Discover more from Classical Wisdom
Why Do We Invite Jealousy?
A History of the Evil Eye... as well as ‘Outdated’ History responses
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
If you are ever feeling too optimistic about the world, simply spend five minutes on any social media platform of your choice. Your inflated sense of well being will immediately dissipate with a few futile strokes on the infinite scroll...
Maybe there are a few interesting articles, or some insightful memes (if you follow Classical Wisdom, for example 😉), but these eventually get buried in a flurry of holiday pics, the latest concert excursion, the newest bag/car/look, or the capture of completely clean, well-behaved smiling progeny (rare in real life, yet unusually abundant online).
The motivations behind posting may be innocuous enough: keeping friends and family abreast of updates or storing memories online so they don’t get lost (a pre-cloud excuse clearly).
But often enough, it’s simply to make one look good, to show off.
Of course this trend was not invented with social media... folks have been trying to incite the green-eyed monster for time immemorial.
I’m sure there was a certain swagger of the gentleman rocking a Tyrian purple toga as he sauntered across the forum...
Interestingly, that was an action later made illegal, as ancient Rome's governing elite produced laws designed to limit public displays of personal wealth and luxury. At the height of the Roman Empire the laws regarding the wearing of Tyrian purple were so rigorously enforced, that infringement of this prohibition was considered treasonous, and so punishable by death.
It appears that the greatest difference between then and now, is that the ancients realized that inspiring jealousy can have serious repercussions... Indeed, this innate distrust of incurring envy could be seen in the ubiquitous practice of warding off the ‘evil eye’.
Tracing back to the Bronze age, the curse of the evil eye is not a complicated concept; it stems from the belief that someone who achieves great success or recognition also attracts the envy of those around them. That envy in turn manifests itself as a curse that will undo their good fortune.
The concept was well captured by Heliodorus of Emesa in the ancient Greek romance Aethiopica, in which he writes:
“When any one looks at what is excellent with an envious eye he fills the surrounding atmosphere with a pernicious quality, and transmits his own envenomed exhalations into whatever is nearest to him.”
Also referenced by Hesiod, Callimachus, Plato, Diodorus Siculus, Theocritus, Plutarch, Heliodorus, Pliny the Elder, and Aulus Gellius, the need to prevent or guard oneself against a malevolent stare took form in carrying talismans in many cultures far and wide.
These charms underwent a widespread circulation in the region, being used by the Phoenicians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans as well as the Ottomans. Eventually these protecting objects evolved into the form of the little glass blue eyed beads that we can recognize today.
Though their usage was most concentrated in the Mediterranean and the Levant, through means of trade and the expansion of empires, the blue eye beads began to find their way to all different corners of the globe.
Today apparently a whopping 40% of the population believe in the evil eye, from India and the Middle East to throughout Latin America... and yet it is certainly many of those same people who are posting flattering pics, encouraging the very eye upon them.
So what happened? Why do we no longer worry about the ‘evil eye’? Or at least act to prevent it? Indeed, it appears that we actually try to invite it rather than avoid it...
So I’d like to ask you today, dear reader:
Why do we invite Jealousy? What good can come of it? And can we, as a society and as individuals, stop?
As always, you can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or reply to this email.
I’ll post your responses next week... and in the meantime, you can enjoy this week’s mailbag collection answering: Should we learn “Outdated” history?
The replies, as usually, covered quite the spread! There were many excellent points regarding censorship, ‘defining history’, differing looks at the man in question: Christopher Columbus… as well as few controversial comments as well.
Founder and Director
Classical Wisdom is ONLY possible because of our wonderful members, community and subscribers. If you aren’t already, consider joining today:
Here at Classical Wisdom, no subject is too taboo!
As such, we invite you to delve into a historically prohibited discussion of Death and Grief. One of the certainties of life, and yet many of us do not prepare philosophically for the inevitable.
The thing is... once grief hits, it may be too hard to think and understand the topic. It is ESSENTIAL, according to Cicero, to address it before it happens.
So no matter what your position is in life, and your relationship with death, there is no time like right now to try to understand it.
Make sure to join us this October 27th for an in depth and enlightening conversation on how to understand grief and loss, according to Cicero, the Stoics and modern therapy.
Even if you can’t join us live, register in advance and you can win Michael Fontaine’s newest book, “How to Grieve”. We’ll be giving away three copies to those who sign up. You can do so here:
Last week’s mailbag question: Should we learn “outdated” history? Is there any value in it? Or should we cross it out and move along?
We should not use an outdated calendar or reckoning of time, as the Gregorian or Julian calendar!
Greetings Anya! Thank you for this question!
I feel that since history is ‘an unending dialogue between the present and the past’, as said by E.H Carr, it will always evolve according to changes in the present. However, should we just move along from ‘outdated’ facts or histories?
