Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Medieval Byzantine Magical Amulets And Their Tradition

Medieval Byzantine Magical Amulets And Their Tradition Cover

Book: Medieval Byzantine Magical Amulets And Their Tradition by Jeffrey Spier

A diverse yet distinctive group of Magical Amulets has periodically attracted the attention of scholars from Renaissance times to the present. The amulets take many forms, including engraved gems and cameos, enamel pendants,
die-struck bronze tokens, cast or engraved pendants of gold, silver, bronze, and lead, and rings of silver and bronze. All share a common motif-an enigmatic representation of a face from which radiates a varying number of serpents-and this device is usually accompanied by a Greek inscription, often abbreviated or blundered, beginning ('womb, black, blackening...'). The formula makes explicit that the amulets were meant to aid the 'hystera' (womb) in some way, but what is meant by hystera and what sort of aid is intended are in need of clarification. The identification of the image itself, the date and place of origin of the amulets, and the Magical Tradition to which they belong, are all controversial.

There appears to be little interest again in the group of Medieval Amulets until the 1800s. Comments on them appear sporadically until the end of the century, when several learned articles were written independently in both western Europe and Russia. The Russian articles derive both from an intense interest in Byzantine texts, including magical tracts, and from the use of similar amulets in medieval Russia. In the West a parallel interest in magical gems and amulets led to a brief article by Wilhelm Froehner, a study of a number of bronze and lead amulets by Gustave Schlumberger, and an important article by Wilhelm Drexler on a variety of magical amulets, gems, and texts and their survival in later European culture. A further gem, found in Poland in 1897, was published by the Byzantinist Vitalien Laurent, who expanded on Drexler's article, adding several unpublished lead examples.

Yet to date there has been no comprehensive survey of the amulets. Many of them have remained unpublished, a number of others are now lost, and no doubt more remain unnoticed in public and private collections. A catalogue of all the
pieces that have so far come to light is therefore included below, as Appendix I.

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