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Wanborough

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Author: Unknown

Authority: John Rea

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The document is part of a lead sheet about 55 mm high and now roughly the same in width, inscribed on one side only in Latin cursive. It is complete at the top, foot, and right hand side, incomplete on the left. There is no way of establishing the extent of the loss. The text does not appear to admit very short supplements and by the nature of the material it is unlikely that a very narrow strip could be torn from the edge without the use of exceptional force. Probably therefore a good deal is missing. The height is significantly close to that of the Kelvedon curse tablet, see JRS xlviii (1958), p. 150, fig. 20 - where the figure is facsimile size, not reduced to two-thirds as indicated in the caption - and the format of the Wanborough sheet may have been similar. If so, about half the width is missing.

I should assign the hand tentatively to the first or second century A.D., largely on the basis of the slope of the letters. According to the study of J. Mallon, Paléographie romaine, there was a major change in Roman cursive towards the end of the first century A.D., when it began to be written with a pronounced slope to the right. If we compare the test letters b, d, q, illustrated in Mallon, ibid. pp. 50-1, we find that here all three of these are of the first-century type. On the other hand the slope is much the same as that of the Kelvedon tablet, mentioned above, and reportedly found in a third- to fourth-century stratum. Also similar is the Ratcliffe-on-Soar curse tablet (JRS liii (1963), pp. 122-124, pl. ix), assigned by Professor Turner to the second or third century, in spite of his notice that the slope is that of the older period.

In the Wanborough tablet there are possible traces of the influence of the later slope in the descenders of occasional letters - the first ‘l’ of ulla in line 4, the ‘q’ of loquantur in line 6. If these slight and few indications are not illusory and if Mallon’s theory is correct, we should assign the hand to some time early in the second century A.D. On the other hand the stratification of the Kelvedon tablet may indicate either that this development was slower to appear in Britain than elsewhere - most of the material for comparison is from Egypt - or that the older style was deliberately copied.

The writing has been engraved on the surface with a fine but rounded point. Though it has no claim to be calligraphy, the hand is sufficiently flowing and correct to show that the scribe was both an experienced writer and accustomed to his materials, which were not, perhaps, so very different in practice from wax and stylus. At the moment of writing the newly scratched letters must have shown up brightly against the dull surface, but now that the scratches too have oxidized it requires quite a careful examination even to detect any writing with the naked eye. Under magnification much more is to be seen, but in any constant angle of light only some of the strokes are visible, so that the plaque has to be held in the hand and tilted or rotated to take advantage of various angles of light, if the patterns of the letters are to be recognized. Some patches of damage or deterioration of the surface add to the difficulty of reading the text under these conditions.

Enough remains to show that it is a curse in the form of an appeal to some super-natural force to inhibit the physical processes - drinking, sleeping, walking - of an enemy. The damage prevents us learning what god or demon is addressed and what the offence was that invited this execration. There are four usual types of defixiones, namely amatoriae, iudiciariae, in fures, and ludicrae, cursing respectively unfaithful lovers and rivals in love, rivals at law, thieves, and contestants in the public games, see Rev. Phil. sér. 2, 40 (1916), 236.

The standard collection of parallel texts is A. Audollent, Defixionum Tabellae (Paris, 1904). More bibliography is given in JRS liii (1963), 122 n. 5. To this can be added the new editions of the British parallels in RIB 6, 7, 154,221, 243, 306, 323; a continuation of Audollent, with Latin examples only, in H. Solin, Eine neue Fluchtafel aus Ostia = Comm. Hum. Litt. (Societas Scientiarum Fennica) 42, No. 3 (1968), 23-31; R. Egger, Die Fluchtafel von Rom, in Sitzungsb. Öst. Akad. Wiss., Phil.-hist. Klasse, 240, Abh. 4, 3-25.

Edition:
n 1 [. . .].epre[..]r.epeto.[.]......euene..
n 2 [. . .]peto iudicio tuo qu [.]d....eculans..
n 3 [. . .]tum ne lili permittas bibere nec
4 [do]rmire nec ambulare neque ullam
5 [. . .]s gentisue unde ille nascit
n 6 [. . .]....eita ulla nec alumen
n 7 [. . .]pr.uemente loquantur et r.
8 [. . .]...ugabatur certum sciu.t
n 9 [. . .]    (uacat) si (uacat)
n 10 [. . .].meuerecame[?]ue (uacat)
11 [. . .].meor (uacat)

Diplomatic:
1 [. . .].epr.[..]r.epeto.[.]......euene..
2 [. . .].etoiudiciotuoqu[.].....ecula....
3 [. . .].umnelilipermittasbiberen..
4 [. . .]rm.renecambularenequeulla.
5 [. . .]sgentisueundeillenasc..
6 [. . .].....itaullanecalumen
7 [. . .]pr.uementeloquanturet..
8 [. . .]...ugabaturcertumsciu..
9 [. . .]    (uacat) si (uacat)
10 [. . .].meuere.am....(uacat)
11 [. . .]..eor (uacat)

Commentary:

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