The curse is usually deﬁ ned as a formula by whose mere expression its speaker seeks to inﬂ ict harm on others.1 This deﬁ nition is at once too narrow and too broad: too narrow because the person who utters a curse often does not think of the execration as a harmful act at all, but sees it, for example, in its prophetic function as an objective statement about impending events. (The medieval literature on cursing concentrates on this theme in particular.) And the deﬁ nition is too broad because various performative acts such as legal judgments may also inﬂ ict harm on somebody by their mere pronouncement, but nonetheless would not normally be considered curses. The customary deﬁ nition, then, is insufﬁ cient. At times, the deﬁ nition is augmented by the assertion that curses are reactions to a transgression, thereby turning them into primordial acts of restituting rightful law and justice.2 That is itself a reactive conception, for it presumes that societal structures are always already given without considering how and to what extent speech acts like curses and oaths themselves contribute to the process of constituting laws and institutions.3 Admittedly, the heterogeneity of the phenomenon makes it difﬁ cult to ﬁ nd a more useful deﬁ nition. Even the word’s etymology is lost in obscurity: “Curse,” according to the ﬁ rst edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, is “of unknown origin”; no similar word exists in the Germanic, Romance and Celtic languages.4 The German “Fluch” seems to be derived from the Germanic root “ﬂ oka-,” denoting acts of striking, splitting and thrusting; but even this etymology is uncertain.5 The words “curse” and “Fluch” are not derivable and not strictly deﬁ nable. They cover several semantic ﬁ elds that are separated in other languages, for example in Hebrew. The Hebrew terms that in Bible translations are rendered as “curse” essentially designate either an act of punishment by God (arûr, ʸ˒ ʸ ˌ ), or an appeal to His avenging justice (alah, ʤʬʕ ˌ ).6 The concept of “curse” in this respect is overdetermined. It is exactly this semantic condensation that, since the early Middle Ages, is decisive for the prevalent Christian use of this term in Europe: malediction is at once an appeal to, and a condemnation through a punitive divine judgment, however the correlation and efﬁ cacy of these two aspects may be construed. In the culture of the Middle Ages and of the early modern era, the curse can, at best, be deﬁ ned through this ambiguity.