BMCR 2014.05.12

Le tabellae defixionum osche. Ricerche sulle lingue di frammentaria attestazione, 8

, Le tabellae defixionum osche. Ricerche sulle lingue di frammentaria attestazione, 8. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2013. 259. ISBN 9788862276139 €84.00 (pb).

Table of Contents

This volume offers a new edition of the Oscan defixiones, also known in English as “curse tablets”. The corpus consists of thirteen Oscan defixiones, dated between the fourth and early first century BC: five in the “national” Oscan alphabet, one in the Latin alphabet, and seven in the Greek alphabet. The volume is arranged geographically by findspot, working more or less north to south (Campania, Samnium, Lucania, Bruttium). Murano also includes one further curse with Greek morphology but Oscan onomastics and archaeological context (her #10). One tablet of uncertain language from Gela, Sicily, is excluded.

The discussion of the texts is framed by a brief introduction and conclusion. Murano’s introduction notes that the ever- growing body of work on ancient magic has, as yet, failed to take into account the material in languages other than Latin and Greek. The need to integrate the Oscan material with, in particular, the contemporary material written in Greek, runs through her work, though the main focus is always the texts themselves and the past scholarship. The conclusion concisely draws a number of these strands together, and gives a brief discussion of onomastic, stylistic and sociolinguistic evidence found in the curse texts, including hints of poetic and legal style, and evidence for Oscan/Greek and Oscan/Latin diglossia at different sites. Murano also demonstrates how the Oscan curse formulae fit into the four- part classification devised by Faraone.1 This final chapter emphasises that although Oscan curses represent less than one percent of the total corpus of ancient defixiones, they are among the earliest in any language, and show clear evidence of interaction with Greek and Roman magical practices.

The focus of the central part of the volume, which constitutes the majority of this work, is on the texts themselves. For each tablet, Murano gives an exhaustive bibliography, an explanation of the archaeological context, details of the history of the study of the text, an analysis of the epigraphy and state of conversation, and a reading of the text with complete apparatus. The texts are not translated as such, but difficulties of meaning are dealt with in detailed sections on the interpretation of each text. All readings are supported by photographs and drawings at the back of the volume; where the current state of preservation is considerably worse than when previous editions were produced, both recent and older photographs are provided for comparison. A map of the relevant sites is also included. Not all of the texts have been seen by Murano personally, but where autopsy was not possible she has relied on detailed recent photographs and the autopsies of other scholars.

This volume has a number of strengths. The first is its completeness in listing the rich bibliography on these texts. Also to be commended is the detail of the photos of drawings, which surpasses any other edition of these texts (including the recent Imagines Italicae edition). Murano has set out to give a detailed and exhaustive account of the scholarship on each text, not only in terms of the bibliography, but also in drawing out the threads of arguments across many decades. This she does very successfully, and as a result this is by far the most complete account of the Oscan curse tablets and their scholarship yet published.

However, it should be noted that Murano’s desire to cover as much of the past scholarship as possible has resulted in a considerable weighting towards the curse tablets found in the nineteenth century; much less is said about those discovered in recent years. The 75 pages spent on the curse of Vibia (Capua, #2), for example, contain many arguments that have been superseded. The same is true of #8, from Laos – it is very difficult to see how the names on this tablet should be grouped together, but there seems to be little gained by listing every single past attempt at a reading. The reader must also read right to the end of each defixio ’s entry to find out about the current state of the scholarship.

In general, Murano summarises the arguments of previous scholars even-handedly, but there are times when she argues strongly for a particular reading. In one or two cases, this causes some difficulties. To give one example, in her discussion of the curse tablet from Petelia (#13) she argues strongly for Poccetti’s reading, seeing the names in –o and – ω as Doric Greek genitives. This causes a number of problems, not least that the names in the nominative have Oscan morphology, and that there are no comparanda in curse tablets of any language for switching between the nominative and the genitive in this way in a list of names. The solution offered by Crawford, that the names in –o and –ω are feminine (final -ō < *-ā), is mentioned but quickly dismissed.2 Murano’s objection is that this does not explain the alternation between the two vowels, but she herself states (p193) that the orthography used for /ŏ/ and /ō/ is inconsistent in this inscription (on the issue of vowel orthography in Oscan, see also the work of Nicholas Zair3). She also offers little evidence to support the idea, which she accepts, that the sequence <τρεδω αυδαδο> should be considered as voces magicae (magical words used in curse tablets), rather than another personal name. In her discussion of her #8, from Laos, she recaps the argument of her 2006 article that the section in the right-hand margin was written first; it should be noted that this has not been accepted by other scholars.4

An index of words and an index of personal names are provided, which reference both the inscription and line number but also, if relevant, pages where the term or name is discussed. These are a welcome addition, though I would question the wisdom of providing yet another numbering system for these texts. Most scholars of Italic languages are now accustomed to using the numbering of the Vetter edition (with Poccetti’s supplement) or the Rix edition;5 and the recent Imagines Italicae edition provides yet another possible system.6 If one of these existing systems had been used, the book would be marginally easier to use, at least in terms of comparisons to other editions.

However, these minor considerations do not detract from the clear value of this work. The volume is generally well- produced, and the small number of errors (listed below) does not detract from its overall quality. It is an extremely scholarly piece of work, while still maintaining an admirable clarity and general user-friendliness; therefore it will doubtless become a central reference work for those interested in curse tablets or Oscan epigraphy.

