Roberta Mazza

There is a proverb in the Veneto region of Italy, which says that if your right eye has a spasm (actually it says ‘dances’) then you will have troubles in love. If the left eye does the same, you will be heartbroken. Knowing it or not, Veneto-Italians are continuing an ancient divination technique called ‘palmomancy’, the interpretation of the involuntary spasms or twitching of the human body. In the Graeco-Roman world, professional diviners and magicians gave body-based predictions of the future to their clients on the basis of manuals and centuries of experience. This field of knowledge is hard to be defined according to modern categories of religion, magic and medicine, since it often shares features with each of them.

Not many manuals of palmomancy have survived from antiquity, but we do have a fine one in Manchester: P. Ryl. I 28. The Rylands treatise occupies a very special position…

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