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Scientific Approach to Magic in Ancient Greece Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 16th, 2022

Was magic the ultimate method to become successful in Ancient Greece? It may seem that ancient people had a strong belief in magic and the corresponding practices as their knowledge about the world was limited. However, the answer to the question set above is not as straightforward as it may seem. Wizards had certain authority in Ancient Greece, but magic was associated with a considerable degree of controversy. On the one hand, such leading thinkers of Plato saw magic as deception and trickery.1 On the other hand, people addressed magicians who conducted rituals aiming at diverse issues, including love affairs, health, business, and so on. Some practices were even mentioned in laws, which shows that authorities paid certain attention to magic practices trying to regulate them.2 The dual attitude towards magic in Ancient Greece is deeply rooted in those people’s focus on knowledge and the use of the scientific method that was born during that period.

It is noteworthy that even contemporary societies characterized by a substantial degree of development include different groups of people practicing magic to this or that extent. Some modern girls still want to make their boyfriends (or someone they know) faithful and passionate by using some magic rituals, although these practices are often ridiculed by the majority. The situation was quite similar in Ancient Greece, but the proportion of believers and disbelievers was somewhat different from what is apparent now.

The majority of ancient Greeks tended to believe in magic and mighty gods who could help them in their earthly endeavors.3 Magicians had a common set of rituals that encompassed singing chants, sacrificing, and manipulating some objects.4 Magicians often addressed gods, deities, or even the souls of the diseased during their magic practices. Some herbs and narcotic substances were used to make the magician or the client reach a specific state of mind. The tradition itself and many practices appeared in Ancient Greece as remnants from Ancient Egyptian and Persian societies.5 Some of the rituals were quite violent in terms of verbal abuse and could even involve physical contact with the client. The rituals associated with healing could involve such physical contacts and the magician could heat some parts of the body of the ill. People wanted to make their beloved ones remain faithful or agree to marry them. Some wanted to cast a spell on someone to make them miserable or unsuccessful. In many cases, people attempted to solve their health issues with the help of magic.

On the other hand, many Ancient Greeks tried to believe in something more materialistic than magic rituals. Many people believed in medicine and science, but in some cases, these were still seen as a type of magic.6 Ancient Greek thinkers and philosophers who lived in the sixth century B.C.E. admitted that magicians could have a healing power as they used herbs whose characteristics and healing properties were known. Later on, the attitude towards wizards and magic became more questionable. The increase in negative views is associated with Ancient Greeks’ views of magic as a cultural practice that came from Persia, a hostile tradition.7 Magic practices were regarded as deceptive activities and immoral acts. It is also noteworthy that many people understood why their peers addressed magicians. Even at that distant time, many people understood that some needed psychological and emotional directions that were provided by a magician.8 Basically, numerous people acknowledged the nature of magic and the elements that made it seem an effective instrument to achieve certain goals.

The attitude towards magic practices in Ancient Greece can serve as an illustration of the way the scientific method evolved, and people gained knowledge regarding the world around them. They divided magic rituals and the notion of magic into components and analyzed the ways they affected people. In simple terms, philosophers, who could be referred to as ancient scientists to a certain extent, explored the peculiarities of the phenomenon and made conclusions. The positive and negative effects of magic rituals were acknowledged and discussed.9 At that, thousands of males and females addressed magicians and participated in rituals trying to attain their personal objectives. Those individuals believed in the power of magic, and the role divine (or supernatural) forces played in their lives.

In conclusion, it is possible to state that magic in Ancient Greece bore some similar characteristics to modern magic practices. Some people believed that magicians could actually improve their clients’ lives with the help of some divine creatures or special knowledge. People tried to become successful in business or love affairs or regain their health. However, lots of people understood that magic was a type of deception. They examined natural forces and applied the scientific method to learn about the world and the human. This knowledge was instrumental in becoming more and more doubtful concerning the power of magic. Ancient Greek philosophers and researchers contributed greatly to the development of modern sciences, and they also made people believe in the laws of nature rather than the rituals of magicians.

Bibliography

Dreher, Martin. ““Heiliges Recht” and “Heilige Gesetze”: Law, Religion, and Magic in Ancient Greece.” In Ancient Greek Law in the 21st Century, edited by Paula Perlman, 85-103. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018.

Graf, Fritz. “Greece.” In Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic, edited by David Frankfurter,115-138. Boston: BRILL, 2019.

Lamont, Peter. “A Particular Kind of Wonder: The Experience of Magic past and Present.” Review of General Psychology 21, no. 1 (2017): 1-8.

Watson, Lindsay C. Magic in Ancient Greece and Rome. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019.

Footnotes

  1. Peter Lamont, “A Particular Kind of Wonder: The Experience of Magic past and Present,” Review of General Psychology 21, no. 1 (2017): 2.
  2. Martin Dreher, ““Heiliges Recht” and “Heilige Gesetze”: Law, Religion, and Magic in Ancient Greece,” in Ancient Greek Law in the 21st Century, ed. Paula Perlman (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018), 95.
  3. Lindsay C. Watson, Magic in Ancient Greece and Rome (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019), 24.
  4. Fritz Graf, “Greece,” in Guide to the Study of Ancient Magic, ed. David Frankfurter (Boston: BRILL, 2019), 119.
  5. Watson, Magic in Ancient Greece and Rome, 24.
  6. Graf, “Greece,” 120.
  7. Graf, 123.
  8. Lamont, “A Particular Kind of Wonder: The Experience of Magic past and Present,” 4.
  9. Watson, Magic in Ancient Greece and Rome, 25.
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