead Giants who still wander on the earth, information that
he could have taken from the Book of Enoch or from the Book of Jubilees, where
the Giants survive in a non-corporeal form after the Flood.20 Athenagoras does
not explain why the Giants are dead or why their souls are on earth as demons.
He thus appears to assume that his audience will know of the Jewish flood tra-
ditions, which is problematic particularly for his pagan readers who probably
knew nothing about this tradition.

. See Aetius 1.7.11, in Herman Diels and Walther Franz, Die Fragmente der
Vorsokratiker, vol. I, Die Fragmente der Philosophen des sechsten und fnften Jahrhunderts
(und unmittelbarer Nachfolgen) (Berlin, 1951), fragment 301.
18 Malherbe, The structure of Athenagoras, Supplicatio pro Christianis proposes that
Athenagoras knew the sylloge composed by Albinus. On Medio-platonic demonology, see
Timotin, La dmonologie platonicienne (cit. n14).
19 Origen still considers the Book of Enoch to be inspired. Although he admits that some
people reject it, he sometimes uses it as Scripture: see Origenes, Contra Celsum V 5255
and Homelies on Numbers XXVIII, 2, 1.
20 Athenagoras, Legatio, 25.1:
, ,
, , o , s,
, , . Giulea analyzes references to this myth in early
Christian authors. It seems likely that 1 Enoch, rather than Jubilees, was the only source
for Athenagoras; see Drago-Andrei Giulea, The Watchers Whispers: Athenagorass
Legatio 25, 13 and the Book of the Watchers in Vigiliae Chistianae 61 (2007), pp. 258281.
Some second-century sources clearly demonstrate knowledge of parts of the Book of the
Watchers: Iraeneus, Demonstratio, 18 and Tertullianus, La toilette des femmes, 1.2 and 2.10,
ed. Marie Turcan (Paris, 1971).
The Influence of Demons on the Human Mind 181

Besides love for women, the second fault of demons is their love for material-
ity, which can be found in both Christian and Hellenistic sources.21 Philo is per-
haps the main source because, in his works, demons, angels and souls can be
so attracted to the world that they are unable to get away from it. Athenagoras
presents this line of argument when he says that the angels fallen from the sky
live around the air and earth, because they cannot return to the sky.22
But there is a difference between Athenagoras and Philo: angels, demons
and humans are not the same, as they are in Philos works. Even fallen angels
are not the same as demons: the latter are only the heritage of the union
between angels and women and their nature is different from both parents.
The first element that reveals the difference is the place they belong to: angels
wander through the air and earth, while demons wander on earth. The second
difference is in their movement:23 angels move according to their desires (so
their attitude is to look down), while demons move according to their nature
rather than their desiresthey have no choice. Demons have no place in the
world, so their dimension is the and wandering is their nature. On the one
hand, angels are characterized by their infinite tendency to the inferior part of
the universe, i.e. the material world, according to the desire they had. Demons,
on the other hand, are characterized by a chaotic movement, according to
their apparently irrational nature.24 Thus the disorder that their birth brought
into the universe, an element well defined in the Book of the Watchers, reflects
on themselves. Through their disorder, evident by their movements, they can
affect humans and take them away from rationality. It seems, therefore, that
Athenagoras, using a traditional element from Enochic tradition, can unite
Jewish and Christian demonology with Greek thought on account of its idea

21 In the second century, there are two possible causes of the Fall: matter or pride. Both of
these causes are present in the Enochic tradition. See also the first century BC Book
of Wisdom, 2:24, and the later Life of Adam and Eve and Second Book of Enoch. Iraeneus,
in his Demonstratio, 1116, shows the devils pride more than other authors of the period.
22 He uses here the verb , which we can find in Luke 10:18.
23 It is interesting to notice that Philo, in his De Gigantibus, also analyses the souls move-
ment. There are many similarities between Athenagoras and Philo, but not sufficient to
assert that Athenagoras knew any of Philos books. It is also possible that both depend on
the same Hellenistic sources. See Philo, De Gigantibus, 3, ed. Andr Moss (Paris, 1963).
24 The universe may seem to be irrational, as the author observes referring to epicurean
theory: Athenagoras, Legatio, 25.3:
, ,
, , ,
, ,
182 Crosignani

that demons are the irrational part of humans and religions. This is evident in
Plutarch, for example, whose Giants are, like Athenagoras demons, irrational
because they are born from Earth and they try to kill the gods of the pantheon,
who represent the rational pattern of the universe.25
Conversely, the demonic terminology in Tatians Address to the Greeks does
not explain clearly the authors sources. The leader of the fallen angels is here a
as happens in Justin.26 The only difference between him and his host is
that the latter are also known as and they seem to have an
inferior position. Tatians text, however, is uncertain, and not all editors accept
this tradition.27
Nevertheless, this way of referring to the head of the demonic host is impor-
tant. Not many other authors of the period confuse demons and the devil.
In the Gospels too there seems to be a distinction: the devil is a leader, the
demons are only his assistants.28 This difference seems to exist in Tatian too,
because human followers of the first fallen being only call him their god:
the inferior demons do not deserve such a title.29
Inferior demons can be fallen angels, but they are not the first angels to fall.
The first to fall has the greatest fault, because his actions brought down some
of the other demons. His responsibility is higher than that of the other angels,

25 Athenagoras himself makes the parallel between the two traditions (Legatio, 24.6), but he
is not the first: this idea is really ancient, as it can be first identified in Pseudo-Eupolemus,
a Hellenistic Jewish author of the second century BCsee Eusebius, Preparatio evangel-
ica, 9.17.19 and 9.18.2, ed. douard Des Places (Paris, 1983); see Felix Jacoby, Die Fragmente
Der griechischen Historiker III C 2: Geschichte von Staedten und Voelkern (Horographie und
Ethnographie) 724: anonymos (pseudoEupolemos) (Leiden, 1958), pp. 67879; Albert
Marie Denis, Introduction la littrature religieuse judohellnistique (Turnhout, 2000),
pp. 115657; Lucio Troiani, Letteratura Giudaica di lingua greca (Brescia, 1997), pp. 9395.
The same idea, very common in the Christian Era, can also be found in Flavius Josephus,
Antiquitates judaicae, 1.7374, ed. tienne Nodet (Paris, 1995).
26 Tatianus, Oratio, 7. In early Christian works and in some Jewish material, there seems to
be an ontological difference between the first to fall and others evil characters. In some
second-century authors, the distinction between the devil and demons is not so evident.
The reason for this may lie in the need to oppose Gnostic ideasif the devil is different
from other beings, there seems to be a divine responsibility for the devil. So, it becomes in
this period a primus inter pares and he assumes full responsibility for his actions.
27 On the problems encountered when editing the Oratio, see HeinzGnther Nesserlrath,
Il testo di Taziano, Oratio ad Graecos, e due recenti edizioni, Eikasmos 16 (2005), 243263.
28 For the difference between demons and the devil in the Gospels, see, for example, Xavier
LonDufour, Satana e il demoniaco nei Vangeli, in Lautunno del diavolo, I, ed. Eugenio
Corsini and Eugenio Costa (Milan, 1990), pp. 144149.
29 Tatianus, Oratio, 7.
The Influence of Demons on the Human Mind 183

but he is not responsible for all evil. Angels can betray their nature at different
times and, as a result, there can be more than one fall of the angels. This is not
a common tradition.30 The first apostate angel, therefore, is not responsible for
all subsequent apostasy.
According to Tatian, demons are the fallen angels and there was no real
difference between angels and humans before the fall.31 At the moment of
creation, there were angels and humans, the former created by the Logos
before the latter. Both were immortal, possessing free will but with no knowl-
edge of the nature of good.32 After the fall, those who fell became demons or
remained humans, depending on their fault.33 Humans lost their immortality,
while demons gained an immortal life of torment without forgiveness, because
they chose matter and not spirit.34 Both humans and demons fell, and both did
not have the knowledge of good, but the difference between their faults is not
really explained. It seems that Tatian proposes two explanations. First of all,
demons were so attracted by materiality that they forgot their spiritual nature.
This is the demons fault according to Philo too. They show their proximity to
materiality and evil: they chose matter even having no corrupted elements in
them. But this may be humanitys fault too. The difference may be in life expec-
tancy. Humans have, after the fall, only short lives, and so it is easy to under-
stand why they err.35 Evil in humans is limited by their death. Demons, on the
other hand, remain immortal and so their evil acts are not limited. It seems
that the difference between the evil of humans and demons is not a qualitative
one but a quantitative oneeven if this does not explain the original differ-
ence between humans and demons.
Tatian clearly refuses to confirm that demons are the souls of the giants. In
doing so, he appears to be rejecting the Enochic tradition that Athenagoras

30 Tatianus, Oratio, 7:
31 Tatianus, Oratio, 7. For Justin, angels and humans have a similar constitutionboth were
created by God and were provided with free will.
32 Tatianus, Oratio, 9. But, while in Oratio, 15, Tatian says that only humans have been cre-
ated ad imago Dei, he quotes Ps. 8:4, where humans are inferior to angels. His doctrine on
this topic appears very confused.
33 But Tatianus, Oratio, 16, perhaps in opposition to Philo or to the Enochic literature, says
that: .
34 It is interesting to note the parallel between this punishment against demons and that
against Cain according to Philo, De poenis, 70.
35 Tatianus, Oratio, 14.
184 Crosignani

accepts. Demons cannot be souls, but they are made of a superior kind of mat-
ter that is stronger than the inferior matter of humans. Thanks to their superior
body, it is very difficult, but still possible, to kill them.36 Very few people, on
account of their spirituality, can see them.

Demons Effects on Humans

The main effect of demons on humans is possession. This idea was as central
to second-century Christian literature as it was to the Gospels. For example, in
the Apocryphal Acts, just as in the Gospels, possession can cause sickness, usu-
ally mental illness.37 In the Acts of John, 5657, two boys, possessed since their
birth, look ill and suffer. In the same Acts, luxury is a who dwells inside
a person, and it can be interpreted as , , as
an illness of the soul.38
Usually, demons act as evil spirits inside humans: the seven spirits that dwell
inside Mary of Magdala can be interpreted as the seven spirits of sins known
from the Testament of Ruben, an idea that we can find in Hermas Shepard.39
This is a psychological interpretation of the demonic action, similar to what
we find in the Acts of Johns account of the young Callimachus: after the death
of his beloved Drusiana, Callimachus, possessed by an insane desire, tries to
violate her corpse. This evil desire is defined as an illness that dwells inside
him, preventing him from being rational.40 Evil spirits enter into the human
mind and seem sometimes to prevent humans from regaining control over
themselves. In the Ascension of Isaiah, when Sammael/Belkira takes control
of Manasse, it is not possible to understand if it is the king or the demon who
condemns Isaiah to death, because the king seems to be not responsible for
his actions.41
The role of demonology in the apologists reflection is quite different.
Possession is not always present in their works in the same way that it occurs in

36 The idea of the mortality or immortality of demons is not really evident in Tatians text. It
is possible that he thinks that they die each time they do an evil action.
37 In the Gospels, the connection between illness, possession and sin seems to be impurity.
See Adele Monaci Castagno, Il Diavolo e i suoi angeli (Fiesole, 1996).
38 See Acta Iohannis, 5556; 7071; 76, ed. Eric Junod and Daniel Kaestli (Turnhout, 1983).
39 The connection between Mary of Magdala and the Testament of Ruben has been pro-
posed by Jean Danilou, La Thologie du JudoChristianisme (Paris, 1958), p. 184.
40 Acta Iohannis, 76.
41 In Ascensio Isaiae 1.89 and 2.1. See Ascensio Isaiae, vol. 2, ed. Enrico Norelli (Turnhout,
1995), pp. 65 and 9599.
The Influence of Demons on the Human Mind 185

other second century Christian texts. Justin Martyr makes some references to
possession, as he says that the possessed are those who are thrown away from
themselves by the souls of the dead, a possible reference to the Enochic tradi-
tion of the Giants.42 Justin does not explain how humans can be possessed by
demons, but he evidently knows that this can happen. Possessed people exist
and they can live in synagogues, because Jews lack the knowledge to send evil
spirits away.43 But Justin Martyr is interested in other aspects of demonology:
demons try to take humans away from God by inducing them to venerate other
gods, as suggested by Ps. 106:5, and by transmitting to them a false knowledge,
which may be magic, astrology or sacrifices.
All of the apologists seem to be more interested in these topics. They have
to face Hellenistic culture and so, with the aid of Ps. 106:5 and the widespread
idea about the false knowledge taught by fallen angels, they try to persuade
their audience that all or a great part of the knowledge of the other nations
comes from demons, particularly knowledge concerning religious traditions.
In this way, demonology can be used by the apologists as a powerful weapon
against traditional religions.
According to Athenagoras, demons induce humans to venerate them and
thus to not worship God anymore. But demons do not do this by possession
an idea that seems unknown to him, or at least that he does not like to speak
about as it is not a good argument for a pagan audience. Moreover, demons
negatively influence humans by using their movements, which can affect
human destiny. The disorder they produce in the material life results in a sec-
ond kind of Providence, different from the one provided by God. As a result,
demons are responsible for the prominent role of chaos in the world. This idea
of two Providences is common in Tatian, as we will see.
Demons also make people believe in their power by creating a false percep-
tion in their mind. In doing so, they compel people to worship the statues of
false gods as if they have real power. Demons can do this only if the human
mind allows it. The human soul, having a ratio, can resist demonic attack. But,
if the soul does not know the truth or if it is too attached to the material world,
demons can enter it.
The demons act by inspiring a mental image, which is different from the
truth, and making the human mind think it is true. In order to do this, they use
a weakness in human perception: the soul is able to sense true or false things

42 Iustinus, Apologia Maior, 18.1, ed. Charles Munier (Paris, 2006).

43 Iustinus, Dialogus cum Tryphone, 85.23, ed. Miroslav Marcovich (Berlin, 1997).
186 Crosignani

depending on its movements, which can be rational or not.44 The demons take
advantage of the irrational movements, which are in accordance with their
own characteristics.45 Although they are not the same as idols, demons are
able to deceive humans into thinking that they are idols and that idols possess
great power.
But idols are only representations of dead people who are known from
myths. Demons use the names and images of these people to corrupt humans,
but the power they show is only imaginary. Idols have no power by themselves.
They are made of bronze or stone, but bronze or stone do not have any power
when they do not represent an image. In fact, with the same substances, we
can make another image that will either not have the same power or will have
no power at all.46
If we infer that the power belongs to the people represented by the idols,
Athenagoras states that it is not possible that these people would not have
used this power to save themselves from whatever illness caused their death
therefore these people could not have had any real power. Thus the power
must reside in a third element, namely the demon.
Athenagoras uses the Stoic theory of perception to explain how demons
influence the human mind. This is straightforward because the Stoic term for
mental images is the same .47 Athenagoras emphasises the two Greek
words to create an identification between the mental image and the false
divine image.
According to Athenagoras, demons interfere with divine Providence and
with the human mind by means of irrationality. This is not very different

44 Athenagoras, Legatio, 27.1:

, .
, , .
45 Athenagoras, Legatio, 27.2: A
, , ,
, ,
, ,
, ,
46 Athenagoras, Legatio, 26.45.
47 For a detailed discussion of the similarities and the possible Stoic sources of the
Athenagorian theory, see Drago-Andrei Giulea, The Watchers Whispers: Athenagorass
Legatio 25, 13 and the Book of the Watchers in Vigiliae Chistianae 61 (2007), pp. 258281.
The Influence of Demons on the Human Mind 187

from Tatian, who also believes in the existence of two kinds of providence,
although Tatian does not explain his theory as clearly as Athenagoras.48
According to Tatian, demons have introduced destiny into the world with
astrology, the worst learning that angels taught to men. When the angels fell to
the earth, they were no longer able to stay in heaven, and so they made animals
worthy of staying in the sky and placed them there.49 Humans believed that the
animals were gods and worshipped them, because astrology seemed to bring
rationality to a world that demons had made irrational. The fate that astrology
can predict is correct because demons control both destiny and astrology. It
is vain, therefore, to worship demons on account of such correct predictions.
The aim of bringing evil and destiny into the world is only due to demons
: but demons themselves are subject to destiny, which is tied to pas-
sions. And demons, more than humans, have great passions. They are, there-
fore, not only involved in destiny, but also upset by it. In fact, only those who are
subject to passions are under this second kind of providence. Good Christians,
who must not have passions, are free from demonic destiny. This idea has two
important effects. First, Christians are the only people who can live without
the terror of demons. Second, those who are under the effects of demons were
not, even before possession, truly Christians. Tatian can thus explain why Jesus
defeated demons and why demons still exist in the world. Only true Christians
benefit from Jesuss victory, and so they have a real protection against all evil
that comes from demons including possession. The two consequences of this
line of thought are evident, above all, in Origen, who analyses the question
from a more speculative perspective: as every moral decision comes from
humans, it is impossible for the devil to take control of a person: negative
events, produced by demons, can strike people but are not able to separate
them from God. Only man has control of his destiny.
On the one hand, Tatian accepts the notion that people bound to demons
are in themselves evil, if not for their actions then for their refusal of good: this
bond can be caused by faith in astrology and, as we will see, by possession and
by the use of pharmacology. On the other hand, in a more complex way, he
demonstrates that there is an escape from evil by remaining bound to goodness
and to its laws. Demons know this, and so they have to convince humans by
various means to abandon goodness. Thus, in order to make humans stray far

48 This idea is, however, common to Medio-Platonic sources, such as Apuleius, De Platone,
1.12, ed. Jean Beaujeau (Paris, 1973). It is also present in Iustinus, Apologia Minor, 5.2, and
Dialogus, 1.4, and Clemens, Stromata, 6.17. In Christian works, there may be a reference to
the theory of the angels of the nations.
49 Tatianus, Oratio, 89.
188 Crosignani

from God and from the truth, they act on the human mind and perception too:
this leads to a status that is comparable to the common idea of possession.
According to Tatian, human souls are made up of two parts: an inferior one,
similar to matter in composition, that dies with the body and returns with the
resurrection; the other, superior, one is not involved with matter and is always
inclined towards the light. Usually, the superior part controls a person, but a
demon can induce the inferior part to take control on account of its connec-
tion with matter, which demons can rule.50 In this way, demons make humans
worship them and forget the true knowledge that comes from God.
Knowledge is a very important part of Tatians demonology. It is only if
humans refuse divine knowledge that demons can act on their minds. Humans
are only able to remain good and safe from demonic attack if they know very
well the Word of God and absolutely obey it. In Tatians Address to the Greeks,
the role of demons is particularly tied to false knowledge, even about pos-
session. This is interesting because it accords with the Enochic tradition, in
which fallen angels teach humans forbidden sciences, but good angels reveal
permitted knowledge to prevent or to heal the demonic influence.51 In Tatians
thought, even medicine and pharmacology are maleficent sciences by which
demons bind humans to themselves.
Tatians reasons for rejecting medicine come across as a bit banal: God
cannot have created minerals or vegetables in order to treat human diseases
because the diseases themselves did not exist before demons caused them. So,
if minerals or vegetables have a power against demons, demons themselves
must be responsible for this. Demons cause minerals and vegetables to act
in humans according to the , just as with magic and astrology.52 So,
if magic and astrology have to be rejected because they are clearly demonic,
medicine should also be rejected. The three arts have the same action, and so
they must have a common origin.
Such critiques of medicine, however, are not so banal because, in the end,
they depend on the status of materiality. According to Tatian, people should
not value their bodies because this demonstrates their love for materiality,
which is the cause of the fall of humans and angels. Matter is : it is bad
and does not have real value. Tatian has to admit, however, that all of Gods
creation must be good, so even matter must be good. But the consideration of
matter in Tatians thought is very complex, hence the idea of his heterodoxy as
transmitted by Iraeneus, Clemens and Hippolytys: they are the first to inform

50 Tatianus, Oratio, 15.

51 Jubilees, 10:1014.
52 Tatianus, Oratio, 17. For the different use of this word in Athenagoras, see Drago-Andrei
Giulea, op. cit.
The Influence of Demons on the Human Mind 189

us that, after the death of his teacher Justin, Tatian would have taken a clear
Gnostic position that can sometimes be nearer to that of Valentinus or to the
Encratites, an heretical and ascetic group which, according to Eusebius, he
may have helped found.53
Demons seem to have power over the material world. They are able to use
the inferior matter from which human bodies and minds are made.54 But they
cannot do anything if humans wear spiritual armour made by the Holy Spirit.
For Tatian, as for Athenagoras, the superior part of the soul, which Tatian
sometimes simply calls the soul, can protect even the body.55 As we have seen,
this idea is similar to what we find in Ermas Shepard: the of
the Gospels cannot affect humans if the soul is protected by the presence of the
Holy Spirit. Every good Christian possesses the indwelling of the Holy Spirit,
to guide and to inspire to good works. There is no way evil spirits can take the
Holy Spirit away from Christians. Christians, however, can open themselves
up to evil and thus make the Holy Spirit go away.56 It is important to note that,
for Tatian, medicine is one way of doing this because it allows something bad
to enter a person. Furthermore, faith in something that is not good is in itself
an evil that prevents Gods help. Pharmacology is only an created
by demons, by which humans serve the will of demons because they use a
material thing that can corrupt human souls. Every material thing must be
avoided because matter attracts humans as an effect of their fall. By this very
attraction, which demons well understand, demons can mislead humans. So,
medical knowledge is as wrong as astrological knowledge. The fallen angels do
not teach these two arts to humans thinking that they are good, as suggested
in the Enochic tradition.57 Demons spread false sciences that they themselves

53 Iraeneus, Contra Haeres, I, 28, 1: Contradicunt quoque eius saluti qui primus plasmatus est:
et hoc nunc adinventum est apud eos, Tatiano quodam primo hanc introducente blasphe-
mia. Qui cum esset Iustini auditor, in quantum quidem apud eum erat, nihil enarravit tale;
post vero illius martyrium absistens ab Ecclesia et praesumptione magistri elatus et inflatus,
quasi prae ceteris essett, proprium characterem doctrinae consituit. See Helen Hunt, op. cit.,
pp. 2021.
54 Tatianus, Oratio, 16: ,

55 Tatianus, Oratio, 11.
56 See Erma, Pastor, 5.1.14 and 6.2.14, ed. Robert Joly (Parigi, 1968). This way of conceiving
evil effects on the human mind could be viewed as a psychological conception of evil,
which we can find also in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and particularly in the
Testament of Ruben.
57 In Jubilees 10:34, the angels give Noah medical knowledge against Mastema and his
190 Crosignani

created, knowing that they are evil and only exist to corrupt humans. But
Tatian, as sometimes happens, seems to contradict himself by saying that med-
icine can be used if the user knows that true remedies only come from God.58
Tatian does not describe in a well-defined way the effects of demons on the
human body. In order to emphasise that demons lack real power, Tatian states
that demons usually take advantage of an already existing sickness, even if
he admits that they have some power over the human bodys inferior matter.
Demons are not the cause of the sickness and so they cannot truly heal it. But
they make humans believe in their healing power, in order to gain their worship.
We do not know if demons can really affect bodies according to Tatian,
because he does not express himself in a clear and explicit way on this topic,
but it is certain that they can act against the human mind. Demons can inspire
dreams or produce mental illness by means of possession. The demon takes
possession of the body by first inspiring a dream in his victim, promising to
free the body from a sickness which, according to Tatian, usually already exists.
The demon then departs when the body is healed naturally. The demon, there-
fore, does not really healinstead, he may cause a mental disease, or at least
use a pre-existent physical disease, and then free the victim. When the demon
goes away, the sickness may take some time to disappear, but Tatian does not
explain if this happens for mental or physical diseases.
This use of illness is a form of propaganda intended to recruit more wor-
shippers. Possession, or mental and physical diseases produced by demons,
from this perspective, becomes a way of seducing humans away from God, par-
ticularly those who are not protected by spiritual armour and whose thoughts
demonstrate that they are far from the Holy Spirit. This attack, in other words,
may affect the body, but is conducted against the mind and the faith. Its true
aim is the conquest of human souls that cannot be conquered if the faith and
the mind are strong.


Athenagoras and Tatians demonologies are similar in many ways. Both stress
the importance of the equivalence between demons and pagan gods.59 Tatian
does not quote the Psalms,60 but his demonology section refers to their role in

58 Tatianus, Oratio, 20.

59 This idea has a biblical origin and is well attested in both Christian and Jewish traditions:
for example, Iustinus, Dialogus, 83, 4.
60 Ps. 96:5.
The Influence of Demons on the Human Mind 191

worship. Both writers say that demons act against humans for their evil will,
even if they do not explain the cause of this will. Their effects are not on the
human body, but on the human mind.
By linking mental illness to a non-human cause, Tatian uses a well-known
medical tradition regarding sacred sickness, by which he tries to explain pos-
session as presented in the Gospels and in other Christian writings of his time.
This conclusion is very different from Athenagoras perspective: both of them
observe that demons act on the human mind, but, while in Tatian this is tied to
sickness, Athenagoras seems to explain that demons can affect humans at any
time, by acting on their mind, and it is only their inclination towards good or
evil that enables humans to accept or resist these effects. Demonic interven-
tion, according to Athenagoras, does not cause a disease, but can reveal the evil
tendency of the person affected by it. His use of Hellenistic philosophy thus
allows him to find a rational way of explaining demonic action. The action of
demons, which for Tatian can cause a physical attack (or at least something
comparable), is for Athenagoras a way in which a person can exercise free will,
by choosing between true or false representations.
Even if the ways by which demons work are quite different, there is a very
important common point, well attested by the end of the second century:
demons can affect humans only if humans themselves allow them to enter
by avoiding human rationality and Christian knowledge. These two closely
related elements are necessary to give humans the spiritual armour that can
protect them, as Ermas Shepard suggested. The battle between good and evil is
internal, and each person has the necessary power to defeat evil.61
This idea, well developed by Origen, explains why demons exist after
Christs victory.62 The aim of the apologists, therefore, seems the same for
Origen and Clemens: to alleviate the terror demons create among both
Christians and pagans.63

61 We can see this happening in the Acta Iohannis, 7679, where no exorcism is necessary to
expel evil from Callimachus: only when he himself understands his evil actions, it departs
from him.
62 In Ascensio Isaiae 11.2426, fallen angels return to God at the very moment of the Ascent
of the Beloved. Every form of evil seems to disappear from the world. But this idea is con-
tradicted by the evidence of evil in the world. So, in the second century, there is a need to
find an answer to the question of the persistence of evil. Justin also suggests that the sac-
rifice of Christ did not remove evil from the world but gave a way to control itJustinus,
Dialogus, 76.6.
63 Acta Iohannis, 567 shows this terror in the destiny of the young sons of Antipater. They
are possessed from birth, so not responsible for their situation. According to what the
apologists say, this kind of situation cannot happen.

Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Disorder in the

Life of Antony

Sophie Sawicka-Sykes

Demonic wails, shouts and chants haunt the monastic literature of late-
antique Egypt, wreaking havoc in the lives of monks. An anecdote from The
Sayings of the Desert Fathers, for example, tells of a monk called Moses, who
is tempted to commit fornication and dare not remain in his cell. His spiritual
advisor instructs him to look into the western sky, and there he sees hordes of
demons, causing a stir and making an uproar for the purpose of waging war on
the holy ( , ).1 Moses is then
told to look towards an innumerable multitude of angels in the east, who bring
support to the saints. He discovers that although the demons fight against the
inhabitants of the desert, a greater number of angels are with them to offer
help. The anecdote ends with Moses returning to his cell, reassured. Yet the
account leaves us with a question: how was demonic sound thought to affect
the souls of the virtuous?
One of the richest sources of information about the relationship between
demonic sound and spiritual disorder is The Life of Antony, by Athanasius of
Alexandria.2 Composed in Greek between 356 and 358, the hagiography soon
grew in popularity and was translated into Latin around the mid-point of the
370s. The narrative of Antony, a hermit in the Egyptian desert, tells us much
about the way in which demons sought to distress monks. Antony comes up
against his raucous adversaries at every stage of his asceticism, and delivers
a speech to his brethren about demons, based on his personal experience. In

* I am grateful to Siam Bhayro, Catherine Rider, Tom Licence, Karen Smyth, Catherine Rowett,
the University of East Anglia Medieval History Society, and attendees of the Demons and
Illness conference for their questions and comments.
1 Anon., The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, Moses, 1 (PG 65:281
282). Benedicta Wards translation (London, 1975) does not capture the nuances of
, an infinitive of purpose.
2 I will be using the translation of Athanasiuss Vita Antonii by Robert C. Gregg, The Life of
Antony; and, the Letter to Marcellinus (London, 1980) as well as referring to the Greek text in
PG 26:835976.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_012

Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Disorder in the Life of Antony 193

this delivery, Antony dismisses demonic sounds as empty threats, a sign of the
impotency of demons. Yet, he also admits that weak ascetics may be troubled
by noisy apparitions: demons create disturbances () and cause a stir
() so that they may deceive the simple.3
The cacophonous nature of demons in the Life of Antony has often been
mentioned in passing. David Brakke, for instance, notes that sound is part of
demons arsenal of external attack, causing fear, and, for the monk suffering a
moment of weakness, a reason to doubt his faith.4 In his study on Athanasiuss
asceticism, Brakke draws an analogy between Antonys description of demonic
disruption and the charge that Athanasius levels against heretics, who, like
demons, create confusion in an effort to lead Christians astray.5 Brakke is justi-
fied in detecting a political slant to Athanasiuss portrayal of demonic disrup-
tion. Athanasiuss anti-Arianism no doubt pervaded the Life of Antony,6 and
fifth-century evidence illustrates the important role that sound, particularly
psalmody, played in the conflict between Arians and orthodox Christians.
The historical writers, Socrates Scholasticus and Sozomen, record how Arians
in fourth-century Constantinople performed antiphonal psalms and songs
that illustrated their doctrinal beliefs. This served to aggravate the bishop
of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, who sent out his own flock to perform
hymns in counter-attack. The performance, however, ended in chaos, with
fighting breaking out between the two sects.7
Interpreting demonic sound solely in this light, however, gives little room
for exploration of how demons, and their aural assaults, work on the individ-
ual soul. Athanasiuss concern with the effect of sound is demonstrated in his
Letter to Marcellinus, which discusses in detail the beneficial effect of singing
psalms. Paul Kolbet has argued that Athanasius envisions singing psalms as a
therapeutic activity, which restores order () to the soul, allowing the wor-
shipper to regain knowledge of God that had been lost through the Fall. This,
he explains, leads to re-unification with the divine and cures the sickness of

3 Life of Antony 26.

4 David Brakke, Demons and the Making of the Monk: Spiritual Combat in Early Christianity
(Cambridge, MA; London, 2006), p. 27, p. 33 and p. 34.
5 David Brakke, Athanasius and the Politics of Asceticism (Baltimore, MD; London, 1995),
pp. 255256.
6 Ibid., pp. 135137 and p. 247, and Brian Brennan, Athanasius Vita Antonii: a Social Interpreta-
tion, Vigiliae Christianae 39 (1985), 209227.
7 Peter Jeffery, Philos Impact on Christian Psalmody, in Psalms in Community: Jewish and
Christian Textual, Liturgical, and Artistic Traditions, ed. Harold W. Attridge and Margot E.
Fassler (Atlanta, GA, 2003), pp. 147187 (esp. pp. 180181).
194 Sawicka-Sykes

human nature.8 Kolbets paper sheds light upon the relationships between the
soul, the cosmos, song and health. It does not fall within the remit of Kolbets
article to investigate how the harmony between these elements may be dis-
rupted by demonic sounds. By pursuing this neglected line of enquiry, I will
show that demonic anti-music is a chief means of throwing Christians into
a state of disorder. I use the term anti-music to denote the sounds made by
demons that are not only defined against the psalmody of Antony, but are a
perversion of the harmony that can be perceived throughout creation.9
This paper will first of all consider how the relationships between the health
of the soul and harmony and, conversely, illness and disorder, were formu-
lated in antiquity, with special reference to the Pythagoreans, Platonism and
Stoicism. Having established this intellectual and philosophical background,
I will demonstrate that Athanasiuss treatise, Against the Heathen, depicts the
cosmos and the human soul as complex structures of relations, comparing
them to musical instruments. I will then discuss how demons seek to upset
these relations, and thereby cause sickness of the soul, in the Life of Antony.
Finally, I consider the implications of these findings for the study of monastic
literature of the late antique era and beyond.

Harmony, Health and Virtue in Antiquity10

Several strands of thought from Presocratic, Platonic and Stoic sources pro-
vide a context in which we can better understand Athanasiuss presentation

8 Paul R. Kolbet, Athanasius, the Psalms, and the Reformation of the Self, The Harvard
Theological Review 99:1 (2006), 85101.
9 Demonic anti-music is analogous to experimental antimusic. David H. Cope defines
antimusic as a term denoting those works the concept or implication of which is
opposed to the traditional meaning of music in New Directions in Music, 3rd ed.
(Dubuque, IA, 1981), p. 323. For a more general discussion of the soundscape of hell and
devilish music, see Reinhold Hammerstein, Diabolus in Musica: Studien zur Ikonographie
der Musik im Mittelalter (Bern, 1974), pp. 1619, and Die Musik der Engel: Untersuchungen
zur Musikanschauung des Mittelalters (Bern, 1962), pp. 100115. See also Richard Rastall,
The Sounds of Hell, in The Iconography of Hell (Early drama, art, and music monograph)
17 (Kalamazoo, MI, 1992), pp. 102131.
10 The following secondary sources were particularly informative: B. MacLachlan, The
Harmony of the Spheres: Dulcis Sonus in Harmonia Mundi: Music and Philosophy in the
Ancient World, ed. R. W. Wallace and B. MacLachlan (Rome, 1991), pp. 719, and Martin
West, Music Therapy in Antiquity in Music as Medicine: The History of Music Therapy
Since Antiquity, ed. Peregrine Horden (Aldershot, 2000), pp. 5168.
Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Disorder in the Life of Antony 195

of harmony and discord in monastic spirituality. Nienke Vos has recently high-
lighted the tendency of critics working on the Life of Antony to place Athanasiuss
presentation of the soul in a Stoic framework, suggesting that this gives rise
to a static understanding of the soul, which is not entirely compatible with
monastic notions of spiritual development.11 Although she considers the com-
monalities between Stoicism and Platonism, and allows for a more complex
understanding of internal conflict in Stoic philosophy than has been gener-
ally acknowledged, Vos nevertheless reaffirms the binary opposition between
static Stoic philosophy and dynamic Platonic philosophy. She argues that
the Life is best approached from the Platonic perspective, since, in taking this
approach, it becomes possible to visualize a fissure in the soul. This motive
of fissure springs from a more dynamic view of demonic impact. From there
it leads to a more dynamic interpretation of the saints development. While
Vos reveals a thorough knowledge of the debate on the connections between
demons and the progress of the soul, and provides a valuable contribution,
she is largely reliant on received opinion about Stoicism and Platonism. By
essentially maintaining the traditional binary between the Stoic understand-
ing of the soul as an integrated entity and the Platonic understanding of the
soul as something which can be infiltrated and fissured, she overlooks a third
way, common to both Stoicism and Platonism: the understanding of the soul as
something which can be brought into harmony. Analogies between the health
of the body and the virtue of the soul, the understanding of health and virtue
as kinds of harmony, and the idea that the harmony of the universe proclaims
a divine creator,12 appear in writings associated with both schools. While these
strands were part of a larger tapestry of ancient thought about the health of
the soul, and lines of influence are difficult to trace, it is nevertheless impor-
tant that we establish particular ancient ideas of health and harmony as intel-
lectual background to the enquiry that will follow.13

11 Nienke Vos, Demons Without and Within: The Representation of Demons, the Saint, and
the Soul in Early Christian Lives, Letters and Sayings, in Demons and the Devil in Ancient
and Medieval Christianity, ed. Nienke Vos and Willemien Otten, supplements to Vigiliae
Christianae, 108 (Leiden, 2011), pp. 156182. For an investigation into how Athanasius
uses Platonic ontology and cosmology as tools for constructing his own theological doc-
trines, see E. P. Meijering, Orthodoxy and Platonism in Athanasius: Synthesis or Antithesis?
(Leiden, 1968), esp. the summary on pp. 130131.
12 See Meijering, Orthodoxy and Platonism, p. 122, on this last point.
13 I will not, for instance, investigate Hippocratic medical theory in this paper, nor Judeo-
Christian ideas about the healing qualities of music. For a good summary of the develop-
ment of humoral theory, see Jacques Jouanna, The Legacy of the Hippocratic Treatise The
Nature of Man: the Theory of the Four Humours, in Greek Medicine from Hippocrates to
196 Sawicka-Sykes

According to many ancient thinkers, harmony existed on a macro- and a

micro-cosmic scale, though the ways in which was understood varied.
Perhaps the most well-known example of harmony on a cosmic scale is that
of the music of the spheres, a concept which came to be associated with the
Pythagoreans. According to Aristotles Metaphysics, Pythagorean philosophy
was characterised by its over-arching concern with mathematics and its first prin-
ciple, number, to the extent that the Pythagoreans believed the whole universe
to be made up of harmony () or number ().14 In On the Heavens,
Aristotle refers to the supposedly Pythagorean theory that stars, due their size
and speed of rotation, emit a sound as they spin. The ratios of the speeds, judged
by their relative distances, correspond to ratios in a musical scale, and thus
the movement of heavenly bodies produces a concordant sound. The human
ear, accustomed to the harmony, cannot discern it.15 On the Pythagorean Way
of Life, written by Iamblichus of Chalcis in the fourth century CE, shows how
Pythagoras used his knowledge of heavenly harmony. Iamblichus claims
that Pythagoras alone was able to hear and understand the harmony and con-
cord produced by the movements of heavenly bodies, which he then imitated
with instrument or voice.16 The performance of Pythagorass music was thought
to heal diseases of body and soul. In the narrative, passions of the soul are con-
strued as a spiritual illness, and Pythagoras uses music in place of medicine to
turn disruptive emotions around and lead them in a contrary direction.17 The
soul that is brought into balance resembles the body, in which opposite powers
are made peaceful () and reconciled with one another ()
through health and temperance, in imitation of the well-functioning cosmos.18
Fragments of what may be the earliest Pythagorean book, written by
Philolaus of Croton (c.470385 BCE) help us to better understand what har-
mony meant to these Presocratics. Translated literally as fitting together,

Galen, ed. Philip van der Eijk, trans. Neil Allies (Leiden; Boston, MA, 2012), pp. 335359. For
an exploration of the belief systems underlying King Sauls restoration to health by means
of music, see Siam Bhayro, He Shall Play with his Hand, and you Shall be Well: Music as
Therapy in 1 Samuel 16:1423 in Ritual Healing: Magic, Ritual and Medical Therapy from
Antiquity until the Early Modern Period, ed. Ildik Csepregi and Charles Burnett (Florence,
2012), pp. 1330.
14 Aristotle, Metaphysics 985b986a.
15 Aristotle, On the Heavens 290b.
16 Iamblichus, On the Pythagorean Way of Life 15, trans. John Dillon and Jackson Hershbell
(Atlanta, GA, 1991), p. 91.
17 On the Pythagorean Way of Life 15 and 25. Modes and rhythms were thought to induce
specific emotional responses that could act against the prevailing passions.
18 Ibid., 16.
Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Disorder in the Life of Antony 197

was widely used in a musical sense to mean the tuning of an instru-

ment, a structure of relations that can be used to form the basis of a melody.19
Philolaus applied the word to cosmology, arguing that the cosmos and all it
contains arose from the harmony of limiters and unlimiteds.20 In this case,
harmony refers to the fitting together of two contrary things: stuffs, including
opposing elements such as hot and cold, and continua (unlimiteds), and the
things that mark boundaries along continua (limiters).21 Later writers attrib-
uted the theory of the soul as harmony to Philolaus and the Pythagoreans
in general, though such attributions are problematic.22 Platos Phaedo, for
example, features the character of Simmias, a pupil of Philolaus, who demon-
strates the inadequacy of the proofs of the immortality of the soul presented
so far in the dialogue by making an analogy between the soul and the invis-
ible, incorporeal, valuable and divine of a lyre. If the lyre is destroyed,
the , here meaning the correct tension of the strings, ceases to exist.
The soul, a blending or of (opposing) elements of the body (hot, cold,
dry and moist and other things in in their due proportion) also cannot sur-
vive the destruction of the physical form.23 As H. B. Gottschalk has argued,
Simmiass views may have been partly constructed by Plato for the purpose of
the dialogue, and do not sit comfortably with Philolauss belief in the immor-
tality of the soul. The theory seems to have had currency in the fourth cen-
tury, however. Aristotle refutes the theory of soul as harmony in On the Soul, in
which he argues that it would be more fitting to use the word harmony to refer
to bodily health.24 This view is in-keeping with that of Arcmaeon of Croton,
who asserted that health is a balanced mixture of opposites.25
Socrates argues for the immortality of the soul in the Phaedo and the
Republic. The Myth of Er in the final part of the text presents the soul as an
entity which pre-exists the body and survives the body upon death.26 The Myth
presents a version of the music of the spheres, in which the cosmos is envis-
aged as eight concentric whorls, rotating around the spindle of Necessity. On
each whorl is a Siren, singing a note. The eight notes together form a harmony.

