The ancient Greeks commonly resorted to magic spells to attract and keep lovers—as numerous allusions in Greek literature and recently discovered “voodoo dolls,” magical papyri, gemstones, and curse tablets attest. Surveying and analyzing these various texts and artifacts, Christopher Faraone reveals that gender is the crucial factor in understanding love spells. There are, he argues, two distinct types of love magic: the curselike charms used primarily by men to torture unwilling women with fiery and maddening passion until they surrender sexually; and the binding spells and debilitating potions generally used by women to sedate angry or philandering husbands and make them more affectionate.
Faraone’s lucid analysis of these spells also yields a number of insights about the construction of gender in antiquity, for example, the “femininity” of socially inferior males and the “maleness” of autonomous prostitutes. Most significantly, his findings challenge the widespread modern view that all Greek men considered women to be naturally lascivious. Faraone reveals the existence of an alternate male understanding of the female as “naturally” moderate and chaste, who uses love magic to pacify and control the “naturally” angry and passionate male. This fascinating study of magical practices and their implications for perceptions of male and female sexuality offers an unusual look at ancient Greek religion and society.