ROMAN stone tablets which have been hidden in an Italian museum for decades have been found to contain a virulent sex curse.
The tablet in the Museum of Bologna's archives appears to invoke the witchcraft goddess Hekate to bind and torment a man with a special curse focusing on the genitals.
The tablets were hidden in the archives for nearly a century ... thought to have been put aside at the start of World War I ... and rediscovered in 2009. The tablets are believed to be 1600 years old.
Now a translation has revealed the dark purpose of the slabs ... calling a snake-shrouded figure believed to be Hekate to bind a man who is mummified with his hands tied. He is named as Porcellus.
Celia Sanchez Natalias, of the University of Zaragoza has translated the tablets for the first time.
"In the foreground is a standing barefoot figure, with crossed or tied hands at belly height. On his chest are a magic sign while in the genital area is an eight-pointed star," she says.
"Sinuous snakes emerge threateningly from the side of his crowned head," she adds. "Below, lying down, mummified and with his hands tied, or at least crossed, is the victim of the curse, perfectly recognisable because of the inscription running down both arms, which reads: Porcellus."
Carving curses into tablets was a common practice in the ancient world ... with lead tablets used in some areas, and stone in others.
The Bologna "Defixiones" is unusual because of its mixture of terrifying demonic figures and text ... and, Natalias, says, could invoke the three-formed goddess Hekate, the mother of witches.
The first figure, with snakes streaming out of his/her head, and a crown is thought to be the demon - or goddess - who is being called on to carry out the curse.
"The deity of the Bologna curse is barefoot and has a magic sign on the breast ... and also has an eight-point star in its genital area," says Natalias.
The star is almost unique ... but other features such as the snakes make an identification with the Goddess Hecate tempting.
Hecate - the witch-goddess - is often invoked in Ancient Roman curse tablets.
"While it is tempting to identify this figure with this deity, the absence of other characteristics, such as her three forms or her bearing torches, as traditionally associated with her, undermines this hypothesis," says Natalias.
Interestingly, the images seem to show both the goddess - or demon - AND the victim as being bound, tied up, or mummified.
The spell is binding Hecate - or another demon - to torment Porcellus, whoever he may have been.
"Just as the deity is bound, so will Porcello be," says Natalias.