19 Andrew Barker, Greek Musical Writings, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 198489), I:163. Quoted in a
commentary on Fragment 6a in Carl A. Huffman, Philolaus of Croton: Pythagorean and
Presocratic (Cambridge, 1993), p. 162.
20 Philolaus, Fragment 1 in Huffman, Philolaus of Croton, p. 93.
21 Huffman, Philolaus of Croton, p. 47.
22 H. B. Gottschalk, Soul as Harmonia, Phronesis 16:2 (1971), p. 192.
23 Plato, Phaedo 85e.
24 Aristotle, On the Soul 1.407b408a.
25 Gottschalk, Soul as Harmonia, p. 194.
26 The Myth of Er is recorded in the Republic 10.614b621b.
198 Sawicka-Sykes

While Plato makes no clear connection between this universal harmony and
the harmony of an individual soul, Socrates does draw an analogy between the
soul and another macrocosmic unit, the city.
In book four of Platos Republic, Socrates establishes the relationship
between goodness, harmony (meaning, in this case, temperance) and health.
Goodness consists of the four cardinal virtueswisdom, courage, temper-
ance and justice.27 These virtues exist in the city and the individual soul alike.28
Temperance () is understood as the harmony between the higher
and lower parts of society and the soul.29 Plato uses a musical metaphor to
describe how the three parts of the soul are brought into harmony like high,
middling and low notes.30 The logic of this analogy is flawed, however, as rea-
son has a dominant role in the soul, subjugating the spirited and appetitive
parts. It does not follow that the balanced soul is like a three-part harmony,
for the high note of a harmony does not act to order and co-ordinate the other
notes. Still, Platos sense is clearharmony or temperance arises from right
relation between parts.31 Justice consists in each part of either the soul or the
city performing the function to which it is most suited.32 Justice in the soul is
analogous to health in the body: to have a healthy body is to have each com-
ponent in its proper place, in right relation to the others, and likewise, to have
a just soul is to establish its components in a harmonious hierarchy, with rea-
son presiding over the irrational parts. Just as sickness in the body arises from
an unnatural imbalance of elements, so too, injustice in the soul occurs when
parts of the soul rule, or are ruled, in a way that is contrary to nature. Virtue,
Socrates concludes, is a sort of health.33
In the Timaeus, too, Plato draws an analogy between harmony in the
wider environment and order in the soul. In this dialogue, Plato claims that
the divine part of the human soul has an affinity with the motions of the
universe.34 The soul, buffeted about by sense impression and disoriented,
can be re-aligned with the motions of the universe if the individual learns
about harmonies and cosmic revolutions.35 Humans gain knowledge of these

27 Plato, Republic 4.427e.

28 Republic 4.435c.
29 Republic 4.430e432a; 4.442d.
30 Republic 4.443d.
31 See Julius Moravcsik, Inner Harmony and the Human Ideal in Republic IV and IX, The
Journal of Ethics 5:1 (2001), 3956.
32 Republic 4.433ab; 4.443cd.
33 Republic 4.444de.
34 Plato, Timaeus 90d.
35 Timaeus 90d.
Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Disorder in the Life of Antony 199

things through their senses: God gave people sight so that they could trace the
movements of the heavenly intelligences and imitate their courses.36 Speech
and hearing were also given for the purpose of accessing external sources of
order and concord; the harmonious nature of music, like the revolutions of
the universe, is akin to the natural revolutions of the soul.37 Music should not
be used for the purpose of irrational pleasure, but to bring the soul into an
orderly state.38
Music and dramatic performance play a central role in the maintenance
of a balanced soul and just society. As Aristotle explains in the Politics, music
is exceptional amongst all forms of art for representing the states of the soul
most closely. Musical composition can be used to represent certain moods of
the soul, and can thereby alter or reinforce the emotional state of the listener.39
So too, in the Republic, there is a recognition that rhythm and melody can pen-
etrate the innermost parts of the soul and affect them for better or worse.40
Furthermore, Socrates argues that imitative art can affect the state of the soul.
Actors who narrate stories in the first person, regardless of the morality of
the characters, who make their own sound effects like thunder, wind, instru-
ments, machinery and animals, and who switch between modes and rhythms
to suit their ever-changing voice, imitate things indiscriminately.41 Since imita-
tion leads to habituation, mimicking things of a bad or base nature results in
degeneration of character.42
The Stoics believed that passions disrupted inner balance, and frequently
used medical analogies which revealed that emotions had the capacity to
make the soul diseased or sick.43 Summarising Stoic thought, Cicero remarks
that a soul is healthy when its judgements and beliefs are in harmony (cum
eius iudicia opinionesque concordant).44 He defines sickness as a deep and
persistent belief that something is desirable when in fact it is undesirable.45
Sickness arises in the first place out of a state of confusion of belief

36 Timaeus 47c.
37 Timaeus 47d.
38 Ibid.
39 Aristotle, Politics 1340ab.
40 Republic 3.401de.
41 Republic 3.397a397b.
42 Republic 3.395d397b.
43 Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, IV, xxiv, trans. J. E. King (London; New York, 1927),
pp. 351363.
44 Cicero, Disputations, 4.13.
45 Ibid., 4.11.
200 Sawicka-Sykes

([e]x perturbationibus).46 For the early Stoics, the mind () was not divided
into rational and irrational parts, but was entirely rational, and thus even pas-
sionsfalse judgements or beliefshad their basis in reason. However, in
order for the soul to be healthy, such passions had to be expunged.47 Harmony
of mind was therefore envisaged not as the balancing of rational and irrational
components, but the balancing of good qualities or a consistent state of mind
or character.48 The wise and virtuous individual would ideally be unmoved by
external happenings, existing in an impassive state, . Even threats of
torture would not move the ideal Stoic to a state of fear: external evils only
seem bad, fears are delusional; they cannot do harm to one whose soul is
impervious to disruption.49
Stoic texts classify the four basic emotionsdelight, desire, distress and
fearinto types or species. A word must be said here about a particularly
intriguing species of fear, , which is found in tables of species-emo-
tions by Diogenes Laertius, Stobaeus and Pseudo-Andronicus.50 The defini-
tion given by the former is and Ps-Andronicus
gives a similar definition, though he uses the participle form , which
may be translated as pressing down or hastening.51 A parallel text edition of
Ps-Andronicus gives festinans as a Latin translation for this word. Margaret
Graver translates the definition as fear which hastens with the voice, which
is a somewhat unsatisfactory and mystifying translation.52 A Latin parallel text
version of Stobaeuss On the Passions gives metus cum voce trepidas, fear
with an agitated voice.53 This seems to suggest that can be understood
as fear which presses upon the voice, inflecting it with anxiety. Nevertheless,
some ambiguity remains. Could these writers also be suggesting that fear is
stirred up by the sound of an approaching voice? In the Greek New Testament,

46 Ibid., 4.10.
47 For an overview of Stoic ideas about controlling the soul and expelling the passions,
see Martha C. Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics
(Princeton; Chichester, 1994; repr. 2009), pp. 316401.
48 See commentary on Letter 85 in Inwood, Selected Philosophical Letters, pp. 226227.
49 Seneca, Letter 85.2627.
50 Margaret Graver, Cicero on the Emotions: Tusculan Disputations 3 and 4 (Chicago; London,
2002), p. 144.
51 Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 7.113, ed. H. S. Long, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1964),
II:344, and Pseudo-Andronicus On Emotions 3, ed. A. Glibert-Thirry (Leiden, 1977),
pp. 228229.
52 Graver, Cicero on the Emotions, p. 144.
53 Stobaeus, Eclogues 2.7.10bc (Hirschberg, 1869), p. 176.
Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Disorder in the Life of Antony 201

is used to mean riot, carrying connotations of uproar, noise, trouble.54

In the Life of Antony, the word appears frequently to describe the commo-
tion made by demons (see below). It is worth bearing in mind that the word
has a history both as a Stoic and a New Testament term, indicating, on one
hand, a species of fear associated with the voice, and, on the other, a clamor-
ous gathering.
While the use of varies across texts, it consistently denotes things
that held in right relation to one another, whether they be planets, the unlim-
iteds and limiters that make up the cosmos, tuned strings of an instruments or
parts of the soul. A well-balanced soul functions like a healthy body. Sickness
is essentially an imbalance which upsets these delicately adjusted relations.

Fear and Harmony in Athanasiuss Against the Heathen

Even in his rejection of pagan faith systems, Athanasius, like other early Church
Fathers, inherited a set of assumptions from classical schools of thought, such
as the pre-eminence of reason over the senses and the danger of unmoni-
tored emotion, and also forms of expression, such as certain tried and tested
metaphors and analogies. His apologetic treatise, Against the Heathen, makes
use of ideas and images widely found in classical philosophical texts whilst
deploring pagan religion. The work explores the role of fear in the degenera-
tion of humankind, and reveals the rationality of orthodox Christian belief by
means of musical metaphor. It also provides a valuable framework for the Life
of Antony, by showing how demons are able to create a microcosm of disorder
in a harmonious universe.
Athanasius argues that moral disorder arose when people ceased to follow
the dictates of reason and instead became embroiled in the sensory realm.
Humans turned away from the singular goodness of God and focused instead
on the cares of the body, and their souls became confused and sullied by the
multitude of desires.55 As a result of this disturbance, they began to do what
was opposed to their rational nature and use parts of their bodies in defiance
of their proper function: for instance, ears, previously the means by which
humans could pay heed to the word of God, came to be used for the purpose
of disobedience.56 People developed a fear of death, which enslaved them to

54 For example, Acts 20:1, Mark 14:2 and Matthew 27:24.

55 Athanasius, Against the Heathen 3. All references will be to the edition and translation by
Robert W. Thomson (Oxford, 1971).
56 Against the Heathen 5.
202 Sawicka-Sykes

the worship of pagan deities.57 Athanasius follows a long tradition of apolo-

getic writing by highlighting the influence of demons in idolatrous worship.58
In Against the Heathen, he argues that those who worshipped lifeless things,
and performed human sacrifices to these creations, were demon-possessed.59
Although humans made the initial movement away from God, demons preyed
on human fear. As explained in the Life of Antony, demons were created as good
and rational spirits, but they fell from heavenly wisdom and took to wandering
the earth, causing havoc first among pagan Greeks, then Christians, aiming to
prevent humans from returning to God.60 In several of his works, Athanasius
talks of how demons inhabit the air, and, in the Life, evil spirits deliberately
block the way to heaven for ascending souls.61 Physical intervention is by no
means their only tactic. As we shall see, demonic anti-music in the Life bears
a resemblance to the way in which demons initially turned humanitys atten-
tion away from the greater cosmic picture and towards its immediate environs.
Athanasius attempts to lead pagan worshippers out of error. Using an ana-
logical argument for the existence of God, Athanasius discusses how nature,
through its order and harmony , proclaims the
existence of a single master and creator figure.62 Order indicates the presence
of a leader, whereas disorder indicates anarchy.63 Like pagan philosophers
before him, Athanasius uses a lyre metaphor to show that a balanced and

57 Against the Heathen 3.

58 Everett Ferguson, Demonology of the Early Christian World (Lewiston, NY, 1984), p. 111,
points out that the demonic origin of pagan religions was a pervasive theme in the writ-
ings of early defenders of Christianity. For an overview of how this theme was employed
in early Christian writings, see the entry for Dmon, in the Dictionnaire de spiritualit
asctique et mystique: doctrine et histoire, 17 vols. (Paris, 19321995), especially the sec-
ond section by Jean Danilou, III:155160. A good case study is Annette Yoshiko Reed,
The Trickery of the Fallen Angels and the Demonic Mimesis of the Divine: Aetiology,
Demonology, and Polemics in the Writings of Justin Martyr, Journal of Early Christian
Studies 12 (2004), 141171.
59 Against the Heathen 14 and 25. In On the Incarnation 15, Athanasius does claim, however,
that pagans worshipped mortals and demons as gods.
60 Life of Antony 22.
61 On the Incarnation 25, and Life of Antony 65 and 66. For a full discussion of these pas-
sages in the Life of Antony, see Jean Danilou, Les dmons de lair dans la Vie dAntoine,
in Antonius Magnus Eremita, 3561956: studia ad antiquum monachismum spectantia, ed.
Basilius Steidle, Studia Anselmiana 38 (Rome, 1956), 136147.
62 Against the Heathen 34.
63 Against the Heathen 38.
Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Disorder in the Life of Antony 203

ordered life is akin to the harmony of musical tones.64 He draws an analogy

between the harmonising wisdom of God, which maintains a balance of con-
traries throughout creation, and a musician, who can tune the lyre and cre-
ate a pleasing harmony from a combination of low, high and middling notes.65
Another metaphor that Athanasius uses is that of a choir composed of singers
of different natures and abilities, led by a conductor who brings out each per-
sons particular talent and so orchestrates the voices into a single harmony.66
In such a way, the diverse elements of the universe work together and proclaim
the presence of a leader.
Athanasius stresses the centrality of Christ in this scheme. It is through the
Son that God co-ordinates the harmonious universe. Expanding on the lyre
image, Athanasius remarks that Christ, the Wisdom of God, holds the universe
like a well-tuned lyre that produces a balanced sound, combining things of
the air with the things on earth and in heaven.67 Thus, the Incarnation, an act
of redemption which heals the rift between heaven and earth, is imagined in
cosmological and musical terms as a way of re-establishing correct relations
between elements. Elsewhere, Athanasius refers to Christ as a physician to
whom humankind, bitten by the serpent, was delivered.68 Furthermore, by
dying himself, Christ removed the fear of death that inhibited the spiritual ful-
filment of human kind.69
Order is also evident at the micro-level, in the constitution of the human
body. Athanasius compares rational control of the sensory system to the har-
mony of a lyre. The senses, when stimulated, resound like the notes produced
when lyre strings are plucked. The rational capacity of the soul is like a musi-
cian who knows how to craft a melody from the diverse sounds made by the
strings.70 It orders and arranges the body by interpreting sensory input and

64 A possible source for the lyre imagery in Against the Heathen is the Christian treatise
by Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.32.2, as noted by Meijering, Orthodoxy and Platonism in
Athanasius, p. 33. Nevertheless, Athanasius is likely to have been at least indirectly influ-
enced by deployment of this image in Classical texts, such as Plutarchs Moralia, 6.474b.
65 Against the Heathen 38 and 42.
66 Against the Heathen 43. Khaled Anatolios draws attention to the importance of unity-
within-distinction in Athanasius: The Coherence of his Thought (London; New York, NY,
1998), p. 48 and p. 200.
67 Against the Heathen 42.
68 On Luke 10:22 and Matthew 11:27 2 (PG 25:211).
69 This aspect of Athanasiuss thought is more fully explored in Richard J. Voyles, The Fear
of Death and a False Humanity as the Human Dilemma: The Argument of Influence in
Athanasius Christology, The Patristic and Byzantine Review 8:2 (1989), 135144.
70 Against the Heathen 31.
204 Sawicka-Sykes

judging what the appropriate response should be. Reason thus arbitrates
between the senses, allowing for a correct evaluation of the external environ-
ment, and positions the soul towards the presence of the holy and away from
bodily desires. The ordered soul is thus a microcosm of the harmonious uni-
verse: each is synthesised and harmonised by wisdom and rationality.
When relations between parts of the soul, and the soul and the cosmos, are
well-balanced, the result is and health of the human spirit. What hap-
pens, though, when these relations are upset? If the individual were to become
fearful, and fail to attend to divine order, his or her ability to perceive the cos-
mos correctly and rationally may be impaired. This would lead the soul into a
state of disorder (). The noisy demons that feature in the Life of Antony
make their attack precisely by disrupting relations in this way.

Demonic Anti-Music in the Life of Antony

The narrative of Antonys life includes several vivid instances of demonic

attack, and Antonys first-person speech on evil spirits around the mid-point of
the hagiography allows the reader to discern the battle between holiness and
evil at a closer range. Scholars have previously shown the importance of both
the narrative of Antonys life and his speech in establishing the exceptional
abilities of the hermit and the relative power of the demons.71 Little attention,
however, has been paid to how demonic attack functions to weaken the spirits
of monks.
In his discernment speech, Antony states that noisy demonic attack serves
to deceive the unwary:

71 Plcido Alvarez, Demon Stories in the Life of Antony by Athanasius, Cistercian Studies 23
(1988), 101118, distinguishes between narrative interactions between demons and char-
acters in the Life (which he calls demon stories) and more abstract references to demons
that appear in speeches, arguing that the two forms perform specific narrative functions.
Norman H. Baynes, St. Antony and the Demons, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 40
(1954), 710, concentrates on Antonys discernment speech, highlighting the importance
of the will of the monk in performing virtue and achieving victory over evil forces. Brakke,
Demons, pp. 2347, focuses on the third-person narrative, reading the demons as spiritual
enemies symbolic of political and social antagonism against Christians.
 Michael J. Marx argues that progressive stages in diabolic temptation provide an
underlying narrative structure. See his Incessant Prayer in the Vita Antonii, Studia
Anselmiana 38 (1956), 108135.
Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Disorder in the Life of Antony 205

For everything [demons] dothey talk, they cause mass confusion

[], they pretend to be others than themselves, and they create
disturbances []all this is for the deception of the simple.
They also make crashing sounds [ ], and laugh madly
[ ], and hiss [].72

Later in his speech, Antony suggests that the purpose of demonic trickery is
to cause fear: when [demons] see people who are fearful, they multiply the
apparitions so as to terrify them all the more.73 Evil apparitions, he explains,
can be identified by the sounds they make. Whilst holy visitations are not
subject to disturbance,74 the appearance of evil beings is troubling, with
crashing and noise and shouting [ ]the sort
of disturbance one might expect from tough youths and robbers.75 This is
certainly in keeping with the experiences recorded in the narrative of his life.
Athanasius often uses forms of the word to convey the chaotic dis-
turbance that attends the coming of demons. He describes how a group of
Antonys acquaintances, who approach the old fortress which was to be his
cell for almost twenty years, hear a sound like a clamouring mob coming from
inside and find that the sounds are being
made by demons.76 Later in the narrative, those who visit his retreat in the
Inner Mountains hear tumults [] and many voices, and crashing noises
like the sound of weapons.77 Antony claims that the purpose of the commo-
tion is to disturb the cowardly.78 On another occasion, when he is attacked by
apparitions of wild animals, he speaks directly to the demons, exposing their
trickery: since the Lord has broken your strength, you attempt to terrify me
by any means with the mob.79 While the singular and powerful nature of God
is revealed by analogy to the lyre in Against the Heathen, here, the anarchic
nature of demons is shown through the noise they make as a mob. By appear-
ing as a noisy crowd, demons seek to frighten those who do not have Antonys
understanding. However, the Life also reveals that tumult and confusion can
be created by a single evil entity. At an early stage of Antonys ascetic career,

Life of Antony 26.
Life of Antony 37.
Life of Antony 35.
Life of Antony 36.
Life of Antony 13.
Life of Antony 51.
Life of Antony 13.
Life of Antony 9.
206 Sawicka-Sykes

Satan advanced against the youth, noisily disturbing him by night [

].80 This suggests that clamour is not simply an accidental by-
product of demons appearing in a group, but is a weapon used by evil spirits
to frighten monks.
Antony describes the effect that the noisy apparitions have on the soul of a
vulnerable monk:

[f]rom this come immediately terror of the soul, confusion and disor-
der of thoughts [ ], dejection, enmity toward
ascetics, listlessness [], grief [], memory of relatives, and fear
of death [ ]; and finally there is craving for evil, contempt for
virtue, and instability of character.81

As agents of chaos, demons first of all throw the ascetic into a fearful state, and
then trouble his thoughts. By attacking the inner life of the monk, they snatch
his attention away from God. He then begins to harbour hostility towards other
members of the spiritual community. Finally, the monk suffers a degenera-
tion of character and actively wishes to undertake malign acts. It appears that
demonic noise plunges the monk into a state of fear and detachment from
goodness that re-enacts humanitys first turn away from God. As explained
in Against the Heathen, souls that disregarded the singular goodness of God
and focused on their immediate sensory environment were held captive by
fear of death and worshipped false idols. By creating a microcosm of disorder,
demons disrupt the souls relation to its environment; the individual loses sight
of God, the orchestrator and leader of the cosmos, and focuses instead on the
confusion surrounding him. The noise of demons possesses a kind of mimetic
power, causing the monk to perform in his own soul. As discussed above,
ancient authorities were well aware of the degenerative potential of certain
styles of musical performance, involving disorderly rhythms and speech that
imitated unpleasant sounds. Demonic noise may be viewed as akin to these
base practices, but rather than being merely bad music, it is anti-music, inimi-
cal to the order of creation and the health of the soul.
Creating noise is not the only way in which demons seek to perform .
Antony explicitly makes reference to the theatrical aspect of the demons
deception in their capacity to create illusions.82 He elaborates, [they] play

80 Life of Antony 5.
81 Life of Antony 36.
82 This is discussed, with reference to its Stoic background, in Olivier Munnich, Les dmons
dAntoine dans la Vie dAntoine in Saint Antoine entre mythe et lgende, ed. Philippe Walter
(Grnoble, 1996), pp. 95110.
Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Disorder in the Life of Antony 207

parts as if they were on stage, changing their forms and striking fear in children
by the illusion of the hordes and their shapes.83 Antonys portrayal of demons
as actors would have been particularly powerful for the late-antique Christian,
familiar with patristic invective against theatrical performance.84 The weak
monk, unable to distinguish stage from world and performance from reality,
would easily fall prey to demonic dramatics.
Elsewhere in his speech, Antony explains that demons are able to feign
psalmody and recite from Scripture: [f]requently, without becoming visible,
they pretend to chant with sacred songs [ ].85
Imitation or parody is therefore another aspect of demonic anti-music.86 In
chanting psalms and reciting Scripture, demons are merely putting on a show
of holiness. The musicologist, Joseph Dyer, has drawn a useful contrast between
the spiritual exercise of meditating on the psalms, and demonic imitation of
this exercise, which, he argues, amounts only to memorisation and chatter.87
Demons lack the ability to interpret, and contemplate, the word of God; they
can imitate the sound of holy words, but cannot understand them and assimi-
late them into a rational model.
Antony states the intention behind this trickery is to bring the simple to
despair, and declare the discipline useless, and make men sick of the solitary
life as something burdensome and very oppressive, and trip up those who,
opposing them, lead it.88 This response to demonic performance again serves
to detach the monk from the wider community and lose faith in God and him-
self, reinforcing a delusional view that all efforts are for nothing. Although
Antony does not give a specific term to this state, the condition described here
bears similarities to the listlessness () which Antony claimed could be
brought about by noisy demonic apparitions. While Athanasius does not fully
develop this term in the Life of Antony, it may be interpreted as an early under-
standing of the monastic sin and sickness, acedia, which was thought to cause

83 Life of Antony 28.

84 See Ruth Webb, Demons and Dancers: Performance in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, MA;
London, 2008). She discusses the link between the demonic and the theatrical in the
works of Tertullian and Chrysostom on pp. 173175, and remarks on how watching drama
can taint the soul and threaten integrity on p. 168, p. 184 and p. 205.
85 The Life of Antony 25.
86 See Hammerstein, Die Musik der Engel, pp. 106110, for a discussion of devil music as a
parody of angelic harmony. Many thanks to Helen Harding for providing me with a trans-
lation of this section.
87 Joseph Dyer, The Desert, the City and Psalmody in the Late Fourth Century, in Western
Plainchant in the First Millennium: Studies in the Medieval Liturgy and its Music, ed. Sean
Gallagher (Aldershot, 2003), pp. 1144 (esp. p. 18).
88 Life of Antony 25.
208 Sawicka-Sykes

listlessness, dejection and tiredness.89 Andrew Crislip argues that later monas-
tic texts, the Life of Pachomius and the canons of Shenoute, reveal a distinc-
tion between natural illness, with a physiological cause, which can be cured
by both medical and non-medical healing, and non-natural illness, caused by
demons.90 He understands demonic illness, such as acedia, to be a false illness,
which mimics the symptoms of physical sickness but is instead a disorder of
thought. In the Life of Antony, Athanasius does not draw such a distinction.
Yet we may conclude that demonic performance can bring about a despairing
and dejected state, with a faulty judgement about the world and the self at its
core, and that, in some later writings, this state was associated with illusory
demonic illness.
Antony recognises that the microcosm of disorder created by the demons
can only be a performance or illusion. In Against the Heathen, Athanasius
defines evil as , without being.91 This privation is the opposite of God,
Being Itself. Evil is not created, but comes about when spiritual beings turn
away from God. A model of utter equilibrium,92 Antony maintains parts of
his body and soul in a state of right relation, and, as we can infer from his evalu-
ation of demonic apparitions and anti-music as harmless, he keeps a model of
the universe as a harmonious whole in mind. In his understanding of the tricks
of demons, Antony resembles the ideal wise man of the Stoic tradition who
recognises the fear of external threat to be an illusion.93
During several of his trials with demonic noise, Antony engages in psalm
singing.94 These spiritual songs have an apotropaic function, causing the evil

89 The literature on acedia is vast. The articles most relevant to this paper are: Andrew
Crislip, The Sin of Sloth or the Illness of the Demons? The Demon of Acedia in Early
Christian Monasticism, Harvard Theological Review 98:2 (2005), 143169, and Stanley
W. Jackson, Acedia the Sin and its Relationship to Sorrow and Melancholia in Culture
and Depression: Studies in the Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Psychiatry of Affect and
Disorder, ed. Arthur Kleinman and Byron Good (Berkeley, CA; London, 1985), pp. 4362.
90 Andrew T. Crislip, From Monastery to Hospital: Christian Monasticism and the
Transformation of Health Care in Late Antiquity (Ann Arbor, MI, 2005), pp. 1826 and
pp. 7880. For a summary of attitudes towards demonic and non-demonic illnesses, see
Brakke, Demons, pp. 186187. See also Despina Iosif, I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightening
From Heaven. Illness as Demon Possession in the World of the First Christian Ascetics
and Monks, Mental Health, Religion & Culture 14:4 (2011), 323340.
91 Against the Heathen 4.
92 Life of Antony 14.
93 See also Munnich, Les dmons, pp. 100102.
94 Life of Antony 9, 13 and 39.
Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Disorder in the Life of Antony 209

ones to cry and lament.95 The efficacy of the psalms lies not only in their
words, or even in their musical structure, but in their correct performance. In
the Letter to Marcellinus, Athanasius explains how the soul that possesses the
mind of Christ uses reason as a leader to prevent it from falling into confusion.96
Reason governs the bodys members and passions so that man becoming him-
self a stringed instrument and devoting himself completely to the Spirit may
obey in all his members and emotions, and serve the will of God.97 The psalms
are a figure or a type of this state of being; the musical nature of the psalms is
a symbol of the harmony within the balanced soul.98 Furthermore, this state
can be achieved through the very activity of singing or reading the psalms with
the mind fixed on God. When worshippers chant psalms so that the melody
of the phrases is brought forth from the souls good order, they sing with the
mind as well as the tongue.99 This benefits both themselves and the listeners,
inducing tranquillity in souls and bringing them into unanimity with those
who form the heavenly chorus.100 Psalms act as a performative link between
the microcosm of the soul and the macrocosm of the created universe, draw-
ing the singers attention towards heavenly and earthly spiritual communities.
Like all adjuncts to health and harmony, Antonys steadfast faith and rea-
sonable conduct do not and cannot eliminate baseness. Rather, these virtues
create an inspirational atmosphere within the desert, which motivates his
followers to set their minds on renewing and restorative feats of holiness.
Antonys monastery becomes like a place filled with divine choirspeople
chanting, studying, fasting, praying, rejoicing in the hope of future boons,
working for the distribution of alms, and maintaining both love and harmony
among themselves.101 We cannot fail to be reminded of Athanasiuss descrip-
tion of the universe as a choir with each member singing according to his or
her own special skill and ability. Antony, as the enemy of legions of demons, is
the conductor of a body of monks working in harmony.

