Some of the most popular subjects for mosaics in ancient Greece and Rome were mythological scenes, daily life, the four seasons and the sea, the circus and gladiatorial games. But one of the more curious mosaics that I find amusing from ancient Rome involves the evil eye.
During antiquity, Greeks and Romans strongly believed that there were certain types of people who possessed the ability to cast horrible curses upon individuals by simply looking at them. This ungrateful envious or ill wishing look is called the ‘evil eye’. It is thought that some people deliberately went out of there way to bestow a curse on someone believing that their evil eye has magical properties that will do harm. Interestingly, the evil eye was not feared equally, for example, in every corner of the Roman empire but it was definitely felt the strongest in the East. (It is assumed that the belief in the evil eye was spread by thinkers and philosophers during Alexander the Great’s reign? ) To combat against the ‘evil eye’, people of antiquity used all sorts of implements and animals as symbols of protection against the evil eye. We are fortunate enough to have an example of this here in the above Roman era mosaic from Antiochia (Antioch).
The evil eye depicted in the mosaic is being attacked by a multitude of implements and amulets that were relevant in the Greco-Roman world. Firstly the evil eye is being pierced by a trident and sword, then pecked by a raven and barked at by a dog. It is also being attacked by a centipede, scorpion, a cat and a snake and If that isn’t enough, a horned dwarf with an enormous phallus crossing two sticks together is also attacking the evil eye. Wow, talk about overkill!