Lecture 2: Female Demons – 6 Oct 2024

Throughout antiquity, from the Mediterranean to the Levant, the world was animated by terrifying female demons. We begin with Mesopotamian child-snatching demons, also known to harm mothers, and the magical devices to trap them. From West Asia, we travel to Greece to meet Lamia, and Empousa, demons who could assume the form of beautiful women to seduce men and feed on their bodies. From Greece, we encounter Mormo, a scary monster invoked by mothers and nurses to instil good behaviour in children. Included in our survey are some comparisons to similar figures in other times and places, including ogres and vampires.

Interested in some background reading? Try Marguerite Johnson’s ‘‘I gave birth but did not bring a child to life’: for millennia, women expressed their pain through a belief in demonic, female monsters,’ The Conversation (July 5, 2023): ‘I gave birth but did not bring a child to life’: for millenia, women expressed their pain through a belief in demonic, female monsters (theconversation.com)– a book review of Sarah Clegg’s Woman’s Lore: 4,000 Years of Sirens, Serpents and Succubi.

You may also like: Erle Lichty’s ‘Demons and Population Control,’ Expedition Magazine 13.2 (1971): Expedition Magazine | Demons and Population Control (penn.museum)

Image: A seventeenth-century depiction of Lamia by Edward Topsell.


Marguerite Johnson is a cultural historian of the ancient Mediterranean, specialising in sexuality and gender, particularly in the poetry of Sappho, Catullus, and Ovid, as well as magical traditions in Greece, Rome, and the Near East. She also researches Classical Reception Studies, with a regular focus on Australia. In addition to ancient world studies, Marguerite is interested in sexual histories in modernity as well as magic in the west more broadly, especially the practices and art of Australian witch, Rosaleen Norton. She is Honorary Professor of Classics and Ancient History at The University of Queensland, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

don’t worry if you miss it – we will send you a recording valid for two weeks the next day


This Lecture is Part of the Folk Belief in The Ancient Mediterranean a 5 part lecture series – tickets may be booked for this lecture here or for the whole series

In this five-part series, Marguerite Johnson takes you on a journey over land, sea, sky, and into the ethereal world of folk belief in the ancient Mediterranean. Complete with illustrations and the words of the ancients themselves, we look at the strange creatures believed to inhabit land and sea, the terrifying demons that threatened to snatch your child, the werewolf and other shapeshifters, the ancient prototype of the fairytale, ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and some old-fashioned tall tales.

Series image: Sebastian Münster from Olaus Magnus’ Carta marina (Basel c. 1544).

Oct 6th 2024 - 8.00 pm - 9:30 pm

£6 - £10 & By Donation

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