I don’t think we should. Sure, we need not delve into explaining it to kids. For example, We are not living in an era of ‘colonialism’, or ‘slavery’, but the history of that era can’t be entirely ‘outdated’ today because it teaches us several lessons.
Perhaps we can put these ‘outdated’ histories under the purview of historiography.
Just wanted to share my unpolished argument/opinion.
Taranjot S. (India)
How can history be outdated? It is past and can not be altered. It may not always be accurate. After all, history is usually written by the victors or by the powerful. Also for most of the past, the majority of those who lived and died making history were illiterate.
One may correct our current perception of history with solid evidence, but one may not alter or cancel history with political agendas.
To do so permits the mistakes of the past to be repeated. So that we may learn from past mistakes, yes it is important to study “out dated” history.
“History is the lie everyone agrees to.” Napoleon Bonaparte
Nappi understood that recorded history is what one, or the few, deem as noteworthy to record and pass-on to posterity. Others later determine what “makes-the-cut.”
The question: “Should we learn outdated History” is the result of all so-called modern societies’ ignorance, intellectual navel gazing and vacuous living. They misuse info for their prejudicial purposes. No history is “outdated.” But it certainly is always biased because every account by any individual will relate to their lifetime, understanding of information, and events.
The recording of History, and its selected inhabitants, exists as a limited road map of where we have been, and now are. It can be used to assist us in determining what direction we and the planet’s “herds” are heading or should take.
Other readers took grievance with the idea that Christopher Columbus’ arrival was not pivotal. Please note, this email was originally in Spanish, so forgive my translation:
Hello. I would like to comment that although the Vikings were effectively before the Admiral, it was something very small that soon ran out without establishing anything or changing the world. It is very possible that from the Pacific side some Polynesian arrived at some time (there are indications), most likely at Easter Island, which is not so far from the mainland. In any case, nothing changed.
On the other hand, the admiral's visit, which was initially by chance, marked a before and after, since he opened up to the civilized and thriving world an entire continent that had previously been massively ignored. But the contact was also sustained. In any case, by no means does that constitute any "outdated" or even old-fashioned history. Some deformed intellectuals intend to ignore the deed and throw it in a drawer and for ideological reasons (good Indian, bad western white man) frame the discovery of America within the "Marxist Cultural Battle", the "politically correct" thought (achieving with this an alternate history) since the past cannot be analyzed with the eyes of 2022.
I had a few thoughts about this idea of ‘outdated history’. First of all, I think we are dealing with fundamentally two very different examples here: the one of Columbus and the one of Minoan museum fraud. The shift away from Columbus is not so much one that has been induced by the realization that Leif Erikson arrived before him, but a more general movement away from praising the achievements of European colonists. I think some people use Leif Erikson’s voyage in these Columbus discussions as a crutch in an effort to be non-controversial. Unlike our museum forgery, which is only useful in the study of forgery and fakes itself, Columbus arriving in the Americas and its legacy is one of the most important events in global history. And while Columbus may not have realized that he had reached a new continent, Amerigo Vespucci shortly followed in his wake and declared that Columbus had indeed reached a “new world”, since “our forebears had absolutely no knowledge of it.” Leif Erikson’s discovery of North America may remain a footnote to American history because his voyage cannot be directly traced to the colonization and settlement of the continents as they are today. Hence, the reasons for Columbus' celebration and more recent partisan veneration are not concerns of historical fact, but ideological ‘history wars’, like we have down here in Australia.
Categorisations of something like Columbus Day as outdated are not so much about disputed historical fact- but more about ‘outdated’ values. Christopher Columbus will always be an undeniably important historical figure worthy of significance and study across all domains- Arthur Evans’ snake goddess is a different type of outdated relic.
Generally speaking on whether we should still teach history ‘the way we used to’, I would say that this can never be applied generally. Which history, and who is ‘we’ in a globalized world? April 2000, New York, or march 1973, Bucharest? History is always in flux over time and place, eternally being disturbed by the rumblings of the present. ‘Outdated’ history can only be discussed on a case by case basis, and we have to be firmly decided on what the dispute is really about, such as the Columbus issue. For some of these issues, I would say it is better to teach the traditional narratives and allow students to question them, others perhaps need a little more nuance and a broad perspective. At all costs, we must avoid dogmatic history, the sense of a fixed, unchanging, and uninterpretable past. Discussion is good.
Another reader asks a very good question:
Who gets to decide what is “outdated” versus valuable or still relevant? Doesn’t that open the door to censorship? Maybe it’s better to put it all out there and let the scholars decide for themselves.
