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Emperors Accused

A Study OF Accusations OF Necromancy In The Late Republic and the Early Empire

By Joris Jehle

The sun went down, and all the paths across the sea were in darkness. (…)After praying to the nation of the dead and making my vows to them, I took the sheep and cut off their heads over the ditch in such a way that the dark blood dripped into it. From the depths of Erebus flocked the souls of the dead, the deceased (…). They all crowded around the trench, coming from different directions, and their wailing was weird. The fear that makes one pale overwhelmed me. (…) And the soul of Tiresias came, holding a sceptre of gold. (…) I drew back and pushed my sword with the silver hilt into its scabbard. The great seer drank the dark blood and then said to me: “You have come, Odysseus, in order to be told about a pleasant way home?”

Thus opens the necromantic scene in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus, with the help of the witch Circe, calls upon the dead seer Tiresias to learn from him the way home. Many important elements of this scene can also be traced in later accounts of necromantic rites: the dark and misty scenery, the full moon, the pit, the sacrifice of black animals, praying to the gods of the underworld, the horror of their wailing and appearance, the request of an unduly buried to be put to earth properly, the telling of the future by the dead. But, obviously, also the notion that the soul is separated from the body after death, and the converging or overlapping spheres of the dead and the living: the pit brings Odysseus closer to the underworld, the still warm blood brings some life back into the souls of the dead. And essentially, even the ghosts of our contemporary stories have the same characteristics.

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(H/T History of the Ancient World)

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