Magic perfumes and deadly herbs: The scent of witches’ magic in classical literature

Britta Ager

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The magic of Greek and Roman witches is often described as fragrant, or even as being itself a kind of scent. Classical descriptions of witchcraft thus echo ancient fears of women’s perfumes and scented cosmetics, which were conventionally thought of as altering the minds of men, who could be seduced by sweet scents into doing things they would not willingly choose to do. Witches’ spells similarly charm and confuse their targets, acting as more aggressive supernatural versions of ordinary women’s scents, even as witches themselves were increasingly described as old, repulsive, and foul-smelling. Meanwhile, male magicians are largely inodorate in the fantastic literature of antiquity. Clarifying the links between ancient discourse on perfumes, gender, and magic offers new ways to read Greco-Roman fantastic literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number721171
Pages (from-to)1-34
Number of pages34
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Magic
  • Medea
  • Perfume
  • Scent
  • Sensory studies
  • Witches

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Anthropology


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