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Dossier : Serments et paroles efficaces

Dossier : Serments et paroles efficaces

At the Limits of Efficacious Speech: The Performance and Audience of Self-Curses in Ancient Near Eastern and Greek Oaths

Christopher A. Faraone


Cet article examine quelques cas extraordinaires dans lesquels les malédictions réflexives verbales habituellement associées aux serments et aux vœux semblent n’avoir pas suffi à rendre le langage stable et fiable et dans lesquels les participants se sont senti obligés d’ajouter des rituels dramatiques non verbaux, dans un double but : intensifier les effets de ces malédictions sur le public, en implicant le regard et le toucher ; inclure un plus grand nombre de participants — y compris femmes et enfants — dans le rituel lui-même. C’est aux limites mêmes de la parole efficace, me semble-t-il, que nous pouvons comprendre pourquoi des malédictions réflexives purement verbales pouvaient suffire dans la plupart des serments, et dans quelles circonstances le pouvoir de la parole efficace devait être renforcé.

Texte intégral

1The focus of this volume is on how ancient cultures used efficacious speech-acts — especially in vows and oaths — to render language stable and dependable and in the process to construct or maintain social, religious and legal order. The foregoing essays suggest that this formulation is generally correct for the ancient world, but in order to understand better why this is so, I shall examine in this final essay some extraordinary cases in which the verbal self-curses traditionally attached to oaths and vows seem, in fact, to have been insufficient for this purpose and in which the participants feel compelled to add often dramatic non-verbal rituals for two purposes: to intensify the effect of these curses on the audience, first by engaging their sight and then their sense of touch, and to include a wider range of participants — including women and children — in the rituals themselves. It is at the very limits of efficacious speech, I will suggest, that we can understand why entirely verbal self-curses sufficed for most oaths and under what circumstances the power of efficacious speech had to be supplemented.

  • 1 Johan Ludvig Heiberg, Hippocratis opera 1.1, Leipzig, 1929, p. 27, in my translation.

2Ancient Greeks often concluded their oaths with a pair of curses and blessings that encouraged the parties to keep to their oaths. The famous Hippocratic Oath, for example, ends as follows1: «If I fulfill this oath without violating it, may it be granted that I enjoy a happy life and profession, honored always among men; but if I violate it and perjure myself, may the opposite befall me». There are, in fact, quite a number of Greek oaths that have this simple kind of binary sanction, which, like the proverbial carrot and stick, encourages good behavior with a promise of reward and discourages bad behavior with a threat of punishment. In oaths of this traditional type the conditional curse is usually shorter than the conditional blessing and indeed often consists, as it does in the Hippocratic Oath, of a simple negation of the blessing.

  • 2 For the concept of «persuasive analogy» (magic = good rhetoric) as opposed to «sympathy» (magic = b (...)

3There are, however, some cases where the blessing is omitted and where the words of the curse are strengthened with some kind of sympathetic or persuasively analogical ritual2 of a dramatic sort: for example, the burning of wax images or the killing and mutilation of animals that serve conditionally as effigies for those who might swear false oaths. I will argue that these exaggerated and extraordinary curses reveal a heightened suspicion that those who swear the oath might be especially tempted to do so falsely or to break their promises at a later date. These added rituals, moreover, suggest a diffidence in the power of language alone and a need in these extreme cases to bring into play visual and other sensory media in order to frighten not only those high-ranking adult males who swear oaths, but also those in the audience — women, children and other dependents — who may not even have any legal rights with regard to sworn agreements, but who will nonetheless be cursed if the oath is broken.