95 These instances are mentioned by Kolbet, Reformation of the Self, p. 86 and p. 99. For
a discussion of the apotropaic function of Psalms in late antique Egypt, see Christopher
Page, The Christian West and Its Singers: the First Thousand Years (New Haven, CT, 2010),
pp. 146151.
96  Letter to Marcellinus 28.
97 Ibid.
98 Ibid.
99  Letter to Marcellinus 29.
100 Ibid.
101 Life of Antony 44.
210 Sawicka-Sykes

Picking Up Bad Vibes: Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Sickness

in Evagrius

The importance of the Life of Antony to the development of Christian hagiog-

raphy is widely attested.102 How influential, though, was Athanasiuss portrayal
of demons as tumultuous entities? Evagrius Ponticus (c.345399), who, for six-
teen years, lived as an ascetic monk in the Egyptian settlements of Nitria and
Kellia, was an early reader of the Life of Antony. He seems to have picked up
on the suggestion in Athanasiuss text that demonic noise can lead the listener
into a state of fear, and bring about spiritual illness. Evagrius wrote extensively
about the eight evil thoughts ()gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger,
acedia, vainglory and pridewhich he believed to be brought on by demons.
Evagrius refers to Antony as an authority on demons in his Antirrheticus (trans-
lated by Brakke as Talking Back), a collection of quotations from scripture,
each of which is intended to rebuff a particular evil thought.103 As noted by
Brakke, he cites scriptural passages mentioned in Antonys speech on demons
frequently in Book IV, Concerning the thoughts of the demon of sadness.104
Often overshadowed by acedia, Evagriuss depiction of sadness has received lit-
tle scholarly attention. There is an area of overlap between the two in Evagriuss
writings, and later, the sins become integrated.105 Yet, in Talking Back, sadness
is associated more with fear than listlessness; a sad soul is vulnerable to fear

102 Benjamin Kurtz, From St. Antony to St. Guthlac: A Study in Biography (University of
California Publications in Modern Philology) 12:2 (Berkeley, CA, 1926), pp. 10346, attempts
to substantiate claims as to the influence of the Life in the early Middle Ages. He under-
takes a survey of early hagiography up to the eighth century, concluding that while one
group of Saints Lives shows influence of the Life of Antony (including Jeromes Hilarion,
Severuss Martin, Gregorys Benedict, Bedes Cuthbert and Felixs Guthlac), another group
lies outside the Antonian tradition, and a third only shows superficial resemblances
(p. 140). Casting his net beyond hagiography, however, Jean Leclercq demonstrates the
importance of Antony as a model (both literary and spiritual) in Saint Antoine dans la
tradition monastique mdivale, Studia Anselmiana 38, 229247.
103 Evagrius, Antirrheticus 4.47. Translated by David Brakke, Talking Back: A Monastic
Handbook for Combating Demons (Trappist, KY; Collegeville, MN, 2009). All future refer-
ences will be to this translation.
104 Brakke, Talking Back, p. 20. Although Evagrius places only one of these citations in the
context of resisting demonic noise (4.32), this does not weaken the possibility that the Life
of Antony influenced his accounts of monks being disturbed by demonic noise. Evagrius
uses references to the Life, and scriptural quotations derived from Athanasiuss text, fairly
loosely, re-contextualising quotations and not always signposting when he does use the
Life as a reference point.
105 See Jackson, Acedia the Sin, passim.
Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Disorder in the Life of Antony 211

brought on by demonic apparitions. Evagrius may well be thinking of Antonys

claim that when demons see a fearful person, they multiply their apparitions
so as to induce further terror.
Evagrius indicates that demons achieve this effect by making sudden, intru-
sive sounds. For example, Evagrius recommends Deuteronomy 2:2425 for
the soul that has been frightened by the voice of a demon that hissed at it
suddenly in the air and 1 Kingdoms 17:47 [a]gainst the demons that make a
commotion in the air and then make us listen to their voices.106 Demonic dis-
turbance can also be vey physical, with one quotation being addressed to the
Lord, concerning the soul that remained undisturbed when suddenly demons
fell upon the body with noise and tumult.107
As this quotation suggests, the demon of sad thoughts also has the capac-
ity to negatively affect the soul. Evagrius writes that it alters the intellect and
impresses it with a single concept that is filled with severe grief. This, he con-
tinues, is an indication of great madness.108 Evagrius here seems to be refer-
ring to a , a mental representation or image. Evagrius often distinguishes
between thoughts, , which can be planted in the mind by demons, and
, mental representations which are a normal part of mental processing
and are morally neutral.109 Here, however, it seems that demons, by suggesting
thoughts, can conjure images of great sadness. In several of his works, Evagrius
claims that sadness is the result of frustrated desires, arising from a monks
unfulfilled longing for everything from home comforts to revenge against those
who have angered him.110 It appears that demons can stir up these mental
representations of a longed-for object or lifestyle.111 In his letter to the monk
Eulogius, he explains that there is a holy (penitential and God-fearing) sadness
and an evil sadness, which may be unprovoked or brought about by unusual

106 Talking Back 4.13 and 4.24.

107 Talking Back 4.15.
108 Talking Back 4.37.
109 For a clear explanation of this distinctionand a discussion of cases in which Evagrius
appears to elide the difference between themsee, Columba Stewart, Imageless Prayer
and the Theological Vision of Evagrius Ponticus, Journal of Early Christian Studies 9:2
(2001), 173204, esp. 187189.
110 Robert E. Sinkewicz, Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus (Oxford, 2003), p. xxviii.
111 Evagrius sets out a debate as to whether representations set passions in motion, or pas-
sions set representations in motion, in Praktikos 37. The notion of representations or
proto-thoughts causing passions is Stoic. See Brakke, Talking Back, p. 24 and Sinkewicz,
p. 254, n. 36.
212 Sawicka-Sykes

causes. This kind of sadness is a disease of body and soul.112 By equating this
emotion with vice, and vice with disease, Evagrius evokes Stoic precedents.
By holding demons to account for this, he places the idea in a framework of
Christian theology.
The picture is further complicated by Evagriuss suggestion that demons
can be both a cause of spiritual malady and its effect. They bring about evil
thoughts in the first place, and the mind, unhinged by these evil spirits, can
conjure up the vision of a multitude of demons in the air.113 A treatise on the
practical applications of his teachings, the Praktikos, states that apparitions
or visions arise from the disturbance of the , the irascible part of the
soul.114 As Christoph Joest explains, sadness (including fear), anger and acedia
are vices that attack this irascible part.115 Are we seeing here a development of
an Athanasian idea? Antonys list of the negative states of soul brought about
by demonic apparitions include terror, disorder of thoughts, enmity towards
ascetics, acedia, grief, memories of relatives and fear of death. These may be
grouped into states of sadness (and fear), anger or hostility and acedia. While
Antony simply describes these states as negative responses to demonic appari-
tions, Evagrius constructs a more complex series of causes whereby demons
can plant bad thoughts, which upset the balance of the soul and provoke fur-
ther apparitions. In his scheme, the lines between the real and the illusory,
thoughts and representations, are blurred.
Evagrius distinguishes between prayer, which leads to immaterial and non-
multiform knowledge and psalmody, which calms the passions and is a means
of attaining , the health of the soul.116 The degree of impassibility
attained by the soul can be measured by its production of images. A soul that
is unhealthy is affected by passions roused by demons and generates images in
dreams and sinful thoughts, whereas a soul that possesses is untrou-
bled by images occurring in sleep.117 Pure prayer refers to contemplation on

112 Evagrius, Eulogois 7.7 in Sinkewicz, Greek Ascetic Corpus, p. 34. Future references to this
text, Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer will be to this edition.
113 Praktikos 14.
114 Praktikos 21.
115 Christoph Joest, The Significance of Acedia and Apatheia in Evagrius Ponticus Part II,
The American Benedictine Review 55:3 (2004), pp. 282283.
116 On psalmody, Chapters on Prayer 83 and 85 and Praktikos 15. On apatheia as the health of
the soul, Praktikos 56.
117 Praktikos 55, 56 and 64. Joest, Acedia and Apatheia II, p. 280, argues that con-
sists in the harmonious cooperation of the parts of the soul, each of which is function-
ing according to its own nature. This suggests that the Evagrian conception of apatheia
was influenced by Platonic as well as Stoic philosophy (see above). Praktikos 89 specifies
that the virtue that promotes harmony and concord between parts of the soul is justice.
Demonic Anti-Music and Spiritual Disorder in the Life of Antony 213

God that transcends the senses. Evagrius believed that, while most thoughts
produce concepts or depictions in the mind (), contemplation on God
is the perception of a higher, imageless reality.118 By practising deeply contem-
plative, imageless prayer, a monk is able to become equal to angels,119 entities
who help to restore souls to the order of the cosmos, and who are undisturbed
by passions. Little wonder that demons, traditionally envious of humanitys
special place in the scheme of creation, try to distract monks from achieving
this sanctified state, and healing the rift caused by the Fall. In his Chapters on
Prayer, Evagrius claims that the monk who tries to cultivate pure prayer will
hear noises, crashings, voices, and tormenting screams that come from the
demons [ ];
yet he will not suffer collapse or surrender his thoughts if he says to God: I shall
fear no evil, for you are with me (Ps. 22:4) and words like these.120 Demonic
noise works against the form and function of the prayer. Its capacity to arouse
sadness and fear, which give rise to mental representations and apparitions, is
a hindrance to achieving a state of contemplation wherein all distractions of
thought and of the body are left behind. Demonic noise can act as a tempta-
tion for the monk who is working to achieve knowledge of the divine: as well
as signalling spiritual sickness, the tumultuous presence of demons is a test of
spiritual strength.
Demonic cacophony, then, is loaded with meaning. The uproar and chaos
of evil spirits contains echoes of classical thought equating passions with dis-
ease, and harmony with health. The Life of Antony proved to be an influential
hagiographical model. Saints Lives of the Middle Ages feature demons causing
noise for the purposes of waging war on the soul.121 Antonian ideas, filtered
through Evagrius, entered Western ascetic writings. The method of continuous

Apatheia and justice are related in so far as a soul that remains unstirred by passions is
led by reason, rather than its concupiscible and irascible parts, and hence can be said to
be both impassable and well-balanced. However, nowhere does Evagrius refer to apatheia
itself as a sort of harmony.
118 Stewart, Imageless Prayer, argues that a tension nevertheless exists in Evagriuss thought
between the ideal of pure prayer and his experiences and expressions of praying, in
which the images of light and the place of God play a central role. See also Luke Dysinger,
The Significance of Psalmody in the Mystical Theology of Evagrius of Pontus, Studia
Patristica 30 (1997), 176182.
119 Chapters on Prayer 113.
120 Chapters on Prayer 97 (PG 79:1187).
121 See, for instance, Felix, Life of Guthlac, in which demons in the form of beasts appear
before the hermit, making noises to trouble him: ad turbandum veri Dei verum militem
horrisonis vocibus stridebant (XXXVI). Trans. Bertram Colgrave (Cambridge; New York,
1956), pp. 114115.
214 Sawicka-Sykes

prayer found in the Conferences of Cassian reveals the influence of early desert
literature. His recommendation of reciting Psalm 69 (70):2 when agitated by
the horrors of nocturnal devils and the appearances of unclean spirits has a
distinctly Antonian and Evagrian ring.122 The portrayal of demonic anti-music
in Life of Antony, therefore, represents a transitional point between concepts
of the health and disease of the soul in antiquity, and concepts of holiness and
evil in Christian ascetic texts: to be sanctified is to keep in mind the universal
harmony of creation; to submit to the ravages of temptation is to lose oneself
to the fear brought about by demonic performance of disorder.

122 Cassian, Conferences 1.10.10 (PL 49: 835).


Over-Eating Demoniacs in Late Antique


Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe

Two hagiographical texts of the fifth century CE contain stories about demo-
niacs whose main symptom, excessive and insatiable hunger, was allevi-
ated by the exorcistic cure of a saint. The first story occurs in a Hymn of 402
by Paulinus, a Gallo-Roman aristocrat who had retreated to a life of ascetic
contemplation at Nola in Campania. Paulinus apparently drew on his own
experience and observation in narrating the cure of a ravenous demoniac by
the long-dead Felix, a saint famous for his post-mortem capacity to heal and
exorcize.1 The second story is found in the Lausiac History of Palladius, bishop
of Helenopolis and then Aspuna in Asia Minor. This work is a collection of lives
of the Egyptian desert fathers presented to the imperial chamberlain Lausus
in about 420, apparently drawing on Palladius earlier tour of the region in the
390s. The cure of the hyper-hungry demoniac is narrated in Palladius second-
hand reportage of the miracles of Macarius of Egypt.2
In both Paulinus and Palladius stories about over-eating demoniacs, a man
was recognized to be possessed by a demon by multiple factors: the sheer scale
of his appetite, the disgusting, transgressive objects of that appetite, and a
range of other unnatural physical behaviours and symptoms. Paulinus demo-
niac guzzled vast quantities of normal food, live animals, and carrion, and
was described as shaking, hiccupping, belching, and foaming at the mouth.
Palladius demoniac gobbled, then belched up and vaporized, vast quantities
of bread and water, and was so crazed with hunger that he consumed his own
urine and excrement. In both cases, the victims human selves seem to have
been effaced in the experience of demonic takeover, but curative exorcism suc-
cessfully restored them to health and moderation.
This article will examine Paulinus and Palladius anecdotes in turn, focusing
on how they depict the relationship between human and demonic selfhood
and agency: whose enormous hunger was being exercised in cases of posses-
sion, demon or human? What effects did the inhabitation of a demonic body

1 Paulinus, Hymn 26, ed. G. Hartel, CSEL 30 (Vienna, 1907).

2 Palladius, Lausiac History, ed. C. Butler (Cambridge, 18981904), 2 vols.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_013

216 Lunn-Rockliffe

have on a human body? What could be discerned about the type of indwelling
demon from the behaviour of a particular demoniac? How responsible was
the victim of possession for his state? What cure was provided for the demo-
niac, and did it focus on curing human host or expelling demonic body? It will
also propose that these tales shared similar paraenetic purposes, teaching that
spectacular over-eating could have a demonic aetiology. The emphasis on the
connection between greed and demonic activity was particularly associated
with the teachings of the ascetic Evagrius of Pontus, who named eight demonic
thoughts, logismoi, of which the first and worst was gluttony, gastrimargia.3 On
Evagrius account, indulging the sin of gluttony could lead to the experience
of a demonic take-over of the body, and indeed to other vicious activities. In
Palladius, and to some extent in Paulinus, the over-eating demoniac might not
have been directly or personally responsible for the unfortunate circumstance
of being possessed by a demon, but, once possessed, the demonic quality of his
excessive greed was an important warning against over-consumption. As such,
these stories were vehicles for their authors to promote frugal and modest con-
sumption for the maintenance of human spiritual health.

Paulinus, Hymn 26

Felix was a martyr of the mid-third century whose cult of healing and exor-
cism was promoted vigorously by Paulinus among and beyond his ascetic
community at Nola in the late fourth and early fifth centuries.4 Every year for
fourteen years, Paulinus composed a birthday hymn (natalicium) in honour
of Felix which he recited in church on the day of the saints January festival,
a mid-winter carnival of much feasting and revelry for the wider agricultural
community.5 Hymn 26, a relatively long poem of 429 hexameter lines, was
probably the eighth such hymn to be delivered, in 402.6 Paulinus began by con-
juring up the dangers and anxieties of the period, with Alaric and his Gothic
forces roaming the Italian countryside and the Roman state threatened from
within. He figured the barbarians in typically polarizing Roman style as harsh

3 Robert Sinkewicz, Evagrius Ponticus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus (Oxford, 2003); Kevin Corrigan,
Evagrius and Gregory: Mind, Soul and Body in the Fourth Century (Farnham, 2013).
4 Dennis Trout, Paulinus of Nola: Life, Letters, and Poems (Berkeley, 1999), pp. 16097 and Lucy
Grig, Making Martyrs in Late Antiquity (London, 2000), pp. 10510.
5 Paulinus, Hymns 1216, 18, 23, 26, 27, 28, 19, 20, 21, 29. Hymn 26 was recited in the old aula
Felicis, replaced within a couple of years by Paulinus grand basilica nova.
6 Trout, Paulinus pp. xv and xx.
Over-eating Demoniacs in Late Antique Hagiography 217

(inmitis), savage (saevus), and wild (efferus).7 This bestial language and imagery
underpins and unites different elements of the hymn, for, as we shall see, Felix
the saint was repeatedly praised for his powerful protection of humans against
savage barbarians and bestial demons. Felix was also praised and thanked for
saving the shrine and its buildings from a recent devastating fire.8
The first half of Paulinus poem recalled and celebrated Old Testament
instances of Gods deliverance of his people, including the exodus from Egypt,
Joshuas destruction of Jericho, the destruction of the Assyrians in the reign of
Hezekiah, and Daniels protection from the lions.9 Paulinus then moved into
more contemporary and local history, proclaiming the power of Felix to protect
and save, and noting that one of the saints particular God-given powers was
control over the demons, themselves described as pestilential legions of Satan
(pestiferis Satanae legionibus, l. 304). Felix thus quelled all beasts and flames,
for what snake, what beast is not part of this crowd? (Nam quae non serpens,
quae non hac belua turba est?, l. 306). This association between animals and
demons saturates early Christian literature; that is, demons were thought to
act with the savagery of beasts, and also sometimes even turn themselves into,
or possess the bodies of, animals.10
Paulinus insistent figuring of demons as bestial helps to explain the animal-
istic behaviour of a ravenous man (ll. 30923 and ll. 34853) as demonically
influenced, and demonstrates what Peter Brown has vividly described as the
horror of the collapse of the categories that defined a human being.11 Indeed,
it also elides the behaviours of subtle-bodied spiritual rational creatures
(demons) with those of more thickly embodied, irrational creatures (animals).
This elision is exemplified by the comment with which Paulinus introduced
the anecdote of the hyperphagic demoniac: that this single instance of pos-
session would allow his audience to learn that demons have bestial feelings

7 Ralph Mathisen, Violent behaviour and the construction of barbarian identity in late
antiquity, in Harold Drake, ed., Violence in Late Antiquity: Perceptions and Practices
(Aldershot, 2006), pp. 2636, see especially pp. 3034.
8 Giselle de Nie, Poetics of Wonder: Testimonies of the New Christian Miracles in the Late
Antique Latin World (Turnhout, 2012), pp. 20811.
9 W. Evenepoel, Paulinus Nolanus, Hymn 26: the threat of war, St Felix, and Old Testament
examples of the power of God and of his saints, in Jan den Boeft et al., eds, The Impact of
Scripture in Early Christianity (Leiden, 1999), pp. 13360.
10 I. Gilhus, Animals, Gods, and Humans: Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and
Early Christian Ideas (Abingdon, 2006), pp. 205226.
11 Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago,
1981), p. 112.
218 Lunn-Rockliffe

(sensus ferinos, l. 308). He then recounted the effects of the demon on his vic-
tim in vivid detail:

Not long ago a man was distended by a demon so prodigious that he

devoured in an easy gulp not only customary human foodstuffs, or, if it
was offered, a table heaped up with a great feast; but also, having snatched
hens from the thresholds of those living nearby, as soon as he had seized
them, he mangled them with a mad mouth and devoured them raw with-
out choking on their feathers. He even used to thirst for the blood of the
dead, and lick their bones; chewing the cast-off carcasses of cattle, he
was the ominous dining-companion of dogs. Look at him now, this man
[once possessed] by so great a demon; he works soberly on a small rented
farm far away, and by the healing of God in the holy church of Felix, he
was restored to his own self; he [God] demonstrates well enough by this
clear sign that Felix, powerful by his merits and by Christs name, tames
frightful beasts and conquers flames.12

Paulinus choice of vocabulary in this anecdote suggests that the demons

indwelling was a painfully physical activity in which the demon filled up and
stretched its human host. Twice in this passage the demoniac is described in
terms evoking the idea of a swollen body. Firstly, he is said to be distended
by a demon (daemone distentus, l. 310); distentus means to be swollen or
stuffed with some kind of matter, whether food or drink. Later, the demoniac
is described as puffed up by a demon (inflatus...daemone, ll. 3489); inflatus
suggests that something more aery than solid has been blown into a human
body, which tallies with the widespread early Christian notion that demons
had their own subtle, aery bodies which were thinner, lighter and less visible
than the dense, solid bodies of humans.13
Paulinus syntax suggests that the demoniacs dramatically expanded
appetite was a direct result of the demons own size or nature: the man was

12 Paulinus, Hymn 26, ll. 30923: Quidam homo, non longum tempus, tam prodigiali / dae-
mone distentus fuit, ut iam non modo notos / ille cibos hominum, vel si congesta daretur /
multa mensa dape, in facili consumeret haustu / verum et gallinas habitantum limine rap-
tas, / mox ut sustulerat, rabido discerperet ore / et pluma incoctas non suffocante voraret. /
Quin et funeream saniem sitiebat et ossa / lambebat, pecudum proiecta cadavera mandens,
/ obscenus conviva canum. Hic modo daemone tanto / sobrius ecce procul conductum exer-
cet agellum / et curante deo sancta Felicis in aula / redditus ipse sibi claro satis indice mon-
strat / Felicem meritis et Christi nomine fortem / inmanes domitare feras et vincere flammas.
13 Gregory Smith, How thin is a demon?, Journal of Early Christian Studies 16.4 (2008),
pp. 479512.
Over-eating Demoniacs in Late Antique Hagiography 219

distended by a demon so prodigious that...he devoured (tam prodigiali

ut...consumeret) all kinds of foodstuffs. Later, the demons size or quality
is again emphasized, when it is described as such a great demon (daemone
tanto, l. 318). That is, the demons nature, size, or appetite was notably great,
indeed comparably greater than that of other demons, and the demons dis-
tinctively enormous appetite was being exercised through its human host. Now,
demons were not generally thought to be capable of ingesting solid foodstuffs
in their own subtle bodies; indeed, aery demonic bodies were often said to
be sustained by different kinds of foods than human bodies, especially by the
fumes of sacrifices.14 That said, comparative evidence from earlier Christian
texts such as the pseudo-Clementine Homilies suggests that one of the demons
motivations for possessing a human body was to delight in the senses other-
wise lacking to their own more rarefied existence.15 The fact that Paulinus
demoniac guzzled a combination of human banquets, uncooked meats, and
carrion thus suggests the insatiable quality of a great demons appetite exer-
cised through a human body, with a bestial lack of regard for the refinements
of human cookery.
We encounter this demonic expression of animal instincts again in the size
and objects of the demoniacs appetite which crossed all the normal bound-
aries of propriety and progressed from the human to the bestial: ordinary
foodstuffs (notos /...cibos hominum, ll. 31011), tables laden with banquets
(congesta.../ multa mensa dape, ll. 31112), hens grabbed from nearby house-
holds (et gallinas habitantum limine raptas, l. 313), and a bloody array of carrion
( funeream saniem...ossa /...pecudum proiecta cadavera, ll. 31617). As struc-
turalists have demonstrated with regard to classical culture, eating meat raw as
opposed to cooked was one of the most fundamental and polarizing distinc-
tions between humans and animals in Greco-Roman antiquity.16 The demo-
niacs snatching and eating live animals thus rendered him akin to a beast, and
in turn assimilated him to the bestial barbarians and demonic beasts evoked
elsewhere in this poem. The image of a human frantically rending raw flesh
may also have evoked Bacchic associations.17
In Hymn 26 Paulinus did not meditate on how this particular demoniac
had come to be possessed, nor did he offer a judgment about whether he

14 Smith, How thin is a demon, pp. 4836.

15 Eric Sorensen, Possession and Exorcism in the New Testament and Early Christianity
(Tbingen, 2002), p. 218, n. 316.
16 Charles Segal, The raw and the cooked in Greek literature: structure, values, metaphor,
Classical Journal 69 (1974), pp. 289308.
17 de Nie, Poetics of Wonder, p. 209.
220 Lunn-Rockliffe

had deserved to suffer this unpleasant experience. However, in other hymns

Paulinus speculated at some length about why demons infiltrated human
beings. For example, in Hymn 23, delivered in 401, the year before Hymn 26,
Paulinus explained that Felix prolonged the presence of demons in some peo-
ple so that punishment may oppress the evil foe for longer; or so that the people
who have merited serving as vessels for evil spirits may experience a deserved
delay in gaining the remedy, and may more fully expiate the whole of their sin
by this lapse of time...18 There are two somewhat contradictory suggestions
in this passage: firstly, that possession punished the demon, and secondly, that
it punished the human host and simultaneously offered an opportunity for
However, later in Hymn 23 Paulinus undercut the idea that possession was
punishment for the possessed: They are free of pain who appear to be endur-
ing pains in the body, and their souls are unaffected; they watch the torments
of others in their own limbs. Once the demon is trapped, the human person
acts freely, and the pains in his body are only apparent. He does not feel them
because the torment is not the mans, but the demons.19 This was presumably
an attempt to moderate the impression of frightened onlookers that posses-
sion was a terrifying and unpleasant trauma by suggesting that the human self
was effaced in possession, and the apparent discomfort experienced by the
demoniac was really only experienced by the demon. By comparison, we find
no such extended aetiology for possession in Hymn 26, although the extended
praise of Felix for routing and crushing demons (ll. 324337) implies that the
torture of exorcism, at least, was experienced primarily by demons rather than
by their human victims.20
From the exclamatory ecce in the closing lines of this anecdote, it appears
that Paulinus pointed out the cured demoniac to the congregation as visible
proof of the episodes happy resolution; he was now the model of a civilized
small farmer, soberly working a small farm far away (sobrius ecce procul con-
ductum exercet agellum, l. 319). The demoniac was thus not only restored to
himself, but also incorporated back into agricultural society, the congregation,

18 Paulinus, Hymn 23, ll. 5154: producat plerosque tamen, quo longior hostes / poena malos
agitet vel ut illi, qui meruere / vasa malis fieri, ob meritum tardante medella / plenius omne
luant dilato tempore crimen...
19 Ibid., ll. 7074: solvuntur poenis, cum poenas ferre videntur / corpore, et inmunes animae
spectant aliena / in membris tormenta suis; homo daemone capto / liber agit, species poena-
rum in corpore tantum est; / sensus abest, quia non hominis sed daemonis est crux.
20 See, for comparison, Victricius of Rouen, Praising the Saints 11, and G. Clark, Victricius of
Rouen: Praising the Saints, Journal of Early Christian Studies 7.3 (1999), pp. 36599.
Over-eating Demoniacs in Late Antique Hagiography 221

and liturgical life, illustrating what Peter Brown has called the drama of rein-
tegration effected by exorcism.21 We are told that the cure was effected by God
(curante deo, l. 320), and that it occurred within Felixs church (sancta Felicis
in aula, l. 320). There is also a vivid description of the internal mechanics of
saint Felixs exorcistic operation:

Felix comes between spirits joined by a hostile compact within a single

body; in its secret heart he, being more subtle, dissolves the thin spirits,
separating soul from demon. Once [the demon] has been driven away,
the free mind recovers the man.22

Here, Paulinus described the dead saint Felix entering in aery form into the
body of the demoniac, where he was able to dissolve the compact of evil spir-
its, separate the demon from the human soul and drive it away.23 Thus what
initially was presented as a non-exorcistic cure turns out to have involved Felix
miraculously battling and expelling demons.
As in Hymn 23, Paulinus reflections on the effect of exorcism suggest a par-
ticular rhythm to the demoniacs departure from and return to his human self:
once the demon has been expelled, the free mind recovers the man (libera.../
mens hominem recipit, ll. 3423). Paulinus had already reassured his congrega-
tion that the demoniacs cure had returned him to himself (redditus ipse sibi,
l. 321) and later claimed that he was now once more again completely and only
a man (totus vel solus homo, l. 352) and returned to his own laws (in sua iura
reversus, l. 352). This latter phrase perhaps plays with the legal notion of being
sui iuris, under ones own jurisdiction or power, as opposed to being alieni iuris,
such as was the case for children, women and slaves under the power of the
patriarch, in patria potestas.24 Again, the emphasis is on the demoniac being
completely under the control of the demon.

21 Brown, The Cult of the Saints, p. 112.

22 Paulinus, Hymn 26, ll. 33943: intra unum mixtis inimico foedere corpus / spiritibus Felix
intervenit inter operta / pectoris et tenues dirimit subtilior auras, / daemone discernens ani-
mam, quo libera pulso / mens hominem recipit.
23 This relies on an idea of sympathy between the substance of soul and demon which
was widespread in late antiquity; see Gregory Smith, Physics and Metaphysics, in Scott
Fitzgerald Johnson, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity (Oxford; New York, 2012),
pp. 5136-1, at pp. 5336.
24 Adolf Berger, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law (Philadelphia, 1963), pp. 360, 621,
and 723.
222 Lunn-Rockliffe

After a brief interlude hymning Felixs powers, Paulinus then returned to

this particular demoniac, characterizing the contrast between his former state
(nunc) and his current state (iam) in vivid sensory terms:

...that man who but recently was puffed up with a bitter devil, the taste
of vipers [coming] from his foaming lips, who with shaking of his sides
and hiccupping from open throat, more often jumping up and down,
used to belch bitter breaths, now completely and only a man, has been
returned to his own laws. He smells sweet, he breathes health, and he
speaks calmly.25

The features of this retrospective portrait of the possessed man suggest that
his body accommodated its demonic visitor only with difficulty, leaking
and belching forth signs of its inhabitant. That is, the indwelling of a subtle
demonic body was shown to be disruptive, poisoning internal processes of
both breathing and digestion. This occupation of internal systems tallies with
Paulinus earlier description of the demoniac as both distended (as if by food,
evoking ingestion) and puffed up (as if by aery substance, evoking inhala-
tion). Comparative evidence from late antiquity suggests that there co-existed
notions of demons entering through the mouth and nose, whether breathed in
or breathed out, and exiting through either mouth or nose, or being excreted
out; we must, filling in the gaps, imagine that demonic possession was thought
to entail occupation of both digestive and breathing processes.26
Overall, then, this hymn reveals a good deal about ideas of demonic posses-
sion and appetite. However, this episode may also have had another paraenetic
purpose, given the social context of the poems performance. The feast of Felix
was, like other church festivals, the occasion for a welcome mid-winter blow-
out for the wider agricultural community, and some of Paulinus other natali-
cia reveal, albeit inadvertently, the scale of the celebrations at Nola. In Hymn
20 on the feast of 406, Paulinus admitted that although he had lacked resources
with which to mount a feast, he was miraculously provided with two hogs and
a calf.27 In Hymn 27 on the feast of 403, Paulinus chastised the merriment of

25 Paulinus, Hymn 26, ll. 34853:...qui nunc inflatus acerbo / daemone vipereum per spumea
labra saporem, / concussu laterum et singultu gutturis ampli / saepius adsiliens flatus ruc-
tabat amaros, / iam totus vel solus homo in sua iura reversus / dulce sapit, sanum spirat
placidumque profatur.
26 Nancy Caciola, Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages
(Ithaca, 2003), pp. 413.
27 Paulinus, Hymn 20, ll. 1321.
Over-eating Demoniacs in Late Antique Hagiography 223

feasting rustics in terms reminiscent of Augustines worry about refrigeria at

saints shrines: I only wish they would channel this joy in sober prayer, and not
introduce their winecups within the holy thresholds...they wrongly believe
that saints are delighted to have their tombs doused with reeking wine.28
Paulinus modest ascetic community, which adhered to a frugal regime
of a single vegetarian meal a day, must have been challenged by this scale of
feasting.29 Paulinus had been advised by Jerome in a letter of the mid-390s
to follow the examples of monks like Paul, Antony, Julian, Hilarion and the
Macarii, to adopt a coarse diet, to despise the appetite, and to sleep often on
an empty stomach, and he tells us about the simple meals prepared for him by
Victor in a letter to Sulpitius Severus.30 In another letter to Severus of about
399, Paulinus offered a caustic and cautionary contrast between his own pal-
lid monks, and the gluttony of the visiting courier Marracinus.31 The latter is
described in terms which overlap with the demoniac of Hymn 26; he is blown
up (inflato) with wine, and has the breath of a belching Thraso ( flatum
Thrasonis ructantis).32 The overeating demoniac of his Hymn 26 was thus not
just frighteningly bestial and demonic, but exemplified the dangerous greed
and self-indulgence which attended all-too-human feasting and drinking.

Palladius, Lausiac History 17.11

Another story about a demoniac with an insatiable appetite was related by the
ascetic bishop Palladius (first bishop of Helenopolis, but by this period proba-
bly bishop of Aspuna), as part of his Lausiac History. Palladius had spent almost
a decade in the Egyptian desert in the 390s and was keen to claim firsthand
acquaintance with some of the ascetic superstars whose stories he retrospec-
tively related. He had, for example, spent considerable time with the famous
ascetics Macarius of Alexandria and Evagrius of Pontus. However, the saintly
Macarius of Egypt had died before Palladius arrived, and so the stories about
this saint in chapter 17 of the Lausiac History are thus presented in the form of
second-hand reportage. They include a striking incident of a possessed young
man brought to the saint by his desperate mother:

28 Paulinus, Hymn 27, ll. 55867; cf Augustine, Confessions 6.2.2.

29 Trout, Paulinus, pp. 1226 and 153; Joseph Lienhard, Paulinus of Nola and Early Western
Monasticism (Cologne, 1977), pp. 767.
30 Jerome, Letter 58.56; Paulinus, Letter 23.69.
31 Paulinus, Letter 22.
32 See Trout, Paulinus, p. 130; Lienhard, Paulinus and Monasticism, pp. 68, and 735.
224 Lunn-Rockliffe

Once a young man possessed by a demon was brought by his weeping

mother to Macarius, tied to two young men. And the demon had this
mode of working: after eating three measures of bread and drinking a
Cilician [amphora] of water, belching out the food, he would dissolve it
into vapour, for in this way he would consume what had been eaten and
drunk as it were by fire. For there is a class [of demons] called fiery. For
there are differences among demons, as also among men, not of nature
but of judgment. This young man, then, not being satisfied [in his hunger]
by his mother, ate his own excrement and often drank his own urine.33

Like Paulinus demoniac, this mans possessed status was indicated by his rav-
enous appetite and other disturbed behaviours. Critically, however, the gram-
matical subject of gluttony in the second sentence of this passage is clearly the
demon, not the young man: we are told that the demon had a particular ener-
geia, or mode of operation, before the description of how and what he ate and
drank. The initial foodstuffs enumerated are plain and staple, but the three mea-
sures (modioi) of bread consumed by demon-through-demoniac are stagger-
ing. The modios was a dry measure which corresponded to anywhere between
eight and twelve litres; it was normally used of grain rather than of bread, and
Palladius usage here, as elsewhere, seems to be rather idiosyncratic.34 As a very
rough estimate, the demoniacs daily intake probably corresponded to about a
months ration of food.35 More extraordinary still was the manner of consump-
tion of this food: the man belched it out, dissolved it into a vapour, and then
consumed what had been eaten and drunk as it were by fire. The explana-
tion for the mode of eating hinges on the particular kind of demon inhabiting

33 Palladius, Lausiac History 17.11:

, .
. , , .

34 See Palladius, Lausiac History 52, where he reports that Saba ate a modios of dates.
35 Estimates for the average monthly ration vary from about two and a half to four modioi of
wheat a month; see L. Foxhall and H. A. Forbes, : the role of grain as a staple
food in classical antiquity, Chiron 12 (1982), pp. 4190; Gilbert Dagron, The urban econ-
omy, seventh-twelfth centuries, in Angeliki Laiou, ed., The Economic History of Byzantium
(Washington, DC, 2002), pp. 385453 at p. 446; and K. Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy
300 BC to AD 700 (Baltimore, 1996), p. 271. However, it is clearly problematic to equate a
modios of wheat with that of bread, since the modios is a measure of volume not weight.
Over-eating Demoniacs in Late Antique Hagiography 225

this man; it belonged to a fiery order (tagma...purinon) of demons. Palladius

emphasised that the differences between demons were not primarily those of
nature or being (ousia), but of judgment or knowledge (gnm).
Palladius had already flagged up the idea that there are differences of gnm
between rational creatures in the introductory epistle to Lausus which pref-
aced his History. Here, he explained that only God is untaught, but all oth-
ers are taught, and learning among the first order of beings derives from the
Trinity; learning among the second order derives from the first order, and so
on. He concluded that those who are higher in gnm and virtue teach the
lower.36 He went on to introduce the fall of the demons as a departure from
their heavenly teachers, and related this to the dangers of fancy words and
injurious teaching. Given Palladius closeness to Evagrius, with whom he spent
years in ascetic retreat, and given his interest in promoting an Origenist the-
ology, his demonology can be related to both these writers taxonomizing of
rational beings.37 Origen thought that the ranks of angels were determined
by their merit and the degree of their fall;38 Evagrius suggested that rational
beings were granted a body according to the degree to which they had origi-
nally fallen away from God, and distinguished their faculties according to the
elements of fire, earth, and air.39 Their demonologies thus related demons dif-
ferent classes and bodies back to the degree of their sin, which was in part a
sin of judgment or gnm. Palladius demon had a particular dominance of fire
which required him to operate in this manner, and this could presumably be
related to the degree of his first sin and thus fall.
Beyond the unconventional mode of consumption, some of the things con-
sumed by this demoniac were also shockingly taboo; his appetite and thirst
were so insatiable that he was actually driven to eating his own excrement and
drinking his own urine. Here we find a variation on the revolting, transgres-
sive, bestial activity of Paulinus demoniac gobbling live hens and carrion; in
Greek and Egyptian culture eating dung was probably a worse transgression of
social and ritual boundaries than eating raw meat, and something which was

36 Palladius, Letter to Lausus, 1:

37 David Brakke, Demons and the Making of the Monk: Spiritual Combat in Early Christianity
(Cambridge, MA, 2009), pp. 134144; Demetrios Katos, Palladius of Helenopolis: The
Origenist Advocate (Oxford, 2011), pp. 932; and Ren Draguet, Lhistoire lausiaque: une
oeuvre crite dans lesprit dEvagre, Revue dhistoire ecclsiastique 41 (1946), pp. 32164 and
42 (1947), pp. 549.
38 Ruth Tuschling, Angels & Orthodoxy: A Study in their Development in Syria and Palestine
(Tbingen, 2007), pp. 1389.
39 Ellen Muehlberger, Angels in Late Ancient Christianity (Oxford; New York, 2013), pp. 334.
226 Lunn-Rockliffe

only reported as happening under circumstances of extreme desperation, such

as during siege warfare.40 There are other instances of demoniacs eating their
own excrement in, for instance, Athanasius Life of Antony (which Palladius
had read),41 where it is one of the shocking symptoms exhibited by a person of
rank possessed and deranged by a terrible demon.42
Compared to Paulinus silence on the precise technique of the exorcism
worked on the hyperhungry demoniac, Palladius offers considerably more
detail about the mode of cure:

As then his mother wept and implored the saint, he [Macarius] took him
and prayed over him, beseeching God. And after a day or two, the malady
having eased a little, the holy Macarius said to her: How much do you
want him to eat? She replied saying: Ten pounds of bread. So having
rebuked her, saying this was too much, and having prayed over him along
with fasts for seven days, he put him on to a regime of three pounds, with
obligation to work; and having thus cured him he returned him to his

Macarius cure began with prayer, which resulted in an easing of the sickness;
the second phase of cure involved both prayer and fasting, though it is not
clear whether the fasting was on the part of the exorcist, or the demoniac.
From the gospel accounts of exorcism onwards, fasting and prayer on the part
of the exorcist were thought to be effective, and on the part of the possessed
were curative, perhaps in part because it was a way of starving the demon out.44
The disagreement between the ascetic and the demoniacs mother about
what kind of appetite should be indulged in a healthy young man is also

40 See Robert Parker, Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion (Oxford,
1983), p. 360.
41 See Palladius, Lausiac History 8.6, which explicitly cites Athanasius, Life of Antony 60.
42 Athanasius, Life of Antony 64: the demoniac does not even know that he is coming to
Antony, and the saint explains that it is not the man who is punching Antony, but the
demon which is in him.
43 Palladius, Lausiac History 17.12: ,
. , ,
44 Sorensen, Possession and Exorcism, pp. 218219, and Todd Klutz, The Exorcism Stories in
Luke-Acts: A Socio-Stylistic Reading (2004), pp. 1389 and 199204.
Over-eating Demoniacs in Late Antique Hagiography 227

revealing. She wanted him to eat ten pounds of bread a day but Macarius
rebuked her and put him on a more reasonable regime of three pounds of bread
a day.45 From comparative evidence, it seems that ten pounds was on the high
side for daily sustenance, and that Macarius prescription of three pounds was
a more realistic quantity. For instance, workers at the monastery of Abu Mina
in the seventh century received a single pound of bread a day, and workers in
Oxyrhynchus in the sixth century received two pounds.46 Of course, there
was also a bigger didactic point to Macarius institution of a regime of three
pounds of bread a day which is underlined by the frequent mentions through-
out Palladius Lausiac History of feats of dietary restriction. As Palladius noted
in his life of Macarius of Egypt, as regards the partaking of food and drink, it
would be pointless to go into detail, since even among the easygoing in these
parts one cannot find gluttony or indifference. This was because of the dearth
of necessities and the fervour of the inhabitants.47
It seems, however, that the young mans post-cure regime of three pounds of
bread a day was still quite generous when compared with the extreme diets
of other ascetics mentioned by Palladius. Posidonius the Theban subsisted for
a whole year on dates and wild herbs, and eschewed bread for forty years, while
Philoromus abstained from all cooked foods including corn bread.48 Even the
more moderate diets on display were restricted: Dorotheus ate, presumably
daily, six ounces of bread, a bunch of small vegetables, and a proportionate
amount of water; Macarius of Alexandria ate four or five ounces of bread and
as much water for three years; Moses the robber took nothing except dry bread
to the extent of twelve ounces.49 Evagrius, with whom Palladius had lived for
almost a decade, was reported as eating a pound of bread (daily) for fourteen
years, before giving it up altogether.50 It therefore seems that three pounds of
bread a day was a comparatively reasonable, even a generous prescription for a
desert ascetic, not starvation rations. Furthermore, Palladius precise, repeated
specifications of different holy mens restrictive diets allowed the reader to
compare (and perhaps calibrate) his own consumption on a scale that ranged
from moderate to extreme deprivation.
This promotion of relative frugality and bodily discipline related to exist-
ing traditions which presented ascetic practice as warfare against the demons.