Whitney E. K
Others wrote in with support for archaeology and history:
Anya, I noticed your short discussion about "outdated" history and I must point out that, as far as ancient archaeological sites are concerned, I think we have much to learn from pre-20th century history. Although many archaeologists and artists working in sites like Pompeii were obviously biased by their own social construct, much of their observations, drawings, and artwork represent an invaluable cache of information that we would not have if it weren't for their efforts. I am continually amazed by the beauty that Pompeii once exhibited compared to the weathered, faded, and crumbling structures we have left in the 21st century. So I am so thankful for the work of William Zahn, Geremia Discanno, Giuseppe Abbate, Fausto and Felice Niccolini and so many others that have captured the paintings, mosaics, and structural design of the ancients for us to study and appreciate.
If we don't learn from history, from what should we learn? I understand that it is possible to learn the wrong lessons from history, but strictly speaking, even a study of math, physics, chemistry, or any other science is a study of the discoveries, inventions, and insights of those who came before. And often, the history of how those advances came about is enlightening in itself.
There was a PBS series titled Connections some 30+ years ago that looked at how a particular discovery or invention could only come about after other discoveries and inventions had laid the necessary foundation.
People who do not study and respect history have no appreciation of their origins or how fragile their lives and infrastructure are, or why we do things the way we do, and why some ways are most likely better than others. I recall a few years ago seeing where a group of scholars were calling for a study of what causes poverty. My immediate reaction was that poverty has been the default condition of 99% of humanity for 99% of history. It would be far more useful and enlightening to study the causes of widespread prosperity, which is something new and valuable.
Having said all this, I recognize that many people today want to weaponize history to push a particular ethnic or social agenda, without any respect to what history really was, and the context in which it happened. This is more a form of propaganda than history, although the two often overlap.
Always, when we find evidence of ancient peoples or civilizations, we want to know more about who they were, what they believed, how they lived, and ultimately, what caused them to decline and disappear. The answers are usually unpleasant and brutal, which is always something we should bear in mind as we strive to move forward. After all, "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it," as attributed to various people.
Gordon F, Ecuador
Some excellent points in there... especially the study of prosperity... Now, the importance of history:
Surely you jest about "outdated history". Should we be learning in-dated history? Or study history at all? Because the reason I read this note - is to learn about the past - in particular our past - to better understand our likely future.
History is just one long science journal. Humans, from a clinical view, keep running the same social experiment, an experiment that can start well, that devolves, and then it collapses. Like all good experiments, human nature is a constant, and we discern the probable future based on the variables of geography, history, culture, war and economies.
Then we have one of two outcomes:
The poor souls who didn't understand history are left shaking their heads as to why their grandiose plans failed.
The poor souls who did understand history are left shaking their heads as to why anyone would attempt the same grandiose plan for the 1000th time, and how the grandiose planners could have expected anything but the same miserable outcome this time...
Here is perhaps the most cogent quote from Marx, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”
Better historians than Marx understand that history is not limited to merely a single iteration, and that the nth repetition is most likely a farcical tragedy.
Yes! For the time being. Give it a hundred years and we’ll all be dead by then and we can revert to just the truth. But I don’t see why we can’t tell both stories as an example to our kids that there is always more to the story and we can change and become better.
You are correct in that Columbus never saw North America. The problem is belief is comfortable, regardless of any validity. Columbus traveled four times from southern Spain to Haiti. At one point he was on one of the ships when it landed in what is now Belize. Another of his four ships landed at what is believed to be the south coast of Louisiana, but Columbus was back in Haiti. Ain't belief a mess?
Certainly Cinco de Mayo is celebrated at least in Puebla where the battle took place. Of course it is not the beer binge as in the U.S., where St. Patrick is annually dishonored on March 17, too.
In regard to learning “outdated” history, I think there’s value in learning the why around the propagandizing of a moment. Whether it’s Columbus, the Salem Witch Trials, or Cleopatra, there is always something to learn not just about the facts of the figure (or moment), but why society painted them the way they did. I don’t think there’s really any history that can be considered outdated. It’s all an onion and we should keep peeling the layers on it. We never know what we’re going to find.
Good point Donna... interestingly we did receive some responses regarding last week’s article on the top 10 most infamous women of Ancient Rome, which I was hoping to inspire by the column. You see, it was an older article and it really parroted a lot of ‘traditional’ narratives about those women. We have written quite a few alternative interpretations of many of those women over the years, especially Theodora and Julia. I’ll make sure to release those soon!
There is no such thing as outdated history except when it becomes inconvenient truth. When revisionism becomes truth, fact is lost and the lessons learned forgotten. You see this everyday in what used to be America. Now it is a chamber pot of peoples who collectively seek redress for imagined victimhood and entitlement.
The Founders and their genius are disdained and held in disrepute. The Judeo-Christian God and His Natural Law become outdated hate speech and regrettable memories eviscerated by political correctness. Society and generations are taught to stand for nothing and apologize for everything.