4In what follows I shall examine oaths that were sworn in three very different political or social situations. I begin with the international treaty oaths of the Near East, where we often see a gross imbalance between a superior power who imposes a promissory oath and an inferior one, who alone is the object of the self-curse. In this kind of unbalanced or coercive oath ceremony, we shall see that the theatrical performance of the oath before an essentially captive audience is probably meant to demean the inferior power publicly, but it may have also had a more basic communicative role, especially if we assume that differences in language and culture may have raised concerns over the mutual intelligibility of the oaths and their curses. I also discuss briefly the famous oath sworn by the Greeks and the Trojans in the Iliad, and then close with the oath of pan-Hellenic athletes at the Olympic Games. In the second section, I turn to a pair of intramural promissory oaths sworn in times of great crisis, one in Jerusalem and the other on the island of Thera. In both cases there is no obvious political imbalance between the participants and we cannot assume any diffidence in the efficacy of verbal communication, as all of the participants dwell in the same city and presumably speak the same language. We shall see, moreover, that these frightening curse rituals and the extraordinary participation of women and children seem to reflect deep concerns over the survival itself of a city in crisis. In the third and final section, I turn to the rich data for testamentary oaths in ancient Athens and suggest that in these state-imposed oaths, performed in quotidian, rather than crisis, circumstances, we see an oddly similar kind of concern for the fate of the entire city and a desire to communicate more effectively with the participants.

1. International oaths

  • 3 Christopher A. Faraone, «Molten Wax, Spilt Wine and Mutilated Animals: Sympathetic Magic in Early G (...)
  • 4 The translation is by Franz Rosenthal, in James Bennett Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts (...)

5In a study published many years ago I showed how the Greeks in the archaic period modeled their version of these emphatic oaths on two kinds of Near Eastern oaths popular in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE3: (i) the so-called «vassal oaths» which powerful Assyrian kings forced weaker, dependent kings to swear; and (ii) the so-called «loyalty oaths» which generals and kings forced upon soldiers (often mercenaries) in large multinational armies. As far as we can tell, these oaths were often used in the international sphere of activity, and were imposed by powerful states or kings on weaker ones. They were, in short, designed to prevent disobedience or rebellion and were, moreover, usually sanctioned by lengthy and detailed self-curses, to which vivid rituals were added. A mid eighth-century BCE Aramaic treaty, for example, between two kings, Barga’yah and Matti’el, living on the southwestern periphery of the Assyrian empire ends with the dire consequences that will befall Matti’el and his supporters if he should violate the stipulations of the treaty4:

As this wax is consumed by fire, thus Ma [tti’el] shall be consumed b[y fi]re.

As this bow and these arrows are broken, thus Inurta and Hadad (= names of local deities) shall break [the bow of Matti’el] and the bows of his nobles.

As a man of wax is blinded, thus Matti’el shall be blinded.

[As] this calf is cut up, thus Matti’el and his nobles shall be cut up.

  • 5 Simo Parpola and Kazuko Watanabe, State archives of Assyria ii: Neo-Assyrian treaties and loyalty o (...)
  • 6 Donald J. Wiseman, «The vassal treaties of Esarhaddon», Iraq 22, 1958, p. 1-90; Erika Reiner, ANET, (...)

6Since only Matti’el and his nobles are threatened with the curses, it is clear that they are in a politically or militarily weak position vis-à-vis Barga’yah, who has apparently forced this oath upon them. The deictic pronoun «this», moreover, in three of the four curses encourages us to imagine that during the ceremony wax images were disfigured and burnt, weapons were ceremonially broken, and domestic animals were cut up and otherwise mistreated in plain sight of Matti’el and his people. This Aramaic oath is similar to a number of loyalty oaths imposed by Assyrian kings on other less powerful monarchs in the Levant5. The so-called «Vassal Treaties» of Esarhaddon, for example, close with a conditional curse («If you sin against this treaty, which your lord Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, has established…») followed by more than seventy curses, many of which involve ritual destruction of some sort or other, for example (line 89): «Just as one burns a wax figure in fire, dissolves a clay one in water, so may they burn your figure in fire, submerge it in water»6.

  • 7 The translation is by E. Reiner, ANET, p. 532-33; see J. A. Fitzmyer, op. cit. (n. 4), Gibson, op. (...)

7All of these oaths create a connection between the bodies of the weaker party to the oath (and often their families and accomplices) and the objects that are destroyed in the ritual. This homology is clearest in the text of a treaty between the Assyrian king Assurnerari V (754-45 BCE) and Mati’ilu7:

If Mati’ilu sins against (this) treaty made under an oath by the gods, then just as this spring lamb, brought from its fold, will not return to its fold, will not belong to its fold again, alas Mati’ilu, together with his sons, daughters, officials and the people of his land [will be ousted] from his country, will not return to his country and not behold his country again. This head is not the head of a lamb, it is the head of Mati’ilu, it is the head of his sons, his officials, and the people of his land.

