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by Archaeology Newsroom

Another “Wretched Subject”: The Demons of the World

Here I continue the article “The Wretched Subject” of Greek Magic” of the previous fascicle (Αρχαιολογία 70 [Mar. 1999], 8-11), in which I urged that magical texts are an important but often neglected source for the history of ideas. In the present article I offer another example: The information that these texts give about traditional beliefs concerning the “cosmology” of demons. Early magical papyri, Christian exorcisms, and a Byzantine dialogue about satanism assume that the world was divided into six areas, from the Empyrean down to the center of the Earth, and that certain demons govern each area. The tradition of this six-fold division, it is speculated here, may go back to the pre-Socratic philosopher Empedokles.