Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Guest Post: Crazy Roman Curses and the Passions Behind Them by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Flashlight Commentary and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours are pleased to host author Vicky Alvear Shecter as a guest contributor and eagerly invite readers to enjoy her original feature, Crazy Roman Curses and the Passions Behind Them.

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With her hands and feet bound, this small female effigy has
13 nails inserted throughout its body. Wrapped around
the figure was a lead curse tablet with a spell designed to
make the woman in question love the spellcaster. “Drag her
by her hair, by her guts,” he tells the dark gods of magic,
“until she does not stand aloof from me…”  Greek,
4th century CE
Ancient Romans believed they could invoke dark gods or spirits to curse their enemies, so of course I had to include a curse tablet at the heart of my new novel, Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii. For the Romans, most of this “cursing” took place via spells scratched on tablets that were then buried, thrown into bodies water, or affixed to temple walls.

The ancients thoroughly believed in the power of curse tablets—which is to say, they believed in magic. Close to 2,000 ancient curse tablets have been found around the Mediterranean. It’s likely that countless more lie undiscovered.
Romans typically scratched their curses onto thin sheets of lead, but folks also used whatever was at hand, including pottery shards, old papyrus, wax, ceramic bowls or even gemstones. I guess it depended on how mad, scared, or twitterpated you were!

Emotions ran high around these curses. The people most likely to be cursed? Charioteers. Everyone went to the races, even emperors. And just about everyone bet on the races too. Fortunes could be made or lost, so folks hoped to win by any magical means necessary. Horses weren’t immune to being cursed either:

“Bind every limb and sinew of Victoricus, the charioteer of the Blue Team... and of [his] horses. Blind them…twist their soul and heart so they cannot breathe…”

Tablets cursing riders and horses have been found buried under racing tracks, stable doors, and stadium entryways.Spells designed to make someone fall in love with you—or be insensible with desire for you—abound. One of my favorites:

…Attract, inflame, destroy, burn, cause her to swoon from love as she is being inflamed. Goad [her] until she leaps forth and comes to Apalos…out of passion and love… quickly, quickly….do not allow [her] to think of her [own] husband, her child….let her come melting for passion and love and intercourse, especially yearning for the intercourse of Apolos.

Curse tablets are often called “defixiones” because many
have been found pierced by iron nails used to “affix”
the curse to certain places. In my novel, my characters believe
that the magic of a particular curse is set in motion
the moment an iron nail is plunged through the lead tablet. 
Poor Apolo’s demand that his married beloved come to him “especially yearning for THE intercourse” cracks me up every single time. Dude had a one-track mind. Sadly, we’ll never know if his love/sex binding spell worked. 

Curses invoking revenge on an enemy were often buried near graves with the hope that unhappy or angry spirits would make the curse come true. A great many curses were invoked during legal trials, with one party usually asking the gods to make sure the tongues of their opposition shriveled up. Other tablets have been found damning the futures of the terrible people who stole “my cloak” or “my pig.” 

The curse tablet in Curses and Smoke is not as lighthearted as poor, horny Apolos’s, but it does play a key role in shaping the decisions of of one of the main characters. Even though magic was “against the law” in Rome, people employed it through curse tablets all the time. Whether it was in the pursuit of fortune, fame, revenge, or lust, the ancients believed that a wicked-good curse could make all the difference in the world.

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Vicky Alvear Shecter is the author of the young adult novel, CLEOPATRA’S MOON (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2011), based on the life of Cleopatra’s only daughter. She is also the author of two award-winning biographies for kids on Alexander the Great and Cleopatra. She is a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta.

Website Blog ❧ Facebook ❧  Twitter ❧  Goodreads

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The story was a great foray into historical fiction, and I really enjoyed that the author didn’t use the explosion of Pompeii as her only conflict. There was a lot of tension from a lot of areas, making the story all the more real.
– Book Geek, Goodreads Reviewer

Historically accurate and beautifully written, Curses and Smoke is such a compelling read. Lucia is a character readers will fall in love with. From her plucky spirit to her eagerness for knowledge to her willingness to fight for herself, even if it means bucking societal norms and defying her father, Lucia is a force to be reckoned with.
- KM, Goodreads Reviewer

This book was also full of twists I did not see coming!
- Elizabeth Phillips, Goodreads Reviewer

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When your world blows apart, what will you hold onto? Tag is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master’s injured gladiators. But his warrior’s heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom. Lucia is the daughter of Tag’s owner, doomed by her father’s greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she’s been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air... When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them — to Lucia’s father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?

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Format: Paperback & eBook
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Released by: Arthur A. Levine Books
Length: 336 pages
ISBN-10: 0545509939
Genre: YA Historical Fiction

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Check Out All the Stops on Vicky Alvear Shecter's Curses and Smoke Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, May 26
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review & Giveaway at The Mad Reviewer
Tuesday, May 27
Guest Post & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, May 28
Review & Giveaway at Fiction Folio
Thursday, May 29
Review at Good Books and Good Wine
Friday, May 30
Guest Post at Good Books and Good Wine
Monday, June 2
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Tuesday, June 3
Review at Geek Girl’s Book Blog
Interview & Giveaway at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Wednesday, June 4
Review at Book Drunkard
Thursday, June 5
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Friday, June 6
Review at The Book Belles
Review at Manga Maniac Cafe
Monday, June 9
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, June 10
Review & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry
Wednesday, June 11
Interview & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Thursday, June 12
Review at Let Them Read Books
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Friday, June 13
Review at Broken Teepee
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

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