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Fascinum

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Fascinum


In ancient Roman religion and magic, the fascinus or fascinum was the embodiment of the divine phallus. The word can refer to the deity himself (Fascinus), to phallus effigies and amulets, and to the spells used to invoke his divine protection.[1] Pliny calls it a medicus invidiae, a "doctor" or remedy for envy (invidia, a "looking upon") or the evil eye.

Public religion

The Vestal Virgins tended the cult of the fascinus populi Romani, the sacred image of the phallus that was one of the tokens of the safety of the state (sacra Romana). It was thus associated with the Palladium.[2] Roman myths, such as the begetting of Servius Tullius, suggest that this phallus was an embodiment of a masculine generative power located within the hearth, regarded as sacred.[3] When a general celebrated a triumph, the Vestals hung an effigy of the fascinus on the underside of his chariot to protect him from invidia.[4]

Augustine, whose primary source on Roman religion was the lost theological works of Varro, notes that a phallic image was carried in procession annually at the festival of Father Liber, the Roman god identified with Dionysus or Bacchus, for the purpose of protecting the fields from fascinatio, magic compulsion:[5]

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As a divinized phallus, Fascinus shared attributes with Mutunus Tutunus, whose shrine was supposed to date from the founding of the city, and the imported Greek god Priapus.[6]

Magic symbols


A graphic representation of the power of the fascinus to ward off the evil eye is found on a Roman mosaic that depicts a phallus ejaculating into a disembodied eye.[7] The motif is also known from multiple relief sculptures from Leptis Magna in present-day Libya.[8] A 1st-century BC terracotta figurine shows "two little phallus-men sawing an eyeball in half."[9]

Phallic charms, often winged, were ubiquitous in Roman culture, from jewelry to bells and wind chimes to lamps.[10] The fascinus was thought particularly to ward off evil from children, mainly boys, and from conquering generals. Pliny notes the custom of hanging a phallic charm on a baby's neck, and examples have been found of phallus-bearing rings too small to be worn except by children.[11]


The "fist and phallus" amulet was prevalent amongst soldiers. These are phallic pendants with a representation of a (usually) clenched fist at the bottom of the shaft, facing away from the glans. Several examples show the fist making the manus fica or "fig sign", a symbol of good luck.[12] The largest known collection comes from Camulodunum.[13]

Etymology

The English word "fascinate" ultimately derives from Latin fascinum and the related verb fascinare, "to use the power of the fascinus," that is, "to practice magic" and hence "to enchant, bewitch." Catullus uses the verb at the end of Carmen 7, a hendecasyllabic poem addressing his lover Lesbia; he expresses his infinite desire for kisses that cannot be counted by voyeurs nor "fascinated" (put under a spell) by a malicious tongue; such bliss, as also in Carmen 5, potentially attracts invidia.[14]

Fescennine verses, the satiric and often lewd songs or chants performed on various social occasions, may have been so-named from the fascinum; ancient sources propose this etymology along with an alternative origin from Fescennia, a small town in Etruria.[15]

References

External links

  • Open Library: Dictionary of Greek and Roman antiquities: Fascinum

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