In honor of my friend Brooke’s recent spate of feet portraits, I took a photo of my feet while walking down the calcified and, to my sensitive soles, painful Travertines while touring the ancient healing city of Hierapolis on my recent trip to Turkey.
Hierapolis is one of the many hot springs famed for good health. Unfortunately this good health did not always come, and today the ruins is known for holding the largest necropolis (ie cemetary) in the ancient world. The remaining tombs are quite varied (from the larger beehive looking tumuli to what we might think of as traditional looking tombs and burial plots) and in some places, rather decorated. One of my favorite examples is the burial place of one Onesimus (I doubt it’s that Onesimus, but it got me excited just to see the name), primarily because of something on the grave we found all over Turkey: the evil eye!
The worn face looking out from the stone is none other than Medusa, the famed Gorgon of myth whose glance will turn all who look on it to stone. Her head was displayed on many ancient devices to protect the space from any evil spirit who might enter there. It was hoped that a thief might look on the face and reconsider plundering the graves, though I should mention that more official messages pointing out that grave robbers would be fined were used as well. So Medusa became an image of punishment but not necessarily that of private vengeance, but of public justice and order (it’s interesting to reconsider the Medusa myth as belonging to the tradition of Aeschylus’ Oresteia).
It might surprise you to know that this tradition lives on today in the evil eye, which litters the city with a bit of ancient magic (now only touristy kitsch). The eye is the eye of Medusa, watching over anyone who might bring evil with them.
Here’s one of the hotels we stayed at. Look just above the door. You see something that looks a bit like this.
The eye of Medusa stares out from a pagan past, reminding us along with Saint Paul that our rulers do not hold the sword in vain and nor does our God above.