Below I list some minor errors and difficulties:

The date of text #1 (Capua) is given as late C2nd to C1st, making it the most recent curse tablet; note that Crawford gives the date as third century in his edition.7

Murano states that “La defixio n.4 è l’unica del corpus osco ad essere incise con alfabeto latino.” To clarify, this is the only Oscan-language curse tablet in the Latin alphabet, not the only Oscan inscription of any kind in the Latin alphabet. A number of inscriptions in the corpus use the Latin alphabet, most famously the Tabula Bantina, a legal text.

The editio princeps of the curse tablet from Roccagloriosa (#7) is credited to Poccetti (1990); this item is not listed in the bibliography. Poccetti (1990) refers in fact to Poccetti’s contributions to Gualtieri (1990) rather than a separate publication.8

Defixio #7 is also discussed in Poccetti (2010).9

In the conclusion, Murano states “la defixio osco-greca n. 7 presenta una linea di scrittura inintelligibile che può essere interpretata come vox magica.” There is no previous mention of any vox magica in #7, the curse from Roccagloriosa. This is perhaps a misprint for #8 (Laos) or #13 (Petelia), where the possibility of voces magicae is mentioned. However, it should be noted that voces magicae are by no means universally recognised in these texts either.

While in general the photographs and drawings are helpful, two (Table 11 and 12, showing two curses from Laos) are very low-quality. For higher-resolution copies of these drawings, see the original publication (Poccetti 2000), or Imagines Italicae.10

The bibliography incorrectly lists La Regina (2002) “La formula onomastica osca in Lucania e nel Bruzio” as La Regina (1975).

There are a number of misspellings of English quotations and terms, including “plaubible” for “plausible” (p189 n.2) and “preyer formula” for “prayer formula” (on half a dozen occasions, p204-206). English titles in the bibliography are not correctly capitalised (e.g. names of languages are habitually left in lower case).


1. The four categories are: binding formulae, prayer formula, wish formulae and similia similibus formulae. Christopher Faraone (1991) “The agonistic context of early Greek binding spells”, in C. Faraone and D. Obbink (eds.) Magika Hiera. Ancient Greek Magic and Religion. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press: 3-32.

2. Michael Crawford et al. (2011) Imagines Italicae. London: Institute of Classical Studies: 1475-1477.

3. Nicholas Zair (2013) “Individualism in ‘Osco-Greek’ orthography”, in E-M. Wagner, B. Outhwaite and B. Beinhoff (eds.), Scribes as Agents of Language Change. Berlin: De Gruyter: 217-226; Nicholas Zair (forthcoming) Oscan in the Greek Alphabet.

4. Francesca Murano (2006) “Proposta per una diversa successione del testo della defixio di Marcellina”, Studi Etruschi 72: 349-352; Michael Crawford et al. (2011) 1344-1347.

5. Emil Vetter (1953) Handbuch der italischen Dialekte. Heidelberg: C. Winter; Paolo Poccetti (1979) Nuovi documenti italici: A complemento del Manuale di E. Vetter. Pisa: Giardini; Helmut Rix (2002) Sabellische Texte. Die Texte des Oskischen, Umbrischen und Südpikenischen. Heidelberg: C. Winter.

6. Crawford et al. (2011). Concordances between these previous numbering systems and that used by Murano are as follows:Murano #1; Vetter #4; Rix Cp 36; Crawford Capua 33. Murano #2; Vetter #6; Rix Cp 37; Crawford Capua 34. Murano #3; Vetter #5; Rix Cm 14; Crawford Cumae 8. Murano #4; Vetter #7; Rix Cm 15; Crawford Cumae 10. Murano #5; Vetter #3; Rix Cm 13; Crawford Cumae 9. Murano #6; Rix Sa 36; Crawford Bovianum 98. Murano #7; Rix Lu 45; Crawford Buxentum 3. Murano #8; Rix Lu 46; Crawford Laos 2. Murano #9; Rix Lu 63; Crawford Laos 3. Murano #10; Crawford Laos 4. Murano #11; Rix Lu 47; Crawford Thurii Copia 1. Murano #12; Poccetti 189a; Rix Lu 44; Crawford Crimisa 3. Murano #13; Crawford Petelia 2. Murano #14; Poccetti 190; Rix Lu 43; Crawford Teuranus Ager 1.

7. Crawford et al. (2011) 441.

8. Maurizio Gualtieri (1990) “Laminetta di piombo con iscrizione dal complesso A”, in M. Gualtieri and H. Fracchia (eds.) Roccagloriosa I. L’abito, scavo e ricognizione topografica (1976-1986). Naples: Jean Bérard: 137-150

9. Paolo Poccetti (2010) “Contacts et échanges technologiques en Italie méridionale: langues et écritures au cours du IVe siècle av. J.-C. ”, in H. Tréziny (ed.) Grecs et indigènes de la Catalogne à la Mer Noire. Errance: Centre Camille Jullian: 659-678.

10. Paolo Poccetti (2000) “Due tabellae defixionis osco-greche dalla Calabria nel museo archeologico di Napoli”, in G. Paci (ed.) Epigraphai: miscellanea epigrafica in onore di Lidio Gasperini. Tivoli: Tipigraf: 745-771; Crawford et al. (2011) 1348-1351.