45 See Robert Meyer, Palladius: The Lausiac History (Westminster, 1965), p. 181 n. 154.
46 Nikos Litinas, Greek Ostraca from Abu Mina (Berlin, 2008), p. 14.
47 Palladius, Lausiac History 17.5.
48 Ibid., 36 and 45.
49 Ibid., 2.2, 18.2, and 19.5.
50 Ibid., 38.10, 13.
228 Lunn-Rockliffe

Evagrius famously outlined the eight logismoi or evil thoughts which troubled
men, and which were promoted by demons.51 The first and arguably most fun-
damental of these sins was gluttony (gastrimargia), and fasting was thus one of
the cornerstones of Evagrian ascetic practice.52 Evagrius was also said to have
counseled monks to moderate the amount of water they drank: For, he said,
If you flood the body with a lot of water you generate even more fantasies, and
offer a bigger space to the demons.53
Palladius similarly deployed the terminology of greed and gluttony in asso-
ciation with the devil and evil spirits. In his life of Macarius of Alexandria, he
related how he had overheard the old man rebuking himself and the devil,
addressed as glutton (poliophage).54 He reported Sarapions complaint that
he has been plagued by three vices, which seem almost to have the quality of
personifications or demons, and tally with three Evagrian logismoi: covetous-
ness, unchastity, and greed (philarguria, porneia, and gastrimargia).55 He also
explained that Philoromus underwent the battle of fornication (porneia) and
of greed (gastrimargia) which he drove out by confining himself in irons
and by abstaining from wheaten bread and anything that had been cooked on a
fire, exemplifying how the related sinful drives for sex and food could be tamed
by a combination of confinement and fasting.56 Finally, in an autobiographical
passage, Palladius narrated an encounter with John of Lycopolis in which the
holy man asked him whether he wanted to be a bishop. Palladius prevaricated
(he was, after all, already a bishop), and then slyly sidestepped the question by
confessing metaphorically that he was already a bishop of the table: This is my
diocese, for gluttony (gastrimargia) has ordained me for her child.57 It seems,
then, that the demoniacs disordered appetite was for Palladius one of the most
obvious demonstrations of the influence of demons and evil thoughts on men.
If the Greek version of Palladius story about the overeating demoniac
offered a lesson about the proper limits to appetite, the adjustments made to
this story in other versions suggest some rather different moral lessons. The
Lausiac History survives in translations into a number of different languages.
There are no significant additions to, or changes in, the arch of the story in the

51 Corrigan, Evagrius and Gregory, pp. 73102; Susan Hill, Eating to Excess: The Meaning of
Gluttony and The Fat Body in the Ancient World (Santa Barbara, 2011), pp. 121144.
52 Sinkewicz, Evagrius Ponticus, p. 21.
53 History of the Monks 17.
54 Palladius, Lausiac History 18.26.
55 Ibid., 37.7.
56 Ibid., 45.2.
57 Ibid., 35.10.
Over-eating Demoniacs in Late Antique Hagiography 229

seventh-century Syriac version or in the two Latin translations.58 However, the

Coptic version, itself likely very ancient, contains a notable number of addi-
tions, including more details about Macarius rebuke to the mother, in which
he criticizes her for suggesting her son eat ten pounds of bread a day: The
amount youre saying is too much, but if you have more than you need, give
seven pounds each day to the helpless widows and give the other three pounds
to your son. The Coptic version also explains why the demon possessed the
young man. Macarius says: His father died and left you a few necessities, more
than you needed to live, and there were old women, widowspoor, powerless,
and infirmwho were your neighbours and were in need of alms and you gave
them nothing. Because of this, God allowed this demon to enter your son so
he would eat your goods and dissipate them through his insatiable appetite
so you yourselves would become poor, because you would not give alms to
the infirm. The story concludes explaining that in this way [Macarius] taught
them to give alms, having given the young man back to his mother, healed.59
The Coptic version of this story thus offers an explicit moral lesson where that
in the Greek version is implicit, and the lesson is not about greed or diet, but
about alms-giving. It is also striking that the Coptic version offers an aetiol-
ogy for the young mans becoming possessed at all: this is attributed squarely
to God as a cunning way of punishing sinful humans and of effecting Gods
desired redistribution of resources. This variation in the aetiology of and ratio-
nale for possession shows how an overeating demoniac could be used to teach
different moral lessons.


Paulinus Latin hexameter hymn was composed almost twenty years before
Palladius Greek prose work, but it is very unlikely that Palladius had read
it. That is, these two stories about over-eating demoniacs cannot be treated
as directly intertextual. However, although Paulinus and Palladius were not
acquainted with each others works, and were writing in different environ-
ments and producing very different kinds of texts for distinct audiences,

58 For the Syriac version of the Lausiac History, see Ren Draguet, Les formes syriaques de
la matire de lHistoire Lausiaque, CSCO 38990, 39899, scriptores Syri 16970, 14374;
for the Latin versions, see Adelheid Wellhausen, Die lateinische bersetzung der Historia
Lausiaca des Palladius: Textausgabe mit Einleitung (Berlin, 2003).
59 Tim Vivian, Coptic Palladiana III: The Life of Macarius of Egypt, Coptic Church Review 21.3
(2000), pp. 82109.
230 Lunn-Rockliffe

they shared an enthusiastic commitment to the ascetic life, and some com-
mon acquaintances and sources of inspiration. It is possible that they had
both read Athanasius Life of Antony, Palladius in Greek, and Paulinus in Latin
translation; they certainly both knew about Antonys ascetic achievements.60
Furthermore, the asceticism promoted by Paulinus in his community at Nola
owed much to the import into Gaul and Italy of the kinds of Egyptian models
we find in Palladius, through intermediaries such as Sulpitius Severus, Rufinus
of Aquileia, and Melania the Elder.61
Paulinus friendship with Rufinus developed after the latters return in
397 from a period spent first in Egypt and then at Melania the Elders double
monastery at Jerusalem. Correspondence between the two survives from 406
and 407, and Paulinus also wrote to Sulpitius Severus about Rufinus in 403.62
Paulinus may have learned something about the superstars of Egyptian asceti-
cism from Rufinus, whom we know translated the anonymous Greek History
of the Monks into Latin in about 403.63 This collection of ascetic lives shared
many subjects with Palladius Lausiac History, such as Evagrius of Pontus.64
However, Paulinus contact with Rufinus all post-dates Hymn 26. To identify
a potential channel for ascetic (and especially Evagrian) ideas about gluttony
and demons that pre-dates this Hymn, we have to turn to Melania the Elder, a
common friend of Rufinus, Paulinus and Palladius.
Melania was an important ascetic figure who left Rome and travelled in
Egypt before founding a double monastic community at Jerusalem. She went
back to Italy in about 400, when she visited Paulinus at Nola, but returned to

60 Palladius refers to Athanasius Life of Antony in his Lausiac History, 8.6. It is not clear
whether Paulinus had read either of the two available Latin translations of Athanasius
Life of Antony by Evagrius and an anonymous translator, although some of his contempo-
raries in the west certainly had (cf. Augustine, Confessions 8.6.15); for instance, Paulinus
use of the neologism monasterium does not tally with its appearance in Evagrius transla-
tion (see Lienhard, Paulinus and Monasticism, pp. 605). However, Paulinus had been in
Rome in the 370s and 380s when stories and texts about Antony were in circulation (see
Trout, Paulinus, pp. 1234). He also received correspondence which mentioned Antony,
as, for instance, in a letter of Jerome c. 395 (Ep. 58.3, 5).
61 Philip Rousseau, Ascetics, Authority and the Church in the Age of Jerome and Cassian
(Oxford, 1978).
62 Trout, Paulinus, pp. 2236; Francis Murphy, Rufinus of Aquileia and Paulinus of Nola,
Revue des tudes Augustiniennes 2 (1956), pp. 7991.
63 William Harmless, Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism
(Oxford; New York, 2004), p. 278.
64 Palladius, Lausiac History 38. On the debate about the relationship between the History of
the Monks and the Lausiac History, see F. Young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the
Literature and its Background (London, 1983), pp. 7883.
Over-eating Demoniacs in Late Antique Hagiography 231

Jerusalem at the end of her life, after Alarics sack of Rome in 410.65 Paulinus,
who was possibly a relative of Melania, admired her greatly; he devoted a
substantial section of a letter to Sulpitius Severus to the praise of her ascetic
virtues.66 Palladius also seems to have known Melania well, making reference
to several stories about the Egyptian fathers told by her to him.67 Through
Melania, Paulinus could have learnt about desert asceticism and the monastic
life, and the teachings of figures like Evagrius of Pontus, whom Rufinus and
Melania had received at Jerusalem, and who may have addressed a letter of
ascetic advice to Melania.68
Paulinus and Palladius shared some important ascetic models and preoccu-
pations, and underlying both their stories are common interests in controlling
human drives for sex and food, and in relating unnaturally distended appetites
to the disruptive effect of demons. They also share important ideas about the
appropriate limits to human, Christian, and ascetic appetites. Eating moder-
ate quantities of appropriate kinds of food (not raw meat or excrement) in
Greco-Roman antiquity served to demarcate human appetites and behaviours
from those of beasts.69 In the Christian ascetic sphere, moderation in diet was
thought to preserve humans from demonic temptation, and excessive con-
sumption could, as in these cases, be evidence that a human had been occu-
pied by a demon. Paulinus and Palladius overeating demoniacs experienced
the horrific distention of their human appetites by indwelling demons; they
also seem to have become like beasts in the scale and quality of their appe-
tite. These stories arguably helped readers to distinguish between the appetites
appropriate to animals, humans, and demons. More importantly still, they dem-
onstrated that there was something terrifyingly alien about excessive hun-
ger, and that the ability to subsist on a moderate diet was desirable insofar
as it indicated full humanity. Finally, although neither Paulinus nor Palladius
explicitly invoke the idea of the demon of gluttony, something that is very
vividly explored in Evagrian demonology, both stories surely reflect the wide-
spread anxiety that human vices had demonic energy.

65 On this chronology, see Megan Hale Williams, The Monk and the Book: Jerome and the
Making of Christian Scholarship (Chicago, 2006), p. 269 fn. 11.
66 Paulinus, Letter 29.613.
67 Palladius, Lausiac History 46 and 54 on Melania, as well as direct references to contact
with Melania at 5, 9, 10, 18.
68 Augustine Casiday, Evagrius Ponticus (Abingdon, 2006), pp. 634.
69 See Charles Segal, Tragedy and Civilization: An Interpretation of Sophocles (Cambridge,
MA, 1981), p. 5: Greek thought from Homer on was haunted by an awareness of the pre-
carious division between man and beast. A boundary is an achievement to be guarded
with care, not a possession fixed and static forever.


Miracles and Madness: Dispelling Demons in

Twelfth-Century Hagiography

Anne E. Bailey

Until relatively recently, historians of psychiatry were inclined to view the

Christian Middle Ages as a medically primitive era, and the period before
1200 was considered particularly bleak.1 In his History of Medical Psychology
(1941), Gregory Zilboorg painted a picture of an early medieval world mired in
superstition and irrational belief. According to Zilboorg, the baleful influence
of the Christian Church meant that mental illness was interpreted as demonic
possession, and psychiatry...reappeared under the name of demonology.2 It
was an attitude which was seemingly difficult to dispel: a psychiatric history
of 2004 still spoke of the gruesome medieval period when even the secular
believed madness and depravity were the devils work.3
In an effort to distance themselves from the Whiggish discourse of earlier
generations, revisionist scholars of the late-twentieth century turned their
attention to demon-free sources.4 In the last couple of decades these have
included legal and medical texts which articulate symptoms of insanity in
purely pathological terms.5 In this respect, it may be telling that hagiography

1 For example, Gregory Zilboorg, A History of Medical Psychology (New York, 1941), pp. 12732;
Franz G. Alexander and Sheldon T. Selesnick, The History of Psychiatry: Psychiatric Thought
and Practice from Prehistoric Times to the Present (London, 1967), pp. 5052. Some psychiatric
histories simply did not cover the period between the end of the Roman Empire and the thir-
teenth century, such as George Rosen, Madness in Society: Chapters in the Historical Sociology
of Mental Illness (London, 1968).
2 Zilboorg, History of Medical Psychology, pp. 106, 109110.
3 Theodore Millon, Masters of the Mind: Exploring the Story of Mental Illness from Ancient
Times to the New Millennium (Hoboken, NJ, 2004), pp. 42, 43, and generally, 3643.
4 For a survey and assessment of recent literature, see Wendy J. Turner (ed.), Madness in
Medieval Law and Custom (Leiden, 2010), pp. 26.
5 For example, Turner, Madness in Medieval Law; Sara M. Butler, Representing the Middle
Ages: The Insanity Defense in Medieval England, in The Treatment of Disabled Persons in
Medieval Europe: Examining Disability in the Historical, Legal, Literary, Medical, and Religious
Discourses of the Middle Ages, ed. Wendy J. Turner and Tory Vandeventer Pearman (New York,
2010), pp. 11733; Aleksandra Pfau, Protecting or Restraining? Madness as a Disability in

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_014

236 Bailey

from the early and central Middle Agesin which demons so freely abound
is rarely consulted by medievalists researching information about mental
illness.6 This is despite the fact that by far the largest body of evidence for men-
tal and behavioural disorders in north-west Europe between late Antiquity
and 1200 is found in hagiographical narratives. Much of this occurs in miracle
accounts which describeand often in some detailthe symptoms of sick
and infirm pilgrims visiting healing shrines.7
When, on occasion, miracle collections are examined for evidence of men-
tal pathology, the tendency is to separate the supernatural from the natural in
pursuit of either a religious or medical model of interpretation.8 However,
the inclination to set religion and medicine apart speaks more of our own
cognitive preoccupations than it does of medieval ones, and runs the risk of
setting up irreconcilable structural oppositionssuch as demonology versus
pathologywhich were not necessarily present in the Middle Ages. Needless

Late-Medieval France, in Disability in the Middle Ages: Reconsiderations and Reverberations,

ed. Joshua R. Eyler (Farnham, 2010), pp. 93104.
6 However, hagiographyespecially saints lives and canonization trial literatureis fre-
quently utilized by scholars discussing demonic possession in the later Middle Ages. See,
for example, Alain Boureau, Satan the Heretic: The Birth of Demonology in the Medieval West,
trans. Teresa Lavender Fagan (Chicago and London, 2006), pp. 11942; Barbara Newman,
Possessed by the Spirit: Devout Women, Demoniacs, and the Apostolic Life in the Thirteenth
Century, Speculum, 73 (1998), pp. 73370; Nancy Caciola, Discerning Spritis: Divine and
Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages (Ithaca and London, 2003); Sari Katajala-Peltomaa,
Demonic Possession as Physical and Mental Disturbance in the Later Medieval Canonization
Processes, in Mental (Dis)Order in Later Medieval Europe, ed. Sari Katajala-Peltomaa and
Susanna Niiranen (Leiden, 2013), pp. 10827.
7 However, for studies using miracle collections for more general medical evidence see, for
example, Irena Metzler, Disability in Medieval Europe: Thinking about Physical Impairment
during the High Middle Ages, c. 11001400 (London, 2006), pp. 12685; Ronald C. Finucane,
Miracles and Pilgrims: Popular Beliefs in Medieval England (London, 1977); Carole Rawcliffe,
Curing Bodies and Healing Souls: Pilgrimage and the Sick in Medieval East Anglia, in
Pilgrimage: The English Experience from Becket to Bunyan, ed. Colin Morris and Peter Roberts
(Cambridge, 2002), pp. 10840; Katharine Park, Medicine and Society in Medieval Europe,
5001500, in Medicine in Society: Historical Essays, ed. Andrew Wear (Cambridge, 1992),
pp. 5990; Hilary Powell, The Miracle of Childbirth: The Portrayal of Parturient Women in
Medieval Miracle Narratives, Social History of Medicine 25 (2012), 79581.
8 For example, Simon Kemp and K. Williams, Demonic Possession and Mental Disorder in
Medieval and Early Modern Europe, Psychological Medicine 17 (1987), 219; Jerome Kroll and
Bernard Bachrach, Sin and Mental Illness in the Middle Ages, in Psychological Medicine 14
(1984), 50714; Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Mirror of Sanctity: Madness as Metaphor in the Vita
Wulfstani, in Saints: Studies in Hagiography, ed. Sandro Sticca (Binghampton, NY., 1996),
pp. 95114.
Miracles and Madness 237

to say, such a religious/science divide is at odds with the medieval world-

view before 1200 in which religious belief and scientific knowledge were
irrevocablyalthough, admittedly, not always comfortablyintertwined.9
The merging of Christian belief and medical science in this period is per-
haps nowhere better illustrated than in miracle narratives compiled in twelfth-
century England whichparadoxically to modern thinkingsought to prove
and validate the miraculous by scientific means. Written in a century which
prided itself in its concern with scientific truth, these sources reflect the
new intellectual rationalism and pragmatism of the so-called twelfth-century
renaissance.10 In this notably sceptical age, miracles came under particu-
lar scrutiny, and miracle storiesin common with other written genres
verified their claims of supernatural events with appropriate evidence.11
Reports of miraculous healing not only employed eyewitness testimony as
a means of bolstering their integrity, they also exploited available medical
authority to demonstrate that miracle beneficiaries had indeed been suffering
from serious medically-attested conditions.
Although the monastic and clerical authors of twelfth-century miracle
accounts possessed varying degrees of medical knowledge inherited from the
classical world, their narratives were nonetheless works of hagiography and
followed a religious agenda, not a medical one. Since demonic possession was
a traditional ingredient of the miracle genre, it is perhaps understandable that
modern scholars still fight shy of these demon-infested sources. As a result, rel-
atively little is known about the ways in which mental disorders were inserted
into the medico-religious framework in twelfth-century England, or how con-
temporary hagiographers negotiated the awkward boundary between medi-
cine and demonology in miracle accounts.
This chapter seeks to investigate this neglected area of medical history,
drawing on a sample of twenty miracle collections (miracula) compiled in
England in the long twelfth century (c1080-c1200).12 Selected for the inclusion

9 For a discussion on the relationship between faith and reason in the central Middle Ages,
see Alexander Murray, Reason and Society in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 2002), pp. 614.
10 Colin Morris, The Discovery of the Individual 10501200 (London, 1972), p. 78. For this trend
in monastic writing more generally, see C. S. Watkins, History and the Supernatural in
Medieval England (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 2744.
11 Ibid., p. 40. Papal canonization and the ordeal were other areas in which miraculous
became subject to new scrutiny and enquiry. See Eric W. Kemp, Canonization and
Authority in the Western Church (Oxford, 1948); Charles M. Radding, Superstition to
Science: Nature, Fortune and the Passing of the Medieval Ordeal, The American Historical
Review 84.4 (1979), 94569.
12 See Appendix for a full list of the sources under review.
238 Bailey

of incidents of madness and demonic possession among their healing stories,

these miracula collectively yield ninety-five case studies of mental disorders.13
Focusing in particular on stories which attribute the symptoms of mental dis-
turbance to demonic causes, the chapter examines the ways in which these
supernatural agents are depicted affecting mental health, and looks at the
medical symptoms they are said to induce. In assessing the wider narrative
function of demons in stories of mental illness, the chapter also contributes to
the on-going debate about the reception of miracle narratives, and argues that
madness-causing demons carried multivalent messages to culturally diverse

Demonic Possession and Symptoms of Furor

The most obvious place to begin an investigation of demons and mental ill-
ness in miracle stories is with the condition most commonly associated with
behavioural disorders in religious texts: demonic possession. Possession was
thought to involve the residential take-over of an individuals mind and body
by an evil spirit, and the theft of the victims identityand the associated loss
of humanityis symbolically dramatized in miracle accounts by appropriate
mind-losing behaviour. Mentis alienatio (mental alienation)a generic term
for mental illness in miracle storiesseems to be horrifyingly illustrated in
possession accounts, with the added religious implication of the souls alien-
ation from God.
One twelfth-century hagiographer with a fondness for recording incidents
of demonic possession is the Norwich monk, Thomas of Monmouth. Thomass
Miraculi Sancti Willelmi Martyris Norwicensis describes the miraculous cures
of pilgrims visiting the tomb of the contemporary boy-martyr, William of
Norwich, and includes five cases of possession. One of these is an example
typical of the generic form. It features Ebrard the Fisher who, vexed by an
unclean spirit (immundo vexatus spiritu), is dragged to Williams tomb with
his hands tied and his feet locked in iron shackles.14 The narrative includes
a heart-stopping moment in which Ebrards hands accidently come loose

13 For the purpose of this study, the survey includes conditions identified as mental illnesses
by hagiographers, as well as behavioural abnormalities interpreted as demonic posses-
sion in the texts. It does not include congenital mental impairments such as idiocy, or
epilepsy which the medieval world understood as a separate medical affliction.
14 Thomas of Monmouth, The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich, ed. and trans.
A. Jessopp and M. R. James (Cambridge, 1896), p. 223.
Miracles and Madness 239

and the possessed man savagely tore with teeth and nails all whom he could
touch.15 However, Ebrards bonds are soon re-tied, and all is made safe. Ebrard
is said to have spent the night beside Williams tomb in the cathedral church,
ceaselessly uttering nonsense and blasphemies, until around dawn when he
falls asleep and is miraculously cured.16
The figure of the raging demoniac had populated saints lives and miracle
stories since the time of Augustine, although the twelfth-century laity may
have been more familiar with the Gospel archetype on which the hagio-
graphical model was based.17 Like the Gerasene demoniac of Marks gospel
(Mk. 5:120), Thomas of Monmouths demoniac becomes feral, bestial, violent
and aggressive. He gnashes his teeth, foams at the mouth, rolls his eyes, shouts,
attacks anyone within reach, and displays prodigious feats of strength. As in
the Gospel story, he also bursts out of his fetters and attempts to escape.
In the Gospels and early western hagiography, possessed behaviour is usu-
ally attributed to unclean spirits rather than to illness.18 By the twelfth century,
however, something rather interesting seems to be happening to the demonic
stereotype: it begins to acquire a more pronounced medical gloss. This process
can be discerned in a second of Thomass stories concerning a woman named
Sieldeware who was brought by her friends to Williams shrine at Norwich.
Many of the details are reminiscent of the Ebrard story. Sieldeware, too, is
described as being possessed by an evil spirit and is dragged, struggling, into
the cathedral where she also makes a bid to escape. At the tomb the raging
woman tears at her bonds, drums her feet on the ground, and fills the church
with nonsensical cries. There is, however, one major difference from the previ-
ous story: Thomas of Monmouth informs us that this particular demoniac is

15 Quos contingere poterat, ungulis ac dentibus crudeliter laniabat. Ibid., p. 224.

16 Ibid., p. 224.
17 For Augustines miracle stories, see Augustine of Hippo, De Civitate Dei, XX:8. For the
Gospel examples, see Matt. 8:2833; Mark 5:120, Luke 9:3743. Penelope Doobe has also
pointed out the influence of the Old Testaments Nebuchadnezzar to depictions of rav-
ing madness, particularly with respect to sin. Penelope B. R. Doobe, Nebuchadnezzars
Children: Conventions of Madness in Middle English Literature (London and New Haven,
1974), pp. 5494. The audience for medieval miracle collections is considered below.
18 For example, demons are entirely to blame in the Gospel and Augustines De Civitate Dei
examples. However, more naturalist explanations for madness begin to appear in the
sixth century: three of the ten stories of mental illness described by Gregory of Tours
in his miracula of St Martin are given medical interpretations. Gregory of Tours, The
Miracles of the Bishop of St Martin, in Saints and the Miracles in Late Antique Gaul, ed.
and trans. Raymond van Dam (Princeton, 1993), pp. 199303.
240 Bailey

suffering from insania. Unlike Ebrard, Sieldeware is not simply the victim of a
malicious spirit, she is a sufferer of illness as well.19
Insania is by far the commonest form of mental abnormality identified by
name in the narratives in the present survey. The word derives from the Latin
translation of the Greek word mania, a condition originally encompassing
many different types of mental disturbance. Although insania refers to a range
of irrational behaviours in miracle accounts, the term is most frequently asso-
ciated with excessive uncontrollability and dissociative behaviour: symptoms
which later health professionals would refer to as manic, and as resulting from
an imbalance of yellow bile.20
Another frequently occurring term, closely associated with insania in the
texts, is furor, and this appears in a third example from the miracula of William
of Norwich. Here again we have the familiar possession ingredients, this time
attributed to the son of Richard of Needham, said to have been seized by a
demon (a demonio correptus).21 Readers learn that it took no less than seven
men to hold him. At Williams tomb the demoniac gnashes his teeth and even
attacks his mother who had accompanied him to the church. Towards the end
of the story, however, the demonic discourse is overtaken by a medical one as
Thomas explains that the young mans symptoms (signa) of madness (furor)
left him.22
Furor seems to have emerged as a medical term in the Roman period, when
it was used either as an alternative to, or to denote a more severe form of,
insania.23 Outside the medical corpus, however, furor (fury) had connotations
of great passion, anger and bloodlust. Cicero, for example, considered furor to
be a moral failing of the soul against which the good Stoic should strive.24 In
classical literature, furor was also the form of madness sent by the gods, often

19 Thomas of Monmouth, Life and Miracles, pp. 2267.

20 For mania see, for example, Rudolph E. Siegel, Galen on Psychology, Psychopathology
and Function and Diseases on the Nervous System (London, 1973), pp. 2724; Roy Porter,
Madness: A Brief History (Oxford, 2002), pp. 478. English translations of authorita-
tive texts defining mania from Hippocrates to the sixteenth century can be found in
J. R. Whitwell, Historical Notes of Psychiatry (Early TimesEnd of Sixteenth Century)
(London, 1936).
21 Thomas of Monmouth, Life and Miracles, pp. 2034.
22 Ibid., pp. 204.
23 For example, Asclepiades considered insania a popular alternative for furor, whereas
Cicero saw furor as a more severe variant of insania. Zilboorg, History of Medical
Psychology, pp. 623, 66.
24 F. R. Lang, Psychological Terminology in the Tusculans, Journal of the History of Behavioral
Sciences 8 (1972), 4323.
Miracles and Madness 241

diametrically opposed to pietas. Fittingly, for Christian purposes, the furiosus

one possessed by furyimplied a person punished by the gods, with mad-
ness, for their sins. It is likely that the classical spirits of retribution, the Furies,
evolved into Christian body-and-soul hijacking demons in medieval hagiog-
raphy. In this respect, it is entirely apt that sinners in miracle collections are
often struck down with furor after incurring Gods wrath by committing reli-
gious offences such as apostasy and sacrilege.25 In short, the dramatic, heroic,
moral and religious associations of the pseudo-medical term furor must have
made it an exceptionally appealing choice for medieval hagiographers whose
miracle accounts were governed by a strong religious and moral rationale.
Thomas of Monmouth, then, occasionally embellished his stories of
demonic possession by adding a subtle medical twist to the basic Gospel tem-
plate. However, in a fourth of his possession narratives, Thomas goes even fur-
ther. At first glance the tale of Robert, another invalid brought to the shrine by
his mother, fits into the pattern of the previous examples. At the tomb Roberts
eyes flash, he emits horrible noises and, forgetting his humanity (hominem
oblitus) and unable to control himself, he tears off his clothes and exercises
enormous strength.26 Strikingly, however, the demonic aetiology has com-
pletely disappeared. Roberts condition is described as a frenzied ( furibundus)
insanity (insania), and the spirit which God drives out is arguably a meta-
phorical one, described as the spirit of insanity (spiritus insania).27 Possessed
behaviour has been transformed from a supernatural event into a medical one,
as indicated by the absence of traditional demons on one hand, and the inclu-
sion of the medical terms insania and furiosus on the other.
The medicalization of possession stories, exemplified in Thomas of
Monmouths miracle collection, seems to be especially prominent from the
middle of the twelfth century. Medical terms are sometimes tacked, often
somewhat clumsily, onto more conventional narratives such as in the Libellus
de Vita et Miraculis S. Godrici, a lenghy collection dated to c.1177 and popu-
larly attributed to Reginald of Duram. Here, the hagiographer concludes some
of his possession stories with the formula he was freed from the demon but

25 Examples include Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, Miracula S. Ivonis, ed. William D. Macray,

Chronicon abbatiae Rameseiensis. Rolls Series, 83 (London, 1886), p. lxxiv; and Miracula S.
Swithuni, ed. and trans. Michael Lapidge, The Cult of St Swithun, Winchester Studies, 4.2
(Oxford, 2003), p. 677.
26 Thomas of Monmouth, Life and Miracles, p. 225.
27 Ibid., p. 225.
242 Bailey

then adds, as if for good measure, and from insania.28 Other hagiographers
at this time present demonic possession not just as a type of madness, but
also as a secondary condition brought on by mental illness. The author of the
Liber Eliensis, for example, explains what happens to Richard, a visitor to Ely.
For want of mental nourishment (victus mentibus), Richard incurs a bout of
insanity (vesania mentis), which in turn causes him to become a complete
demoniac (totus demoniacus).29 This effectively hints at a natural, rather than
a supernatural, aetiology for possession. In some late-twelfth-century collec-
tions the demonic element has been eliminated from possession narratives
altogether. The miracula of St Frideswide and Gilbert of Sempringham are
especially notable in this respect. Both collections include stories seemingly
modelled on the classic possession archetype, but with one significant differ-
ence: there is a complete absence of actual demons.30
Although the degree to which possession stories are medicalized in the
miracle narratives varies from collection to collection, one aspect common to
all the accounts suggests something rather remarkable. There seems to be a
universal understanding that demonic possession was a medical illness inso-
far as it elicits a response no different from any other pathological condition.
Contrary to the once common idea that mental treatment was synonymous
with exorcism, the narratives reveal that the possessed are cured by the saint,
and not exorcized.31 Indeed, the handful of attempts at liturgical exorcism
which come to light resoundingly fail.32 The prolific post-Conquest hagiogra-
pher, Goscelin of St Bertin, recounts how a novice monk at Ramsey Abbey was
possessed by an evil spirit as he walked in a garden. According to the story, a
priest is summoned the following morning to exorcize the demon, but to no
avail. Only when the possessed novice is taken to St Ivos shrine to be cured
in the usual mannerby imbibing St Ivos health-giving spring wateris the
tenacious demon put to flight.33

28 A daemonis et insania liberatus. Reginald of Durham, Libellus de Vita et Miraculis S. Godrici,

Heremitae de Finchale; Appendix Miraculorum, ed. Joseph Stevenson. Surtees Society, 20
(London, 1845), p. 400. Also see ibid., p. 459.
29 Liber Eliensis, ed. E. O. Blake, Royal Historical Society, Camden 3rd ser., 92 (London, 1962),
pp. 37980.
30 Prior Philip, Miracula S. Frideswidae, in Acta Sanctorum, VIII Oct. (Antwerp and Brussels,
1853), pp. 573, 581; The Book of St Gilbert, ed. and trans. R. Foreville and G. Keir (Oxford,
1987), pp. 3324.
31 Alexander and Selesnick, History of Psychiatry (London, 1967), p. 52.
32 For exorcism, see T. K. Oesterreich, Possession: Demoniacal and Other (London, repr.
1999), pp. 100119, 1658.
33 Goscelin, Miracula S. Ivonis, p. lxxiv.
Miracles and Madness 243

Demonic possession, then, seems to bridge the pathology/demonology

divide in twelfth-century miracle collections, perhaps reflecting a general, and
increasing, trend for nuancing conventional miracle tales with medical detail.
Although Gospel and early hagiographic demoniacs were usually depicted as
nothing more than the victims of rogue spirits, by the eleventh and twelfth
centuries victims seem to have become sufferers of medical conditions as
well. Moreover, these medical ailments are identified by terms which set them
firmly within the classical Hippocratic-Galenic tradition, and provide the pos-
sibility of overlapping aetiologies. Possessed behaviour might be explained as
the work of demons, as an excess of yellow bile, or as a combination of both.