  • 8 Some of the details preserved here are reminiscent of the mutilation of animals in late Greek and R (...)

8The text then goes on to narrate the tearing away of the lamb’s shoulder in similar fashion, and then the tablet breaks off; it is not unreasonable to suspect that the process continued until the carcass was completely torn apart8.

  • 9 There is some confusion over the purpose of the animals, because earlier on in the poem, the animal (...)

9We find a Greek version of this kind of international treaty in the detailed description of the oath of the Trojans and Greeks in Iliad III. Agamemnon first trims the hairs off the heads of three lambs and passes them out to each of the Greek and Trojan chieftains. He then prays to Zeus and some other gods to punish those who break the oath. The passage continues as follows9:

He spoke and cut the lambs’throats with the pitiless bronze and placed them down upon the ground as they gasped and were failing their breath, for the bronze had taken away their strength. Then they (i.e. the Greek and Trojan chieftains) drew forth wine from a mixing bowl in their cups and poured it forth on the ground and prayed to the gods who live forever, and in this way each of the Greeks and Trojans spoke: «O Zeus most glorious and greatest and you other immortal gods, whichever side first causes harm on behalf of the oaths, in this manner may their brains and those of their children pour upon the ground as this wine pours, and may their wives be enslaved to others!»

10First we should note the division of labor here: earlier in the passage Agamemnon prayed to Zeus and various other gods to punish those who break their oaths, but here the entire group recites the automatic curse connected with the wine. In this passage Homer does not link the slaughter of the animals directly to a self-curse, but the Near Eastern parallels and the detail of Agamemnon’s passing out the hairs of the lambs to each of the chieftains suggests that the poet’s audience could assume this. The poet is, of course, quite explicit about the second half of the ceremony: the wine spilt from the individual cups is unambiguously associated with the conditional self-curse that each man calls down upon his own head, should he violate the oath. And as in the Near Eastern oaths discussed above, the effect of the curse is again extended beyond the immediate participants to their children and their wives, although it must be admitted that the predicted enslavement of the wives does not correlate at all with any of the ritual gestures performed by the participants.

  • 10 I. Berti, op. cit. (n. 9).

11The direct participation of the chieftains in the curse ritual itself creates, moreover, a scene quite different from the Near Eastern oaths: each man, by holding hairs cut from the dying animals, by pouring wine from his own cup, and by pronouncing in unison the words of the self-curse, is implicated in a direct, tactile manner in the mechanics of the curse, which presumably becomes more vivid and personal to each of them. In the case of Mati’ilu and his nobles the situation was presumably different: they were simply an audience who listened as the curse was recited and watched while someone else cut up the lamb. The effect, then, was entirely theatrical. I suggest that this more complicated Homeric oath probably reflects the multinational composition of both the Greek army and the Trojan allies, neither of which was under the strict command of the two commanders (Agamemnon and Priam) who are in principle the main participants in the oath. The curse ritual, in short, needs to be spread physically among all of the subsidiary leaders, in order that they share responsibility for keeping the peace. Here, then, in addition to the more distanced visual or theatrical element of watching the death throes of the slaughtered animals, the chieftains of the Trojans and Greeks come into direct contact with the ritual itself, by holding in one hand part of the dying animals (their hairs) and by pouring out the wine with the other10.

12This Homeric oath is an imaginary one, of course, and probably reflects Near Eastern influence at some level, but we do in fact find historical situations in which Greeks used such self-curses in quasi-international contexts. Pausanias, for example, describes in detail a special ritual performed by an athlete and his entourage prior to competing in the quadrennial games at Olympia; he begins by describing a statue of Zeus in front of which the oaths were sworn (V, 24, 9-11):

But the Zeus in the council chamber (i.e. of the city of Elis) is of all images of Zeus the one that has been designed to strike fear in men who do wrong. His epithet is Horkios («Of the Oath»), and in each hand he holds a thunderbolt. It is required that beside this image the athletes, their fathers and their brothers and even their trainers swear an oath upon the cut-up bits (ta tomia) of a boar that there will be no misdeed on their part in the competition at Olympia…

  • 11 For a more detailed discussion of the significance of the tomia in this passage and those discussed (...)

