A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities/Fascinum

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FA´SCINUM (βασκανία), fascination, enchantment. The belief that some persons had the power of injuring others by their looks was prevalent among the Greeks and Romans, and, under the name jettatura, among the superstitious in modern Italy. The ὀφθαλμὸς βάσκανος, or evil eye, is frequently mentioned by ancient, writers. (Alciphr. Ep. 1.15; Heliod. Aeth. 3.7; compare Plin. Nat. 7.16.) Plutarch, in his Symposium (5.7), has a separate chapter περὶ τῶν καταβασκαίνειν λεγομένων, καὶ βάσκανον ἔχειν ὀφθαλμόν. The evil eye was supposed to injure children particularly, but sometimes cattle also; whence Virgil (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, called by the Romans fascinum, which was hung round the necks of children (turpicula res, Varr. L. L. 7.97, ed. Müller). Pliny (Plin. Nat. 19. §. 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 (8.118) that smiths were accustomed to place the same figures before their forges with the same design. Sometimes other objects were employed for this purpose. Peisistratus is said to have hung the figure of a kind of grasshopper before the Acropolis as a preservative against fascination. (Hesych. sub voce Καταλήνη.) Compare Amuletum, Bulla.

Another common mode of averting fascination was by spitting into the folds of one's own dress. (Theocr. 6.39; Plin. Nat. 28.39; Lucian, Navig. 15, p. 259 R.)

According to Pliny (Plin. Nat. 28.39), Fascinus was the name of a god, who was worshipped among the Roman sacra by the Vestal virgins, and was placed under the chariot of those who triumphed as a protection against fascination; by which he means in all probability that the phallus was placed under the chariot. (Müller, Archäol. der Kunst, § 436, [p. 1.828] 1, 2; Böttiger, Klein. Schr. iii. p. 111; Becker-Göll, Charikles, i. p. 287.) [W.S] [W.W]