Did You Sleep Ok?

Contemporaneous with any number of erotic epigrams collected in the Greek Anthology are the spells, rituals, and hymns of the Magic Papyri from Greco-Roman Egypt.

As these examples show, the epigrams and magic spells sometimes have nearly identical concerns: disrupting the beloved’s sleep or manipulating her dreams. Both epigram and magic spell seem a form of consolation for the frustrations of unrequited love.  Yet I think it can be said of the epigram that it disciplines the sentiment with meter. 

The magic spell, in contrast, seems an ongoing and futile acting-out. Also, the magic spell has this contradictory character: the lover bewitched by the beloved’s natural charms (her beauty, mind, character, or what have you) must resort to the supernatural to bewitch her in turn. The supernatural might represent awesome power, but its invocation underscores the insufficiency, the relative poverty, of the lover’s own means (his beauty, mind, character, or what have you). And of course the lover’s overvaluation of the beloved is also on display: he thinks only the gods are a match for her! 

Magic‌ ‌Spell‌ ‌to‌ ‌Appear‌ ‌in‌ ‌Dreams‌ ‌(PMG.‌ ‌VII.407-10)‌ ‌

If‌ ‌you‌ ‌wish‌ ‌to‌ ‌appear‌ ‌to‌ ‌someone‌ ‌during‌ ‌the‌ ‌night‌ ‌in‌ ‌dreams,‌ ‌say‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌lamp‌ ‌which‌ ‌is‌ ‌lit‌ ‌
everyday,‌ ‌and‌ ‌say‌ ‌it‌ ‌often:‌ ‌“Let‌ ‌such-and-such‌ ‌woman,‌ ‌whom‌ ‌such-and-such‌ ‌bore,‌ ‌ ‌
see‌ ‌me‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌sleep—now!‌ ‌now!‌ ‌quick!‌ ‌quick!”‌ ‌ ‌


Meleager‌ ‌(Greek‌ ‌Anthology‌ ‌5.174)‌ ‌ ‌

You’re‌ ‌asleep,‌ ‌Zenophila,‌ ‌soft‌ ‌flower.‌ ‌ ‌
Now,‌ ‌if‌ ‌only‌ ‌I‌ ‌were‌ ‌wingless‌ ‌Sleep‌ ‌
Penetrating‌ ‌your‌ ‌eyelids,‌ ‌stopping‌ ‌him‌ ‌
Who‌ ‌charms‌ ‌even‌ ‌Zeus‌ ‌from‌ ‌visiting‌ ‌you.‌ ‌ ‌
Then‌ ‌I‌ ‌alone‌ ‌would‌ ‌possess‌ ‌you.‌ ‌

Magic‌ ‌Spell‌ ‌to‌ ‌Cause‌ ‌Sleeplessness‌ ‌(PMG‌ ‌XII.‌ ‌376-380)‌ ‌

Taking‌ ‌a‌ ‌live‌ ‌bat‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌right‌ ‌wing,‌ ‌write‌ ‌with‌ ‌myrrh‌ ‌the‌ ‌figure‌ ‌below.‌ ‌On‌ ‌the‌ ‌left‌ ‌wing‌ ‌
engrave‌ ‌the‌ ‌7‌ ‌names‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌god‌ ‌and‌ ‌also‌ ‌this:‌ ‌“Let‌ ‌such-and-such‌ ‌woman‌ ‌whom‌ ‌
such-and-such‌ ‌bore‌ ‌be‌ ‌sleepless‌ ‌until‌ ‌she‌ ‌consents.”‌ ‌And‌ ‌with‌ ‌that,‌ ‌release‌ ‌the‌ ‌bat‌ ‌
again‌ ‌.‌ ‌.‌ ‌.and‌ ‌she‌ ‌will‌ ‌die‌ ‌from‌ ‌sleeplessness‌ ‌within‌ ‌7‌ ‌days.‌ ‌ ‌


Callimachus‌ ‌(Greek‌ ‌Anthology‌ ‌5.23)‌ ‌

May‌ ‌you‌ ‌sleep,‌ ‌Conopium,‌ ‌just‌ ‌as‌ ‌you‌ ‌ ‌
Make‌ ‌me‌ ‌sleep‌ ‌at‌ ‌your‌ ‌cold‌ ‌doorstep.‌ ‌
May‌ ‌you‌ ‌sleep,‌ ‌unjust‌ ‌woman,‌ ‌just‌ ‌as‌ ‌you‌ ‌ ‌
Make‌ ‌the‌ ‌man‌ ‌who‌ ‌loves‌ ‌you‌ ‌sleep.‌ ‌ ‌
Even‌ ‌in‌ ‌your‌ ‌dreams‌ ‌you’re‌ ‌a‌ ‌stranger‌ ‌to‌ ‌mercy.‌ ‌
The‌ ‌neighbors‌ ‌show‌ ‌compassion,‌ ‌but‌ ‌you,‌ ‌
Not‌ ‌even‌ ‌in‌ ‌your‌ ‌dreams.‌ ‌ ‌
But,‌ ‌soon‌ ‌enough‌ ‌grey‌ ‌hair‌ ‌will‌ ‌remind‌ ‌you‌ ‌
Of‌ ‌all‌ ‌this.‌ ‌

Magic‌ ‌Spell‌ ‌to‌ ‌Appear‌ ‌in‌ ‌Dreams‌ ‌(PMG.‌ ‌VII.407-10)‌ ‌

     ᾿Εάν τινι ἐθέλῃς [ἐ]μφανῆναι διὰ νυκτὸς ἐν ὀνείροις, λέγε πρὸς τὸν λύχνον τὸν καθημερινόν, λέγε πολλάκις· ‘χειαμωψει: ερπεβωθ: ἰδέτω με ἡ δεῖνα, ἣν ἡ δεῖνα, ἐν τοῖς  ὕπνοις, ἤδη ἤδη, ταχὺ ταχύ.’ καὶ κοινά, ὅσ’ ἂν βούλῃ.