13Here Pausanias does not quote the actual words of the oath, but he does stress the especially fearful and solemn nature of both the god’s image and the oath itself. I have argued elsewhere that the chopped-up bits of boar meat (tomia) serve the same function here as the mutilated animals in the Near Eastern oaths, and that the aspiring athlete probably touched or stood upon the tomia while swearing that his own flesh should be so treated if he broke the rules of the competition11. This is, of course, the oath of a private individual, but its heavily dramatic form and setting do, perhaps, make sense in light of the Near Eastern parallels, because the games were indeed held in an international setting dominated by the host city Elis, in whose council chamber the contestants were forced to swear their oaths.

14To sum up, then, the use of extraordinary rituals in international agreements: the ultimate goal of all these self-curses is, of course, to strike fear into those who swear the oath, but we find a sliding scale of sensory effects, ranging from the auditory alone, to the theatrical or visual, and ending with the tactile or participatory. I should stress, however, that movement along this scale of effects probably does not reflect any kind of historical evolution; rather, the full range of sensory effects was available to most oath-takers, but such effects were only deployed or insisted upon when circumstances or high anxiety required them. We also see, especially in the Greek examples, an extension of the ritual performance from a single leader or athlete to a much wider range of supporters. I have, moreover, floated one possible explanation for the addition of these extraordinary rituals and the apparent diffidence in the purely verbal performance of the curse: a concern that the stipulations of the self-curse might get «lost in translation,» so to speak, between parties who do not speak the same language or dialect or who do not share the same culture.

2. Intramural oaths in times of crisis

  • 12 Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum IX, 4. The translation is that of Alexander John Graham, Colony a (...)

15Such exaggerated oaths are not, however, limited to international gatherings. Take for example this famous description of an oath sworn by Greeks living on the island of Thera in the sixth century BCE12:

On these conditions they made an agreement, those who stayed there (i.e. on Thera) and those who sailed on the colonial expedition, and they put curses on those who should transgress these conditions and not abide by them… They molded wax images and burned them up while they uttered the following imprecation, all of them, having come together, men and women, boys and girls: «May he who does not abide by these oaths, but transgresses them, melt away and dissolve like the images — himself, his seed and his property. But to those who abide by these oaths let there be many good things for themselves and their offspring».

16In this case, a city in some kind of crisis (perhaps famine or overcrowding) attempts to send away a percentage of its people to form a colony in Libya. In anticipation of strong resistance and non-compliance, the city forces its own citizens to take a solemn oath to comply with the agreement, and they resort to a memorable public ceremony to ensure that the Theran people do not violate their oaths. In contrast to the usually balanced and rather subdued sanctions that we saw in the Hippocratic oath quoted at the start of my paper (a blessing followed by a shorter curse), the inhabitants of Thera utter the terrifying self-curse first and then the shorter blessing. As in the case of the oath of the Greeks and Trojans, the self-curse itself is pronounced by all those present (on Thera this includes the women and children) and is accompanied by the dramatic melting of the effigies. Here there is no direct, tactile contact with the ritual objects, but the inclusion of the women and children spreads both the knowledge and the responsibility of the oath to every level of society — even to those who would not have had the legal right to swear an oath.

  • 13 The translations used here and immediately below are from The Jewish Publication Society, Tanakh: A (...)

17An impending crisis also lies behind an oath sworn by all the free inhabitants of Jerusalem at a time roughly contemporaneous with the Theran oath (Jeremiah 34: 8-20)13:

Everyone, officials and people, who had entered into the covenant, agreed to set their male and female slaves free and not to keep them enslaved any longer; they complied and let them go. But afterward they turned about and brought back the men and women they had set free, and forced them into slavery again (v. 8-11).

