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27.4.Jahn

This paper presents a detailed overview of an in-progress database of Greek and Latin curse tablets (defixiones). Despite recent advances in the study of Graeco-Roman curse magic, there is still no complete printed corpus or online database of this material. Scholars interested in defixiones are still bound to use the printed editions and their indices. Wünsch (1897), Audollent (1904), Solin (1968), and Jordan (1985; 2000) are the most important collections, but they do not cover recent scholarship. Several source readers (Tomlin 1988; Gager 1992; Luck 2006; Ogden 2009) and works on different aspects of ancient magic (Tremel 2004; Eidinow 2007; Kropp 2008) may provide new materials and alternative readings, but once again coverage is not comprehensive. Complete translations can likewise be difficult to access. Perhaps most problematically, a systematic search for and of the tablets is essentially impossible.

Online searches for curse tablets garner poor results. The Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents at Oxford University hosts a page listing a mere 27 defixiones from Britain (http://curses.csad.ox.ac.uk/index.shtml), while only 115 curse tablets are included in the Epigraphische Datenbank Heidelberg (http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/institute/sonst/adw/edh/). Further material can be found in articles available online, but again, as with print sources, systematic search is impossible. There is an electronic reference work (Kropp 2008) that contains all Latin defixiones. The user must overcome two hurdles in order to make use of the material, however: obtaining a physical copy of the database on CD-ROM and finding and installing an outdated version of the program FileMaker. Without FileMaker, the user is left with a PDF file and, consequently, with limited search options.

In contrast, the new project presented in this paper is an online database with multiple search options, allowing combined searches and text search in Greek, in Latin, and in translation. The database furthermore contains an extended bibliography and a concordance. It is projected to encompass all curse tablets that survive with a fairly comprehensible text—about 1000 tablets in total. Extensive information is provided for each tablet. First, there is the text itself in three versions: a critical text with markup consistent with the Leiden conventions, a more reader-friendly text, and a translation. An image is uploaded, if one of sufficient quality is available. Furthermore, a full list of bibliographical references is included at the end of each entry. Thereby a bibliographical record is provided and different readings or opinions about one defixio can be presented. Unfortunately, many curse tablets are still not translated, so they are largely inaccessible for non-classicists, although new projects like the bilingual source reader presented in paper #4 can help solve this problem. When completed, this online database will provide a basic translation of all binding curses.

In addition to the text and the physical description of each defixio, the database will offer an analysis of the textual content and assist in answering a great variety of questions. The database possesses search capability for such keywords as the names of persons, gods, goddesses, and demons involved; the type of the curse; and the formulas of the curse itself. Such commentary enables further conclusions concerning the development, spread, and usages of binding curses in the ancient world.

Finally, because it is based on programming in PHP and MySQL, the database is open to technical improvements and its content can easily be updated online. New discoveries of tablets and new scholarly work can, for the first time since Audollent (1904), be included in an all-encompassing collection of defixiones, and the whole genre will be much more easily accessible to both specialists and non-specialists alike.

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