“Abi in malem cursem”: The Latin of Magic in “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” – a BA Thesis by Alessia Borriello

Alessia Borriello is a student from the Department of Classical Philology and Italian Studies at the University of Bologna. She accomplished her Erasmus training within the Our Mythical Childhood project at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, in the 1st term of the academic year 2019/2020.

Ever since Alessia has been in touch with us and at the moment she is preparing within the OMC project a game for children, with illustrations by her colleague Ludovica Lusvardi, student at Politecnico di Milano, Fashion Design. Alessia also writes books of fiction. Her novel “Blu e le streghe” [“Blu and the Witches”] was a finalist in the Italian Literary Contest Zeno 2019:

45′ Reception:  “Blu e le streghe” [“Blu and the Witches”] by Alessia Borriello

Recently Alessia defended at her Alma Mater her Bachelor Thesis about the Latin spells in the Netflix web series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina – supervisor: Prof. Lucia Pasetti, reviewer: Prof. Daniele Tripaldi. Below we present you Alessia’s abstract of her research. I nostri complimenti!

Sabrina and Salem, [source].


The research collects and analyzes the Latin spells in the Netflix web series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018–ongoing). To introduce the topic (ch. 1), the television series is presented as functioning within a particular communication system: it is an adaptation of the comic book series of the same name and a reboot of the Archie Comicscharacter Sabrina from 1962. Ch. 2 analyzes some aspects of ancient magic, with a particular focus on cross-references provided in the Netflix web series, namely, the ancient Graeco-Roman defixiones (curses) (§2.2), and the interplay between ancient magic and prayer (§2.3). Next, comes a discussion of the Latin incantations divided into two parts: a quantitative analysis, which facilitates understanding of the frequency and distribution of Latin formulas and their relation to the English ones, and a qualitative one, offering a detailed treatment of individual, significant cases.

The quantitative analysis (ch. 3) arranges the spells into typological and linguistic subgroups according to: 1. the types of magic present in the lore created for the series, and 2. a linguistic categorization of ancient Latin defixiones developed by the German scholar Amina Kropp (2008).

The quantitative analysis shows that the Latin incantations are preferred to the English ones, and this tendency follows two main criteria: the degree to which an individual spell is generic, and the overall inherent ‘magical power’ of Latin.

Finally, ch. 4 provides a linguistic analysis of a sample of two of the most frequently used types of incantation: §4.1 Aufforderungsformel mit der Einbindung des Empfängers (‘wish formula with the involvement of the addressee’); §4.2 direkte Adressierung des defixus (‘direct addressing to the defixus’).

A more detailed assessment of the Latin phrases reveals that these spells are pastiches created from distorted Latin expressions and usages of non-literary Latin, coloured by loanwords from poetic memory, as well as from the Bible. This traditional material is also filtered through modern tools, available on the Internet, such as contemporary e-books of Latin spells (Carl Nagel 1986) or the Google Translate platform itself, with which modern languages speakers can produce approximate translations from and into Latin.

It is also possible to trace the origin of the deviations from standard Latin, both to the genre of the magical writing of the defixiones, characterized by a distorted application of Latin morphology and syntax, and to ‘translationalism’, semantic diffraction and grammar mistakes influenced by English usage, the mother tongue of creators and speakers of this fictitious Latin.

The research is original: there are no other studies on Latin in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (neither on its formal characteristics nor on its sources in ancient magical culture).

Diploma and corona laurea

Alessia defending her thesis (a remote defense due to the pandemic situation)

Abstract by Alessia Borriello. Introduction by Katarzyna Marciniak and Dorota Rejter. Post elaborated by Dorota Rejter

Publication of the Book “Chasing Mythical Beasts…”

We are most pleased to share the good news with you: The volume “Chasing Mythical Beasts: The Reception of Ancient Monsters in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture” edited by Katarzyna Marciniak has just been published by the Universitätsverlag Winter Heidelberg. The book summarizes the results of the stage of the “Our Mythical Childhood” programme, carried out as part of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Award and ERC Consolidator Grant.

We keep publishing the previews of the single chapters on the Facebook and Twitter profiles of the Centre for Studies on the Classical Tradition (OBTA) and on the OMC social media.

Table of contents

For more OMC publications please check our updates here.

Post by Olga Strycharczyk