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  • Daughters of Hecate: Women and Magic in the Ancient World ed. by Kimberly B. Stratton and Dayna S. Kalleres
  • Antó Alvar Nuño
Kimberly B. Stratton and Dayna S. Kalleres, eds. Daughters of Hecate: Women and Magic in the Ancient World. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. xv + 533.

In 1961 the Spanish anthropologist Julio Caro Baroja, inspired by the survival of local beliefs in witchcraft and magic in his own homeland—the Basque Country, Spain—published Las brujas y su mundo (English trans. The World of the Witches, London, 1964). Caro Baroja wanted to analyze the continuity and change of an archetype transmitted since Homer to the last witch trials in Europe, although, he reckoned, the history of Hecate’s offspring was more a history of those who considered themselves affected by their alleged powers than a history of the witches themselves. In his view, the world of the witches was a social construct that constantly adapted previous cultural stereotypes to each new historical reality.

Despite being a forefather of the application of anthropology and social history to the study of women and magic, Julio Caro Baroja’s work did not have much impact in the his0000000toriography of ancient magic. Daughters of Hecate, edited by Kimberly B. Stratton and Dayna S. Kalleres, follows the pathway opened by the Spanish anthropologist, pointing out the Classical world as the seed of an archetype widely spread in popular culture that associates women with malign magical practices. But the contributors to Daughters of Hecate go beyond the work of Julio Caro Baroja, and present a variety of methodological approaches to ancient history deeply influenced by the 1990s postsocial turn and Third Wave feminism.

The purpose of Daughters of Hecate is to revise the historiographical stereotype of the link between women and magic in the ancient world (including Greece, Rome, ancient Judaism, and early Christianity) and to offer a more nuanced and complex image of the women-magic equation. According to the editors and some of the authors (explicitly stated by Annette Y. Reed in Chapter 4, and stressed by the editors on p. 2), in many cases the gendering of magic is not so much a cultural framework that fits any sociohistorical context as an historiographical pre-conception that is self-validating in the researcher’s quest for ancient misogyny.

The book is divided into three main sections, preceded by an introductory [End Page 264] chapter by Kimberly B. Stratton. In her opening chapter, Stratton utilizes classical and modern scholarship to present an outline of the main theoretical approaches toward the history of magic and women. According to Stratton, the scholarship on the topic could be divided into five general approaches. A first group of scholars maintains that literary representations, confessions, and accusations against witches had a basis in reality, even though they could be altered to satisfy a misogynous social or political agenda. A second group gives less emphasis to gender and instead stresses other sources of social distress such as poverty or conflictive social changes. A third group recognizes that witch hunts were not limited to women, but still looks at how gender was relevant to definitions of appropriate behaviour. A fourth group of scholars analyzes witch hunts from a psychoanalytical perspective. Finally, those in a fifth group base their work on Simone de Beauvoir’s description of women as “the Other”—the polar opposite of the values and codes of conduct important to men.

The first part of the book, “Fiction and Fantasy: Gendering Magic in Ancient Literature,” comprises four chapters that examine the portrait of the witch in literary accounts. B. S. Spaeth analyzes the differences and similarities across representations of witches in Greek and Roman literature. In her chapter, R. Lesses examines the connection between women and magic in antique and late antique Jewish literature, specifically the Bible, the Book of the Watchers—attributed to Enoch—and the rabbinic literature. A close reading of the women-magic equation in these texts reveals different and even contrary representations to the archetype of the malevolent sorceress. A. Y. Reed analyzes Jewish and Christian discussions of the fallen angels to show that there was not always...


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pp. 264-267
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