Postcards from the Underworld: Beware the Evil Eye

I couldn't resist this spectacle of evil eye amulets, displayed on a shop wall in the Plaka district of Athens. 

The evil eye has a very old history. In ancient Greece and Rome it was a way to ward off the recipient from too much attention, fame or glory. It is written that when a conquering hero or Roman Emperor entered the city after a great victorious battle, a slave was hired to whisper in his ear, "Memento mori," which means, "remember death," or "remember that you are mortal." 

In that same fashion, the evil eye today continues the tradition of reminding one to not get too swollen with pride lest one would bring about one's own downfall or doom. At celebrations of great happiness in Greek culture, such as baptisms and weddings, guests routinely "spit" on the bride and newborn (this involves a form of faux spitting in the air above their heads) as a gesture to ward off the evil eye from such a happy occasion. 

While superstition itself probably does not bring a great deal of happiness to people by playing upon the fears of human beings, the larger lesson of the evil eye is a solid one to ponder. It remind us to be grateful for the good things in our life and not spend our precious energy focused on what we don't have. In other words, as in the Icarus legend, don't fly so high towards the sun that your wings melt:  keep yourself grounded. In the end, it's better to want what you have, then to have what you want. 

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