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Love, Magic and Murder

In ancient Athens, violent ‘love’ spells, voodoo dolls and toxic potions made seduction a dangerous game. Philip Matyszak unearths one tragic story of a love affair that turned deadly

The strange death of Philoneos, 430BC

With little to separate love and lust in ancient Athens, men and women turned to magic and potions to woo their beloveds
Women in ancient Athens had little in the way of rights or power - is it any wonder that slave Dilitra turned to sorcery to save herself?
ALAMY X1, BRIDGEMAN IMAGES X1, GETTY IMAGES X2, 2019 MUSÉE DU LOUVRE, PARIS X1 BRIDGEMAN IMAGES

It can be devastating to discover that your partner no longer loves you. But for one young woman in ancient Greece called Dilitra, this was worse than any modern romantic can imagine. For Dilitra was a slave, and her lover was also her owner. This owner, a man called Philoneos, informed Dilitra that he would be taking her with him on a trip to Athens. One might imagine that Dilitra a was looking forward to accompanying Philoneos, enjoying a break from household routine and taking in the sights of the big city. Sadly, Dilitra would be seeing more of Athens than she would like. Philoneos was tired of her and intended to sell her to a brothel.

Dilitra would become a pornai – a common prostitute. Athenian slang for these unfortunate women translates as ‘those who hit the dirt’, a phrase similar to the modern expression ‘hitting rock bottom’. These girls would stand naked at the doors of their dark dens, a attempting to lure men inside fo for the cost of an obol per c customer. (An obol was th the equivalent of one or tw two loaves of bread.)

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About History Revealed

“Don’t let every little feeling be read in your face and seen in your manner.” Queen Victoria certainly took her own advice. But her personal feelings have since been revealed through her diaries and letters, and this issue we ask the celebrated historian Lucy Worsley how these private words have shed light on Victoria’s life and deeds. Plus: the tale of how modest Oxford don JRR Tolkien was inspired to create Middle Earth, an ancient Athenian whodunnit, our A-Z of executions, the most brilliant beards in history, and more.