The Evil Eye in the Mediterranean

Joseph P. Delmonaco, Rhode Island College

Includes correspondence between Richard Lobban and AFC regarding the author's minimization of 'historical and diffusionistic factors.' in writing this paper.


In this paper I shall present and critique the four most prominent explications of the evil eye that have appeared in the anthropological literature to date. Briefly, these .are the functional approach of George Foster (1972), the structural-interactionist approach of Garrison and Arensberg (1976), the semiotic-

particularist approach of Michael Herzfeld (1981,1983), and the "synthetic image" approach of Anthony H. Galt (1982). These explanations by no means exhaust the universe of theoretical orientations concerned with the evil eye, although my decision to focus on them exclusively is far from arbitrary. First, I believe that these four are the best and most coherent examples of

such attempts to explain the cultural trait. Second, each has, in varying degree, informed most research on the belief. Third, each has stimulated my own ideas surrounding the nature and functioning of the evil eye.

The second part of this paper is an outline of my own tentative hypothesis for the explanation of the evil eye in the Mediterranean. I shall be concerned with one question primarilyc "why the eye?" What is it about this form of magical and symbolic "ocular aggression" (Gilmore,1982a197) that makes it -such a prevalent and persistent feature of culture in Mediterranean societies? The answer I will suggest is ultimately a functional one based on Foster's concept of the Image of the Limited Good (1965,1972),