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The World's Eye

The World's Eye

Albert M. Potts
Copyright Date: 1982
Pages: 104
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  • Book Info
    The World's Eye
    Book Description:

    Greek vases and Peruvian bottles, Chinese bronzes and African masks, Tel Brak idols and Egyptian tomb paintings -- artifacts ancient and modern reveal man's universal fascination with the eye and his awe before its mysterious powers. In this wide-ranging and richly illustrated essay Albert M. Potts considers the special properties the human mind has ascribed to the eye over the millenia and seeks out its peculiar significance as symbol.

    Amulets against the Evil Eye persist today in nearly every part of the world. Almost as pervasive is the conception of the Good Eye, itself used as a protective amulet. The Eye of Horus, for example, was one of the holiest symbols of the ancient Egyptian religion, and its descendants can still be found in the Mediterranean basin. Using artifacts and texts, the folklore of our own times, and aspects of the unconscious revealed by Jungian psychology, Potts reveals the diverse forms and meanings of this powerful symbol.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5775-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. 1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    That vision is by far the most important of the senses few will debate. That the eye is the seat of vision any primitive or two-year-old can determine with certainty by covering the eyes. Add to this that the eyes are the center of expressiveness, the windows of the soul, and it is easy to understand what a potent and universal symbol the eye has been since earliest prehistory.¹ It is the object of this book to consider how wonder and the primitive mentality (in the absence of true scientific knowledge) have endowed the eye with special properties, and to...

  6. 2. The Evil Eye
    (pp. 5-16)

    As Wallis Budge said so well, early man lived “days of misery and nights of fear.” The forces against his staying alive were so numerous and so potent that he personified them as devils, demons, and evil spirits.¹ There is every reason to believe that the concept of the Evil Eye went right along with the demons, for amulets are among the finds in prehistoric archeological sites and the Evil Eye concept is found in historical times in all cultures and in every part of the globe.

    It was once fashionable to ask about such universal concepts (of which the...

  7. 3. The Eye of Horus and Other Amulets
    (pp. 17-25)

    In the face of the all-pervading Evil Eye, what is more logical than the existence of a Good Eye—a countervailing force? If one did not exist, it would have to be created. The earliest known of all such eye amulets is the Eye of Horus, created by the ancient Egyptians. Tomb findings from the Fourth Dynasty onward include Eye of Horus amulets buried with the dead.¹ Thus the set of concepts encompassed an eye amulet had to have been established by 2600 b.c., some forty-five centuries ago. Reasons for the preeminence of this particular symbolic eye are to be...

  8. 4. The Eye of Medusa
    (pp. 26-37)

    The horrible Gorgon, Medusa, the very sight of whom turned every living thing to stone, is one of the well-established figures of Western mythology. As it happens, the Gorgon story and its representations in art are pivotal in explaining a world-pervading idea about the eye that has dwelt in man’s mind since prehistoric times. As far back as we can get any glimmer of thought, this idea—the concept of the Apotropaic Eye—has existed. It is still very much alive in many parts of the world today, and the explanatory threads which lead back from antiquity to prehistory and...

  9. 5. Behind the Mask
    (pp. 38-48)

    If the Gorgoneion is the prime exemplar of the Apotropaic Eye, what about masks, particularly primitive masks? Aren’t they apotropaic too? My answer is an emphatic albeit qualified yes.

    The first thing to realize is that masks like most primitive cultural creations are not the result of a logical hypothesis brought to a logical conclusion. They are the result of half-thoughts and inner feelings of extreme complexity, brought to embodiment from the deepest recesses of the soul. Their origins are multiple and complex. Their meanings are many, multivariant, and frequently overlapping. Only a very naïve reductionist will say that primitive...

  10. 6. The Eyes of Argus
    (pp. 49-59)

    When Hans Andersen retold the folktaleThe Tinder Boxand wanted to escalate the awesomeness of the dogs guarding the treasure chests, he gave the first dog eyes as large as teacups, the second, eyes as large as mill wheels, and the third, eyes as large as the Round Tower (the Rundetaarn in Copenhagen). This is exactly the approach to the Apotropaic Eye used by the artists of the eye kylix where a pair of eyes occupies the whole side of the vessel. There is another approach to awesomeness and this involves the strength of numbers. There are several instances...

  11. 7. The Ojo de Dios
    (pp. 60-67)

    It is strange enough that the subject matter of this chapter should be labeled “Eye of God” in Spanish. Add to that its popularity in the counterculture, its origin in a still-surviving tribe, and its worldwide dissemination at an unknown period in the past, and you have the makings of a confusing and amazing story. I shall try to make that story understandable as far as available facts allow.

    One of the component ideas of the Watchbird concept complex referred to in chapter 1 is the notion that the gods are watching the actions of men. An improbable physical locus...

  12. 8. The Eye of Providence
    (pp. 68-78)

    On the reverse of the great seal of the United States an eye in a triangle surrounded by rays is a prominent feature of the design (Fig. 115). The reverse of the seal has never been used for state purposes but it may be seen on the back of the one-dollar bill. What is the significance of this eye?

    The committee that produced the design for the seal was appointed after dinner on July 4, 1776, and consisted of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. In their report to Congress the committee described an original version of the seal...

  13. 9. Epilogue: Ars Brevis, Vita Longa Est
    (pp. 79-79)

    This inversion of the first aphorism of Hippocrates is not for the sake of perversity. Hippocrates was rightly impressed by the complexity and difficulty—so much more complex and difficult in our day—of the science of healing, compared to the brevity of a single human life. However, the matters we have been surveying in this volume deal not with a single life-span but with the collective experience of humankind.

    It makes little difference for our purposes whetherhomo erectusappeared 400,000 or 500,000 years ago or whetherhomo sapiensappeared 40,000 or 100,000 years ago. Compared to the four...

  14. APPENDIX A: Gorgon Coins of Antiquity: Mints and Chronology
    (pp. 80-80)
  15. APPENDIX B: World Distribution of the Thread-Cross
    (pp. 81-82)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 83-88)
  17. Index
    (pp. 89-94)