Demonic Influence and Symptoms of Melancholia

Manic behaviour is only one manifestation of mental illness in the Middle

Ages. From classical times other, quieter forms of mental disturbance were rec-
ognized, often referred to as melancholia, or partial insanity, which resulted
from an imbalance of black bile.34 Galen, the founding father of western medi-
cine, had written about the physiological condition of melancholia in his trea-
tise, On the Affected Parts, in which he explained how black bile might rise in
smoky vapours to the head, and literally cloud the mind.35 Characterized by
sadness, despair and a sense of loss, melancholialike mentis alienatiowas
an appropriate metaphor for spiritual alienation in the Christian world. In her
medical treatise, the twelfth-century abbess, theologian and medical writer,
Hildegard of Bingen, linked melancholia to original sin and the fall of Adam.36
Melancholia is not identified by name in the English sources under review
and it is likely that Constantine the Africans influential eleventh-century trea-
tise on the subject had little impact in England at this time.37 Nonetheless,

34 Melancholia was envisaged as a bilious excess causing a range of potential medical prob-
lems, with mental disturbance being just one. For melancholia, see Jennifer Radden,
The Nature of Melancholy: from Aristotle to Kristeva (Oxford, 2000); Stanley W. Jackson,
Melancholia and Depression: from Hippocratic Times to Modern Times (London and New
Haven, 1986).
35 Galen, On the Affected Parts, ed. and trans. Rudolph E. Siegel (New York, 1976), pp. 88, 89,
36 Hildegard von Bingen, Causae et curae, ed. P. Kaiser (Leipzig, 1903), pp. 1434.
37 Constantines De Melancholia may have been better known on the Continent: there is an
example of a suicidal cleric suffering from a depressive form of melancholia in the twelfth-
century De Miraculis Sancte Marie de Rupe Amatoris, ed. Edmond Albe, Les Miracles de
Notre-Dame de Rocamadour au xiie sicle (Toulouse, 1996), p. 202. For the transmission
244 Bailey

melancholic symptomsdespondency, agitation, fear, delusion, and suicidal

thoughtscertainly do appear in the English miracula, often under more
general terms such as amentia (madness). Moreover, it is under the auspices
of these quieter forms of madness that we find a different type of demonic
agency appearing in miracle narratives. These are cases in which demons are
not imagined as physically inhabiting the bodies of their victims as in demonic
possession, but are shown adversely affecting an individuals mental health
from afar. The targets of such indirect attacks are usually said to be seduced
or deceived by the cunning influence of the demon. In one example, a girl suf-
fering from amentia is describing trying to commit suicide by throwing herself
into a mill stream at the suggestion of the devil (suggestione diabolic).38
More frequently, however, demons manifest themselves as tangible realities
in the narratives, and it is the act of seeing or hearing them which triggers the
unbalancing of the victims mind. In a chilling story from the Miracles of the Hand
of St James, the daughter of a cleric is accosted by a ghoula dead man in a
shroudas she goes about her milking duties at daybreak. The story relates
how, on catching sight of the unholy figure, the blood freezes around the girls
heart, causing her to lose her senses and act like a madwoman. Rushing home,
she tries to burn herself with coals from the fire.39 In a similarly sinister story
another young woman, harvesting nuts in a wood, becomes speechless and
mad (amens) as the result of hearing the sound of ghostly musical instruments
and demons voices in the trees.40
These last two stories use the word phantom (phantasma) to describe
ghostly apparitions. This choice of word is significant because, in medieval
Latin, a phantasma was not a supernatural reality as in modern-day usage, but
an illusion.41 Medically speaking, phantasmata were disease-induced figments
of the imagination, caused either through damage to the front ventricle of the
brain or when morbid humours collected in the eye.42 Classical medicine also

of texts and ideas about melancholia into the medieval West see Jackson, Melancholia,
pp. 4664.
38 Prior Philip, Miracula S. Frideswidae, p. 574.
39 B. Kemp, The Miracles of the Hand of St James, Berkshire Archaeological Journal 65
(1970), 910.
40 Goscelin, Miracula S. Ivonis, pp. lxxvilxxvii.
41 Deriving from the Greek, I make appear. D. Hack Tuke, A Dictionary of Psychological
Medicine: Giving Definitions, Etymology and Synonyms of the Terms Used in Medical
Psychology, 2 vols (London, 1892), vol. 2, p. 935.
42 Siegel, Galen on Psychology, p. 159; Elizabeth R. Harvey, The Inward Wits: Psychological
Theory in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (London, 1975), p. 35.
Miracles and Madness 245

interpreted such erroneous perceptions as symptoms of mental illness.43 The

illusionary nature of phantasmata is made explicit in a miracle story in which
a love-struck youth follows what he takes to be his beloved into the woods.
The trees seem to be burning with phantasmic fire (phantastico igne), but the
young man finally discovers that he has, in fact, been deceived (delusus) by
an illusion.44
The fact that the youth is said to have been deluded by a demonic illusion
(dmoniaco figmento) implies that the delusion was a demonic creation. Here,
and in the previously mentioned stories, supernatural forces cause symptoms
of madness. However, cause-and-effect is subtly reversed in some late-twelfth-
century cases of phantasmata so that seeing phantoms becomes a symp-
tom, not a cause, of madness. As a consequence, the supernatural aetiology
switches to a natural one, and phantasmata more obviously become a physi-
ological phenomenon. An example of this can be found in one of Benedict
of Peterboroughs best known stories from his miracula of Thomas Becket.
Here the madman, Elward of Selling, squeezes himself into the space above
St Thomass tomb and promptly becomes stuck. Less well known is the rea-
son for Elwards acrobatic escapade: namely, his terror at being accosted by
a phantom. In the likeness (imago) of a ghost (larva), the phantom tries to
force (impingo) itself on him, and it is Elwards determination to escape his
phantom bully which causes him to take refuge with the relics of the saint.
However, in this instance Elwards propensity to see phantoms is described as
part and parcel of his insanity (insania); the larva is unmistakably conjured up
by his madness rather than by external demonic forces.45
Physical assaults by illusory demons in association with madness are com-
mon in miracle stories. The knight, Stephen of Hoyland, reported that he had
been oppressed (oppressus, literally pressed-down-upon) and suffocated
(suffocatus) by a nocturnal demon for thirty years, while a wealthy Winchester
man is described being reduced to a gibbering wreck as the result of nearly
being suffocated (suffocatus) by three female spectres.46 A similar story is told
of Nicholas, a Cluniac novice from Pontefract, who awoke his fellow brethren

43 Murray Wright Bundy, The Theory of Imagination in Classical and Medieval Thought
(Urbana-Champaign, IL, 1927), p. 67; Siegel, Galen on Psychology, p. 159.
44 Alia Miracula Sancti Johannis, Acta Sanctorum, May II, p. 185B.
45 Benedict of Peterborough, Miracula S. Thomae Cantuariensis, ed. James C. Robertson,
Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, Rolls Series 67, 7 vols
(London, 187685), vol. 2, pp. 823.
46 Ibid., vol. 2, p. 44; Miracula S. Swithuni, ed. and trans. Michael Lapidge, The Cult of St
Swithun, Winchester Studies, 4.2 (Oxford, 2003), pp. 650.
246 Bailey

one night by leaping out of bed, running around the dormitory, and shout-
ing that he was being suffocated (suffocatus) by malignant spirits. In this last
example, we are told several times that the victim is suffering from an illusion
(illusio), a mind-generated demon.47
In addition to this illusory element, there are several interesting medical
facts to note about phantom stories in the miracula. The first is connected
to the occasional tendency of writers to link demons with the classical pagan
world: thus Elward of Sellings pursuer is identified as a larva and the three
madness-inducing demons which assault the Winchester man are described,
by the narrator, as Eumenides. Although it is not uncommon for medieval
writers to associate Christian demons with Greco-Roman deities, this pro-
pensity is particularly strong in cases of mental illness in the sources under
review. In this respect, it is interesting that some of this classical terminology
has medical allusions: larva was a term associated with the mentally ill in the
classical period and similar connotations surround the Greek word Eumenides
which appear in two miracle collections.48 Known in their Roman form as the
Furies, the Eumenides were personifications of madness, said to be responsi-
ble for symptoms of furor as we have already seen. However, the Eumenides
were also known as Erinyes, a word which denoted mental disorder in Anglo-
Saxon England.49 In other words, there is evidence to suggest that larvae and
Eumenides had particular medical associations which may have added an extra
layer of meaning for writers and readers equipped with classical learning.
The second important point to make about phantoms in miracle stories
is that the symptoms of suffocation (suffocatus) and oppression (oppressus)
with which they are frequently associated, immediately bring to mind a third
kind of classical fiend. This is the demon renowned for pressing-down-upon
their victims: the incubus. The incubusone who presses upon or crushes
had its origins in the Greco-Roman world, and ideas about this demonic night-
time predator were transmitted into the medieval West through the writings

47 William of Canterbury, Miracula S. Thomae Cantuariensis, ed. James C. Robertson,

Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, Rolls Series 67, 7 vols
(London, 187685), vol. 1, pp. 3801.
48 Classical writers understood larvatus to mean being full of larvae, or phantoms. Zilboorg,
History of Medical Psychology, p. 106; Rosen, Madness in Society, p. 93. For examples of
the Eumenides in the miracula, see Miracula S. Swithuni, p. 650, and Reginald of Durham,
Miraculis S. Godrici, p. 381.
49 See, for example, the entry in the eighth-century Corpus Glossary (Corpus Christi College,
Cambridge, MS 144). Cited by Basil Clarke, Mental Disorders in Earlier Britain (Cardiff,
1975), p. 73.
Miracles and Madness 247

of Jerome, Augustine, Gregory the Great and Isidore of Seville.50 Interestingly,

Jerome connected female versions of the incubus, the succubus, with the
Eumenides, which provides a further strand of signification to the story of
the Winchester man suffocated by three Eumenides, particularly as the descrip-
tion of the victims ordeal is suggestive of sexual assault.51
Although Jerome was thinking about the succubus in purely demonic
terms, in the Greco-Roman tradition the word incubus also had a medical prov-
enance, because it pertained to a pathological condition. The Greek physician,
Soranus of Ephesus (fl. AD 100), had written about a syndrome called incu-
bus characterized by feelings of heaviness and oppression and a sort of chok-
ing. Sufferers of the incubus disorder had frightening dreams in which they
imagine that someone has suddenly attacked them and stunned their senses,
exhausting them. Soranus adds, They often jump up and cry out.52 Aristotle,
Hippocrates and Galen, who also wrote about this medical condition, believed
that incubi were delusions caused by physical imbalances such as over-eating
or disease.53
Although the incubus medical syndrome was known about in early medi-
eval Europetransmitted to the West through the writings of Oribasius of
Pergamon (325403) and Paul of Aegina (62590)it is less easy to estab-
lish whether hagiographers in twelfth-century England would have been
acquainted with this area of medical knowledge. However, the symptoms
described by Soranus certainly find parallels in the miracle accounts of phan-
tasmata mentioned above, and the story of Stephen of Hoyland provides an
intriguing possibility that the similarities between hagiographical descrip-
tions of demonic suffocation and Soranuss medical symptoms may be more
than mere coincidence. Vexed for many years by his recurring phantasma,
the beleaguered Stephen is said to have visited physicians who disagree with
him that his condition is caused by a daemon; they instead diagnose it as a
medical complaint, superincumbentusthat is, incubus.54 This seems to be an
instance where pathological and demonological explanations for madness rub
up against one another in a less than comfortable way, with the knight perhaps

50 Nicolas K. Kiessling, The Incubus in English Literature (Pullman, WA, 1977), pp. 1214.
51 Ibid., p. 14.
52 Stanley W. Jackson, Unusual Mental States in Medieval Europe, I. Medical Syndromes of
Mental Disorder: 4001100 AD, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 27.1
(1972), 2834. Soranus works had been translated into Latin by Caelius Aurelianus at the
turn of the fourth and fifth centuries.
53 Kiessling, Incubus in English Literature, p. 3.
54 Benedict of Peterborough, Miracula S. Thomae, p. 44.
248 Bailey

representing popular belief in demonic causation, and the physician provid-

ing the perspective of medical authority. It is an interesting point to which the
chapter will return.
The more usual victim of incubus attack in medieval writing, of course, is
female. In twelfth-century hagiography, the incubus normally preys on chaste
and pious women, trying to tempt them away from lives of virtue. William of
Canterbury, for example, tells of the disgrace to befall a married woman when
she is seduced, and becomes pregnant, by an adulterous incubus (adulter
incubus) with a manly form (virili forma).55 In saints lives, the emphasis is on
the mental struggle against sexual temptation: the mind, rather than the body,
becomes the focus attack. The married woman of Williams story has clearly
failed this moral test, and with unfortunate consequences. However, a simi-
lar incubus tale told by Thomas of Monmouth has a happier ending. Thomas
relates how an innocent virgin living at home with her parents finds herself
harassed by persistent suitors. These include a good-looking youthinter-
preted as an incubus and a daemon by Thomaswho tries to seduce his victim
by tempting her with jewellery and fine clothes. The girls parents despair of
ridding their daughter of the evil presence, and finally take her to William
of Norwichs tomb whereas with cases of possessionthe victim is not
exorcized of her incubus, but cured.56
The stories of the seduced wife and the bedevilled virgin doubtless tapped
into a popular culture which readily believed in the reality of incubi and
other malign spirits. However, it should also be noted that the exact nature
of these womens sexual adversaries is decidedly ambiguous. The stories can
be read morally as well as literally. From a literal perspective, the villains are
real demons cunningly disguised as men. From a moral perspective, however,
they are real men whose evil intent metaphorically turns them into demons.57
A figurative interpretation of these women-seducing incubi would, indeed, be
consistent with what we know about the religious mindset of the time, which
saw a new interest in the emotions and the inner workings of the individual
soul. In what has been called a major shift of attitudes, churchmen and law-
yers of the twelfth century were beginning to look beneath outward behaviour

55 William of Canterbury, Miracula S. Thomae, pp. 31415.

56 Thomas of Monmouth, Life and Miracles, pp. 7985.
57 Compare, for example, the above example with the contemporary episode of the
attempted seduction of Christian of Markyate by the very real Ranulf Flambard. The Life
of Christina of Markyate: A Twelfth Century Recluse, ed. and trans. C. H. Talbot (Oxford, 2nd
edn., 1997), pp. 402.
Miracles and Madness 249

and action, in favour of privileging an ethic based on intent.58 Not only were
theologians generally less disposed than in other periods to believe in the real-
ity of incubi and demons, but greater concern for intentionality and interiority
allowed room for the development of a different sort of mental aberration: the
notion of the demon within.59

Medieval Interpretations: Audience

It is at this point that conceptual boundaries begin to blur. Are we to read sto-
ries of possession and incubi literally or metaphorically, medically or morally?
Should we understand phantoms as real or illusory? Were hagiographers aware
of the medical connotations beneath their classical borrowings? In short, how
do we negotiate the multiplicity of potential interpretations in stories of mad-
ness and demons in twelfth-century miracula?
The fact that these texts offer us a myriad of different possible meanings
should not, however, come as a surprise. The basic miracle story itself func-
tions on a variety of conceptual planes. In line with medieval exegesis, cures
of illness are at one and the same time a physical reality, an allegory of the
Resurrection of the Dead, and a metaphor for the redeemed sinful soul. Given
hagiographers predilection for multi-layered symbolism, we might expect
mental illness to carry similar medical, moral and spiritual significance. As
outlined in the earlier part of the article, medical science and religious faith
commingled in the medieval world, and pre-scholastic England was only too
accustomed to discourses in which the natural and supernatural merged.60
The task for the historian, then, is not to untangle one element from the other,
but to understand how they combine.
One way to make sense of the interweaving of the medical-demonic dis-
course in miracle collections is by thinking about their intended audience.
Medievalists often debate whether miracle narratives were intended solely for
the consumption of their immediate monastic communities, or whether they
were disseminated to the wider population through sermons, oral expositions

58 Charles M. Radding, Evolution of Medieval Mentalities: A Cognitive-Structural Approach,

The American Historical Review 83.3 (1978), 577597. This wider cultural phenomenon is
explored in, for example, Morris, Discovery of the Individual and in Frances Oakley, The
Crucial Centuries: The Medieval Experience (Bristol, 1979).
59 For the trend away from believing in the reality of incubi, see Kiessling, Incubus, pp. 212.
60 See, for example, Karen L. Jolly, Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in
Context (Chapel Hill and London, 1996); Watkins, History and the Supernatural.
250 Bailey

and other means.61 An answer to this question might lie in the fact that demons
in the stories can be read on both an elite and popular level. This suggests a
mixed audience representing a wide range of cultural experiences, assump-
tions and expectations. On the one hand, it is unlikely that references to classi-
cal concepts such as the Eumenides would have meant much to an uneducated
audience, and the medical implications of words such as phantasma and
incubus would certainly have been out of the general publics conceptual grasp.
As the story of Stephen of Hoylands difference of opinion with his physicians
suggests, classical culture was an exclusive one in twelfth-century England: not
even a knight was privy to a thought-world which rationalized nightmares as
a medical condition.
On the other hand, however, tales of incubi and Eumenides may have had
resonance with the wider population through analogous local beliefs, and it is
not unlikely that Latinate metonyms for demons were replaced with vernacu-
lar alternatives when the accounts were orally transmitted to the public.62 The
point, of course, is that it was not necessary to understand elitist medical or
classical allusions in order to appreciate stories about demons, and the fact
that demonic episodes can be interpreted both literally and metaphorically
gives rise to the possibility that demons were understood differently by differ-
ent audiences. While the entertaining and colourful depictions of demons and
phantoms must have struck a note of terror and wonderment into the unedu-
cated laityan audience which was doubtless the target of the many religious
and moral messages in the miraculathe underlying medical discourse also
hints at a more sophisticated, educated audience.
This elite audience, however, should not be imagined solely as the writers
monastic peers. Many twelfth-century miracula were produced in conjunction

61 For commentators arguing for a narrow in-house readership, see Rachel Koopmans,
Wonderful to Relate: Miracle Stories and Miracle Collecting in High Medieval England
(Philadelphia, 2011), pp. 1303; Louise E. Wilson, Hagiographical Interpretations of
Disability in the Twelfth-Century Miracula of St Frideswide, in Treatment of Disabled
Persons, ed., Turner and Vandeventer Pearman, pp. 13565. For arguments for dissemina-
tion to a wider audience, see Benedicta Ward, Miracles and the Medieval Mind: Theory,
Record and Event, 10001215 (Philadelphia, rev. edn 1987), p. 166; Finucane, Miracles,
pp. 102, 156. For a wider discussion of this theme with especial reference to some of the
sources under review, see Anne E Bailey, Representations of English Women and their
Pilgrimages in Twelfth-Century Miracle Collections, Assuming Gender 3.1 (2013), 635.
62 As an example, the Anglo-Saxons believed that nightmares were caused by elves rather
than by incubi. Wilfrid Bonser, The Medieval Background of Anglo-Saxon England: A Study
in History, Psychology and Folklore (London, 1963), p. 164. Also see Kiessling, Incubus,
pp. 1620.
Miracles and Madness 251

with the formal episcopal recognition of a saint, and by the end of the cen-
tury some collections were even making their way to Rome as part of the legal
evidence required for papal canonization. In an increasingly legalistic and
sceptical world, hagiographers were doubtless mindful that relying on popular
sentiment was no longer enough to secure the successful future of a saint.63
Sainthood in the twelfth century was also grounded on verifiable evidence.
In this respect, it is noticeable that the most legalistically-styled miracle col-
lection under reviewThe Book of St Gilbert of Sempringhamis completely
demon-free. Submitted to the papal authorities as part of a canonization dos-
sier, this miracula includes five cases of mental illness, but each is explained
entirely in natural terms.64
Hagiographers compiling miracle collections in twelfth-century England,
then, potentially had a wide variety of people for whom they expected,
or hoped, to cater. From pilgrim to pope, this diverse audience seems to be
addressed in miracle collections through different variants of similar stories, or
through alternative readings of the same account. However, with the exception
of the Sempringham collection, none of the miracula in the survey completely
turn away from the idea of demonic causes for mental illness. Like William of
Norwich, most hagiographers freely mix, match and merge demonic and non-
demonic discourses, giving madness the widest possible spectrum of meaning.


A study of twenty miracle collections from twelfth-century England points to a

complex hagiographical representation of mental illness in which religious
and medical understandings of madness combine. On the one hand, mental
illness retains its traditional significance as a religious drama played out to
elucidate the Christian message of sin and salvation. On the other, however,
a medical frame of reference is also present which draws on Hippocratic-
Galenic sources. Despite the modern tendency to distinguish between science
and religion, the line between pathology and demonology in medieval hagiog-
raphy is often hard to draw. Medical and demonic discourses run side-by-side
and often intermingle within the same story, giving rise to the possibility that

63 For the most famous sceptical tract of the twelfth century concerning saints and relics,
see Guibert of Nogent De Pignoribus Sanctorum, PL 156:60780. Guibert makes clear that
miracles should be properly verified and not left to popular opinion.
64 See table in the Appendix.
252 Bailey

the narratives were purposely layered by hagiographers with a wide variety of

readers and listeners in mind.
A significant finding of the study is that demons are not always quite as
real as they at first appear in these accounts. Possession narratives are notably
less dependent on the actual presence of demons than in earlier centuries,
and medical readings of many supernatural entities in the narratives challenge
the reality of demons, and instead reveal them to be metaphors or symptoms
of disease. However, even if we take each demonic reference at face value,
it is still the case that less than half of all mental disorders in the texts are
associated with demons. Overall, twelfth-century hagiographers appear
just as inclined to explain mental disturbance in natural terms as in super
natural ones.
Nonetheless, the sources surveyed do suggest a chronological pattern, with
natural explanations for madness increasing towards the end of the twelfth
century as supernatural ones decrease.65 The gradual medicalization of men-
tal illness in twelfth-century hagiography can be understood within the con-
text of wider cultural and religious changes often labelled under the umbrella
term twelfth-century renaissance. Perhaps most obviously, the twelfth
century witnessed the beginning of a flood of translated medical texts into
western Europe which inevitably led to a greater awareness of, and familiar-
ity with, Galenic medicine in English ecclesiastical institutions. At the same
time, new legalistic ways of thinking about, and analysing, the world were
developing. This included an emphasis on empirical evidence, and a greater
wariness of supernatural explanations.66 This pragmatic, analytical approach
directly affected the way in which miracles were recorded. Styling their writing
in keeping with the intellectual climate of the time, hagiographers drew on
medical and classical authority to indirectly provide evidence for their miracu-
lous claims.
It is important to note, however, that hagiographers did not completely dis-
card the traditional demonic script in the face of these new cultural trends.
Stories of demons and incubi may have been reshaped here and there for
twelfth-century tastes, but they nonetheless retained their basic ingredients
and meaning. Demons, as we know, were to rise to greater prominenceand
acquire a different significancewhen demonology turned its attention to
witchcraft in the centuries to come.

65 See Appendix.
66 Watkins, History and the Supernatural, pp. 2940.
Miracles and Madness 253


Earlier Miracle Collections (c1088c1150)*

Saint* Date of Compilation Mental Illness Demonic No Demons

Cases Aetiology

thelthryth(1) Late 11th century 1 0 1

Swithun Late 11th century 2 2 0
Ivo 1090s/before 1143 3 3 0
Modwenna 111850 2 1 1
Dunstan Early 12th century 2 1 1
Aldhelm c11241140 2 2 0
Wulfstan 11241140 1 1 0
Ithamar c1140s 1 0 1
John(1) Before 1144 1 0 1

Total Cases: 15 10 5

Later Miracle Collections (c1150c1200)*

Saint* Date of Compilation Mental Illness Demonic No Demons

Cases Aetiology

William 114472 8 5 3
thelthryth(2) 11691174 1 1 0
Godric c1177 16 9 7
bbe c1188 4 3 1
Frideswide 1180s 13 1 12
John(2) Before 1188 3 2 1
Thomas(1) 11712 9 3 6
Thomas(2) 11727 17 11 6
Edmund 1190s 3 1 2
James 11901200 1 1 0
Gilbert Before 1205 5 0 5

Total Cases: 80 37 43
254 Bailey

Sources and Abbreviations

Aldhelm: William of Malmesbury, Gesta pontificum Anglorum, ed. and trans. Michael
Winterbottom, 2 vols (Oxford, 2007), vol. 1, pp. 498663.
bbe: Vita et miracula S. bbe virginis, ed. and trans. Robert Bartlett in The Miracles of
St bbe of Coldingham and St Margaret of Scotland (Oxford, 2003), pp. 267.
thelthryth(1): Miracula Sancta theldrethe virginis, ed. and trans. Rosalind C. Love,
in Goscelin of Saint-Bertin: The Hagiography of the Female Saints of Ely (Oxford,
2004), pp. 96131.
thelthryth(2): Liber Eliensis, ed. E. O. Blake, Royal Historical Society, Camden 3rd ser.,
92 (London, 1962), pp. 26394.
Dunstan: Eadmer of Canterbury, Vita Sancti Dunstani archiepiscopi Cantuariensis, eds.
and trans. Andrew J. Turner and Bernard J. Muir, in Eadmer of Canterbury, Lives and
Miracles of Saints Oda, Dunstan and Oswald (Oxford, 2006), pp. 161211.
Edmund: Abbot Samson, Miracula Sancti Edmundi, ed. Thomas Arnold in Memorials
of St Edmunds Abbey, Rolls Series 96, 3 vols (London, 18906), vol. 1, pp. 107208.
Frideswide: Prior Philip, Miracula S. Frideswidae, in Acta Sanctorum VIII Oct. (Antwerp,
1853), pp. 56789.
Gilbert: The Book of St Gilbert, ed. and trans. Foreville and G. Keir (Oxford, 1987).
Godric: Reginald of Durham, Libellus de Vita et Miraculis S. Godrici, Heremitae de
Finchale; Appendix Miraculorum, ed. Joseph Stevenson, Surtees Society, 20 (London,
1845), pp. 371499.
Ithamar: D. Bethell, The Miracles of St Ithamar, Analecta Bollandiana 89 (1971),
Ivo: Goscelin of Saint-Bertin, Miracula S. Ivonis, ed. William D. Macray in Chronicon
abbatiae Rameseiensis, Rolls Series, 83 (London, 1886), pp. lixlxxxiv.
James: B. Kemp, The Miracles of the Hand of St James, Berkshire Archaeological
Journal 65 (1970), 119.
John(1): William Ketell, Miracula Sancti Johannis, Acta Sanctorum, May II (Antwerp,
1680), pp. 174C180D.
John(2): Alia Miracula, in Acta Sanctorum, Mai II (Antwerp, 1680), pp. 180D187C.
Modwenna: Geoffrey of Burton, Vita sancte Moduenne virginis, ed. and trans. Robert
Bartlett, in Life and Miracles of St Modwenna (Oxford, 2002), pp. 164219.
Swithun: Miracula S. Swithuni, ed. and trans. Michael Lapidge, in The Cult of St Swithun,
Winchester Studies, 4.2 (Oxford, 2003), pp. 64897.
Thomas(1): William of Canterbury, Miracula S. Thomae Cantuariensis, ed. James C.
Robertson, Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury,
Rolls Series 67, 7 vols (London, 187685), vol. 1, pp. 137546.
Miracles and Madness 255

Thomas(2): Benedict of Peterborough, Miracula S. Thomae Cantuariensis, ed. James C.

Robertson, in Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury,
Rolls Series 67, 7 vols (London, 187685), vol. 2, pp. 21281.
William: Thomas of Monmouth, The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich, ed. and
trans. A. Jessopp and M. R. James (Cambridge, 1896).
Wulfstan: William of Malmesbury, Vita Wulfstani, ed. and trans M. Winterbottom and
R. M. Thomson (Oxford, 2002).

Demons in Lapidaries? The Evidence of the Madrid

MS Escorial, h.I.15

M. Carolina Escobar Vargas

In the thirteenth-century Castilian Lapidario, produced for the future king

Alfonso X (12211284), the wise, several entries listing the marvellous virtues
and properties of stones make reference to an illness called demonio, and to
whoever suffered it as endemoniado or demoniac. As is typical of medieval
texts describing the virtues and occult properties of simples, the Alfonsine lap-
idary does not include details of the symptoms that characterise this particu-
lar illness. However, instructions on the particular course of action that must
be followed to counteract the harmful effects of this disease are sometimes
provided. More general references to demons are also present in the lapidary,
even though they are scarcer. This article will examine the different instances
in which such references are made throughout the text, indicating how they
relate to one another. It will then establish possible connections between them
and a well-known disease, epilepsy. Finally, it will assess whether or not paral-
lel references to a demonic affliction and its demoniac sufferers appear in
other European lapidaries of the Central Middle Ages by looking into one par-
ticular stone, smaragdos or emerald, as a case-study.
The Alfonsine Lapidary survives in three manuscripts: a thirteenth-century
copy now in Madrid, Real Biblioteca del monasterio de San Lorenzo de El
Escorial, h.I.15, and two fragmented sixteenth-century versions.1 The former is

1 The copy now in Madird, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, h.I.15, is a beautifully illuminated man-
uscript produced in the Castilian royal scriptorium in the 1270s. For the debate surround-
ing the date of production of this manuscript, see A. J. Crdenas-Rotunno, El Lapidario
Alfons: la fecha problemtica del cdice escurialiense h.I.15, in Actas del XIII Congreso de la
Asociacin Internacional de Hispanistas (Madrid 611 julio 1998), ed. by F. Sevilla Arroyo and C.
Alvar Ezquerra (Madrid, Castalia, 2000) I, pp. 8187. The copies now in Madrid, San Lorenzo
de El Escorial, &-II-16 and Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, 1197 are reproductions in paper of
the thirteenth-century Escorial MS h.I.15. While the Escorial MS &-II-16 has no use of deco-
rations or rubrication, the manuscript in the Biblioteca Nacional de Espaa, 1197, includes
detailed copies of many of the miniatures and illustrations present in the Escorial MS h.I.15.
Furthermore, it provides additional images by the sixteenth-century illustrator that comple-
ment some of the gaps left in the unfinished thirteenth-century copy of the Lapidario. For
additional information on the transmission and illustration of this version of the Lapidario,

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_015

Demons in Lapidaries ? 257

the most famousboth because it is the only complete surviving copy of the
text and because it is luxuriously decorated.2 It contains not only one, but four
lapidary texts. The first three are closely associated with the work of the Jewish
scholar and translator Yehudah ben Moses ha-Kohen,3 and were probably com-
pleted around 1250;4 the fourth one is palaeographically and stylistically differ-
ent, and will not be considered here.5 Yehudah was active in the middle of the

see L. Fernndez Fernndez, La transmisin de los textos cientficos de Alfonso X: el Ms. 1197
de la BNE, Anales de Historia del Arte, Volumen Extraordinario (2010): 5168.
2 This thirteenth-century manuscript was given to the royal library at El Escorial by Felipe II
from the library of Don Diego de Mendoza. In 1881 a cromolitographic edition of the manu-
script was printed in Madrid by Fernandez de la Montaa. A second facsimile edition of the
text of the first Lapidario in the Escorial MS. h.I.15 was printed in 1982 in Madrid by Ediln. The
first critical edition of the Castilian text of the Lapidario was produced in 1968 by Mara Brey
Mario. In 1980 R. C. Diman and L. W. Winget produced an edition of the text of the Lapidario
together with the text of the Libro de las formas & ymagenes and in 1982 a new Spanish edi-
tion by S. Rodrguez Montalvo was published by Gredos. See J. Fernndez Montaa (ed.),
Lapidario del Rey D. Alfonso X. Cdice original (Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia, 1881);
Alfonso X, Primer Lapidario (Madrid: Ediln, 1982), 2 vols.; M. Brey Mario (ed.), Alfonso
X, rey de Castila, Lapidario (Madrid: Castalia, 1968); R. C. Diman and L. W. Winget (eds.),
Alfonso el Sabio, Lapidario and Libro de las formas & ymagenes (Madison: Hispanic Seminary
of Medieval Studies, 1980); S. Rodrguez Montalvo (ed.), Alfonso X, Lapidario (segn el manu-
scrito escurialense H.I.15) (Madrid, Gredos, 1981).
3 See N. Roth, Jewish collaborators in Alfonsos Scientific Work, in R. J. Burns (ed.), Emperor of
Culture: Alfonso X the Learned of Castile and his thirteenth-century Renaissance (Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania University Press, 1990), pp. 5971; E. S. Procter, The Scientific Works of the
Court of Alfonso X of Castile: The King and His Collaborators, The Modern Language Review
40 (1945):1229.
4 The text now found in the Escorial MS. h.I.15 is probably a copy or the revised version of a text
first commissioned by Alfonso in the 1250s. According to the prologue to the first lapidary,
the translation of the text was completed c.1250: Et fue acabado de trasladar; el segundo
anno que el noble Rey don ferrando su padre gano la cibdat de SeuillaDiman and Winget,
Lapidario, p. 4; the Reconquista of Seville by Fernando III took place between August 1247
and November 1248. The process of translation from the Arabic original probably started
earlier, c.1244: Et fallo en seyendo Jnfante en uida de su padre en el anno que gano el Regno
de Murcia...Diman and Winget, Lapidario, p. 3.
5 The text of this fourth lapidary is written in a different hand to the previous three; the deco-
ration is also different. The treatise includes no miniatures or diagrams, and, even though
space has been left for initials, these were never completed. The text is attributed in the
manuscript to the Arab scholar Mahomat Aben Quich and the way in which the stones are
presented here is significantly different to that of the first three lapidaries in the manuscript.
The stones in this lapidary are organised in alphabetical order, even though the order of the
letters does not follow the Latin, modern Arabic or Greek alphabets, although it may follow
older forms of the Arabic alphabetDiman and Winget, Lapidario, p. xxi. The description of
the first stone, anxoniz, is significantly larger than the rest, and the text also presents some
258 Escobar Vargas

thirteenth century as an astronomer and physician of the Castilian court.6 His

work on the lapidary followed a royal commission by the then Infante, Don
Alfonso (12211284), the thirteenth-century Castilian ruler renowned for his
active sponsorship of the arts, especially in the areas of astronomy, astrology
and magic.7

difficulties with the numbering of the stonesfor example the description of the stone
immediately following anxoniz, i.e. the stone azoritaz, is said to be the fourth stone com-
ing under the letter A, not the second. Significantly, in a manner similar to the first three
lapidaries in this manuscript, the fourth lapidary includes astrological information relating
to the constellation under which each stone is formed and the specific properties that this
gives them.
6 This is the same Yehudah ben Moses ha-Kohen who collaborated in the compilation of the
Alfonsine Tables, which were based on the work of the eleventh-century astrologer al-Zarkali.
He also translated for Alfonso El Libro de las cruces, El Libro de los juicios de las estrellas, El
Libro del Alcora and El Libro de las estrellas fijas, a work probably based on that of the Arab
astronomer Abd al-Rahman al Sufi.
7 Alfonsos support for scientific developments is highlighted in the prologue of the first lapi-
dary: & ouol en Toledo de un iudio quel tenie ascondido que se non querie aprouechar del;
nin que a otro touiesse pro. Et desque este libro touo en su poder fizo lo leer a otro su Judio
que era su fisico & dizien le Yhuda mosca el menor que era mucho entendudo en la arte de
astronomia & sabie & entendie bien el arauigo & el latin Et desque por este i(n)[u]dio su
fisico ouo entendido el bien & la grand pro que en el iazie; mando gelo trasladar de arauigo
en lenguaje castellano por que los omnes lo ente[n]diessen meior; & se sopiessen del mas
aprouechar. Et ayudol en este trasladamiento Garci perez un su clerigo que era otrossi mucho
entendudo en este saber de astronomia. Et fue acabado de trasladar; el segundo anno que
el noble Rey don ferrando su padre gano la cibdat de Seuilla. (Diman and Winget (eds.),
Lapidario, pp. 34). Scientific works under Alfonsos patronage were a collaborative effort,
usually involving a multilingual group of scholars. There is evidence to suggest that Alfonso
himself took the role of general editor of some of the material he commissionedsee
E. S. Procter, The Scientific Works of the court of Alfonso X of Castille: The King and His
Collaborators, The Modern Language Review 40 (1945):1229. His involvement is notable in
some of the prologues, which may have been written directly by him, and in the revision of
some of the work he asked to be translated, such as his involvement in the Libro de las estrel-
las fijas, for exampleProcter, Scientific Works, p. 16. According to Procter, there appear to
be two main periods of activity in the production of scientific works in the Alfonsine court:
one in the 1250s and another in the 1270s, when some of the works produced in the earlier
period were reedited and revised. Thus, together with the Lapidario, works such as the Libro
de la aafecha, the Libro de las estrellas fijas, the vernacular version of the Liber Picatrix, the
Libro del Alcora and the Libro de las cruces were all compiled in the 1250s; while the Alfonsine
Tables were completed in 1272, reflecting almost a decade of work and observations. A revised
edition of the Libro de las estrellas fijas, a second version of the Libro del Alcora and of the
Libro de la aafecha, and the Libro del quadrante all belong to the 1270s. To the latter part of
this decade also belongs the collection of treatises that form the Libro de las formas y de las
imgenesProcter, Scientific Works, p. 27.
Demons in Lapidaries ? 259

The prologue to the first lapidary indicates that this text was translated by
Yehudah from an Arabic original that was found in Toledo. This original text
was itself a translation from the Aramaic, attributed to an unidentified Arab
scholar, named in the prologue as Abolays.8 It is likely that Yehudah completed
his translation c. 1250.9 In this, the largest and most complex of the three lapi-
daries, precious stones are organised according to their relationship to the
twelve signs of the zodiac, which are said to rule over thirty stones each. The text
is missing the entries for fifty-eight stones, bringing their total number to an
impressive 302.10 Each entry provides the reader with a physical description
of a stone, its virtues, where to find it and the celestial bodies that rule them
and bind them.11 The second lapidary, or El libro de las fazes, was translated
by Yehudah from an anonymous original and contains only thirty-six stones;
which according to J. Evans are organised following the passage of the sun

8 The identity of the mysterious Abolays is still a puzzle. Attempts at identifying him
with the naturalist Abboul-Abbas were made in the 1920s by J. H. Nunemakersee J. H.
Nunemaker, The Lapidary of Alfonso X, Phylological Quarterly, 8 (1929):248254 (249)
and J. H. Nunemaker, Note on Abolays, Hispanic Review, 2 (1934): 242246. Further
attempts were made by G. O. S. Darby in The Mysterious Abolays, Osiris, 1 (1936): 251259.
In 1996 Alejandro Garca Avils favoured yet another identification, this time to the math-
ematician and astrologer Abu AIi al-Khaiyatsee A. Garca Avils Two Astromagical
Manuscripts of Alfonso X, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 59 (1996), p. 16.
9 See note 4.
10 The most famous medieval lapidary, the Liber lapidum by the eleventh-century bishop of
Rennes Marbod, describes only sixty stones, for example. Contrary to Alfonsos Lapidario,
which survives only in one medieval manuscript, there are copies of Marbods very
popular text in c. 250 manuscripts. An edition of Marbods text is available in Marbode
of Rennes (10351123) De lapidibus, ed. by J. M. Riddle, Sudhoffs Archiv, Zeitschrift fur
Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Beiheft 20 (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1977).
11 The prologue of the first lapidary text includes a schematic description of the structure
of its chapters: & touieron que les non abondaua de connoser su color & su grandez
& su uertud; si non con[o]ciessen quales eran los cuerpos celestiales conque auien ata-
miento. & de que recibien la uertud por que se endereauan a fazer sus obras segund el
endereamiento delos estados de los cuerpos de suso en toda obra de bien o de mal....Et
entre aquellos quel busco; fallo este que fabla de trezientas et sessaenta piedras segund
los grados delos signos que son en el cielo ochauo. Et dixo de cadauna qual color. & qual
nombre. & que uertud a & en que logar es fallada. & dela estrella dela figura que es en el
grado daquel signo donde ella recibe fuera et uertud. Et esto segund el sol corre en todo
el anno por los grados delas figuras delos doze signos que se fazen por todos trezientos et
sessaenta que son todos figurados de estrellas menudas. & otras figuras muchas que estan
en el ochauo cielo que son figuradas otrossi de estrellas. las unas a parte de septentrion
que es ala estrella que llaman trasmontana. & las otras a parte de medio dia. que son
dellas dentro en los signos. & las otras de fuera dellos assi que se fazen por todas con los
signos; quarenta & ochoDiman and Winget, Lapidario, p. 3.
260 Escobar Vargas

through the faces of the signs.12 Each sign of the zodiac is associated with three
stones, each one of these representing a face of the sign.13 The third lapidary
does not include a prologue, but it is written in the same thirteenth-century
gothic hand as the previous two texts. In it, the stones are organised according
to the planets that rule them in sixty-four sections.14
Sagrario Rodrguez has identified the sources of the second and third lapi-
daries mainly with Jewish material.15 The first lapidary, on the other hand, is
an ingenious composition of sources of mixed origin, including Greek, Jewish
and Arabic material. It is possible that it is the product of a collation of texts
available to the highly educated Yehudah, who would have been in a position
to incorporate material belonging to all three traditions into his work. This
would explain echoes in the text of the Greek tradition of Dioscorides and
Serapion.16 Similarly, it would account for possible references to astrological
lapidaries belonging to the Jewish tradition. This combination would explain
the unique character of the Alfonsine material: both in the particularly large
number of stones included in the first lapidary and in the specific reference to
astral influences over each stone.17 These specific astrological references were
possibly further augmented by Yehudahs own knowledge and expertise: he

