National Geographic : 2013 Apr
NEXT Art: JoshuA MAxwell. photos: CeliA sánChez nAtAlíAs, university of zArAgozA, spAin (tAblet); MetropolitAn MuseuM of Art/Art resourCe, ny In some cultures over- complimenting casts a curse. So does envy. Since ancient times such maledictions have been collectively called the evil eye. According to folklorist Alan Dundes’s book The Evil Eye, the belief’s premise is that an individual can cause harm simply by looking at another’s person or property. But protection is easy to come by—with talismans that can be worn, carried, or hung in homes, most often incorporating the contours of a human eye (like the Egyptian one, below). In Aegean countries people with light-colored eyes are thought to be particu- larly powerful, and amulets in Greece and Turkey are usually blue orbs. Indians, Muslims, and Jews use charms with palm-forward hands with an eye in the center; Italians employ horns, phallic shapes meant to distract spell casters. —JR An Eye for an Eye Curses, Foiled Citizens of the roman empire had a habit of writing when they were wronged. they etched griev- ances into thin sheets of lead, which were rolled and pierced with nails, then buried in tombs or thrown into wells. A newly translated 1,600-year-old tablet (above) seeks to impart vengeance on a veterinarian named porcello. there was no gripe too small. researchers have found more than 1,500 curse tablets, including 130 around Aquae sulis (now bath, england) seeking revenge for shoes and other items stolen while their owners were in the water. some are signed; some depict the perpetrator. Many petition a deity with powers to befoul the suspect’s life. why do such complaints matter? “they’re documents of the common people’s concerns,” says Celia sánchez natalías of spain’s university of zaragoza, “not Augustus’s or Cicero’s.” —Johnna Rizzo A bound figure depicts the curse’s target, in this case a veterinarian named porcello. “May all Porcello’s body, limbs, entrails...disin- tegrate, languish, and collapse ... soul, heart, buttocks.” (pArtiAl trAnslAtion) A curse tablet (left) invokes a deity—perhaps the goddess hecate, queen of witches—with a crown of snakes.