18This incident probably took place during the siege of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, when the political leadership took an extremely unpopular step: they liberated all the slaves to help defend the city, and they forced the populace to swear an oath that they would never re-enslave them. Apparently many of those who swore the oath did not keep their word. Yahweh complains to the prophet Jeremiah about the perjury and promises punishment:

I will make the men who violated my covenant, who did not fulfill the terms of the covenant that they made before me, [like] the calf that they cut in two so as to pass between the halves. The officers of Judah and Jerusalem, the officials, the priests and all the people of the land who passed between the halves of the calf shall be handed over to their enemies who seek to kill them. Their carcasses shall become food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth (v. 18-20).

  • 14 This passage is usually discussed in tandem with Genesis 15: 15-19, where Abraham bisects a three-y (...)

19Here we learn that (as in the Theran oath) all of the free inhabitants of Jerusalem participated in the oath-ceremony, which apparently included a walk between the severed halves of a calf and a conditional self-imprecation that they would suffer like the bisected calf if they perjured themselves14.

20The intramural use of such oath-curses in city-states like Jerusalem or Thera is initially surprising, of course, because (unlike the case of international treaties) their respective peoples speak the same language and share the same culture, but it makes sense for a different reason: the leadership of the city forces its will in an almost tyrannical manner upon its inhabitants because of the impending disaster, and to accomplish their goal they arrange an oath that — like the international treaty-oaths — is extraordinary in two ways: (i) women and children, who normally have no legal rights and whose words usually have no legal power, are forced to join in the recitation or performance of the self-curse; and (ii) the walk between the bloodied parts of the carcass or the destruction of the wax effigies drives home in a very public and dramatic manner the fearful future that awaits the perjurer. It is perhaps worth noting that in both cases these extraordinary self-curses did indeed fail to convince the participants: Herodotus tells us that many of the colonists returned home to Thera (IV, 156), and we saw in the biblical passage that many of the liberated slaves of Jerusalem were subsequently re-enslaved.

3. Testamentary oaths under Athenian democracy

  • 15 Demosthenes, XXIII, 67-68. I give the translation of Douglas M. MacDowell, Athenian Homicide Law in (...)

21Finally let us turn to the oaths of classical Athens, the Greek city for which we have the most historical evidence, and where it seems that such powerful self-curses need not be triggered by an impending crisis, but were rather deployed on a regular basis in their radically democratic constitution. It is true that Athenian men made many unremarkable testamentary oaths in connection with legal matters and lawsuits, but literary sources repeatedly point out that the oaths sworn by participants in murder trials were extraordinary. Demosthenes gives us our most detailed description of one of these oaths15:

On the Areopagus, where the law allows and orders trials for homicide to be held, first the man who accuses someone of such a deed will swear an oath invoking destruction on himself and his family and his household, and no ordinary oath either, but one which no one swears on any other subject, standing upon the cut-up pieces (tomia) of a boar, a ram, and a bull, which have been slaughtered by the right persons on the proper days, so that every religious requirement has been fulfilled as regards the time and as regards the executants.

  • 16 Christopher A. Faraone, «Curses and Social Control in the Law Courts of Classical Athens», Dike: Re (...)
  • 17 Antiphon, V, 12: «The witnesses are giving evidence against me unsworn, although they ought to swea (...)

22Here, then, the special oath once again involves direct contact with the cut-up animal. Like the other oaths involving tomia, we must imagine that this very elaborate curse ceremony was designed to be more fearful in order to prevent the potential perjurer from swearing falsely, especially in a public ceremony that included the butchery of three different animals under special ritual constraints and that may have been witnessed by members of his own family and household — that is, people who would suffer under such a curse if he should foreswear his oath16. A few lines later in the same passage Demosthenes says that those who were accused in a murder trial also swore this same oath and a passage in Antiphon suggests that witnesses at murder trials had to perform a similar type of self-curse that involved touching the slaughtered animals17.