12 J. Evans, The Lapidary of Alfonso the Learned, The Modern Language Review, 41 (1919):
42426 (426).
13 This is equivalent to ten of the thirty degrees of each signsee Nunemaker, Lapidary,
p. 253.
14 Some of the stones in this text are repeated as their virtues may vary according to their
association to a different ruling planet. Thus, four stones are associated with Saturn,
another four with Jupiter and Mars, eight with the Sun, thirty-seven with Venus (includ-
ing twelve repetitions), eleven with Mercury (including four instances of the emerald)
and five with the Moon (including a double inclusion of the bezoar).
15 M. S. Rodriguez, Introduction, in Alfonso X, Lapidario (segn el manuscrito escurialense
h.I.15) (Madrid, Gredos, 1981), p. 15.
16 See also M. V. Amasuno, En torno a las Fuentes de la literatura cientfica del siglo XIII: pres-
encia del Lapidario de Aristteles en el alfons, Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispnicos,
9, (1985): 299328; and M. V. Amasuno, La materia mdica de Dioscrides en el Lapidario
de Alfonso X el Sabio, Literatura y ciencia en la Castilla del siglo XIII, Cuadernos Galileo de
Historia de la Ciencia, 9, (Madrid: Centro Superior de Investigaciones Cientficas; Centro
de Estudios Histricos, 1987).
17 The lapidary texts assembled in the MS h.I.15 are unique in the way they associate mate-
rial borrowed from Dioscorides De materia medica with astrological principles. Other
lapidaries belonging to the Latin tradition do not openly associate the properties of
the stones with the influence of celestial bodies. At most, they provide an indication of
the appropriate astrological moment to harness the particular properties of any given
stonessee N. Weill-Parot, Les images astrologiques au Moyen Age et a la Renaissance:
Demons in Lapidaries ? 261

was the translator of several works on astrology, including the Libro del Alcora,
a treatise on the celestial spheres originally composed by the ninth-century
scholar Costa ben Luca.18 In his general prologue Yehudah summarised the
unique character of this lapidary when he advised his readers:

...those who want to take advantage of this very noble and precious book
must be versed in astronomy, must know about the stars, their states and
how they may influence the virtues of the stones, according to the virtues
they themselves receive from God. They must also know about stones,
so that they may recognise them and their colours, and what they look
like, and they must know about the places where they are born or where
they can be found...Finally they must know about medicine, for most
that concerns it is involved in the virtues of the stones, just as this book

The inclusion of terms alluding to the presence and influence of demons only
occurs in the first lapidary text, where seven references are made to an ill-
ness known as demonio. The text also includes four allusions to the people
who suffer from this infirmity, calling them endemoniados, i.e. demoniacs.20
The majority of the instances mention how the virtues of the stones can help

Speculations intellectuelles et pratiques magiques (XIIXV sicle) (Paris: Honore Champion,

2002), pp. 125; 2168.
18 See note 6.
19 Et este libro es muy noble & muy preciado. & qui del se quisiere aprouechar; conuiene
que pare mientes en tres cosas. La primera que sea sabidor de astronomia por que sepa
connoser las estrellas en qual estado estn. & en qual sazon uiene mayor uertud a las
piedras dellas; segund la uertud que reciben de dios. La segunda cosa es que sepan con-
noser las piedras & las colores & las faiciones dellas. & otrossi que sepan ciertamiente
los logares sennalados o se crian & o se fallan. & estremar la contrafecha dela natural. &
departir otrossi las que natural miente se semeian en uno connosciendo las por peso &
por dureza & por las otras sennales por que se pueden connoser a omne que fuere enten-
dudo en este saber. La tercera cosa es que sea sabidor dela arte de fisica que iaze mucho
della encerrada en la uertud delas piedras segund en este libro se muestra & que sepa del-
las obrar assi como en el manda. & que sea de bon seso por que se sepa ayudar delas cosas
que fazen pro; & se gua[r]de delas que tienen danno. Et obrando desta guisa; llegara alo
que quisiere fazer por ellas. & uera cosas marauillosas dela su uertud que recibe de dios
porque aura a loar & bendezir el su nombre que sea benido por siempre iamas amen
Diman and Winget, Lapidario, p. 4.
20 The names of the stones referring to demonio are given as Goliztiz (p. 7), Zamorat (p. 23),
La piedra que fuye del vino (p. 25), Koloquid (p. 38), Scopetina dela luna (p. 48), Farquidiuz
(p. 52) and Aguzar (p. 100); those referring to endemoniado are Zequeth (p. 86), La piedra
262 Escobar Vargas

to either prevent or cure the disease; but other cases are also included, like
when the inhalation of toxic fumes triggers an episode of the illness. The stone
known as Aguzar, for example, is described as helpful for the disease known as
demonio; but no further instructions on its use are given.21 Whoever carries
the stone known as Scopetina de la Luna is protected against demonio, and if
one suffers from it already then taking the powder of this stone as a drink will
heal you.22
In the case of Goliztiz, a hot and dry stone found in India, the weight equiv-
alent to two grains of barley are to be taken, ground and mixed with fresh
water. The mixture should then be placed inside the nostrils of whoever is
born with the disease; healing will result at the first or second attempt.23 The
text relates this particular virtue to the art of medicine, the name of the ill-
ness is given as demonio but no further description is made of its symptoms
or causes. Similarly, the stone known as Sufre uermeio is useful to whoever is
endemoniado, if placed in the nostrils of the afflicted person; its frequent use
results in successful healing.24

dela Sirpient (p. 33), La piedra que fallan en el vientre de la golondrina (p. 38) and Sufre
uermeio (p. 94)all referenced according to Diman and Winget, Lapidario.
21 Dela piedra de aguzar. Del .ixo. grado del signo de capricornio; es la piedra de aguzar...&
de natura fra & seca. Et si con el agua que della sale quando aguzan y algun fierro. untaren
la enfermedat aque llaman lopicia; sana & faz crecer los cabellos. Et qui husa abeuer desta
agua vuelta con uinagre; desfaze la postema que se cria en el bao. & presta ala enfer-
medat aque llaman demonio. Et si untaren con ella las tetas delas ninnas pequennas;
uieda las que no crezcan. & otrossi faz alos [^ninnos] pequennos; los miembros uergon-
nosos...Diman and Winget, Lapidario, p. 100.
22 Dela piedra aque dizen scopetina dela luna. Del .xvio. grado del signo de cancro; es la
piedra aque llaman scopetina de la luna....Et la uertud desta piedra es atal. Que si dieren
dela polidura della a beuer al que a demonio; sana luego. E[*t e]l que la troxiere con-
sigo; guardal otrossi daquella enfermedat. Et si la cuelgan a algn arbo[*l] fazel crescer el
fructo & madurar much ayna...Diman and Winget, Lapidario, p. 48.
23 Dela piedra aque dizen goliztiz; Del septimo grado del signo de aries; es la piedra aque
dizen goliztiz....Et en la arte de fisica a esta uertud. que si tomaren della peso de dos
granos de ordio & la molieren & la mezclaren con agua dulce & la metieren en las narizes
del que nasce con la enfermedat aque llaman demonio; sanara dela primera uez o al mas
tarde ala segunda...Diman and Winget, Lapidario, p. 7.
24 Dela piedra que a nombre sufre uermeio. Del .xxij. grado del signo de sagitario es la piedra
aque dizen sufre uermeio....Et a tal uertud que si pusieren un poco della en la nariz al
que es endemoniado; prestal. & si mucho lo husa; sana. Esso mismo faze aqui [^a] el mal
que llaman apoplisia. Et otrossi al que a la enfermedat aque dien en griego cefalca...
Diman and Winget, Lapidario, p. 94.
Demons in Lapidaries ? 263

In the case of Zamorat, or Esmeralda, a cold and dry stone found in the West,
instructions are given for both preventing and curing the disease. The text
states that the patient needs to be young for it to be effective. If a child does
not yet have the disease the stone must hang from his neck and he will be pro-
tected. If he already suffers from the illness then the stone needs to be tied to
his left arm or thigh and he will be cured.25 Similarly, when hung from the neck
of whoever is born endemoniado, La piedra dela Sirpient, a hot and moist
stone found in mount Sinai, heals him.26 A similar treatment can be used to
cure the disease known as forgetting, a particular affliction of the brain. If
taken and placed inside the hide of a deer or a calf, bound with red silken
thread and hung from the neck of any demoniac, the two stones found in the
belly of a chick swallow will cure him.27
The case of the stone known as Farquidiuz is slightly different, as the pro-
cedure used to bring out its occult properties needs the intervention of an
additional element to interact with it. According to the lapidary, if taken to
a fire, this stone produces bad smelling fumes, like rotten meat. Whoever has
the disease known as demonio is prone to be taken by the illness after inhaling

25 Dela piedra que a nombre zamorat. Del dizeseseno grado del signo de tauro es la piedra
aque dizen en arauigo zamorat. & en latin esmeralda....Su uertud es atal que presta con-
tra todos los tossicos mortales. & feridas o mordeduras de bestias tosigosas. ca si tomaren
della peso de una dragma & la molieren & la cernieren. & la dieren a beuer con uino o
con agua al omne entossicado; guaresce que non muere nil caen los cabellos. Ni dessuella
el cuero. Et a otra uertud que el que la trae consigo; escapal dela enfermedat aque llaman
demonio teniendo la ante que la aya. & por esta razon & por que es muy fermosa aman la
los omnes. & mayor miente los onrrados. Et en aquella tierra o fallan las meiores; cuelgan
la alos nios alos cuellos por que los guarde que no ayan esta enfermedat sobredicha.
Et si la an de comieno & gela atan al muslo del brao o dela pierna siniestra ante que
enuegeca; quarescen...Diman and Winget, Lapidario, p. 23.
26 Dela piedra del sirpient. Del seteno grado del signo de gemini; es la piedra dela sirpi-
ente....Et su uertud es atal que si la cuelgan al cuello del que nascio endemoniado; sana.
Et esso mismo faz la que a la enfermedat aque llaman oluidana que uiene por enfer-
medat del meollo. Et aun a otra uertud que si la traen por la mordedura de la biuora;
sana...Diman and Winget, Lapidario, p. 33.
27 Dela piedra que fallan en el uientre dela golondrina. Del diezenoueno grado del signo
de gemini; es la piedra de la golondrina....Et su uertud es atal que si toman estas dos
piedras & las meten en cuero de cieruo o de bezerro. & las atan con filo de seda uermeia
al cuello a omne que fuere endemoniado; sana luego. pero non faz esta uertud si non si
estudieren amas las piedras en uno; o non fueren dun golondrino pollo...Diman and
Winget, Lapidario, p. 38.
264 Escobar Vargas

them; if, however, one does not have the affliction, the fumes are harmless.28
Something similar occurs in the case of Zequeth, a hot and dry stone falling
under the influence of Sagittarius. If burnt, the stone will produce a flame with
smoke smelling like fish. Were these fumes to be inhaled by a demoniac, he will
be taken by the illness.29
If carried by day and avoided by night, the stone known as Koloquid is use-
ful for preventing the illness that comes from demons.30 No further instruc-
tions for avoiding or curing the affliction are given, and no specific name for
the illness itself is provided. If this were not the same illness as demonio, then
this is the only instance in which it is mentioned in the lapidary; however, this
is unlikely. Thus, this is the only occasion in which explicit reference is made
to a possible cause for the illness, the identification being explicitly demonic.
However, precisely how this is so is left unsaid.
The last reference to demonio refers to a cold and dry stone, known as La
piedra que fuye del uino.31 The implication seems to be that whoever carries

28 Dela piedra aque llaman farquidiuz. Del treynteno grado del signo de cancro; es la piedra
a que dizen farquidiuz....Et si la metieren en el fuego. sale della una olor muy mala; que
huele cuemo carne podrida. Et si este fumo oliere alguno que ouo demonio; tomal luego.
mas al quel no ouo, por olerlo; nol tiene danno ninguno. De natura es fra & humida...
Diman and Winget, Lapidario, p. 52.
29 Dela piedra aque dizen zequeth. Del primero grado del signo de sagitario; es la piedra
aque dizen zequeth.... Et quando la queman faze llama; & sal della fumo que huele como
pez quando la meten enel fuego. De natura es calient & seca. Et si sufumaren con ella al
que es endemoniado; tomal luego. Et sufumando otrossi con ella la mugier que a dolor en
su natura; sana luego pro razn que esta piedra es percussiua. Et el fumo desta quando la
queman; fuyen las reptilias. Et esta piedra es bona quando la meten en las melezinas. Pora
sanar la enfermedat aque dizen arttica. Que uiene de natura de flema; por que es salada
ya quanto...Diman and Winget, Lapidario, p. 86.
30 Del ueynteno grado del signo de gemini es la piedra aque dizen koloquid, que quiere
decir tanto como camiadiza o conuertible. & este nombre a por que se camia entre dia
y denoche de muchas colores...Esta piedra es de su natura calient & humida. Et esta
propiedat que es dicha que a, no parece en otro logar si no alli o se cria fueras end de
noche. ca si aquel que la troxiere consigo la touiere de noch quando durmiere; uera en
suennos en semeiana quel apedrean. assi que por fuera aura a despertar & a leuantar
se del logar do iaze. mas si la escusare de noch & la troxiere de dia; sera seguro de no
auer aquella enfermedat que uiene de parte de los demonios. Et faz aun otra cosa que si
coxieren la yerba aque dizen assa ftida en agua. & metieren esta piedra en aquel agua. &
la dexaren y un dia & una noche; dessatas & tornas en la natura del agua...Diman and
Winget, Lapidario, p. 38.
31 Dela piedra que fuye del uino. Del ueyntiun grado del signo de tauro es la piedra que fuye
del uino....Et a tal uertud que el que la trae consigo nol acaesce la ymagination aque
Demons in Lapidaries ? 265

the stone avoids the illness known as demonio. The stone is also useful to avoid
fear of the dark when one is alone at night. However, here the noun demonio
is not explicitly referred to as a disease. The phrase in the text: whoever car-
ries it with him does not suffer from the imagination known to men as demon
leaves some space for ambiguity. The exact meaning of the term ymagination
in this context is not entirely clear: is the text implying that there is a type of
imagination known to men as demonio, and if so what exactly is its nature?
Is it afflictive, hence the reference to the beneficial properties of the stone for
those who carry it? Or is imagination just a synonym for illness in this context?
There is only one reference to actual demons in the text. Militaz, a hot and
moist stone found in India, has the property of warding off demons; it also
protects its carrier from attacks of necromancy and evil spells. In this entry,
demons are referred to as diablos, i.e. devils.32 They are not explicitly tied
to any illness but rather to a more standard context, that of magic and nec-
romancy. The idea of necromancy itself is also included in the lapidary in a
different context, that of illusion and deception. In the text, the stone known
as Abarquid possesses the marvellous property of resembling pregnancy in
a woman.33 Thus, those skilled in necromancy use it presumably to deceive

llaman los omnes demonio. nin a miedo por estar el omne sennero de noche en tiniebra.
Et a otra uertud que tanto aborrece el uino por su natura. que quando la ponen con el;
salta & fuye quando la queman & la fazen cenisa. Todas aquellas colores que mostraua
ante la piedra; todas parescen en la cenisa despus que es quemada. Et esta cenisa a tal
propiedat. que si tomaren della un uaso. & lo echaren en una cuba de uino sea quand
fuerte quiere ca todo lo danna & lo torna en sustancia & en color de agua. Et otrossi
amassando la con oryana de can & untando con ella toda sennal de llaga sol que non
sea entrada por huesso; desfaze la fata tres uezes que la pongan...Diman and Winget,
p. 25.
32 Dela piedra que a nombre militaz. Del .ix. grado del signo de libra; es la piedra aque dizen
militaz....Et su uertud es atal. que fuyen antela las moscas. & toda mala repitilia. & aun
dixieron mas los sabios que se [*arrie]dran del que la trae consigo los diablos. & nol tiene
danno obra de nigromancia; ni fechizos ningunos quel fagan...Diman and Winget,
Lapidario, pp. 6667.
33 Dela piedra que llaman abarquid. Del quinto grado del signo de tauro es la piedra aque
dizen albarquid...Et a tal uertud que quando alguna mugier la trae consigo. Enciende la
tanto por cobdicia de uaron; que se non puede ende sofrir si non por muy grand fuera.
& assi lo faze qual quier animal que la tenga; que sea fembra. & los de india que se tra-
baian mucho del arte de nigromancia; obran mucho con esta piedra. Et a tal uertud que
si dieren desta piedra molida a beuer a mugier; inchal el uientre poc a poco de guisa que
semeia prennada. & cuando uiene al tiempo del parir desfaz se. Et los nigromancianos
fazen creer [que] por su arte. & por su saber; se faze aquella prennadez et se tuelle...
Diman and Winget, Lapidario, p. 19.
266 Escobar Vargas

naive clients, as to trick them into believing they are in possession of skills and
arts that are not truly theirs.
Let us focus now on the references found to the illness known as demo-
nio and to endemoniados and their possible connection to epilepsy. In the
vocabulary section to her 1981 edition of the text, Sagrario Rodriguez includes
a note linking demonio to epilepsy.34 However, this same understanding of
the term is not present in the other editions of the Lapidary by Fernandez de
la Montaa, Brey Mario or Diman and Wigmat. However, the equivalence in
terminology between epilepsy and demonic attack has long been established
among medical historians.35 Various ancient traditions identified the affliction
of epilepsy with the intervention of supernatural entities. The Babylonians
attributed the disease to evil spirits; amongst the Greeks, the illness was linked
to divine intervention, hence it was known as the sacred disease. In his trea-
tise by the same name, Hippocrates discredited attitudes that attributed the
cause of epilepsy to the intervention of the gods, suggesting that, contrary to
common belief, the causes of the illness were physical, hereditary and were
to be found in the brain. His understanding of epilepsy influenced medical
attitudes to the disease during the classical period and beyond. Christian writ-
ers like Augustine and Isidore of Seville refer to epilepsy as the falling sickness;36
those being afflicted by the disease are frequently identified with the Latin term
caducos, meaning ready to fall; tottering/unsteady, falling, but also fallen and
doomed, a term that might recall the Fallen Angels, or demons. In his influential
Etymologies, Isidore of Seville claims that epilepsy is called the falling sickness,
because: the person ill with it falls down and suffers spasms.37 Furthermore,
he states that: common people call epileptics lunatics, because they think
that insidious forces of demons follow them in accordance with the course of
the moon.38 However, Isidore does not provide a specific terminology identify-
ing epileptics with demoniacs or identifying the disease as demonic.
Allusions to epilepsy and to the falling sickness occur in Medieval Latin
lapidaries,39 and not necessarily in connection to the concept of demonic

34 Sagrario Rodriguez, Lapidario, p. 259.

35 See F. B. Brvart, Between Medicine, Magic, and Religion: Wonder Drugs in German
Medico-Pharmaceutical Treatises of the Thirteenth to the Sixteenth Centuries, Speculum,
83 (2008): 157 (1415). Nevertheless, pinning down this relationship within the corpus
of medieval material, where the term falling sickness for epilepsy is preferred, is more
36 For Augustine see De beata vita, II-16. For Isidore of Seville see Etymologies, IV. 7, 5.
37 Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, IV. 7, 5.
38 Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, IV. 7, 5.
39 The texts that will be considered here include: the lapidary attributed to Pseudo-
AristotleV. Rose, Aristoteles De lapidibus und Arnoldus Saxo, eitschrift fr deutsches
Demons in Lapidaries ? 267

attack. An interesting parallel between the more traditional Latin material and
the Alfonsine text can be established by examining the virtues of smaragdos, the
same stone that Yehudah includes in his lapidary as Esmeralda or Zamorat. In
the Spanish material, this stone is said to be effective against demonio when
hung from the neck of a healthy child. Alternatively, it can cure the disease
when tied to the left arm or thigh of an afflicted person. Similarly, in Latin
lapidaries, when hung from the neck or wore in a ring, smaragdos is used not to
ward off demonio, but epilepsy or the falling sickness. This is the reason why
kings and members of the nobility are advised to hang the stone from their
childrens neck. Specific references to the use of the stone in such a manner
appear in early lapidaries attributed to pseudo-Aristotle,40 and to the French
Benedictine bishop of Rennes, Marbode.41 In a slightly modified version,
dismissing some of the details but retaining the crucial idea that, when hung
from the neck, smaragdos is effective against epilepsy, recommendations for

Alterthum, 18 (1875): 321455; two lapidaries attributed to Marbod of RennesMarbode

of Rennes (10351123) De lapidibus, ed. by J. M. Riddle, Sudhoffs Archiv, Zeitschrift fur
Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Beiheft 20 (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1977); De finibus rerum
naturalium by Arnold of Saxony, a version of which under the title De virtutibus lapi-
dum is also included in V. Rose, Aristoteles, pp. 428447; and De mineralibus by Albertus
MagnusAlberti Magni Opera Omnia, ed. By A. Borgnet, Vol. V (Paris: Ludovicum Vives,
40 In the Lapidarium Aristotelis, recommendations are made to wear smaragdos suspended
from the neck or in a ring to ward off not demonio, but epilepsiam; hence, the text says,
the custom of kings to hang it from the neck of their children to defend them from the dis-
ease: Et si reclusus in auulo deferatur in digito vel collo, valet contra epilepsiam, et ideo
reges sapientes precipiunt ut suspendatur in collo puerorum suorum, quod defendit eos a
lesion predictaRose, Aristoteles, p. 385. The reference might have followed Cosntantine
the Africans translation of Costa ben Lucas De physicis ligaturis, which reads: Aristoteles
in libro de lapidibus ait, suspendens smaragdum collo aut portans ipsum in digito defen-
dit a casu epilepsiae suspecto, unde semper mandamus nobilibus ut e collo filiorum
suorum suspendatur ne in hanc infirmitatem incidantRose, Aristoteles, p. 399; and
Serapion: Et qui defert in anulo smaragdum, preservat illum ab epilepsia, quando induit
eum in suo digito antequam superveniat ei epilepsia, et propter hanc causam docnetur
reges quod suspendant smaragdos ad colla suorum filiorum statim quando nascuntur, ne
superveniat eis ab epilepsiaRose, Aristoteles, p. 399.
41 Referencing Pseudo-Aristotle, a medical prose lapidary attributed to Marbod of Rennes
now Paris, BN lat. 14470 recommends the use of smaragdos to protect against epilepsy
the term used is epilepsie. The stone must be hung from the neck or worn in the finger, and
the nobility is told to always hang it on the neck of their children: Aristoteles in libro de
lapidibus ait: Smaragdus suspensus in collo vel portatus in digito defendit a casu epilep-
sie suspecto. Unde mandamus nobilibus ut semper collis filiorum suorum suspendatur,
ne in hanc infirmitatem incidantMarbode, ed. by Riddle, p. 122.
268 Escobar Vargas

using the stone appear in Marbodes most renowned text De lapidibus,42 and
in thirteenth-century works on stones by Albertus Magnus,43 and Arnold of
Saxony.44 The latter also recommends its use to ward off demonic illusions.
Thus, the terminology of Western medieval lapidaries does not associate epi-
lepsy with demons, preferring to call the disease by its name, or using terms
like the falling sickness. It is significant, however, that Western medieval lapi-
daries recommend a similar course of treatment to cure epilepsy through the
virtues of smaragdos, as the Alfonsine material does to cure demonio. Even
though there is no mention in Western medieval lapidaries of the use of sma-
ragdos tied to the left arm or thigh to cure epilepsy, they do recommend hang-
ing the stone from the neck of children to avoid the disease.
Although not a direct source, additional evidence from the bible might
help shed some light over the connection between demonio and epilepsy in
the Alfonsine material. In a passage from the New Testament (Mark 9:1629)
Jesus is asked by the father of an afflicted boy to cast out the dumb spirit that
possessed him.45 When describing the effects of the possession, the father
relates how: wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and
gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away. As soon as Christ saw him, the spirit
upset the boy, who was thrown unto the ground, wallowing and foaming. Upon
Christs request, the father volunteered the information that the boy had been

42 In his most famous De lapidibus, Marbod suggests the use of smaragdos hung around
the neck to heal hermitertian fever; doing so will also heal the falling sickness. The term
here is caducos: Et sanare potest ipsa ratione caducosMarbode, ed. by Riddle, p. 45.
Significantly, the use of jet is recommended in the same lapidary for treating epilepsy
as well as for guarding against demons and deceptive illusions: Accensus prodit, fumi
nidore caducos/Effugat immites simili rationes chlidros./Idem demonibus contrarius
esse putatur./Eversos ventres iuvat, et precordia tensa./Vincit praestigias, et carmina dira
resolvitMarbode, ed. by Riddle, p. 56.
43 In De mineralibus, albertus Magnus claims that suspended from the neck smaragdos
cures hermitertian fever and the falling sickness, the term here is caducos morbos: Ferunt
etiam quod auget opes, et in causis dat verba persuasoria, et quod collo suspensus, curat
ermitriteum et caducos morbosAlbertus Magnus, De mineralibus, p. 46. He also follows
Pseudo-Aristotle in advising: quod smaragdus collo aligatus, impedit epilepsiam, et ali-
quando in toto curat: propter quod praecipitur nobilibus ut filiis suis alligent hujusmodi
lapidem ne epilepsiam incurrantAlbertus Magnus, De mineralibus, p. 56.
44 Arnold of Saxony recommends the use of the stone suspended from the neck as protec-
tion against epilepsy. The reference is collo suspensus curat emitriteum et caducum mor-
bum. et visum debilem confortat et oculos conservat ilesos, et lascivos motus compescit.
reddit memoriam, et contra illusiones demoniacas valetRose, Aristoteles, p. 445.
45 Mark 9:16 (Vulgate): et respondens unus de turba dixit magister adtuli filium meum ad te
habentem spiritum mutum
Demons in Lapidaries ? 269

afflicted by this spirit since he was an infant and that it had caused him great
harm. After a profession of faith by the father, Jesus cast the spirit out: Thou
dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into
him. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was
as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the
hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. Historians of medicine have often iden-
tified this passage as an early, unrecognised testimonial account of an epileptic
seizure.46 More importantly perhaps is the clear identification of symptoms
resembling an epileptic attack with demonic possession. Christ cured the boy
by expelling the spirit that possessed him after his disciples had initially failed
in the attempt; when they asked him why this was so he explained that this
type of demon could only be cast out by prayer and fasting.
A final piece of evidence to consider comes not from a lapidary context
but from one of the most important illustrated Herbals in the Latin West,
the Herbarius attributed to Apuleius Platonicus. Compiled between the sec-
ond and fourth centuries AD, this text survives in c. sixty manuscripts dating
from the sixth to the fifteenth centuries. Like the lapidaries, it draws heavily
on Greek and Latin sources. It includes over 130 chapters, including descrip-
tions of different plants plus illustrations. In chapter 137 on the Mandrake
root the following advice is given: for epileptics, that is demoniacs, and those
suffering from spasms, you will do this: extract two grams from the body of
the same mandrake herb and give it to drink in hot water, only as much [as]
it contains, at once they will be miraculously cured.47 The key phrase in this
quotation is ad epilempticos hoc est daemoniosos, for it establishes a clear con-
nection between epileptics and demoniacs in a manner resembling the use of
the term endemoniado in the Alfonsine material. However, it must be noted
that this particular reading is not the same in all the surviving witnesses of this
tradition. In the manuscript now in London, British Library, Harley 4986, for
example, the text reads: ad epilempticos hoc est caducos, a clear reference to
epilepsy as the falling sickness.
It may not be unreasonable to assume that demonio and endemoniado
in the thirteenth century Alfonsine lapidary may be closely connected to

46 O. Temkin, The Falling Sickness: A History of Epilepsy from the Greeks to the Beginnings of
Modern Neurology (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1945), pp. 9192.
47 The text reads: Ad epilempticos hoc est daemoniosos et qui spasum patiuntur, sic faces:
De corpore ipsius herbae mandragorae tribulas scripulum I et dabis bibere in aqua cal-
ida, quantum merus continent, statim mirifice sanantursee E. Howald and H. Sigerist
(eds.), Antonii Musae de herba vettonica liber. Pseudoapulei herbarius. Anonymi de taxone
liber. Sexti Placiti liber medicinae ex animalibus, etc. (Lipsiae: Berolini, 1927), p. 224.
270 Escobar Vargas

epilepsy; however, it is also worth noting that this terminology was not neces-
sarily the most commonly used in contemporary medical literature. Whether
or not the use of demonio in the Lapidary text reflects a relatively persistent
attitude linking the influence of demons to epilepsy is more difficult to tell.
It would be nave to assume that naming a disease demonio is only due to a
particularly persistent turn of phrase, even though the presence of references
to demons in the rest of this particular lapidary is rather scant. Furthermore,
Yehudah is not one to attribute the presence of illness to persistent demonic
attack but rather to natural physical causes, and this is in itself significant. The
inclusion of the reference to demons as the originators of the disease in the
entry for Koloquid would suggest a clear relationship between demonio and
illness by demonic attack; however, such a reference occurs only once in the
whole text and it is not accompanied by a satisfying enough explanation to
be sufficiently significant on its own. Thus, why does Yehudah use the term
demonio to refer to this illness? It is worth noting, at this point, that the use
of the term epilepsia does occur in the third lapidary of this manuscript. It is
indeed used twice when the virtues of the stones known as coral and sanguine
are discussed. It is clear then that Yehudah was familiar with both terms, but
that he chose to use demonio instead of epilepsy in the case of his first com-
pilation. What is this reflecting? Is his choice merely due to the variability of
his sources?
Even though Yehudah claims only to be translating these texts, the textual
evidence suggests he is doing more than that; especially in the case of the
first lapidary, which presents a compilation of sources of varied origin, a par-
ticularly interesting feature of intellectual activity in the thirteenth-century
Castilian court. It is possible that, following its mainly Jewish sources, the sec-
ond lapidary prefers the use of the term epilepsy to that of demonio. The ques-
tion regarding the use of demonio in the first lapidary persists. Did Yehudah
find the reference in the Arabic material he had access to, or was he responding
to particular usages of Spanish Christians? At the moment the answers to these
particular questions remain elusive, and further research is required. What is
interesting, however, is the apparent contradictory nature of ones own expec-
tations, for, if this is indeed a reference to epilepsy, the Latin tradition appears
to have moved away from identifying the disease with demonic attacks, pre-
ferring instead the early patristic terminology that referred to it as the falling
sickness, a term never employed by Yehudah in this text. This Jewish scholar
working for a Christian king, however, chose to name this disease demonio,
regardless of the fact that he had used the term epilepsy elsewhere in the man-
uscript, and this is an interesting choice in itself, perhaps suggesting a preva-
lent underlying belief in associating illnesses with demons.

The Melancholy of the Necromancer in Arnau

de Vilanovas Epistle against Demonic Magic

Sebasti Giralt

Arnau de Vilanovas Reprobation of Necromancy

For centuries, the name of physician and spiritual reformer Arnau de Vilanova
(c. 12401311) has been linked to many occult arts, such as magic, necromancy,
astrology, alchemy and oneiromancy. In fact, he became an archetypal mas-
ter of occult arts, and many works in those fields were spuriously attributed
to him. However, Arnaus true interest in the occult went no further beyond
the oscillating boundaries drawn by the intellectual elite of his time. Certainly,
Arnau was one of the physicians who led the process to incorporate and ratio-
nalize therapeutics from natural magic and astrology into Galenist medicine.1
But, of course, this is not contradictory to the fact that one of his earliest pre-
served writings is a systematic attack on the intellectual foundations of necro-
mancy. Its title is Epistola de reprobacione nigromantice ficcionis (Epistle on the
reprobation of the deception of necromancy), but it was improperly known in
the past as De improbatione maleficiorum.2 Naturally, the author understands

* This contribution is a result of the research Project FFI2014-53050-C5-2-P Corpus digital de

Arnau de Vilanova: filosofa y ciencia en la Corona de Aragn (siglos XIIIXIV), funded by
the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation.
1 On natural magic and astrology in Arnaus medicine, see Sebasti Giralt, Arnaldus
Astrologus?: la astrologa en la Medicina de Arnau de Vilanova, Medicina & Historia 18 (2003),
115; idem, Medicina i astrologia en el corpus arnaldi, Dynamis 26 (2006), 1538; idem,
Proprietas: las propiedades ocultas segn Arnau de Vilanova, Traditio 63 (2008), 327360;
idem, Arnau de Vilanova, un medico medievale davanti alle arti occulte, in Farmacopea
antica e medievale (Salerno, 2008), pp. 136152. Concerning Arnaus fame as a prophet, alche-
mist, necromancer and magician, see Sebasti Giralt, The Legend of Arnau de Vilanova,
from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Times, Micrologus: Natura, Scienze e Societ
Medievali 21 (2013), 411444.
2 The first critical edition of this epistle is Epistola de reprobacione nigromantice ficcionis
(De improbatione maleficiorum), ed. Sebasti Giralt, Arnaldi de Villanova Opera Medica
Omnia (AVOMO), 7.1 (Barcelona 2005), whose text I am citing here by line (l.). On its

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_016

272 Giralt

necromancy in the broad medieval sense of magic directed at supernatural

beings (i.e. demons, angels and spirits, all of which were indistinctly con-
sidered demons in Christian orthodoxy), which is why Nicolas Weill-Parot
recently called it addressative magic.3 Arnaus short text reaches us in form
of an epistle addressed to the Bishop of Valencia, in all probability Jaspert de
Botonac. The dedication to Jaspert, which constitutes the first part of the work
(ll. 524), is the clue that dates the letter to the period when this person was
bishop of Valencia, from 1276 until his death in 1288. An early dating, prior
to 1281, seems more likely within this period, since in that year Arnau moved
from Valencia to Barcelona. So, this is Arnaus earliest surviving text with the
sole exception of De amore heroico, which is cited in the epistle against necro-
mancy, as we will see. It appears from the dedication that Arnau had written
De reprobacione shortly before sending it to the bishop, by request of the mem-
bers of a religious community that gave him lodgings while he was waiting for
good sailing conditions. The last sentence of the text suggests that it originated
from a discussion in which he attacked the vulgar opinions of undetermined
opponents, who we can suppose were in favor of necromancy (ll. 289292).
The debate may have been held with some monks from that community, if we
consider that the main milieu in which ritual magic was cultivated was the
clerical underworld.
The core of the epistle is a scholastic questio in which Arnau denounces
necromancy by denying its fundamental principle: the necromancers ability
to summon and compel a spirit or demon to do his bidding in order to find out

composition, contents and sources see the introduction and Sebasti Giralt, La epstola con-
tra la nigromancia de Arnau de Vilanova, La coronica, 36/1 (2007), 173187. Previously the
text had been published twice on the basis of fewer manuscripts: Paul Diepgen, Arnaldus de
Villanova De improbatione maleficiorum, Archiv fr Kulturgeschichte 9 (1912), 385403; Mirko
D. Grmek, Rasprava Arnalda iz Villanova o crnoj magiji, Starine 48 (1958), 217229.
3 Nicolas Weill-Parot, Astral Magic and Intellectual Changes (Twelfth-Fifteenth Centuries):
Astrological Images and the Concept of Addressative Magic, in The Metamorphosis of Magic
from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern Period, Leuven, 2002, eds. J. N. Bremmer and
J. R. Veenstra, pp. 167187. Regarding the characterization of medieval necromancy see also:
Sebasti Giralt, Magia y ciencia en la Baja Edad Media: la construccin de los lmites entre
la magia natural y la nigromancia (c. 1230c. 1310), Clo & Crimen 8 (2011), 1572; idem, The
manuscript of a medieval necromancer: Magic in Occitan and Latin in MS Vaticano BAV, Barb.
Lat. 3589, Revue dhistoire des texts 9 (2014), 221272; Richard Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle
Ages (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 817, 151175, 181201; idem, Forbidden Rites: A Necromancers
Manual of the Fifteenth Century (University Park, Pennsylvania, 1998), pp. 1198; Jean-Patrice
Boudet, Entre science et nigromance. Astrologie, divination et magie dans lOccident mdival
(XIIeXVe sicle) (Paris, 2006), pp. 205278. On the evolution of the meaning of the word
necromancy from ancient Greece until the Late Middle Ages see my introduction to
De reprobacione, pp. 5966.
The Melancholy of the Necromancer 273

hidden or future facts or to perform his wishes. Within a natural-philosophical

framework, the authors argumentation intends to show that there is no natu-
ral or supernatural power available to human beings in general, and especially
to necromancers, to master spirits. With this purpose in mind, he reviews all
the possible natural and supernatural resources used to subjugate demons and
gives reasons to discard them one by one. The conclusion is that necromancers
are deceived by demons, who simulate that they are being dominated by their
invokers, in order to make them lose themselves and be led away from the
correct path. The epistle ends by considering how the necromancers belief
that they can master demons is a symptom of the melancholic disease from
which they suffer.
Throughout the above, Arnau shows that he has firsthand knowledge of the
magical tradition, because he quotes two necromantic books: Liber de fantas-
matibus (l. 106) and Libri centre et circumferencie (l. 128). He claims to have
read the latter in Arabic. Although he does not mention any particular author
or work, he also shows his familiarity with the literature against necromancy,
because he uses arguments that can be retraced to other scholastic authors
who had attacked it, especially Thomas Aquinas.

