Magic & Witchcraft in Ancient Greece & Rome – Prof. Marguerite Johnson – 7 Lecture Course

In this special seven-part series, Marguerite Johnson takes us on a magical mystery tour of magic and witchcraft in ancient Greece and Rome, with a sprinkling of Egyptian occult practices. Each lecture introduces a particular type of magic; is extensively illustrated with archaeological evidence; features excerpts from ancient writing; and includes a fascinating reading list for those interested in pursuing the topics in more detail. 

Potions (pharmakeia) of the Ancient World: July 23rd – Lecture V

Potion-making or pharmakeia was a common theme in the fantasy literature featuring witches in Greek and Latin literature. While the effects of such literary potions are incredible and amazing, the ancients did employ potions in real life. From mundane poisoning to the use in magic and occult rituals, pharmakeia involved extensive preparations and sometimes extraordinary ingredients. Additionally, the process of making potions reveal the extensive knowledge of plants in antiquity. In this talk, we look at all forms of pharmakeia, including some real spells. 

For a peak preview of some of the topics we’ll be looking at, read Shelby Brown’s ‘Potions and Poisons: Classical Ancestors of the Wicked Witch Part 1’, Getty, October 19, 2015: 


Marguerite Johnson is a classical scholar who works on ancient Mediterranean cultural studies, particularly gender, sexuality, and the body. She also researches ancient magic, particularly the portrayal of witches, in Greek and Latin literature. When she’s not thinking about the ancient world, Marguerite researches and writes on the 20th-century Australian witch, Rosaleen Norton, with whom she has held a fascination since childhood, as well as modern aspects of sexuality and gender. Marguerite was, until 2022, Professor of Classics and Ancient History at The University of Newcastle, Australia. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities.

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