Monday, 23 June 2014

Apotropaic Images

 Apotropaic images of Satyrs, Phalli or Fascinum, in short fetish objects thought to embody a mystical power were placed in gardens, on hearths, chariots and around one's person, as a protection against the fascinations of the envious "lower classes of the community", to divert the attention and intention, the "spells and sorcery" of this "evil eye" turned against them.

This small excerpt from Pliny's Natural History highlights the origin of the inequalities, which make the production and dispersal of fetish objects essential for the ruling classes to 'ward off the evil eye'.


Pliny The Natural History

...In our laws of the Twelve Tables, we find the word "villa," or "farm," nowhere mentioned; it is the word "hortus" that is always used with that signification, while the term "heredium" we find employed for "garden." There are certain religious impressions, too, that have been attached to this species of property, and we find that it is in the garden and the Forum only that statues of satyrs are consecrated, as a protection against the evil effects of spells and sorcery*; although in Plautus, we find the gardens spoken of as being under the tutelage of Venus.....

.....It would be surprising indeed, for the beasts of the field to be forbidden the thistle for food, and yet it is a thing forbidden to the lower classes of the community! These refined distinctions, too, are extended to the very water even, and, thanks to the mighty influence of money, there are lines of demarcation drawn in the very elements themselves.... it the fact, then, that any herb of the garden is reared only for the rich man's table? It is so—but still let no one of the angered populace think of a fresh secession to Mount Sacer or Mount Aventine; for to a certainty, in the long run, all-powerful money will bring them back to just the same position as they were in when it wrought the severance. For, by Hercules! there was not an impost levied at Rome more grievous than the market-dues**, an impost that aroused the indignation of the populace, who repeatedly appealed with loud clamours to all the chief men of the state to be relieved from it. At last they were relieved from this heavy tax upon their wares; and then it was found that there was no tax more lucrative, more readily collected, or less obnoxious to the caprices of chance, than the impost that was levied in exchange for it, in the shape of a property-tax, extended to the poorest classes: for now the very soil itself is their surety that paid the tax will be, their means are patent to the light of day, and the superficial extent of their possessions, whatever the weather may chance to be, always remains the same. 


*"contra invidentium effascinationes" =  to counter effects of the evil eye.
** bears reference to the abolition of the market-dues, or "portorium," by Augustus Cæsar, and the substitution of a property tax of one twentieth of the land, a method of taxation which inflicted greater hardships than the former one, as it was assessed according to the superficies, not the produce of the land.

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