23Perhaps the oddest of these oaths is the post-trial oath of the victorious party in a murder trial: it is reported by Aeschines (II, 87):

In homicide trials at the Palladion our ancestors very properly introduced the rule (and you have maintained this tradition up to the present day) that those who are victorious in the voting cut the cut pieces (temnontas ta tomia) and swear that those of the jurors who voted for him were making the true and right decision, and that he had spoken no lie, and that otherwise he invokes destruction on himself and his house, but prays that the jurors who voted for him have many blessings.

24Here the traditional pairing of self-curse and blessing is strangely allocated: the victor (either the successful prosecutor or the successful defendant) swears that he did not make false statements in the trial, and he apparently does this while he himself cuts up the flesh of the slaughtered animal. This raises the tactile and participatory aspect of the curse to new heights. He also utters a conditional blessing on the jurors to protect them from harm, if they inadvertently voted wrongly on account of his perjury.

  • 18 Christopher A. Faraone, «Curses and Blessings in Ancient Greek Oaths», Journal of Ancient Near East (...)

25The question arises, of course: why do homicide trials alone among various legal actions at Athens have such powerful self-curses attached to their oaths? If the addition of such powerful curse ceremonies to testamentary oaths was thought to prevent perjury more efficiently than purely verbal self-imprecations, then why weren’t they included in all court cases (for surely the Athenians did not think that mendacity was a greater problem in homicide trials than in other legal cases)? I have argued elsewhere, in fact, that the principal reason for the extraordinary use of the tomia-curse in homicide trials is a general concern for the welfare of the entire state: if the jurors falsely acquit a murderer or falsely condemn an innocent man to death, in both cases the danger of pollution or supernatural anger will arise for them personally and for the whole city18. This is clearest in the last citation from Aeschines, where the conditional blessing for the jury seems to be designed precisely to protect them, at least, from such an error. We saw this same worry about the fate of the whole city, of course, in the extraordinary self-curses sworn in Jerusalem and on Thera.


26The purely verbal pairing of a simple blessing and a simple curse, as we saw in the Hippocratic Oath at the start of this essay, probably reflects the quotidian practice in the ancient world, where the solemnly pronounced words did indeed have the power in and of themselves to stabilize their oaths and create or maintain religious, social or legal order. I have, however, discussed three arenas in the ancient Near East and Greece, where efficacious speech alone apparently did not suffice: international treaties; intramural agreements in times of great crisis; and testamentary oaths in Athenian murder trials. In all three cases vivid rituals have been added to the words in order to increase the fear of the participants and thereby to increase the likelihood of compliance. In the international treaties such performances may have been introduced to overcome concerns about communication between different languages, but similar situations in the case of the Homeric treaty between the Trojans and Greeks and the oath of the Olympic athletes suggests the additional goal of extending the curse itself to a much wider group of participants: each of the Greek and Trojan chieftains holds a hair from the animal that is about to be killed and a cup of wine that is about to be poured out on the ground while uttering the self-curse. The oath of the Olympic athlete is also sworn by his family and his trainer, while each, presumably, stood upon the tomia. The curses on Thera and in Jerusalem extend the performance of oath-curses to an even wider circle of participants: on Thera the women and children join their husbands and fathers and utter the curse while the wax effigies melt and in Jerusalem they join the walk between the parts of the severed calf.

27We saw, finally, that those curses that involved increasing social participation also featured increasing levels of sensory experience that move from the purely verbal, to the visual or theatrical and then finally to the tactile and the participatory. The oath of Mati’ilu, for example, was apparently performed by a third party, but nonetheless included his family, officials and «the people of his land». Here the visual component has been added, so that all become an audience for the spectacle. This is close to what happens on Thera, except that there the whole audience speaks the self-curse, while they watch the melting effigies. In the oath of the pan-Hellenic athletes at the Olympic Games, the family and trainers of the athletes are no longer in the audience, but become full-fledged participants in swearing the curse upon the tomia, just as we saw in Jerusalem, where the entire populace, it seems, walked between the bisected calf. And in some of the oaths sworn at Athens the participants even chopped up the animals themselves as they uttered the curses. In these cases, then, a tactile or participatory experience has been added to the more passively visual.

