A Review of Naming the Witch: Magic, Ideology, and Stereotype in the Ancient World by Kimberly B. Stratton

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A Review of Naming the Witch: Magic, Ideology, and Stereotype in the Ancient World by Kimberly B. Stratton

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A Review of Naming the Witch: Magic, Ideology, and Stereotype in the Ancient World by Kimberly B. Stratton

In her book, Naming the Witch, Stratton provides a concise analysis of all the elements of culture and those that are ideologically oriented that motivated the early thoughts of magic, sorcery, as well as witchcraft in the antique world. She investigates the different ways in which stereotypes of magic and those who use it vary in the ancient world. Furthermore, she explores how the various social contexts in different historical periods influence particular stereotypes. Therefore studying Stratton’s work enables one to gain insight into the link between social, intellectual, and religious history of the ancient civilizations.

Notably, the past had very stringent rules against magic with the possibility of having a death sentence, marginalization of the individual or group of individuals if accused of practicing magic. It is worth noting that Stratton provides an analysis that overcomes the common views always propagated about these allegations and labels them as mere slander. According to her, representations and accusations of enchantment show how the ancient communities struggled to define authority, legitimacy as well as “others.”

Stratton examines the social context that give rise to specific stereotypes of magic concerning magic by exploring four different periods and cultures in the Ancient Mediterranean: the early Imperial Rome, Classical Greece, classical Greece, Rabbinic Judaism, as well as second and third Christianity. She argues that magic is a functional discourse, whose origins can be traced in Classical Athens; it was here that the concept of otherness cropped up after the Persian wars. The concept was then passed to Roman Society and the Hellenized world.  The first chapter gives an introductory approach to magic, disclosure as well as beliefs. The latter chapters take us through the representations of magic in Greek, Roman, as well as Jewish Christian Literature. Towards the end, there is an epilogue for thoughts in gender, stereotyping and magic.

She determines her characters and place of study as a form of discourse that has its origins in the awareness of the alterity, in Athens, after warring with Persia, and then passed on to Rome and the rest of the ancient civilizations. She attempts to resolve the tension between continuing to study and the negativity associated with it, as well as rejecting it all together. Her work focuses on getting material evidence on the practice of magic for a detailed assessment, available literature that focus on reconstructing the social of magic and the magician, as well as recognize the connotations of magic in both ancient civilizations and modern usage. Her literary work concentrates on sources of stereotypes and their representations in literature.

At the beginning of the first chapter, she focuses on the various magical representations and stereotypes were shaped, as well as how magic emerged as a function of social and historical factors. She traces the available historical data on magic, sciences and religion (Pachoumi 138). She adopted Foucault’s definition of magic as a discourse and concentrated on the effect of both cultural and historical factors, the native concept of magic, as well as its agonistic features. Towards the end of chapter one, we get insightful knowledge of how the ancient Greek, Hebrews and Romans viewed magic.

Stratton explores the discursive formation of magic in Ancient Athens. She notes that the battle of Marathon probably remains one of the most important events in the history of Greece. To an extent, it marks a major turning point; the Athenians defeated the invincible Persians (p. 39-69). Democracy proved a reliable form of government, hence, the association of the Athenians with democracy increased tremendously. The introduction of new legal matters sought to limit and control the extent to which women participated in leadership and public life. The Athenians attributed citizenship solely to the men. Furthermore, the Greeks were self-absorbed and regarded Non-Greeks as “barbarians,” hence, their ongoing war-like operations against the Persians.

She argues that the emergence of magic after the Persian defeat was part of the discourse of alterity, in what she terms as the discourse of barbarism. The magic discourse was strengthened by a new type of ritual with binding spells, introduced to the Athenians from Mesopotamia in the archaic period. The discourse of magic draws on female alterity in Attic tragedy (Pachoumi 138). She closely examines the portrayal of Medea in Euripides’ Medea, where women use magic to gain power, revenge, as well as sexual jealousy. In this chapter, magic was considered very harmful and dangerous.

In chapter three, Stratton examines the existence of magic in Roman Literature (Stratton 71-105). She debates that there was an element of fear of women among the Romans, and through cultural interactions, some stereotypical concepts originated in Athens and was propagated in Rome. This fear, she seeks to prove, had a cause and may have had its foundations from the fact that some women were economically stable and independent (Kraus 51). The economic independence and an extent of social freedom witnessed in some Roman women developed as far as the 3rd century (Pachoumi 139). These independent women were regarded as either wicked or immoral. According to her, accusations about women’s immorality and misconduct exposed the social rivalries between men.

The marriage and adultery laws passed by Augustus aimed at idealizing and politicizing the vision of female behavior as part of his imposing belief (p.99).............

Type: Essay || Words: 1936 Rating || Excellent

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