). A witch; a sorceress. The word is derived from
screech-owl,” a creature believed by the ancients to suck the blood of young
children (Plaut. Pseud.
iii. 2, 31; Pliny , Pliny
H. N. xi. 39Pliny H. N., 95
). There are
many passages in classical literature that show the belief in witches to have been widespread.
The most famous of ancient witch-stories are those in Petronius 63, where night-hags carry off
a young boy and leave a manikin in his place; and in the Metamorphoses
Apuleins (bk. i. ad init.), where is an extremely gruesome tale, of considerable length, put
into the mouth of a commercial traveller whose friend Socrates had been bled to death by
witches. Horace (
Sat. i. 8
) relates the incantations of a number of sorceresses who dig
up the bones of the dead in the cemetery on the Esquiline, and recall by their weird rites the
famous scene in Macbeth.
In the Fifth Epode is a still longer and very dramatic
picture of witches burying a boy alive, so as to use his heart and liver in the preparation of
magic potions. Cf. also Tibullus, i. 5; Ovid,
Fast. vi. 133
foll.; and Fest. p. 314 Müll. The word Venefĭca
) is also used of a witch; Saga
v.) means a fortune-teller, not necessarily malignant.