28I should close, however, by stressing again that I am uneasy about placing the progressions I have described here — the widening social circles of social participation and the increasing levels of sensory engagement — in some kind of evolutionary framework. The Near Eastern oaths, for example, are among the earliest, and already there we see a clear focus on the dependents and family of the vassal kings. And even though the fourth-century Athenian evidence is relatively late for promissory oaths sworn while standing upon or even cutting up tomia, we must remember that both Demosthenes and Aeschines claim that these rituals were among the most ancient at Athens.


1 Johan Ludvig Heiberg, Hippocratis opera 1.1, Leipzig, 1929, p. 27, in my translation.

2 For the concept of «persuasive analogy» (magic = good rhetoric) as opposed to «sympathy» (magic = bad science), see Christopher A. Faraone, «The Agonistic Context of Early Greek Binding Spells», in Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink (ed.), Magika Hiera: Ancient Greek Magic and Religion, Oxford, 1991, p. 3-32, esp. 8, who summarizes the work of Stanley J. Tambiah, «The Magical Power of Words», Man 3, 1968, p. 175-208, and idem, «Form and Meaning of Magical Acts: A Point of View», in Robin Horton and Ruth Finnegan (ed.), Modes of Thought, London, 1973, p. 199-229.

3 Christopher A. Faraone, «Molten Wax, Spilt Wine and Mutilated Animals: Sympathetic Magic in Early Greek and Near Eastern Oath Ceremonies», Journal of Hellenic Studies 113, 1993, p. 60-80.

4 The translation is by Franz Rosenthal, in James Bennett Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3 rd edition, Princeton, 1969, p. 659-660. For dating, detailed discussion and bibliography, see: Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire, Biblica et Orientalia 19, Rome, 1967, p. 52-58; and André Lemaire et Jean-Marie Durand, Les inscriptions araméennes de Sfiré et l’Assyrie de Shamshi-ilu, Geneva, 1984. J.C.L. Gibson, Textbook of Syrian Semitic inscriptions. Volume II, Aramaic inscriptions, including inscriptions in the dialect of Zenjirli, Oxford Clarendon 1975, p. 18-43.

5 Simo Parpola and Kazuko Watanabe, State archives of Assyria ii: Neo-Assyrian treaties and loyalty oaths, Helsinki, 1988, p. xxvii-xxviii.

6 Donald J. Wiseman, «The vassal treaties of Esarhaddon», Iraq 22, 1958, p. 1-90; Erika Reiner, ANET, p. 534-540; and S. Parpola and K. Watanabe, op. cit. (n. 5), p. 28-58, who refer to it as the «Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty» because it seems that all of the king’s subjects, not just the vassal kings, had to take the oath. As Reiner suggests in her translation at line 72, the «they» in the text seems to refer to the gods who are mentioned individually and collectively earlier in the long list of curses.

7 The translation is by E. Reiner, ANET, p. 532-33; see J. A. Fitzmyer, op. cit. (n. 4), Gibson, op. cit. (n. 4), and S. Parpola and K. Watanabe, op. cit. (n. 5) for detailed discussion of the parallels with the Sefire inscription.

8 Some of the details preserved here are reminiscent of the mutilation of animals in late Greek and Roman binding curses. For the focus on the alienation of the lamb from the herd, see a pair of second-century AD defixiones from Aquitania (Auguste Audollent, Defixionum Tabellae, Paris, 1904, nos 111-112), which refer to a puppy that was apparently buried with the tablets: quomodi nec mater huius catelli defendere potuit, sic nec advocati eorom (= eorum, i.e. the people named elsewhere on the tablet) e[os d]efendere (non) possint and quomodi hic catellus aversus est nec surgere potesti, sic nec illi. For the blocking of the lamb’s mouth with its own knuckle, see Campbell Bonner, «Witchcraft in the lecture room of Libanius», Transactions of the American Philological Association 63, 1932, p. 34-44, for discussion of the twisted and mutilated body of a chameleon that was putatively found in the lecture room of Libanius, who claimed that its presence made him too sick to speak publicly or to teach. Bonner suggests that the particular treatment of the chameleon (its right front leg had been amputated and its left was twisted and lodged inside the mouth) aimed at disabling the orator’s speaking ability as well as his ability to gesture with his right hand.