Necromancers Disease

The argumentation against necromancy is the main subject of the text, but this
paper only focuses on the short section that closes Arnaus epistle as an epi-
logue, where he uses another kind of source: the medical. Whereas previously
the author had stuck to the domain of natural philosophy, in the epilogue the
physician is clearly unveiled:

However, regarding all those who devote their attention to such con-
cerns to the point of believing them to be a rational and technical sci-
ence and, through their operations, seeking to fulfill their desires, we can
only excuse them with a generic veil by saying that certainly they have
a physical disease, but one that is hidden to most people. For percep-
tible damage does not occur in any action of an animated body without
a pathological state. In any case, the disease that manifestly damages the
act of reasoning and thinking in a person without causing fever or fury is
called melancholy, as medical expertise says. Therefore, since they main-
tain a statement according to their own judgments and beliefs, albeit
unlike what intelligence understands or what the sting of bright reason
makes one think, the truth proves that they suffer from a corruption of
melancholy, whether innate or acquired by accident.
274 Giralt

But, concerning the fact that it remains invisible to observers that

they are somehow melancholic, it is not enough to note that they are
not seen to be afraid without manifest cause or they are not heard to mix
speeches according to the common opinion, as is usual in melancholy.
It is necessary to add that, if one reads the doctrine of Galen on hidden
species of melancholy, one will find persons whose faculty of judgment
is similarly corrupted and will know that, likewise, such pathology pro-
duces an organic corruption, as I have also made extensive reference to
in my Treatise on disordered love, written from a medical view. Thus, rea-
son seems to dictate that in the aforementioned persons such judgment
has to be imputed not to a moral but rather a natural corruption and,
therefore, they somehow deserve to be excused to the extent that it is

Therefore, Arnau sees only one excuse for those who believe that necromancy
is technical and rational knowledge: they are ill, even though their disease is
invisible to most people. Arnaus argument is that a belief so misguided and
contrary to truth and intelligence must be due to an injury to their reason. And
this injury can only be attributed, according to authors medical expertise, to
melancholy, after excluding other kinds of alienation, if the absence of fury or
fever is considered. These other modalities of alienation are not mentioned,
but may be mania or phrenitis in accordance with the medical classification

4 Universos tamen hiis cum diligencia sollicitudinibus intendentes eo usque videlicet, ut de

ipsis credant artificialem ac racionabilem esse scienciam et suis conentur eciam satisfacere
desideriis operando, uno solum communi velamine possumus excusare dicentes quoniam
pro certo corporaliter egri sunt, licet pluribus sit occultum. Etenim sensibile nocumentum
non cadit in accione aliqua corporis animati sine morbi malicia. Morbus autem per quem
actus racionis et intellectus in homine sine febre et furia leditur manifeste melancolia nomi-
natur, ut tradit pericia medicorum. Igitur aliquid asserentes suis estimacionibus et sue cre-
dulitatis opinione, verumtamen aliter quam capiat intellectus aut persuadeat clare racionis
aculeus, veritas probat esse non sine melancolie vicio vel innato vel accidentaliter acqui-
sito. Sed, quod lateat cernentibus eos melancolicos aliqualiter esse, parum est quod nec sine
manifesta causa timere videntur nec audiuntur secundum commune iudicium hominum
intermiscere sermones, que melancolicis ut plurimum insunt. Si quis tamen doctrinam lege-
rit Galieni de occultis speciebus melancolie, non sine vicio estimacionis inveniet huiusmodi
homines scietque similiter huiusmodi maliciam organorum vicium commutari, quemadmo-
dum eciam in tractatu De amore inordinato, quem scripsimus in medicina, fecimus notabi-
lem mencionem. Iam ergo racio dictare videtur quod supradictis hominibus talis estimacio
non sit ad moris vicium quam nature pocius imputanda et sic, quantum hoc tolerat, meren-
tur quodammodo excusari (ll. 264288).
The Melancholy of the Necromancer 275

of alienations discussed in the Pars operativa, a head-to-toe compendium of

practical medicine left unfinished by Arnau and which we can assume was a
product of the latter years of his life (13081311).5 Due to its incomplete state,
this text is focused on mental disorders, and is therefore a reference for under-
standing the ideas about melancholy in De reprobacione, although we must bear
in mind that there was a difference of more than two decades between the two
texts. Pars operativa tells us that fury is one of the signs of mania, whereas fever
might be produced by hot aposteme, to which phrenitis is normally attributed.
Melancholy may be due to an originally unbalanced complexion (innate) or to
a bad lifestyle (acquired), a dichotomy already mentioned by Rufus of Ephesus
and Galen and preserved in medieval medicine.6 Indeed, Rufus and Galen,
the former being the latters main source, were the most influential ancient
medical authors on the posterior developments regarding melancholy. In any
case, what is particularly distinct about Arnaus discussion is his reference to a

5 Fernando Salmn, De parte operativa: A Preliminary Approach to its Date of Composition

and Contents, Arxiu de textos catalans antics 30 (20112013), 373383. Fernando Salmn and
Michael McVaugh are working on the edition of this text for AVOMO.
6 It is necessary to recognise that there are two kinds of melancholy. 1) Some of them have
melancholy because of their nature and original mixture, whilst 2) others have adquired this
mixture later owing to a bad diet, Rufus of Ephesus, On Melancholy, ed. and trans. Peter
Ernst Pormann (Tbingen, 2008), F11, 22, p. 35; Qui quidem humores in quibusdam hom-
inibus multum creantur aut propter complexionem suam ab initio aut propter assuefactio-
nem cibariorum in hoc mutandorum cum in venis digeruntur, De interioribus, 3, 7, in Galen,
Opera (Venice, 1490), 2, [125va], = Greek original De locis affectis, Opera omnia, ed. Carl G.
Khn (Leipzig, 18211833), 8, 177; Colere autem nigre alia est naturalis, alia non naturalis
superfluitas, Canon, book 1, fen 1, doct. 4, cap. 1 (Lyon, 1522), fol. 7v. The mentioned edi-
tion of Rufus includes some essays relevant to the history of melancholic disease in Ancient,
Medieval and Early Modern Times. On melancholy and other mental disorders in Antiquity
and the Middle Ages, see Raymond KlibanskyErwin PanofskyFritz Saxl, Saturn and
Melancholy. Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion and Art (LondonNew
York, 1964), esp. pp. 27135; Hubertus Tellenbach, Melancholie (Berlin, 1974), pp. 1732 of
the Spanish translation: Melancola (Madrid, 1976); Stanley W. Jackson, Melancholia and
Depression: from Hippocratic Times to Modern Times (New Haven, 1986); Hellmut Flashar,
Melancholie und Melancholiker in den medizinischen Theorien der Antike (Berlin, 1966),
Jackie Pigeaud, La maladie de lme. tude sur la relation de lme et du corps dans la tradi-
tion mdico-philosophique antique (Paris, 1981), esp. pp. 122133; eadem, Folie et cures de la
folie chez les mdecins de lantiquit grco-romaine. La manie (Paris, 1987), esp. 11129; Muriel
Laharie, La folie au Moyen ge. XIeXIIIe sicles (Paris, 1991); Laura Borrs, Ms enll de la ra
(Barcelona, 1999); JeanMarie Fritz, Le discours du fou au Moyen ge (Paris, 1992). There are
also text anthologies, such as The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva, ed. Jennifer
Radden (Oxford, 2000), and Anthologie de lhumeur noire: crits sur la mlancolie dHippocrate
lEncyclopdie, ed. Patrick Dandrey (Paris, 2005).
276 Giralt

hidden melancholy, one that is normally not detectable and is different from
the most known and common forms. The difference is the remark that it does
not show the usual symptoms, for instance unmotivated fear or speech dis-
orders, two signs mentioned in the ancient and medieval descriptions of this
disease.7 Arnau says that this kind of melancholy is usually unnoticed, because
the only perceptible sign is the corruption of the estimative or rational faculty
(estimatio)the cognitive faculty that is responsible for making judgments.
This damage also occurs in the common species of melancholy, not alone but
among other signs. Such stress on a lesion of the rational faculty is closer to
Avicenna and Rhazes than to Galen or Constantine, who, however, also refer
to the damaged reason of melancholics. Certainly, Avicennas Canon offers fear
and corruption of judgment as the first signs of melancholy in a formulation
that is recalled in De reprobatione and especially in Arnaus late Pars opera-
tiva. The Latin version of Rhazes Continens, in a Rufus quotation, also names
fear, doubtfulness and bad thought about one single thing as the primary
symptoms.8 So, there may be more than one authoritative medical source for

7 Whereas speech disorders are not always mentioned, fear is one of the defining symptoms
of melancholy, together with sadness and depression. Whereas speech disorders not always
are mentioned, fear is one of the defining symptoms of melancholy in addition to sadness
or depression: Fear and depression that is prolonged means melancholy, Hippocrates,
Aphorisms, sixth section, 23, ed. and trans. W. H. S. Jones, vol. 4 (Cambridge, Mass., London,
1931), pp. 184185; [Aristotle], Problem XXX,1, 954b, Problems. Books 2038. Rhetoric to
Alexander, ed. and trans. W. S. Hett (Cambridge, Mass., London, 1937), pp. 160165 (fear
and cowardliness only in some situations); Aretaeus of Cappadocia, Aretaeus, ed. Karl Hude
(Berlin, 1958), 3, 5, 6, and 3, 6, 10, pp. 39 and 43; Timor et tristitia eorum et vituperatio huius
vite ab eis et odire homines omnibus melancolicis pertinent [...]. Ypocrates bene omnia
accidentia eorum cum hiis duobus conclusit timore vicelicet et mentis corruptione, quia
propter mentis corruptionem quicquid vident odio habent et semper sunt tristes et timo-
rosi, Galen, De interioribus, 3, 7, in Opera, 2, [fol. 126rb] (=Khn, 8, 190191), and see also next
note; tardus ad loquendum, timor de re non timenda, Isq Ibn ImrnConstantine the
African, Mqala f l-mlihuliy / Constantini Africani libri duo de melancholia: vergleichende
kritische arabisch-lateinische Parallelausgabe, ed. and trans. Karl Garbers (Hamburg, 1977),
pp. 111 and 120; Profert verba fatua que non habent caput neque caudam nec prosequitur
verba incepta nec reddit rationem de eis, Bernard of Gordon, Lilium medicine (Lyon, 1559),
vol. 2, 19, fol. 69ra, and the passage reproduced in note 31 below; Signa melancolie in com-
muni est timor irrationabilis et tristitia sine manifesta causa, Arnau, Pars operativa, in Opera
(Lyon, 1520), fol. 128rb. See also the citations of Rufus and Avicenna in the next note.
8 Et signa eius principii sunt timor, dubitatio, cogitatio falsa in una re sola, et in omnibus aliis
dispositionibus suis erit sanus. Et species opinionum eorum sunt infinite [...]. Et morantur
cum his accidentibus per aliquod tempus, et postea fortificantur omnia accidentia melan-
colie, Oeuvres de Rufus dEphse, eds. Charles Daremberg and Ch. mile Ruelle (Paris, 1879),
The Melancholy of the Necromancer 277

Arnaus statement that melancholy is proved by improper thoughts, but none

of them sustains his assertion that it is the only visible sign. However, he sup-
ports the existence of a disease suffered by necromancers through what he
calls Galens doctrine on the hidden species of melancholy, and compares
their mental state with what he had discussed in his treatise on passionate
love, considered to be a pathological symptom: the corruption of the estima-
tive faculty suffered by heroic lovers, although for a different reason, causes
an overestimation of the desired person above all other things. Arnau warned
that passionate love can turn into mania or melancholy.9
Nevertheless, the reference that needs further explanation is Galens citation,
because, in fact, it does not match any of his texts directly but is derived from a
contamination of Galens classification of melancholy exposed in De interioribus
caused by the Latin-Arabic medical tradition. This transformation occurred
through two key figures in the medieval transmission of the ancient ideas on
melancholy: Ishq ibn Imrn (c. 900) and Constantine the African (11th cen-
tury), joined by their link with the north-African city of Kairouan. Ibn Imrns
Treatise on melancholy is mainly based on Rufus of Ephesus and Galen, among
others. This treatise was spread to the Latin Western world in the form of a
reworking by Constantine titled De melancholia.10 Constantines writing was

p. 455. The Latin version appears to be unfaithful when compared with the English trans-
lation from Arabic published in Rufus, On Melancholy, F13, 2, p. 37: The beginning of mel-
ancholy is indicated by fear, anxiety and suspicion aimed at one particular thing whilst no
disease is present in any other respect; Signa principii melancolie sunt existimatio mala
et timor [...]. Cum autem confirmata est timor et malitia existimationis et angustia et sol-
licitudo et alienatio sermonis [...]. Sunt trauli et sylabam multotiens repetens antequam
dictionem proferant, Avicenna, Canon (book 3, fen 1, tract. 4, cap. 18, f. 150rb); malitia
estimationis, Arnau, Pars operativa, Opera, f. 128rb; Colera nigra rationalis anime funda-
mento dominatur, si tristitiam et timorem melancolici patiantur mortisque suspicione.
Videmus enim quod nulla res extrinsecus adveniens interdum generet timorem sicut
tenebre quoniam enim eam partem rationalis anime quasi tenebre operiunt, Galen, De
morbo et accidenti, 5, 7, in Opera, 2, [f. 151r]. Also Constantine: Alii corruptam habent
imaginationem et rationem, p. 120.
9 Tractatus de amore heroicoEpistola de dosi tyriacalium medicinarum, ed. Michael
McVaugh, AVOMO, 3 (Barcelona, 1985). There is now a Catalan translation: Tractat
sobre lamor heroic, ed. Michael McVaugh and trans. Sebasti Giralt (Barcelona, 2011).
Regarding this work and the pathological conception of passionate love in Galenism,
see also Massimo Ciavolella, La malattia damore dallantichit al Medioevo (Rome, 1976),
pp. 6795; Danielle Jacquart Claude Thomasset, Lamour heroque travers le trait
dArnaud de Villeneuve, in La folie et le corps, ed. Jean Card (Paris, 1985), pp. 143158.
10 The treatise by Ibn Imrn has been edited by Garbers including its Arabic text with a
German translation and Constantines Latin version (cited above, in note 7). There is also
278 Giralt

far more an adaptation than a translation because, as was usual in his versions,
he did not declare his source text and altered the original work by adding data
from other authors, especially in the final section, omitting parts that he con-
sidered superfluous and paraphrasing the source text. In fact, since the twelfth
century he has often been criticized as a somewhat incompetent translator: his
tendency to shorten and simplify causes distortion and misunderstanding as
a result of the missing content.11 We will now look at one of the consequences
of his incompetence.

a French translation: Isq Ibn Imrn, Trait de la mlancolie, ed. and trans. Adel Omrani
(Carthage, 2009). On Ibn Imrn and his writing, see Garbers introduction (pp. xiiixxx),
Danielle JacquartFranoise Micheau, La mdecine arabe et loccident mdival (Paris,
1990), pp. 109110; Manfred Ullmann, Die Medizin im Islam (Leiden, 1970), pp. 125126;
Peter E. Pormann, Melancholy in the Medieval World. The Christian, Jewish, and Muslim
traditions, in Rufus, On Melancholy, pp. 179196; Adel OmraniNiki S. Holtzman
Hagop S. AkiskalS. Nassir Ghaemi, Ibn Imrans 10th Century Treatise on Melancholy,
Journal of Affective Disorders 141/2 (2012), 116119.
11 Regarding Constantine and his translation activity, fundamental for Latin medieval medi-
cine, see JacquartMicheau, ibidem, pp. 96129; Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and
Experimental Science (New YorkLondon, 1923), I, pp. 742759; MarieThrse dAlverny,
Translations and Translators, in Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, eds.
R. L. Benson and G. Constable (Cambridge, Mass., 1982, repr. in La transmission des textes
philosophiques et scientifiques au Moyen ge, Aldershot, 1995), pp. 421462 (pp. 422425),
Enrique Montero Cartelle, in Introduccin, Constantini liber de coitu. El tratado de
androloga de Constantino el Africano (Santiago de Compostela, 1983), pp. 1170; idem,
Sobre el autor rabe del Liber de coitu y el modo de trabajar de Constantino el Africano,
Medizinhistorisches Journal, 23/2 (1988), 105113; idem, Encuentros de culturas en
Salerno: Constantino el Africano, traductor, in Rencontres de cultures dans la philosophie
mdivale. Traductions et traducteurs de lantiquit tardive au XIVe sicle. Actes du Colloque
international de Cassino (117 juin 1989), eds. J. Hamesse and M. Fattori (Leuven, 1990),
pp. 6588; Danielle Jacquart, Le sens donn par Constantin lAfricain son oeuvre: les
chapitres introductifs en arabe et en latin, Constantine the African and Ali ibn AlAbbas:
The Pantegni and related texts, eds. Ch. Burnett and D. Jacquart (Leiden New York Kln,
1994), pp. 7189. Stephano da Pisa translated the Pantegni again in 1117 because he consid-
ered Constantines previous version incomplete and inappropriate, in addition to accus-
ing him of presenting his translations as his own works; later Tibbon criticized him with
similar arguments when translating the Viaticum into Hebrew in 1259. However, schol-
ars disagree about such considerations. Montero suggests that his mistakes are no more
numerous than those of other translators, but his bad reputation could have been spread
by his rivals. In contrast, Jacquart analyzes the differences between the original and the
translation and attributes them both to Constantines purpose of adapting to the necessi-
ties of Latin medicine and his incompetence.
The Melancholy of the Necromancer 279

The departure point is the division into three types of melancholy discussed
in Galens De interioribus: one form of melancholy spreads throughout the body
and passes into the brain, another one only affects the brain (encephalic), gen-
erated in the same or in another organ, and a third one, called flatulent dis-
ease or hypochondriac, originated in the upper abdomen or hypochondria.12
This categorization became canonical among the medical authors of late
Antiquity and the Arabic and Latin Middle Ages. Ibn Imrn and Constantine
reproduce the same classification without explicitly citing Galen.13 But what
is its origin? We do not know for certain, but it seems to have precedents in
previous authors such as Aretaeus of Cappadocia, who might have lived in the
mid first century or around 120 AD, and Rufus of Ephesus, who probably lived
during Trajans rule. Aretaeus already considered two kinds of melancholy:
one caused in the hypochondria and another one passing into the head by
sympathy.14 This distinction established by Aretaeus is not indicated as a prec-
edent of Galens in the literature that I have consulted, but it clearly is in my
view. In contrast, we have no conclusive evidence regarding Rufus position on
the classification of melancholy, firstly because of the indirect transmission of
his De melancholia, which is lost and can only be reconstructed from citations

12 Sed illud demum determinare prius necessarium mihi esse videtur quod derelictum
est a medicis, quemadmodum enim et in partibus corporis que apparent quandoque
quidem omnibus eadem apparet crasis [...], quandoque vero una aliqua particula aut
colericum aut flegmaticum aut melancolicum suscipiens humorem, ipsa sola exalteratur
crasi. Ita contingere potest et cerebrum quandoque verso qui secundum venas sanguine
melancolico facto communi ratione nocumenti et ipsum noceri. Secundum alium vero
modum impassibili permanente sanguine, qui secundum totum hominem et alteratur
qui secundum cerebrum solum et contingere hic dicitur vel melancolico humore fluente
in id aliunde vel generato in illo loco; generatur autem a calore multiplicato locali super
coquentem aut calefactam coleram aut crassiorem et nigriorem sanguinem. Differunt
autem ad curam no parum determinatio hec [...]. Item tertia melancolie [corr. manie]
species est que fit propter stomacum, sicut epilentia que fit propter stomacum, quam
quidem medici vocant lateralem aut inflativam, De interioribus, 3, 7, Galen, in Opera, 2,
[125vb126ra] (=Khn, 8, 181186). I use the hypocondriac of the Greek text, although in
this Arabic-Latin version it is replaced by lateral, because Constantine and other medi-
eval authors do employ it.
13 Melancolica igitur passio triplex est: alia enim est in ore stomachi et hypocondriis, alia
in cerebro, in quo duae sunt considerandae: aut enim in essentia cerebri, aut in toto cor-
pore, quae a pedibus ad cerebrum solet ascendere. In essentia cerebri vel est cum acuta
febre, quod plurimum fit in phrenesi, Constantine, De melancholia, p. 107, cf. the German
translation of Ibn Imrns Mqala f l-mlihuliy, pp. 1718 in the same volume.
14 I II, 5, 4, Aretaeus, p. 40. However, the problem is that Aretaeus chronology is highly
280 Giralt

by other authors, although it became the main source of the Arabic discus-
sions on this disease. Another cause for such uncertainty is given in a quota-
tion of Rufus by Ibn Imrn, according to which the Greek physician focused
solely on the hypochondriac type, since he felt that such an approach was suf-
ficient for a skilled physician to find out the description and therapeutics con-
cerning the other two types of melancholy.15 Even though he does not mention
what the other two are in the extant text, the recognition of a threefold divi-
sion has been seen by some scholars as proof that Rufus was already consider-
ing the classification later discussed by Galen.16
What concerns us, however, are some ideas regarding the first of the above-
mentioned species of melancholy. This is Ibn Imrns text:

We have seen how this kind of melancholy that ascends from the lower
body into the brain, when it occurs, is hidden and occult. Only one com-
mentator among physicians reports it for two reasons: one is the diversity
of human temperaments according to their nature and the other is that
the experience with human temperaments can only achieve an indisput-
able solidity thanks to a longer time spent with the patient and more
frequent visits after numerous examinations and revisions. Regarding
the knowledge of human nature, the humoral complexion and structure,
experience with the patients normal state offers considerable help in
exploring him and seeking a medical treatment for him. For, when the
physician knows the predisposition of the person while he is healthy, he

15 Ibn Imrn, echoed by Constantine, and Rhazes agree that Rufus focuses on hypochon-
driac melancholy, while appreciating Rufus treatise: Rufus, the physician, however, had
only discussed the hypochondriac kind of the disease of melancholy, and he dedicated his
book to it. Yet, Rufus is willing to argue and say: My discussion of one kind of the disease
of melancholy is linked and connected to the other two types. Moreover, by my discus-
sion of this one kind of melancholy, I hint at the other two types as regards the symptoms
which I have listed and the treatment which I have described, Rufus, On Melancholy,
F5, p. 29; Rufus autem ille de solis hypocondriacis melancholicis illum librum fecit. Sed
tamen cum de specie illa sola scripserit, cum qua tamen duas alias tetigit, se omnes tres
comprehendisse dixit, Constantine, De melancholia, p. 112.
16 The last effort to reconstruct the lost text of Rufus De melancholia from the fragments
quoted by Greek, Arabic and Latin authors is On Melancholy by Portman, which repre-
sents a considerable advance in respect of the previous collection by Daremberg and
Ruelle: Rufus, Oeuvres. See Portmans introduction (pp. 323) regarding the contents, the
transmission of the text and the question of the classification of melancholy, in addition
to his commentary and one of the essays contained in the same volume: Philip J. van der
Eijk, Rufus On Melancholy and its Philosophical Background, pp. 159178.
The Melancholy of the Necromancer 281

is able to distinguish the onset of the disease in the moment, as well as

the severity of the damage suffered in his soul and his body. [...]
[F5] We noticed that Rufus, the physician who composed the book On
Melancholy, discussed the symptoms and incidents occurring to melan-
cholics at great length in the first treatise. Finally, after he discussed at
great length the things which occur to each single one of those suffering
from melancholy, he said (having cut short his discussion): In this trea-
tise of ours, we have just listed in a reliable fashion the symptoms occur-
ring in melancholics, so that, if the reader understands our book well,
he will even be able to comprehend all those symptoms present in those
suffering from this disease which we have not mentioned in this work.
By saying this, Rufus, the physician, indicated that the symptoms of this
disease can hardly be ascertained or elucidated to their full extent. This is
the case not because the symptoms of melancholy, when they dominate the
body, are hidden. Rather, the way in which the soul is affected is hidden,
because the substance of the soul is concealed and difficult to perceive
and it is unclear how one arrives at a knowledge of the choices of the
soul, and how one comes to measure whether the souls thought is good
or bad, whether the imagination is sound or not, whether the memory is
strong or weak, and, in general, whether the intellect urges something on,
is opposed to it, or fails in it. The situation is similar as concerns the souls
character traits and their diversity in it. All this is subject to disagreement
and diverse opinions, since even intelligent physicians are at a loss, and
do not have knowledge of this illness with all its different symptoms.17

Therefore, Ibn Imrn explicitly stresses the difficulty faced by physicians when
diagnosing the kind of melancholy that ascends from the lower body into the
brain. He gives a quotation from Rufus treatise as support for his discussion,
but it seems to me that Rufus words are interpreted by the author in an abu-
sive way in order to turn them to his advantage. He perhaps (this is not very
clear in the text) generalizes the indicated difficulty to melancholy in general.
In fact, in another passage, transmitted by Rhazes, Rufus does clearly warn of
the possibility that melancholy goes unnoticed during its early stages if the
physician is not skilled enough to detect its signs immediately.18 In any case,

17 Ibn Imrns first part has been translated by me from Garbers German version of Mqala
f l-mlihuliy (pp. 1921). Rufus citation, together with its interpretation by Ibn Imrn, is
taken from Pormanns edition, p. 29 (F5). See also Pormanns commentary, pp. 8182.
18 Rufus fragment from Rhazes Continens: He said: When melancholy occurs, often only
skilful physicians can recognize it at the onset. For an intelligent physician usually knows
282 Giralt

Rufus must mean the hypochondriac kind, the only one he discusses, and not
that rising from the lower body, to which Ibn Imrn refers.
When compared, Constantines version is shorter and introduces significant
differences in meaning, which are indicated in italics in this particular passage:

This kind of melancholy and the other one that ascends from the lower
body into the brain, when they are fully developed, are very hidden and
obscure. Thus, with these words Rufus manifests that melancholic symp-
toms are imperceptible. The reason for such imperceptibility is that mel-
ancholy, when it has dominated the body, is hidden. Likewise passions
of the soul are hidden because of the imperceptibility of their essence
and the difficulty of them being found.19

If we compare Ibn Imrns text with the version of it given by Constantine,

it becomes clear that the latter is the source for qualifying some of the three
types of melancholy as hidden. Constantine first transforms the varieties of
melancholy that are very hidden and obscure into two, whereas Ibn Imrn
only refers to the kind that ascends from the lower body into the brain or
maybe to melancholy in general. In fact, Constantines text also seems to only
be discussing this type and, in my view, the sudden duplication should be

how to distinguish a malign state of the soul, despair and worry occurring at the onset
of melancholy from affections caused by something else, Rufus, On Melancholy, F15,
p. 39; cf. Et quando accidit melancolia, possibile est quod eius notitia occultatur medico
in principio; sed peritus medicus et subtilis indagationis poterit eam cognoscere in initio
per malitiam animae, per paucam eorum abstinentiam, membrorum ariditatem et prop-
ter tristitiam..., Rufus, Oeuvres, p. 356.
19 The whole passage: Haec autem species melancholiae et alia, quae ab inferiore cerebrum
ascendit corpore, cum plenae sint et perfectae, multum sunt occultae et obscurae, ut nul-
lus speret vel cogitet eas esse. Quod ex qualitatum diversitate contingit. Intellegere enim
naturas hominum et astutias eorum incomprehensibile est. Ex diuturna igitur conver-
satione et ipsarum cognoscitur cohabitatione, et quia naturae in sanitatibus intellectae,
cum videantur a priori esse mutatae, intelliguntur in has passiones incidisse [...] Tantum
in hac particula diximus de melancholicis accidentibus, ut si lector percurrerit studiosus
et intentus, ex scriptis non scripta perpendere possit accidentia. Monstravit ergo Rufus
in his verbis, quia accidentia melancolica incomprehensibilia sunt. Causa incomprensi-
bilitatis est, quia, cum melancholia corpus superavit, occulta est. Item passiones animae
sunt occultae ex incomprehensibilitate suae essentiae et inveniendi difficultate. Quis
enim possit investigare rationes, imaginationes et memorias animae, quot et quantae
sint in unoquoque? Similiter astutias hominum quis possit comprehendere? Unde per-
fecti medici in dubium cecidere, cum nequirent ad plenum huius infirmitatis noticiam
habere (De melancholia, pp. 111112).
The Melancholy of the Necromancer 283

considered a simple mistake. Secondly, whereas the discovery of the accidents

or symptoms of melancholy in Ibn Imrns text is described as extraordinarily
difficult, in Constantines version it is an impossibility: the symptoms (acciden-
tia) become imperceptible (incomprehensibilia) and the melancholy hidden
(occulta est) in the absolute sense, without any nuance.
The Constantinian origin of Arnaus reference to hidden species of mel-
ancholy is therefore clear. Moreover, it becomes evident that in the previ-
ous parts of De reprobacione terms such as vesania or alienatio are not used
generically, with a low level of medical language,20 as they were used by other
detractors of necromancy such as William of Auvergne and Roger Bacon:
William blames the insanity (vesania) of magicians and astrologers, which
leads them to believe that they perform their marvelous works in virtue of
Gods name; likewise Bacon denounces the dementia of false astrologers
several times.21 However, there is no doubt that such terms are employed in
Arnaus epistle with the technical precision of a professional physician. This
can be observed in his Pars operativa, when Arnau enumerates the kinds of
mental alienation according to the patients damaged operations, simple if
the operations of only one faculty of the brain are affected, and composite
if more than one. In the simple category, the alienation that solely affects the
rational faculty (estimatio) is properly called vesania or insania.22 This is the
case with necromancers melancholy, as seen. Of course, we have seen another
name employed in Arnaus epistle: melancolia. This is not contradictory with

20 Expression taken from Joseph Ziegler, Medicine and Religion c. 1300. The Case of Arnau de
Vilanova (Oxford, 1998), pp. 5960.
21 Nec praeterunda est illa vesania magorum et astronomorum, qui virtute cuiusdam ex
nominibus creatoris opinati sunt se operari diabolica omnia mirabilia sua..., William of
Auvergne, De legibus, cap. 27, in Opera omnia (Paris, 1674), I, p. 91; demencia matemati-
corum falsorum, Roger Bacon, Tractatus brevis, in Pseudo-Aristotle, Secretum secretorum,
ed. Robert Steele, Opera hactenus inedita Rogeri Baconi, 5 (Oxford, 1920), p. 6; falso-
rum matematicorum insanias, Opus maius, ed. John Henry Bridges (Oxford, 18971900),
1, p. 241.
22 Species alienationis simplex, in qua tantum leditur operatio partis unius ipsius mentis,
composita, in qua due vel omnes leduntur [...] et dicitur fatuitas, quasi fantasie vel imagi-
nationis pravitas, alienatio in qua tantum extimatio leditur, sive, ut loquamur in homine
specialiter, in quo dicitur cogitativa. Nam et hoc proprie dicitur vesania vel insania, quasi
contraria operatio sanitati, scilicet recte rationi, que est suprema et propria hominis sani-
tas, Pars operativa, in Opera, fol. 126rb, with corrections from the edition of Basel (1585),
c. 270, in italics.
284 Giralt

the previous name, because it is due to the cause of this disorder: melancholic
humor, harming either the rational faculty (vesania) or another faculty.23
However, despite finding the real origin of Arnaus reference, the problems
are not over. We still have two questions to answer. Firstly, why does he quote
the species of melancholy under Galens name? We can only speculate. As far I
can see, there are three possible reasons:
It may be a simple mistake, perhaps due to the circumstances in which De
reprobacione seems to have been written, while the author was far from his
library and therefore forced to quote from memory. Maybe he was confused
because the modalities of melancholy were discussed in the third book of De
interioribus, a treatise that Arnau knew or would know perfectly well in the
future because years later he would write a summary of the first two books.24
The ascription to Galen could also be explained by the possible circula-
tion of De melancholia under his name. This false attribution is demonstrated
by William of Auvergne, when he claims to base his discussion of religious
melancholy on Galens De melancholia, although this disease is dealt with in
Constantines treatise, and not in any of Galens works.25
Finally, we can also note that Constantines name is hardly ever mentioned
by Arnau (or Bernard of Gordon), even though he uses him as a source, prob-
ably due to the poor reputation of his versions and work among medieval phy-
sicians or to his reluctance to mention medieval Latin authors.26
The second problem is how Arnau explains the hidden species of melan-
choly. In fact, as we have seen in other medical authorities (and unlike what
Arnau affirms in his epistle), Constantine never states, anywhere, that the only
symptom of any of the kinds of melancholy is injury to reason. On the contrary,

23 Cf. Alienatio, quam concomitut timor irrationalis et solicitudo, que communiter nomi-
natur melancholia, recipiens suam denominationem a sua causa materiali, Arnau, Pars
operativa, fol. 126v; Invenimus ceteros apellare hanc passionem melancoliam, quod
nomen significat materiam qua ista passio generatur, Galen, De interioribus, 3, 7, in
Opera, 2, fol. [126rb] (=Khn, 8, 191192).
24 Edited in Commentum supra tractatum Galieni De malicia complexionis diverseDoctrina
Galieni de interioribus, eds. Luis Garca Ballester, Eustaquio Snchez Salor and Richard J.
Durling, AVOMO 15 (Barcelona, 1985), pp. 298351.
25 Galenus autem in libro De melancholia dicit ex huiusmodi desideriis interdum aliquos
incurrere morbum melancholicum, qui proculdubio desipientia magna est et abalienatio
a rectitudine intellectus et discretione rationis, William of Auvergne, De universo, 2, 3, 20,
in Opera omnia, vol. 1, p. 1054.
26 Constantine is only cited by Arnau once: Juan Antonio Paniagua, El Maestro
Arnau de Vilanova, mdico, in Studia arnaldiana: trabajos en torno a la obra mdica
de Arnau de Vilanova, c. 12401311 (Barcelona, 1994), p. 28.
The Melancholy of the Necromancer 285

the African provides a list of the general symptoms (accidentia) of melancholy,

including fear, and the particular symptoms of each type of this disease.27 In
fact, Arnau himself does not include any hidden species of melancholy in his
late Pars operativa when he discusses this disease, characterized with the
symptoms of irrational fear and anxiety.28 Such disagreements seem to be
related to his objective of diagnosing necromancers with melancholy.

The Purpose of a Diagnosis

In order to discover Arnaus purpose, it is useful to compare this text with oth-
ers, both by Arnau and by other authors. Of course, the relationship between
melancholy and magical arts is not new. One of precedents is a passage from
De universo by William of Auvergne (12311236). Therein William resorts
to melancholy to attack the practice of divination through Apollos mirror.29
The medical source for his ideas on melancholic disease, considered insanity
and alienation of the right intelligence and the discernment of the reason,
is also Constantines De melancholia, again under Galens name. But, unlike
Arnaus epistle, William attributes such magical operations not only to a decep-
tion caused by demons but also to demonic possession, in accordance with the
widespread opinion that the devil uses melancholy to influence humans.30

27 Constantine, De melancholia, pp. 119127.

28 See note 6.
29 Ne credideris autem mendacibus qui plenam revelationem obtinere se posse credunt
per speculum Apollinis, quoniam nec ipse Apollo cognitionem habet omnium presen-
tium, praeteritorum et futurorum quae per speculum Apollinis pollicentur. Habet autem
fortassis fantasia speculi ipsius ex arreptione daemoniaca, sine qua opus speculi non
est verisimile consumari, habetinquamhoc: ut sic deceptus et arreptus opinetur se
habere scientiam omnium occultorum. Et iam in multis experientia docere potuit quod
in istud deliramentum inciderunt. Sic enim plerumque vides de melancholicis, id est de
morbo melancholiae laborantibus, qui multa se opinantur scire quae penitus ignorant.
Ita possibile est ut, crescente in ipsis morbo isto, crescat et in eis delira ista opinio. Quod
si aliquis ex malignis spiritibus quaedam revelare de occultis per huiusmodi speculi
inspectionem permittitur, scito illa pauca esse et quod raro eidem spiritui revelationes
huiusmodi facere permittitur, William of Auvergne, De universo, 2, 3, p. 1058. On William
and demonic magic and divination see Thomas B. de Mayo, The Demonology of William
of Auvergne: By Fire and Sword (Lewiston, NY, 2007), pp. 119190, and my works cited in
notes 3 and 35.
30 Two examples of the connection between melancholy and devil are Hildegard of Bingen,
Causae et curae, ed. Paul Kaiser (Lepzig, 1903), 2, pp. 143144, and Albert the Great, Super
Matthaeum, 8, 6, in Opera omnia, 21, ed. Bernhard Schmidt (Mnster in Westfalen, 1987).
286 Giralt

Therefore, we can see William as a transitional stage in the evolution

from the religious view that considers a necromantic operation to be based
on demonic possession towards the naturalistic conception that regards the
belief in necromancy as a possible consequence of melancholy. In contrast,
the naturalization process appears to have already been completed in Arnaus
epistle: he does not see necromancy as an example of demonic possession but
merely as a deception by the devil. And to understand how a person, especially
if educated, can believe in an idea as absurd as the rationality of necromancy
it is necessary to impute it to some pathological condition.
Such attribution of melancholy to the defenders of ideas that were seen
as intellectual errors is also found in other contemporary authors. In his
Lilium medicine (1305), Bernard of Gordon, a professor at the University of
Montpellier at least from 1283, when discussing the danger of melancholy
becoming a mania, says that the hidden signs of a future mania are: think-
ing what should not be thought, considering good or honest what is not, set-
ting oneself unreasonable or impossible goals, about which they have a wrong
judgement. Another sign is seeing demons, black monks, dead people or other
fantasies in dreams.31
Bernards consideration of illegitimate or irrational beliefs and visions of
demons as being hidden signs of melancholy recalls Arnaus diagnosis for
necromancers. The difference is that Bernard indicates such hidden signs in
addition to the general perceptible symptoms of melancholy, while Arnau
says they are the only ones. Therefore, Bernard is more faithful to Constantine
and the other medical authorities than Arnau. Indeed, there is no doubt that
Constantine is one of Bernards main sources,32 but he does not mention him
like Arnau. He only cites Avicenna and Galen.

