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Malus Ocŭlus

ὀφθαλμὸς βάσκανος). The superstition of the “evil eye” is mentioned by Aristotle (Probl. xx. 34), and seems to have been very general among both the Greeks and Romans, as it is in Italy to-day under the name of jettatura. Amulets were worn as charms against it, and Theocritus speaks of “spitting thrice” to avert it (vi. 39). The evil eye was supposed to injure children particularly, but sometimes cattle also; whence Vergil ( Ecl. iii. 103) says:
Nescio quis teneros oculus mihi fascinat agnos.

Various amulets were used to avert the influence of the evil eye. The most common of these appears to have been the phallus (q. v.), called by the Romans fascinum, which was hung round the necks of children (Varr. L. L. vii. 97, ed. Müller). Pliny (Pliny H. N. xix. 50) also says that Satyrica signa, by which he means the phallus, were placed in gardens and on hearths as a protection against the fascinations of the envious; and we learn from Pollux (viii. 118) that blacksmiths were accustomed to place the same figures before their forges with the same design. Sometimes other objects were employed for this purpose. Pisistratus is said to have hung the figure of a kind of grasshopper before the Acropolis as a preservative against fascination (Hesych. s. v. Καταχήνη). To point the middle finger (digitus infamis, digitus impudicus) at a person was a way of averting his evil influence, and this gesture is still common in Southern Italy, especially Naples, to-day. Cf. Wachsmuth in the Berlin Athenaeum, ii. pp. 209 foll.; Jahn, Ueber den Aberglauben des bösen Blicks (1855); and on various charms used against the evil eye, see the articles Amuletum; Bulla; Fascinum; Phallus; and cf. Superstitio.

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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Vergil, Eclogues, 3
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 19.50
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