9 There is some confusion over the purpose of the animals, because earlier on in the poem, the animals are summoned for Zeus, Sun and Earth, a locution that is usually taken to mean that they were a form of regular, burnt-sacrifice to the gods; see Irene Berti, «Now let the Earth be my witness and the broad heaven above, and the down flowing water of the Styx… (Homer, Ilias XV, 36-37): Greek Oath-Rituals», Kernos Suppl. 16, 2006, p. 186-187. In the actual description of the oath, however, these same gods (joined by some unidentified chthonic deities) appear only as witnesses (marturioi) to the oath, a practice that is typical of the Near Eastern oaths and those described by Dictys (I, 15; II, 49; and V, 10). For the use of three sheep as sphagia in a treaty oath, compare the ceremony prescribed by Athena in Euripides, Supplices 1196-1197. For the role of the gods as «witnesses», see Irene Polinskaya’s essay in this volume.

10 I. Berti, op. cit. (n. 9).

11 For a more detailed discussion of the significance of the tomia in this passage and those discussed below, and also of the term sphagia used in a similar way to describe a similar ritual, see C. A. Faraone, op. cit. (n. 2).

12 Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum IX, 4. The translation is that of Alexander John Graham, Colony and Mother City in Ancient Greece, Manchester, 1964, p. 226. For the best Greek text see Russell Meiggs and David Lewis, A Selection of Greek Historical Inscriptions, Oxford, 1969, p. 5-9, n° 5; for discussion and additional bibliography, see A. J. Graham, loc. cit., and C. A. Faraone, op. cit. (n. 3), p. 60-62.

13 The translations used here and immediately below are from The Jewish Publication Society, Tanakh: A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures, New York, 1985. For discussion see Hayim Tadmor, «Treaty and Oath in the Ancient Near East: An Historian’s Approach», in Gene M. Tucker and Douglas A. Knight (ed.), Humanizing America’s Iconic Book: Society of Biblical Literature Centennial Addresses 1980, Chico, California, 1982, p. 127-152, esp. 136.

14 This passage is usually discussed in tandem with Genesis 15: 15-19, where Abraham bisects a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram and a turtle-dove, and lays the halves opposite one another. When it gets dark, a fire pot and torch (emblems of divinity) pass between the pieces (verses 17-18), indicating Yahweh’s agreement to the covenant. See Samuel E. Loewenstamm, «Zur Traditionsgeschichte des Bundes zwischen den Stücken», Vetus Testamentum 18, 1968, p. 500-506, esp. 503, and Claus Westermann, Genesis 12-36: A Commentary, trans. John J. Scullion, Minneapolis, 1985, p. 225-228, for detailed discussion and bibliography.

15 Demosthenes, XXIII, 67-68. I give the translation of Douglas M. MacDowell, Athenian Homicide Law in the Age of the Orators, Manchester, 1963, p. 90-91, with one change: «upon the cut pieces» instead of «over the cut pieces.»

16 Christopher A. Faraone, «Curses and Social Control in the Law Courts of Classical Athens», Dike: Revista di storia del diritto greco ed ellenistico 2, 1999, p. 99-121, reprinted with minor changes in David Cohen (ed.), Demokratie, Recht und soziale Kontrolle in klassischen Athen, Schriften des Historischen Kollegs Kolloquien 49, Munich, 2002, p. 77-92.

17 Antiphon, V, 12: «The witnesses are giving evidence against me unsworn, although they ought to swear the same oath as you (i.e. the man who is prosecuting him) and touch the slaughtered animals (sphagia) before giving evidence against me…».

18 Christopher A. Faraone, «Curses and Blessings in Ancient Greek Oaths», Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religion 5, 2006, p. 140-158. Jon Mikalson, Athenian Popular Religion, Chapel Hill, 1983, p. 31-38, has shown, in fact, that other Athenian homicide speeches make frequent references to the fear that pollution (miasma) or perhaps angry ghosts might attack the jurors themselves in the case of a wrongful conviction or acquittal.

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