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Eyes in Culture: 4 Examples of the Significance of Sight | Bard Optical

Eyes in Culture: 4 Examples of the Significance of Sight

Egyptian eye symbol on artifact

From pure superstitions to real medical knowledge, cultures all over the world have placed a significance on eyes and vision.

Take a look at how civilizations throughout time have viewed sight.


1. Ancient Greece

In 2007, two researchers published an article in the Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology analyzing two epics by Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Based on their study, the researchers found that mythological references to the eye conceal reliable medical observations.

  • Visual field – “The myth of Panoptes with eyes over all his body suggests the possibility that the ancient Greeks understood the concept of the visual field of the human eye,” they write. Describing Panoptes with eyes covering his body also implies that he was “an excellent guard.”
  • Eye injuries – Diomedes experienced blurred vision after suffering a wound in battle. The researchers’ analyzed his symptoms and possible preexisting conditions to draw the connection between his vision and his injury.
  • Eye abnormalities – Cycoples are one-eyed monsters in Greek mythology. The researchers suspect that the Greeks experienced a condition known as holoprosencephaly, a deformation that completely or partially fuses the anatomical structure of the eyes together. This condition sometimes yields babies who are born with one eye in the center of their head.

By analyzing these ancient Greek texts, the researchers discovered that the Greeks had advanced medical knowledge of the eye and vision.


2. Ancient Egypt

In Egyptian mythology, Horus was the god of the sky. He is said to have lost his eye in a battle to avenge his father’s murder.

Ancient Egyptians relied on the Eye of Horus for protection in a two primary ways:

  • From the sea: Boats featuring a painting of the eye of Horus were said to both guide the vessel and deter harmful forces.
  • For the dead: Egyptians used the eye in funeral ceremonies for divine protection.

Pharaohs were so closely associated with Horus that the Eye of Horus was prominent in royal courts and costumes.



Japanese treasure sight with what’s called a Daruma doll.

Modeled after Bodhidharma, the monk credited with bringing Zen Buddhism to China, each element of a Daruma doll is symbolic.


  • Eye brows – Cranes and turtles are drawn to look like eyebrows, since both animals typically lead long lives.
  • Eyes – Each new year, a person purchases a Daruma doll, which features no eyes. Instead, they make a wish and paint one eye on the doll. “Every time its owners see the Daruma,” Culture Trip says, “they will be reminded of their goal, and so will focus on it.” When the wish is fulfilled, they paint on the other eye.

The doll, now featuring two eyes, is returned to a temple and burned. The process repeats each year.



Many cultures believe in the evil eye.

In Mexico and Central America, mal de ojo means that a strong person can “drain the power and soul from the week one regardless of intentions.”

Writer Haley Macko acknowledges the evil eye also can occur if someone stares at someone or something with admiration. The object of the staring can become broken, afflicted with crying, bad sleep, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.

The evil eye can be absorbed when a raw egg passes over the victim. The eggs are cracked open the next day, and the yolk shape determines how successful the cure was.

The superstition of the evil eye in Mexico highlights how destructive behavior can hurt others, and how envy may cultivate fear.

All of these examples highlight how vision has impacted cultures throughout the world.

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