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Defining the Magical Practitioner in Antiquity

By Sarah Veale

[Snip] I’ve talked about the cultural contexts that surround the definition of magic in antiquity at my other blog, Invocatio. . . . While I may not draw a hard and fast line between religion and magic, others have attempted to define what separated magicians from their religious counterparts. I want to look at some of these categories and determine whether or not they are useful for analysing magic in antiquity. In many ways, these categories reflect the similarities between the two spheres rather than any specific differences.

1. The magician sought money and status.

This common criticism goes all the way back to Plato, who suggested in The Republic that “Beggar-priests and soothsayers knock on the doors of wealthy households and try to persuade the owners that…if anyone has an enemy he’d like them to hurt, then it will hardly cost anything to injure him” (Republic 364b-c). Juvenal, in the Roman period, also criticized the profit-motives of oracle mongers and the women who patronized them (Juvenal, Satires 6). If we look to ancient sources, it would be easy to suggest that the desire for money distinguished magic from religion.

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