L'oculata malefica. Sguardi di strega dalla commedia plautina

Laura Cherubini


The purpose of this essay is to understand the powers Roman culture attributed to witches' eyes. To that end, I explore Plautus' comedy, dealing with characters sometimes only implicitly presented as "witches" - or, more precisely, with the symbolic mechanisms that realize the function of witches' eyes. I focus in particular on women endowed with special "oculi", whose powers their male interlocutors perceive as somehow disturbing. Through a mechanism of 'theatrical' allusion, the eyes make these feminine figures uncanny projections of supernatural beings of the Greek imagination, the original source of the plays, also in that of the Romans, for whom the pièces were recast by Plautus. Finally, I show how, in different ways, the Romans bestow upon their "witches" certain visual capabilities that, in allowing them to exert sometimes prodigious control over both the visible and invisible, render them more than normally skilled at watching over the hidden, fleeting side of reality.

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