Tablets in Ancient Grave Placed an Odd Curse

Greek curse-writer targeted owners of taverns
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 4, 2016 4:26 PM CDT
Tablets in Ancient Grave Placed Ominous Curse
The Parthenon under restoration in 2008.   (Wikimedia Commons)

Talk about holding a grudge. Five lead tablets buried in the grave of a young Greek woman about 2,400 years ago bear curses against four tavern-keepers in Athens, LiveScience reports. Apparently, burying the tablets was thought to put the curses closer to gods who could fulfill them. "Cast your hate upon Phanagora and Demetrios and their tavern and their property and their possessions," reads one, against a husband-and-wife pair of tavern owners. The curse-writer then threatens to put Demetrios "in such a bind ... as strong as possible," and "smite down a kynotos on [your] tongue." Now Jessica Lamont, who teaches at John Hopkins University, has written about the 2003 find in an academic journal—and casts light on the phrase "kynotos on [your] tongue."

Meaning "dog's ear," the kynotos was used in gambling as "the name for the lowest possible throw of dice," says Lamont. "By striking Demetrios' tongue with this condemningly unlucky roll, the curse reveals that local taverns were not just sociable watering holes, but venues ripe for gambling and other unsavory activities in Classical Athens." Lamont says someone "in the world of the tavern" may have hired a professional curse-writer to place the tablets—which are pierced by an iron nail—into the grave so that "chthonic" (or underworld) gods would act on them. A 1,700-year-old lead curse tablet found in a Roman mansion in Jerusalem is no less ominous: "I strike and strike down and nail down the tongue, the eyes, the wrath, the ire, the anger, the procrastination, the opposition of [curse target] Iennys," it reads, per a 2013 article in Discovery. (More curse stories.)

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