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by Archaeology Newsroom

Magic, amulets and Circe

Two elements are discernible in the persona of Homer’s Circe, the first witch in western literature. First, the magical image of the naked goddess an α Mistress of Animals who combines sexuality with danger. The inspiration behind this image most probably came to Greece from the Near East in the form of amulets or images engraved on weapons. Secondly, the ritual practices of anti-social magic determine her actions: she gives the wrong food, more appropriate for the dead than for the living, she uses a wand, and she dispenses poisons (pharmaka). And yet, this anti-social witch is capable of turning into a helper, once her sexuality is “domesticated” by a man. It is a significant point in the Circe’s story of the Odyssey that she is transformed from a dangerous adversary to a helper and sees Odysseus safely through his most threatening adventure, namely the descent into the underworld. Circe the sorceress becomes the protector of Odysseus and his men. In other words, she herself assumes the function of the apotropaic amulet. The interaction of ritual, magical amulets and texts produced a story, the unforgettable literary merits of which we owe to the poet of the Odyssey.