„The Bubbling Waters“: A Latin Curse Tablet

Sometime in the 2nd century CE, a lead tablet seeking the death of a certain Caucadio was deposited in a spring in the the Etrurian city of Arretium (now Arezzo in Tuscany). The spring was evidently not associated with a specific deity, but the author of the defixio (‚binding‘ or curse tablet) used a way of address that would be fitting to any god or goddess that might preside over it:

Quintus Letinius Lupus, who is also called Caucadio, and who is the son of Sallustia Veneria or Veneriosa—him, I hand over, I pledge and I sacrifice to your deity, so that you, bubbling waters or Nymphs or by whatever other name you wish to be called—so that you may kill him, murder him within this year.

The Latin text (Defixio 1.1.1/1 Kropp = Audollent 129) runs as follows (omitting critical marks):

Q. Letinium Lupum qui et vocatur Caucadio, qui est filius Sallusties Veneries sive Venerioses, hunc ego aput vostrum numen demando devoveo desacrifico, uti vos, Aquae ferventes sive vos Nimfas sive quo alio nomine voltis adpellari, uti vos eum interemates interficiates intra annum istum.

Some notes:

Sallusties Veneries sive Venerioses: in standard Latin, we would expect -ae; the informal -es is also found in other defixiones.

hunc: this connector (and the following pronoun ego) is not strictly necessary; this curse tablet is edited for clarity of reference, not style.

aput: final d is often devoiced.

vostrum: alternative form of vestrum.

numen: what is meant is probably not the deity itself (let alone their divinity) but their divine power (cf. ‚falling into sb’s power‘).

uti vos: the repetition is again technically unnecessary.

demando devoveo desacrifico: three words more for alliterative repetation than because three distinct things are meant; but if we do want to spell out differences, demando refers to a transfer of custody, devoveo to a promise of making an offering, and desacrifico to killing a sacrificial victim.

ferventes: possibly ’seething‘, with its connotation of wrath, would be a more fitting translation than ‚bubbling‘.

Nimfas: i for y and f for ph reflect fairly standard pronunciation; but the apparent accusative –as instead of nominative -ae is strange (triggered by the ambiguous case of ferventes?).

voltis: non-standard form of vultis.

adpellari: appellari.

interemates interficiates: there is no real difference in meaning, but the same alliterative or effect as with the three de– words. The standard forms would be interimatis interificatis.

istum: misspelled as itusm in the tablet.

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