Burn the past and control the narrative passes for wisdom and truth. Cross out history is a step in registering in the ledger of extinction. That then creates a new dark age. A cycle repeated throughout history now denied and vilified.
There is always value in learning history, outdated or not.
There are lessons in history to teach us not to make the same mistakes as we did in the past, what we can do to be better people.
As for Columbus and his sailing the blue seas in 1492?
Let him sail.
Let's remember his journey and the stories of others- isn't that what history's about? A long story, remembering the past?
Some readers did want to make a few points regarding Columbus’ character:
I think it's sufficient to point out "outdated" history isn't sacred, it's replaceable. Like you said, learning the history of history can be too niche for a general knowledge. Thankfully there's a lot of history to learn. All that's needed is for some lesson plan to hit the various (or related) points that made the outdated history compelling while being historically accurate, et voila, bar met.
There are plenty of stories in antiquity that can encompass the adventure of crossing an ocean into the unknown with a catchy diddy without skipping over rampant rape and bondage. Pedagogy, historiography, and songwriting working together, yay, more interdisciplinary projects.
Nobody loves Columbus or respects even less!! So the thing to do with him IS bury him down deep into earth and the closest to hell, the better. That is exactly where he belongs for cruelly mistreating Indians who opposed his ambitions.
There is an old axiom that says if you don't learn from history you are bound to repeat it. That is more true today than ever. Looking at the state of America and indeed the whole world, we are making the same mistakes that we did in the 20th century. The emerging police state. The censoring of the truth. Absurdities that are mandated as truth, and the changing of our language are all Orwellian signs of a dying society.
The difference between Columbus and the Norse is that the Norse expedition made no difference in history, while Columbus's discovery changed the world and history.
The disinformation being spewed by Zinn and others are outright lies and distortions of history. Columbus was in fact a committed Catholic Christian who wanted to bring Christianity to the peoples of the new world. Theirs was a stone age culture that consisted of warring tribes that practiced cannibalism, slavery, and genocide. The first people Columbus met wanted him to protect them from neighboring tribes that they feared. Were there atrocities committed by Europeans? Yes, but they were done in large part by the military and treasure hunters. The missionaries did their best to mitigate the evil done by out-of-control conquistadors.
The holidays like Thanksgiving have been paganized by a culture that no longer knows its own history and the real story of Thanksgiving. Wall Street has turned Christmas into an obscene spending spree. Today the stores have merged Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas into one huge 'Black Friday' sale. To put it bluntly, we have become an ungrateful nation that has lost its soul.
History is history. No such thing as 'outdated' history!
I would not classify Columbus as outdated history. Whether one accepts the traditional view of Columbus or the woke view, it remains that his landing on a Caribbean island set off a chain of events that had a dramatic effect on world history for better or worse, depending on one's personal views. That is significant and I would not consider it as outdated history.
Let me make two points. The first concerns the question you posed. The second refers to an error in your article.
I believe what you mean by "outdated history" is history that has been accepted as a correct telling of the past but has since proven to be incorrect. Personally, I believe that there is value in knowing what people once thought to better understand the people who thought it. This gives us a better understanding of the context in which they lived.
Unfortunately, I do not see this as critical an issue as another facing us today. Frequently, you will hear people say that history is not there to give comfort but to tell the truth. If you don't like what history says, that's unfortunate, but what happened happened. Retelling it in another way to simply fit your interpretation of the world is basically lying.
This leads to my second point concerning an error you made in your article.
While generally, I hear this from the "left" (I hate to phrase it that way because I consider myself to be on the "left"), they seem to make this error when it comes to Columbus. If you attempt to correct the record, you are met with hateful comments. On the "left," to be a card-carrying member of that "tribe," you have to accept that Columbus was evil and his accomplishment was trivial. We MUST accept what our group says is historical truth or be dismissed from it. We then tell the incorrect thing so often that it becomes history.
The article itself is proof of that point. Did you really research where Columbus landed, or did you simply accept what people were saying? You see, Columbus did land in North America. I have provided a link regarding this.
Also, you repeat the mantra that he did not see that much of America. What should he have done? Launch a Lewis-and-Clark-like expedition? Should we not be satisfied with his accomplishment until he found the headwaters of the Mississippi? People fail to see the tremendous accomplishment he made because that is what our group tells us.
Final point. I enjoy your emails. Thanks.
Thanks for that Bill. I’m always happy to admit that I am not an expert on this topic and I’m willing to learn more. I think my biggest error in the article was stating “North America”, since technically the Caribbean is part of North America. I should have included “mainland”.
That’s all for today, folks. Make sure to register for this month’s special webinar on Grief... and also, if you haven’t already, please consider becoming a Classical Wisdom Member. This week’s Member resources will include an in depth article on Sardinia... not to be missed! Subscribe today and help support the classics:
Become a Classical Wisdom Society Member… or a free subscriber here: