A DORIC GREEK INSCRIBED LEAD CURSE TABLET
CIRCA 5TH CENTURY B.C.
A dramatic invocation of divine intervention to disrupt judicial court proceedings in the Greek Classical era.
97 x 67 mm. Of roughly rectangular form, the tablet inscribed with ten lines of incised text with a curse relating to a legal process, with four clear fold lines.
(1) Private collection, Switzerland.
(2) Antiquities; Christie's, London, 7 July 1993, lot 38.
(3) Schøyen Collection, MS 1700.
The Greek inscription reads 'As Oltis, being at/going to telos, was destroyed, so let Rhaton fruitlessly plead, him and Kelon/Kaikelon both in words and deeds in court. As, fruitless, Oltis was destroyed being at/going to telos, so let Myskelos fruitlessly in court, both in words and deed in court. As Oltis, fruitless, was destroyed, so let Lepton fruitlessly plead. Nothing be accomplished in court'.
Curse tablets enjoyed enduring popularity in the Graeco-Roman world, from the second half of the 6th century B.C. to the late Roman Imperial period. Curses were often written on lead tablets which were then folded and placed at sites associated with the Underworld, such as sanctuaries of oracles or malevolent spirits. These tablets could be directed against one or more people, or a specific part of the body. For curses directed at participants in a trial — as with the present example — the tongues of the judicial opponent were targeted. Other common curses were invoked by victims of theft, envious lovers, and rival athletes.
These curses were often, and perhaps unsurprisingly, deposited under the guise of anonymity. Therefore, to read such a tablet is to be privy to 'myriad, one-sided, slanderous conversations, whispered across a distance of thousands of years' (E. Eidinow, Oracles, Curses, and Risk among the Ancient Greeks, Oxford, 2007, p.229).
D.R. Jordan, Una Nuova Defixio Dalla Sicilia, Schoyen Collection, London, 2014, p. 231-236.