(note:‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌excluded‌ ‌the‌ ‌indecipherable‌ ‌magic‌ ‌words‌ ‌with‌ ‌which‌ ‌the‌ ‌incantation‌ ‌begins)‌ ‌ ‌

Meleager‌ ‌5.174‌ ‌

εὕδεις‌,‌ ‌‌Ζηνοφίλα‌,‌ ‌‌τρυφερὸν‌‌ ‌‌θάλος‌.‌ ‌‌εἴθ᾽‌‌ ‌‌ἐπὶ‌‌ ‌‌σοὶ‌‌ ‌‌νῦν‌ ‌ ‌
ἄπτερος‌‌ ‌‌εἰσῄεινὝπνος‌‌ ‌‌ἐπὶ‌‌ ‌‌βλεφάροις‌,‌ ‌ ‌
ὡς‌‌ ‌‌ἐπὶ‌‌ ‌‌σοὶ‌‌ ‌‌μηδ᾽‌‌ ‌‌οὗτος‌,‌ ‌‌ὁ‌‌ ‌‌καὶ‌‌ ‌‌Διὸς‌‌ ‌‌ὄμματα‌‌ ‌‌θέλγων‌,‌ ‌ ‌
φοιτήσαι‌,‌ ‌‌κάτεχον‌‌ ‌‌δ᾽‌‌ ‌‌αὐτὸς‌‌ ‌‌ἐγώ‌‌ ‌‌σε‌‌ ‌‌μόνος‌.‌ ‌ ‌

Magic‌ ‌Spell‌ ‌to‌ ‌Cause‌ ‌Sleeplessness‌ ‌(PMG‌ ‌XII.‌ ‌376-380)‌ ‌

‌᾿Αγρυπνητικόν.‌ ‌λαβὼν‌ ‌νυκτερίδαν‌ ‌ζῶσαν‌ ‌ἐπὶ‌ ‌τῆς‌ ‌δεξιᾶς‌ ‌πτέρυγος‌ ‌ζωγράφησον‌ ‌ζμύρνῃ‌ ‌τὸ‌ ‌ὑποκείμενον‌ ‌ζῴδιον,‌ ‌ἐπὶ‌ ‌τῆς‌ ‌ἀριστερᾶς‌ ‌τὰ‌ ‌ζ′‌ ‌ὀνόματα‌ ‌κατάγραψον‌ ‌θεοῦ‌ ‌καὶ‌ ‌ὅτι·‌ ‌‘ἀγρυπνείτω‌ ‌ἡ‌ ‌δεῖνα,‌ ‌ἣν‌ ‌δεῖνα,‌ ‌ἕως‌ ‌συνφωνήσῃ.’‌ ‌καὶ‌ ‌οὕτως‌ ‌αὖ‌ ‌αὐτὴν‌ ‌ ἀπόλυσον.‌ ‌ἐν‌ ‌ἀποκρούσει‌ ‌δὲ‌ ‌αὐτὸ‌ ‌ἀποτέλει‌ ‌τριταίας‌ ‌οὔσης‌ ‌τῆς‌ ‌θεοῦ,‌ ‌καὶ‌ ‌ἄυπνος‌ ‌τελευτήσει‌ ‌μὴ‌ ‌διαμηκύνασα‌ ‌ἡμέρας‌ ‌ζ′.‌ ‌ ‌

Callimachus‌ ‌5.23‌ ‌

οὕτως‌‌ ‌‌ὑπνώσαις‌,‌ ‌‌Κωνώπιον‌,‌ ‌‌ὡς‌‌ ‌‌ἐμὲ‌‌ ‌‌ποιεῖς‌ ‌ ‌
κοιμᾶσθαι‌‌ ‌‌ψυχροῖς‌‌ ‌‌τοῖσδε‌‌ ‌‌παρὰ‌‌ ‌‌προθύροις‌ ‌ ‌
οὕτως‌‌ ‌‌ὑπνώσαις‌,‌ ‌‌ἀδικωτάτη‌,‌ ‌‌ὡς‌‌ ‌‌τὸν‌‌ ‌‌ἐραστὴν‌ ‌ ‌
κοιμίζεις‌:‌ ‌‌ἐλέου‌‌ ‌‌δ᾽‌‌ ‌‌οὐδ᾽‌‌ ‌‌ὄναρ‌‌ ‌‌ἠντίασας‌.‌ ‌ ‌
γείτονες‌‌ ‌‌οἰκτείρουσι‌:‌ ‌‌σὺ‌‌ ‌‌δ᾽‌‌ ‌‌οὐδ᾽‌‌ ‌‌ὄναρ‌‌ ‌.‌ ‌‌ἡ‌‌ ‌‌πολιὴ‌‌ ‌‌δὲ‌ ‌ ‌
αὐτίκ᾽‌‌ ‌‌ἀναμνήσει‌‌ ‌‌ταῦτά‌‌ ‌‌σε‌‌ ‌‌πάντα‌‌ ‌‌κόμη‌.‌ ‌

Helen Van Meene. #151. Untitled.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

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