A gem to counter the Empusa?
Anastasia Maravela, 2021-06-25
The terror and protective responses which an encounter with the shape-shifting spectre Empusa could unleash is illustrated in the famous Underworld scene from Aristophanes’ Frogs (lines 288-307). When Xanthias announces that he sees a huge, frightful and shape-shifting beast with a leg of bronze and a leg of dung, Dionysus-Heracles seeks protection behind his own priest and forbids that his name should be uttered, while Xanthias utters the apotropaic phrase ‘go where you have come from’.
However, this was not the only means of countering the Empusa and similar monsters. This paper will draw attention to a little exploited passage from Dionysus Periegetes’ epic description of the known world (ll. 723-5) which indicates that a specific type of jasper gems were used as protective amulets against Empusa-like creatures. The passage from Dionysius’ poem will be discussed both against other textual evidence concerning protection from the Empusa and against the extant material evidence in an attempt to identify the type of jasper gems that may have been used for the purpose.