Curses at the 2018 AIA/SCS Conference

The #BombCyclone of 2018 did not slow down classicists this January! Indeed, despite the outrageous weather conditions, and the cancellation of numerous flights and trains, the annual joint meeting of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) and American Institute for Archaeology (AIA) went ahead in Boston.

For classicists (or archaeologists, or ancient historians…), this is the major conference in the field (at least in North America). I was lucky to have been selected to present on the Mainz curse tablets as part of the Latin Epigraphy and Paleography Panel, alongside two of my colleagues from the University of Toronto (David Wallace-Hare and Jeff Easton) as well as a researcher of Latin manuscripts from Berlin (Orla Mulholland).

Our session did not go unaffected by the storm, however. Our panel moderator could not get into Boston in time for the conference and one presenter (Easton) was similarly absent.  Nevertheless, noted Egyptologist Roger Bagnall stepped in to moderate our panel and Wallace-Hare presented Easton’s paper on his behalf. (Such last-minute adjustments to the schedule, including presentations via Skype, seemed par for the course this conference.) Given that our panel was scheduled for 8am on the morning after the big storm, it was miracle that anyone showed up, but we still managed to get a bit of a turn-out and some good questions in the Q&A period.

Sarah Veale SCS Curses
Presenting on the Mainz curse tablets at the Latin Epigraphy and Paleography panel.

My paper looked at the demography of curse practitioners at Roman Mainz (Mogontiacum). Through an onomastic analysis of the names on the curse tablets, as well as a consideration of the social world of Mogontiacum, I offered a few tentative ideas about who might have been authoring the curse tablets. The question period afterwards was fruitful and highlighted some further areas to think about in addition to the social dynamics I put forward.

The good news here is that my presentation was not the only paper on curse tablets! Notably, the panel organized by the American Society for Greek and Latin Epigraphy (ASGLE) had two papers on curse tablets, one by Irene Salvo, who looked at the rituality of Athenian curse tablets, and another by Jessica Lamont, who examined the shared language between Greek literature and Greek curse tablets. The big takeaway here is that cursing practices are now (rightfully) considered a legitimate topic of scholarly investigation. Moreover, it is clear that there are a variety of approaches to this material—all of which have significant historical import and which contribute to our understanding of the ancient world.

I was especially cheered at the collegiality of the conference and the breadth of papers presented this year. (Classicists are known for being, uh, nit-picky.) Perhaps this is a result of the next generation of classicists moving into the field, but I was pleasantly surprised by the supportive atmosphere.  If this is the direction the field is going, then it can only mean good things for the future!

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