A Sicilian Curse Tablet

Curse texts or defixiones are handwritten texts, often on thin plaques of lead, in which someone asks a god or demon to do evil to another person. The oldest known, very simple tablets are from Sicily and Sardinia and date back to the sixth century BCE; in the fifth century, they make their first appearance in Athens. From the fourth century BCE, they become increasingly complex and the practice of cursing becomes more widespread.

The following tablet was found near Gela on Sicily and dates back to the early fifth century. It is remarkable for its length, the relatively varied vocabulary, and the fact that the curser mentions his own name, Apellis. He condemns the rivals (in a contest of chorus leaders) of his homosexual lover: they may not be more successful than Eunikos. The fact that this curse was written for somebody else's sake makes it unique, and it is possible that it is not just a curse tablet, but also an attempt of one lover to gain attention of another.

The translation was made by Annelies Cazemier.



Apellis, because of lovenote for Eunikos. Let no one be more successful than Eunikos, or more loving, but let him praise both willingly and unwillingly and love. Because of love for Eunikos, I register all chorus leaders for failure in word and deed, and their children and fathers, and to futility both in the contest and outside the contests, all those who would leave me behind.

Kaledias I inscribe, away from Apellis, and all those there [lacuna] Sosias I inscribe, away from the tavern. Alkiadas because of love or Melanthios. Purrias, Musskelos, Damophantos, and [lacuna] I inscribe, away from their children and fathers, and all others who arrive here. Let no one be more successful with men or women than Eunikos.

Like this lead [lacuna], so let [lacuna] preserve victory for Eunikos always and everywhere. In lead I write this because of love for Eunikos.