31 Signa autem occulta future manie sunt, cum aliquis imaginatur aut cogitat ea que non
debet cogitare aut iudicare aut imaginare et cum putat bonum quod non est bonum et
putat honestum quod non est et cogitat aprehendere impossibilia aut irrationabilia et
cum male iudicat de illis, sive fiunt tempore somni sive in tempore vigiliarum, et cum hoc
habet fantasmata diversa et terribilia aut quia videtur sibi in somnis quod videat demo-
nes aut monachos nigros aut suspensos aut mortuos et omnia talia consilimia, et modo
ridet, modo flet, et timet de non timendis et ridet de non ridendis (Lilium medicine, II,
19, fols. 68vb69ra). Melancholy and mania often appear as alternating phases during the
illness or, like here, the latter is considered an advanced stage of the former (cf. Aretaeus,
3, 5, 3, pp. 3839): Jackson, Melancholia and Depression, pp. 233254 of the Spanish trans-
lation (Madrid, 1989), and Laharie, La folie au Moyen ge, p. 134.
32 Cf. Timor de re non timenda, cogitatio de re non cogitanda. [...]. Vident enim ante
oculos formas terribiles et timorosas nigras et similia. [...] Videbat nigros homines
The Melancholy of the Necromancer 287

In another passage of the Lilium, Bernard also attributes melancholy to some

professors and prophets:

Some consider themselves masters in all the sensible world and they
begin to give lessons and teach, albeit not explaining anything rational,
whereas others believe that they are prophets and that they are inspired
by the Holy Spirit and begin to predict many future events regarding the
world or the Antichrist.33

According to Michael McVaugh, the blame for both should be attributed to

Arnau, his fellow at the Faculty of Montpellier, the first due to his interest in
natural philosophy and the second, to his religious concerns.34 It is well known
that Arnau devoted the last twenty years of his life to announcing the coming of
the Antichrist and asking for Christianity to reform and fight against it. In this
latter imputation, another aspect should be considered: prophesying has been
seen as a possible effect of melancholic disease since Antiquity.35 Therefore,
the diagnosis of melancholy was used by some late medieval authors in order
to discredit opposing, and often unorthodox, opinions: Arnau blames necro-
mancers in De reprobacione, and in turn is disgraced by Bernard on the same
basis. In my opinion, this can be interpreted as a medicalization of the prac-
tice of relegating to marginality behaviors and opinions that deviated from the
mainstream ideology and assimilating them into madness.36

(Constantine, De melancholia, p. 120), appropinquare videntur morti. [...] alii plorant,

alii rident (ibidem, p. 124).
33 Aliis videtur quod sint magistri in omni sensibili et incipiunt legere et docere et
tamen nihil dicunt rationabile; aliis videtur quod sint prophete et quod sint inspirati a
spiritu sancto et incipiunt prophetare et multa futura predicere sive de statu mundi et
Antichristi (Lilium medicine, II, 19, fol. 69ra).
34 Michael McVaugh, Nota sobre las relaciones entre dos maestros de Montpellier: Arnau
de Vilanova y Bernardo Gordon, Asclepio, 25 (1973), 331336.
35 Some of them [i.e. melancholics] may become passionately fond of dreams and fore-
casting future events, and they predict them accurately, Rufus, On Melancholy, F35, 2,
p. 46; Et contingit quod quidam istorum narrant et somniant praeter solitum, et pro-
nosticantur futura, et eveniunt ea quae ipsi praedicunt, Rufus, Oeuvres, Fr. 126, p. 456.
Regarding the connection between melancholy and prophecy in late medieval authors
see Sebasti Giralt, Aristoteles imperfectus. Natural Divination, Dream and Prophecy in
the Latin Middle Ages (12101310), in Die mantischen Knste und die Epistemologie prog-
nostischer Wissenschaften im Mittelalter, ed. Alexander Fidora (KlnWeimarVienna,
2013), pp. 2359.
36 On the social situation of the mentally ill in Middle Ages see Laharie, La folie au Moyen
ge, pp. 271272, 232 and 241270; Borrs, Ms enll de la ra, pp. 7790.
288 Giralt

Many years later, in his religious controversies with scholastic theologians,

Arnau also imputed ideas he considered wrong to mental disorders. In his
attack on Martn de Ateca (1304), he states that his adversarys unfair argu-
ments could only be excused by insanity (vesania or lethargy), although he
is somehow responsible due to having an unhealthy lifestyle.37 In the debate
with the Dominicans of Girona (1302 or 1303), he describes those who misun-
derstand him or the Holy Scriptures as insane or heretic.38 In my opinion, such
attributions of mental illnesses are not merely metaphors, as Joseph Ziegler
suggests,39 but a possible explanation for the irrationality of the ideas held by
his detractors according to the learned medical tradition.
These other examples help to understand Arnaus purposes for diagnosing
necromancers with melancholy. To discredit the views of his dialectic oppo-
nents (both defenders of necromancy or opponents of his religious thought),
Arnau cannot diagnose damage to the rational faculty if he does not show that
this is the only visible symptom of their disease, because in his eyes they had
no health problem other than a misguided belief.
Beyond its undeniable polemic value, the idea that holding opinions con-
trary to reason may be an indication of a lesion of the rational faculty is well-
rooted in Greek-Arabic Galenism, as we have seen. In different contexts, with
different purposes and concretions, Arnaus, Williams and Bernards state-
ments are the result of ideas, born in ancient medicine and developed by
medieval Galenism, regarding the harm caused by melancholy to cognitive fac-
ulties, both the imaginative and the rational, which would be the origin of the
behavioral disorders observed in the mentally ill. In fact, considering some-
ones irrational thought to be an effect of a physical disease is an extreme con-
sequence of the somatic vision held by Galenism of mental illness from Galen

37 Secundo quia constat illud in editionibus meis [...], si vidit et perlegit eas manifeste
mentitur. Cum neget illud quod in eis continetur, nisi per insaniam aut litargiam excu-
saretur, si vero non perlegit attente, certum est quod inique arguit et non iuste, Antidotum
contra venenum effusum per fratrem Martinum de Atheca, predicatorem, MS Vatican, BAV,
Vat. Lat. 3824, fols. 237c254c (fol. 244ra).
38 ...heretici vel insani..., Arnau de Vilanova, Eulogium de notitia verorum et pseudoapos-
tolorum, edited in Joaquim Carreras i Artau, La polmica gerundense sobre el Anticristo
entre Arnau de Vilanova y los dominicos, Anales del Instituto de Estudios Gerundenses 5
(1950), 558 (esp. 33, 55 and 56).
39 Ziegler, Medicine and Religion, pp. 9197. Cf. Robert I. Moore, Heresy as Disease, in
The Concept of Heresy in the Middle Ages (11th13th C.). Proceedings of the International
Conference, Louvain, May 1316, 1973, ed. W. Lourdaux and D. Verhelst (Leuven, 1976),
pp. 111.
The Melancholy of the Necromancer 289

himself.40 In De reprobacione, this use appears for the first time in Arnaus
work and might be favored by melancholys relationship with magic and the
devil observed in preceding authors, such as William of Auvergne. But the clos-
est seems to be Thomas Aquinas, when he imputes a bad disposition of intel-
lect to necromancers, in addition to their poor moral disposition, because of
the irrationality of their beliefs and practices.41
It is also revealing that Arnau considers the rational faculty (estimatio) to
be injured, but not the imaginative, when according to medical tradition both
of them could be affected by melancholy. This is the basic difference between
his view and the imputation of melancholy often applied to witches, especially
during the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, by some physicians and writ-
ers, such as Johann Weyer or Reginald Scott, who tried to extenuate their guilt.
In that case, witches delusions were often attributed to an injury to the imagi-
nation produced by melancholy. Therefore, acts of witchcraft should not be
considered real but hallucinations induced by the disease.42 In contrast, when

40 Cf. Unde periti medici concordati sunt quia humores et corporis compositio et natura
mutant actionem anime quod monstravi una particula quia virtus anime complexionem
corporis imitatur, Galen, De interioribus, 3, 7, in Opera, 2, fol. 132rb (=Khn, 8, 191), with
a reference to his treatise Quod animi mores corporis temperamenta sequantur, ed. Luis
Garca-Ballester, Alma y enfermedad en la obra de Galeno (ValenciaGranada, 1972).
41 Magi autem invocant eos quorum auxilio utuntur suppliciter, quasi superiores: cum
autem advenerint, imperant eis quasi inferioribus. Nullo igitur modo videntur bene dis-
positi secundum intellectum, Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, 3, 106, 9.
42 On the relationship established between melancholy and witchcraft and the devil in
Medieval and especially Early Modern Times, see Jole AgrimiChiara Crisciani, Savoir
mdical et anthropologie religieuse. Les reprsentations et les fonctions de la vetula
(XIIIeXIVe sicle), Annales. conomies, socits, civilisations 48/5 (1993), 12811308;
Danielle Jacquart, De la science la magie: le cas dAntonio Guainerio, mdecin ital-
ien du XVe sicle, Littrature, mdecine et societ, 9 (1988), 137156; Roger Bartra, Cultura
y melancola. Las enfermedades del alma en la Espaa del siglo de oro (Barcelona, 2001),
pp. 4963; Christopher Baxter, Jean Bodins De la dmonomanie des sorciers: the Logic
of Persecution, in The Damned Art. Essays in the Literature of Witchcraft, ed. Sidney
Anglo (LondonBoston, 1977), pp. 76105; Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons. The Idea
of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Oxford, 1997), pp. 179213; H. C. Erik Midelfort,
Sin, Melancholy, Obsession: Insanity and Culture in Sixteenthcentury Germany, in
Understanding Popular Culture. Europe from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century,
ed. S. L. Kaplan (Berlin, 1984), pp. 113145; Jack L. Evans, Witchcraft, Demonology and
Renaissance Psichiatry, Medical Journal of Australia 53/23 (1966); Oskar Diethelm, The
Medical Teaching of Demonology in the 17th and 18th Centuries, Journal of the History of
the Behavioral Sciences 6/1 (1970), 315; Thomas J. Schoeneman, The Role of mental Illness
in the European Witch Hunts of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries: an Assesment,
290 Giralt

Arnau says that it is the rational faculty that is injured, he is silent about the
possibility of necromancy having real effects, but merely denies the interpre-
tation given by its practitioners. The purpose of the epilogue is to discredit
necromancers beliefs, not the attenuation of their moral responsibility, even
though Arnau actually diverts their wrong opinions from moral corruption to
the physiological.43 We must bear in mind that earlier in the same epistle he
accused necromancers of being the worst sinners (ll. 179180).

Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 13/4 (1977), 337351; Jean Card, Folie et
dmonologie, in Folie et draison la Renaissance. Colloque international tenu en novem-
bre 1973 (Brussels, 1976), pp. 129147, Sidney Anglo, Melancholia and Witchcraft: the
Debate between Wier, Bodin and Scot, ibidem, pp. 209228; George Mora, Introduction,
Witches, Devils, and Doctors in the Renaissance: Johann Weyer, De Praestigiis Daemonum
(BinghamtonNew York, 1991) esp. pp. lxilxxix.
43 See the passage cited and translated above.

Demons, Illness, and Spiritual Aids in Natural

Magic and Image Magic

Lauri Ockenstrm

Demonic possession and exorcism are discussed in numerous medieval and

early modern written sources and have been the subjects of a great number
of modern academic investigations. In the stories concerning possession and
exorcism the demons are perceived through an ecclesiastical veil: they appear
as the Devils obedient servants, who, led by the black archfiend, seduce peo-
ple to indulge in vice and trouble them with illnesses, diseases and misfor-
tunes. Unfortunate demoniacs were exorcised by Catholic priests, who tried to
reserve a monopoly on diagnosing being possessed by a demon and on nullify-
ing the condition.
Nevertheless, the Catholic Church never had a total monopoly on the
European mindscape. Along with the official demonology of the Church, sev-
eral beliefs, practices and traditions concerning demons and spirits survived.
For example, the genres of learned magic known today as divination and rit-
ual magic employed spiritual beings extensively. The basic elements of their
demonological views derive from Judaeo-Christian traditions, but the perspec-
tive is broader and the relationship with the spirits more complex.
The histories of divination and ritual magic in particular have been widely
studied during the last twenty-five years, and we have an extensive prelimi-
nary understanding of the roles of demons in these areas of magic.1 There
are, however, other popular fields of medieval learned magic that have not
been much explored from the demonological or spiritual point of view.
These include genres that have been called natural magic, image magic and
Hermetic magic. The boundaries of these categories are anything but clear.

1 For example, Conjuring spirits: Texts and traditions of medieval ritual magic, ed. Claire
Fanger. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton, 1998. Lng, Benedek. Unlocked Books: Manuscripts of
Learned Magic in the Medieval Libraries of Central Europe. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania
State Univ. Press, 2008. Invoking Angels. Theurgic Ideas and Practices, Thirteenth to Sixteenth
Centuries. ed. Fanger, Claire. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012.
Klaassen, Frank F. The transformations of magic: illicit learned magic in the later Middle Ages
and Renaissance. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2013.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 7|doi .63/9789004338548_017

292 Ockenstrm

Natural magic refers usually to a literary tradition of magic that claims to be

based solely on natural influences without demonic interventions. Hermetic
magic is based on pseudepigraphical texts ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus.
The family of Hermetic writings known as Hermetica contains a wide variety
of both religious-theoretical and practical texts dating from antiquity down to
the Middle Ages. The magical branch of Hermetic writings is included in the
practical text known as the technical Hermetica.2 The majority of Hermetic
magical treatises belong to the genre of image magic because of their applica-
tion of astrological images, and several treatises of natural magic also employ
images. In these groups, the role of spirits is substantially less important than
in ritual magic, but sometimes, entities called daemones, spirits, angels or souls
appear in different functions. Speculum astronomiae, a mid-thirteenth-century
compendium of astronomy and astrology, described the abominable books
(that is, the Hermetic image magic) as follows:
One way is abominable[that] which requires suffumigations and invoca-
tion, such as the images of Toz the Greek and Germath the Babylonian, which
have stations for the worship of Venus, [and] the images of Balenuz and Hermes,
which are exorcized by using the 54 names of the angels, who are said to be sub-
servient to the images of the Moon in its orbit, [but] perhaps are instead the
names of demons, and seven names are incised on them in the correct order
to affect a good thing and in inverse order for a thing one wants to be repelled.
They are also suffumigated with the wood of aloe, saffron and balsam for a good
purpose; and with galbanum, red sandlewood and resin for an evil purpose. The
spirit is certainly not compelled [to act] because of these, but when God per-
mits it on account of our own sins, they [the spirits] show themselves as com-
pelled to act, in order to deceive men. This is the worst idolatry...3
This quotation illustrates, among other topics, the nature of Hermetic image
magic. Formulas combine astral influences, properties of natural substances
and images with invocation and holy names of spiritual beings suspected of
being demons. This paper explores this still rather obscure field: demons and
other spiritual beings in Latin manuals of natural magic and image magic,
most of which are labelled Hermetic. Firstly, I seek to illustrate the frequency
and the role of spirits in the selected material. Secondly, I explore how the
spirits are linked to illness and how this link is related to other demonological

2 Division into theoretical (or philosophical) and technical (magical, alchemical, etc.)
Hermetica is based on Garth Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late
Pagan Mind (Princeton, NJ, 1993), pp. xxixxii, and 112.
3 The Speculum astronomiae and its enigma: Astrology, theology, and science in Albertus
Magnus and his contemporaries, ed. and trans. Paola Zambelli (Dordrecht, 1992), chapter 11,
pp. 24041.
Demons, Illness, and Spiritual Aids 293

systems of the time. I also touch upon the hesitation and doubt one sees in the
quotation above by asking why the Hermetic image magic was so disturbing
and why it was condemned so harshly.
Before exploring the relationship between demons and illness in the tradi-
tion of learned magic selected for study here, it is worth taking a brief look at
the tradition itself. Medieval learned magic mostly refers to sources written
in Latin that circulated in the Latin West. Benedek Lng has recently divided
learned magic into five rather independent literary traditions: natural magic,
image magic, ritual magic, divination and alchemy. The first three deserve
attention here. Manuals of natural magic circulated with works of natural
science (e.g. with astrology, lapidaries and herbariums) and presented them-
selves as a science based on two axioms of Hellenistic and scholastic science:
the astrological influence (astral radiation) and the occult properties of stones,
metals, plants and animals. The most popular texts were the Experimenta of
Pseudo-Albert the Great, the Pseudo-Aristotelian Secretum secretorum, and
Kyranides which will be discussed in more detail below. Image magic pre-
sented itself as a science as well. It shared the same two principles as natural
magic, but emphasized the role of images and often included the invocation of
spirits. The majority of the manuals are translations from Arabic, and most
of them belong to the family of technical Hermetica.4
The tradition of ritual magic is based more on the invocation of spirits
and manifold rituals, including prayers and holy words (often taken from the
Christian liturgy), diabolical or unidentified names, symbols and magic circles,
fasting and purification, and sometimes even the construction of a ritual hall
or building. It often presents itself as an orthodox Christian tradition, and
its main texts (Ars notoria, Liber visionum) achieved considerable success.5
Ritual magic shares many convergences with the Hermetic image magic, but
in the thirteenth century it had a distinctly separate tradition. The author of
the afore-mentioned Speculum astronomiae, an influential and ambitious
attempt to distinguish what is legitimate in magic and what is not, recog-
nized three ways of fabricating magic images: The first is abominable, quoted
above; the second is detestable, and the third is natural and therefore licit
(because the authorship of Speculum is still uncertain, I follow the custom of
speaking of Magister Speculi6). In 1994, David Pingree demonstrated that the

4 Lng, Unlocked Books. Passim, esp. 48122.

5 Lng, Unlocked Books, 4750, 162188.
6 On the debates concerning the authorship of Speculum, see Jeremiah Hacket, Albert the
Great and the Speculum astronomiae: The State of the Research at the Beginning of the
21st Century, in A companion to Albert the Great: Theology, Philosophy, and the Sciences, ed.
Irven M. Resnick (Leiden, 2013), pp. 437449.
294 Ockenstrm

abominable treatises were part of the Hermetic family, while the detestable
books are usually attributed to King Solomon.7 Based on Lngs distinction, all
the Hermetic-abominable treatises belong to the genre of image magic, and
detestable Solomonic books belong to ritual magic. The only difference is that
today we know more texts than Magister Speculi: his Speculum mentions, for
example, only fourteen incipits of abominable books, while today we know
more than twenty Hermetic talismanic treatises in Latin.
The similiaritiessuffumigations, invocations, material auxiliaries and so
onbetween the traditions of image magic and ritual magic make the lat-
ter a rewarding source of comparison with the Hermetic texts discussed in
this paper. Claire Fanger has divided ritual magic into angelic and demonic
magic, depending on the object of invocation.8 The former was focused on
seeking knowledge, asking advice and protecting the agent from evil by invok-
ing angels and biblical entities. In the latter tradition, diverse (usually non-
Christian or diabolical) spirits were invoked for personal gain. In all branches,
the spirits were usually invoked by name: Richard Kieckhefer has identified 189
different names in the so-called Munich handbook (a manual of ritual magic
from the fifteenth century), 88 of which are said to be demons.9 Only 17% of
the names are established ones, and, in general, the use of unidentified and
haphazard names (sometimes called barbaric names) is a commonplace in
ritual magic. Sometimes the appearances of these demons are described as
well. One chapter in the Munich handbook, for example, tells of a spirit called
Volach, of a two-headed and winged boy riding on a dragon, of Gaeneron, a
beautiful woman riding on a camel, and so on.10
In ritual magic the spirits are invoked for gaining advantage: for favour in
court, for attaining knowledge or revealing secrets, or for fortune in love. The
connection between spirits and illness is rare. Sometimes the linkage appears
in the context of curse formulas that became more popular during the four-
teenth and fifteenth centuries. Some formulas gave instructions for injuring
the victim or making him fall ill with the help of demonic auxiliaries. In the
Munich handbook, for example, there is one instruction for causing dementia:

7 David Pingree, Learned Magic in the Time of Frederick II, Micrologus. Natura, scienze e
societ medievali, II (1994), pp. 4243.
8 Fanger, Claire. Medieval Ritual Magic: What is ritual magic and why we need to know
more about it, in Conjuring spirits: Texts and traditions of medieval ritual magic, ed. Claire
Fanger. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton, 1998. pp. viixviii.
9 Richard Kieckhefer, Forbidden Rites: A Necromancers Manual of the Fifteenth Century
(Stroud: Sutton, 1997), pp. 155156.
10 Kieckhefer, Forbidden Rites, pp. 165167.
Demons, Illness, and Spiritual Aids 295

The practitioner goes to his victim and openly recites a conjuration command-
ing the malign spirit Mirael to afflict the victims brain. Then the practitioner
inscribes a short conjuration and a magic circle, conjures the demons thrice
and even urinates on the victims doorstep in the manner of a camel. After
seven days of rituals the victim becomes demented without himself realizing
his condition.11
Nevertheless, only a minority of the vast number of late medieval curse for-
mulas harness spirits to cause illness or link demons to illness. As this paper
shows, the subject appears more often in the less explicitly demonic genres of
natural and Hermetic magical texts. Usually, sympathetic rituals (those based
on symbolic or an indexical connection between the ritual and its purpose or
victim) such as voodoo dolls combined with utilization of astrological influ-
ences were sufficient to harm the victim. The example illustrates, however,
that combinations existed, and other sources such as miracle narratives in
which possessed people are cured show that the topos of employing spiritual
and demonic beings for inflicting maladies (mental illnesses in particular) was
relatively commonly known.

The Sources for This Study

In this study I have used approximately a dozen texts of image magic and natu-
ral magic in which connections between spiritual beings and illnesses or disor-
ders appear. The origins of the selected texts are many, and they treat spirits or
demons from several perspectives. The use of a small selection means that this
is by no means a comprehensive study including all demonological or spiritual
accounts in sources of image magic and natural magic; rather it is a prelimi-
nary case study that aims to offer an overview of different accounts and cus-
toms that can be distinguished from the traditions.
It might be easiest to begin with two texts mostly representing natural magic,
edited by Louis Delatte in the early 1940s. Kyranides is a first- or second-century
Greek product, which was translated into Latin in 1169 in Constantinople. This
pseudepigraphic text ascribed to the Persian king Cyranos (and ultimately to
Hermes Trismegistus) deals systematically with the occult properties of plants,
animals and minerals in alphabetical order and is considered one of the basic
texts for botanical medicine, natural magic and talismanic magic.12 De XV stellis

11 Kieckhefer, Forbidden Rites, pp. 74, 196199.

12 Lucentini, Paolo, and Perrone Compagni, Vittoria. I testi e i codici di Ermete nel Medioevo
(Firenze, 2001), pp. 3437. Delatte, Louis. Textes latins et vieux francais relatifs aux
296 Ockenstrm

(On 15 Stars) lists fifteen fixed stars along with a stone, an herb and an image
for each star. Latin tradition recognizes three different versions of the treatise,
each probably based on three Arabian interpretations of a Greek exemplar,
now lost: one attributed to Hermes, one to Enoch and one to Thebit (Thabit
ben Qurra).13 In the De XV stellis ascribed to Hermes, the stars, stones, herbs
and images are treated in separate sections, while the De XV stellis ascribed to
Enoch and De proprietatibus quarundam stellarum attributed to Thebit (Thabit
ben Qurra) represent all these auxiliaries as ritual entities whose purpose is to
complete a ring dedicated to an appropriate star. Jewish scholars assimilated
Enoch with Hermes Trismegistus, while Thabit ben Qurra was an actual author
who flourished in the ninth century. Whether he contributed this text, how-
ever, is doubtful. Delattes edition contains the versions of Enoch and Hermes,
while De proprietatibus quarundam stellarum has been consulted through
a Florentine manuscript in Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, plut. 89.38,
folios 1r3v. None of the texts is mentioned in Speculum astronomiae (Lynn
Thorndike has suggested that the Tractatus octavus in magisterio imaginum in
Speculums list is the same as De XV stellis, but Nicolas Weill-Parot disagrees
with that interpretation).14
Next can be mentioned two treatises of image magic, which sometimes cir-
culated together. The first is a classic of astrological talismanic magic, Pseudo-
Ptolemys Opus imaginum (edited by Jean-Patrice Boudet15), classified as a
licit book in Speculum Astronomiae. The Opus imaginum gives 46 talismanic
instructions, including astrological timings, materials and iconographical
guidelines. The second treatise, the anonymous De imaginibus, is similar in
content. In the Florentine manuscript mentioned above it is located between
De proprietatibus quarundam stellarum and Opus imaginum in folios 3v8v.
Opus imaginum is a twelfth- century translation of an Arabic original, while
the origin of De imaginibus remains uncertain.

Cyranides: Le Compendium aureum, Le De XV stellis dHermes, Le livre des secrets de la

nature (Lige, 1942), pp. 35. Waegeman, Maryse. Amulet and alphabet: Magical amulets
in the first book of Cyranides (Amsterdam, 1987), pp. 79.
13 Lucentini & Perrone Compagni, I testi e i codici, pp. 4449. Delatte, Textes latins,
pp. 237239.
14 Weill-Parot, Nicolas. Les images astrologiques au moyen ge at la renaissance.
Spculations intellectuelles et pratiques magiques (XIIeXVe sicle), (Paris, 2002), p. 47.
15 Jean-Patrice Boudet, Un trait de magie astrale arabo-latin: le Liber de imaginibus du
pseudo-Ptolme, Natura, scienze e societ medievali: studi in onore di Agostino Paravicini
Bagliani, ed. Claudio Leonardi and Francesco Santi (Florence, 2008): pp. 1736.
Demons, Illness, and Spiritual Aids 297

Then there are two horological Hermetic treatises: De imaginibus et horis16

and De viginti quattuor horis ascribed to Belenus (edited by Paolo Lucentini).17
In addition, I have included three unedited tractates that are possibly among
those mentioned in Speculum in the category of abominable treatises, and rep-
resent both image magic and Hermetic tradition: De imaginibus sive annulis
septem planetarum,18 Liber planetarum,19 and De imaginibus septem planeta-
rum.20 They survive in only a few manuscripts among some similar Hermetic
treatises (e.g. Liber Mercurii). All are based on astrological assumptions and
use of personification of pagan planetary deities, and together they form one
of the basic groups of the Hermetic image magic. The texts are very probably
translations from Arabic. Many parallels with this group can be found in the
Latin Picatrix, a large compilation of Arabic origin.21 The volume has prob-
ably incorporated material from traditions of Hermetic image magic, natural
magic, ritual magic and sympathetic folk practices, and therefore is important
testimony to magical beliefs in medieval Europe in general.

16 Lucentini & Perrone Compagni, I testi e i codici, pp. 6466. Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale
[henceforth BNCF] II.iii.214, fols. 8v9v.
17 Lucentini, Paolo. Lermetisto magico nel secolo XIII, in Sic itur ad astra: Studien zur
Geschichte der Mathematik und Naturwissenschaften, ed. Menso Flokerts and Richard
Lorch (Wiesbaden, 2000), pp. 409450.
18 Florence, BNCF, ms. II.iii.214, fol. 26rv. Lucentini & Perrone Compagni, I testi e i codici,
pp. 5961.
19 Lucentini & Perrone Compagni, I testi e i codici, pp. 6163. BNCF, II.iii.214, fols. 33r38r.
20 Lucentini & Perrone Compagni, I testi e i codici, pp. 8183. Florence, Biblioteca Medicea
Laurenziana, plut. 89.38, fols. 281r282r.
21 Picatrix: The Latin Version of the Ghyat Al-Hakm, ed. David Pingree (London, 1986). The
original Picatrix was probably put together from earlier Arabic material somewhere in al-
Andalus during the tenth and eleventh centuries. The result, a large compendium known
as Ghyat al-Hakm (The Aim of the Sage), was translated into the vernacular and Latin at
the court of Alphonso the Wise in the 1250s. Jean-Patrice Boudet, Anna Caiozzo, Nicolas
Weill-Parot, Introduction: Picatrix, au carrefour des savoirs et pratiques magiques, in
Images et Magie: Picatrix entre Orient et Occident, ed. Jean-Patrice Boudet, Anna Caiozzo,
Nicolas Weill-Parot (Paris, 2011), pp. 1324. Pingree has suggested that the translations
had a major impact on European understanding of talismanic magic for centuries. See
David Pingree, Indian Planetary Images and the Tradition of Astral Magic, Journal of the
Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 52 (1989): 11.
298 Ockenstrm

Expelling and Avoiding Harmful Spirits

Two main attitudes towards spiritual beings can be distinguished in

the material. The negative attitude is related to the standard opinions of the
Church and Judaeo-Christian traditions: Spirits cause harm, and for this rea-
son they are repelled and exorcised. The optimistic attitude represents more
or less the opposite: Spirits can still be harmful and dangerous, but they are
invoked and summoned deliberately in order to benefit the summoner.
The negative attitude is prevalent in the treatises that are close to natural
magic. In Kyranides, demons are mentioned approximately ten times, usually
as something harmful from which one must be protected. The root of the erin-
gius (eryngo), for example, protects humans from the deceits of demons, and a
twig of ramnos (buckthorn) expels demons from a house.22 In another example,
an evanthus stone carved with the image of the goddess Venus and attached to
the root of eruca (perhaps colewort or rucola) together with the tongue of a
nightingale creates a talisman that not only makes its bearer beloved, well-
known and sweet-voiced, but also expels men, demons and beasts.23

Invoking and Summoning Spirits

The Hermetic manuals speak more often of summoning and controlling

demons than of repelling them. This can be seen in the De XV stellis. Each
of its Latin versions mentions demons in almost exactly the same location.
The biggest difference is that the De XV stellis of Hermes ascribes the force
that affects the demons to stones, while the other versions ascribe it to ritually
manufactured rings. The stone (crystal) or ring of the second star (Pleiades),
for example, has the power to bring together demons and spirits of the dead,
assemble the winds, obtain knowledge and reveal secrets. The virtues of the
ring of the eighth star can, among other things, both attract and repel demons:

The eighth star is Alpha Corvi...Its nature is Saturnian and Martian.

It has plentiful various bad meanings and is full of everything malevo-
lent.... The stone of this star is onichius [probably onyx]; its colour is

22 Delatte, Textes latins, pp. 43, 76.

23 Delatte, Textes latins, p. 41. In the Greek text, however, the talisman makes its bearer
popular among men, gods and daimons, and repels only beasts. (Waegeman, Amulet and
alphabet, p. 41.) The divergence from the Latin tradition might be caused by an error or
perhaps represents a deliberate adaptation.
Demons, Illness, and Spiritual Aids 299

black, and sometimes it is striped like a hoof. Its virtue is to make a man
furious, brave, inconsiderate and ineloquent. It can also make demons to
flee or bring them together whenever it wants.24

As this story from Enochs version continues, if a leaf or a root of the herb of
the star, sorrel (lapatia) and the tongue of a frog are placed under the onyx
stone in a ring, then the ring will be very powerful indeed against enemies,
demons and malevolent winds. Ultimately, the ring should be decorated
with the image of a black man, a black raven or a snake wearing black clothes.
The same anti-demonic virtues appear again later. The stone (or ring) of the
thirteenth star expels demons and those of the fourteenth star can horrify
demons (in Hermes version) or affect spiritual beings in general (in the other
Although the three Latin versions of the text differ slightly from each other
in their attitude to demons (the version attributed to Hermes is the most nega-
tive), both protective and utilitarian viewpoints are present in the De XV stellis
tradition. Demons are, in general, connected to harmful and evil planets and
are mentioned together with the adversaries of mankind, and they are clearly
seen as a potential danger. Yet, for one reason or another, they are also sum-
moned intentionally.
Other sources offer more cases in which demons or other spiritual beings
are summoned, invoked or prayed to in order to derive benefits. The two horo-
logical Hermetic treatises mentioned above identify the propitious moments
for collaborating with demonic or spiritual beings. According to De imaginibus
et horis, the first hour of the day of Venus is suitable for love affairs, the sec-
ond hour for works of Mercury, and the third hour for works of the Moon and
for operating with demons.26 De viginti quattuor horis makes two references to
demons. The first hour of the night is dedicated to colloquia of demons and
is a propitious moment for making images and conjuring spirits for works of
silence and love. During the fourth hour of the night, the spirits of the dead
and demons roam the streets and, disguised as wind, shadow, goat or dog,
tempt human beings. This hour is said to be appropriate for making talismans

24 Delatte, 1942, 282283. Octava stella est Ala Corvi [sic].. et est de natura Saturni et Martis.
Et habet multas malas significationes et est plena omni malo....Lapis conveniens stellae
est onichius [sic], et Color eius est niger et aliquando virgulatus sicut ungula. Virtus eius
est facere hominem iratum et audacem et pravum cogitantem et loquentem malum; et
fagit fugere daemones et eos congregat quando vult.
25 Delatte, Textes latins, pp. 259, 262, 264, 279, 283, and 28586. BML 89.39, fols. 1r3r.
26 B NFC II.iii.214, fol. 9v. Lucentini & Perrone Compagni, I testi e i codici, pp. 6466.
300 Ockenstrm

and for conjuring up hatred, but it is also a time against [the] afore-mentioned
The horological texts in question generate a classical vision of shadowy
ghosts wandering about at night and, disguised as animals, tempting mankind,
but they also contain the aspect of summoning demons for collaboration.
Unfortunately, both the De XV stellis texts and the horological texts are meagre
in their accounts, and they seldom offer specific explanations for why demons,
which are largely seen as a potential danger, are summoned. The reference to
gaining knowledge and revealing secrets in De XV stellis might, however, indi-
cate that demons were used as intermediaries for transmitting information.
There are also other sources in which demons are summoned for this particu-
lar reason, as we shall see in the next section.

Consulting Spirits

Asking questions and receiving answers seems to have been one of the most
common reasons for summoning the spirits. For example, the second ring of
Saturn in De imaginibus sive annulis septem planetarum28 attracts spirits (spiri-
tus) to an uninhabited building29 with the help of ritual candles, conjurations
and prayers. After three days and nights of rituals, the spirits should appear on
the third night and answer any questions that are asked. The anonymous De
imaginibus (BML 89.38) places angels and spirits parallel to one another and
connects both to the planets by following rather strictly the conventions of
astrological magic:

If you seek advice from someone: Make an image of tin or copper,

Aquarius ascending, the Moon being in Cancer, in the hour of Saturn,
under the name of its [Saturns] spirit or angel, with the names of Jupiter
and his characters, and put it under your head when you sleep.30

27 Lucentini, Lermetisto magico nel secolo XIII, p. 443.

28 B NCF, II.iii.214, fol. 26rv. Lucentini & Perrone Compagni, I testi e i codici, pp. 5961.
29 The building has equivalents in ritual magic, for example, in a treatise called Idea
Salomonis. This might, however, be an isolated exception rather than a sign of the general
amalgamation of the traditions. De imaginibus sive annulis septem planetarum and Idea
Salomonis are located in succession in the Florentine manuscript Biblioteca Nazionale
Centrale II.iii.214, 26rv and 26v29v. See also Pingree 1994, 45.
30 B ML, plut. 89.38, fol. 4r.
Demons, Illness, and Spiritual Aids 301

A bit later, De imaginibus shows how to consult evil shadows (Ut habeas
responsum a malis umbris): The person thirsting for knowledge is instructed
to make an image of the astrological sign for Cancer, inscribe the characters of
the Sun and the Moon thereon, and throw the talisman into the sea. Soon he
or she will see monstrous things and receive answers without fear.31 The Latin
Picatrix (3.11.91) gives still creepier advice: Make a bag out of a human heart;
fill it with the blood of three different persons; heat it in a fire; call the demons,
and they will respond.
Cases of demonic consultation seem to follow roughly the same guidelines.
On every occasion, spirits are attracted with numerous instruments, includ-
ing the means of using 1) astrological magic (invocation of heavenly bodies,
astrological images), 2) natural magic and sympathetic magic (elemental
things, heating) and 3) ritual magic (ritual spaces, candles, prayers, sacrifices).
The process seems to be based on mere persuasion without commands or con-
jurations, and it seems that the demons and spirits are rather free to decide
whether they appear.

Commanding Spirits: Curse Formulas

Sometimes innocent persuasion or bribery was not deemed to be enough,

especially in cases when the operator sought to provoke mental disturbances
or illness in another person rather than simply consult the demons. The Latin
Picatrix contains several formulas for commanding demons by means of natu-
ral magic in order to curse someone. In the third book, the author cites a book
called Hedeytoz that, as he claims, was written by Hermes Trismegistus and
gives four formulas for manipulating a victims mind. One of these formulas
mentions demons in the context of mental disorders. It advises mixing the
brains of a hawk, a cat and a mouse with sulphur and myrrh, then burning
the mixture with the excrement of a crane. When the fume of this sacrificial
pyre enters a persons nostrils, it will cause the victim to become possessed by
demons, and consequently, the pers