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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


The word Fascinate has become rather generalized through its common usage. In the contemporary vernacular, to fascinate means to captivate one's attention, in an intriguing or enchanting way, by some irresistible influence. When one states that they find a particular fact or idea fascinating, they infer a strong interest in it, or that it is particularly captivating and awe-inspiring. It comes as no surprise that fascinate is connected with notions of witchcraft, of the entrancing power of serpents, and (by a remarkable coincidence) in the ability of fascist groups to influence great masses during the first and second world wars.
The word fascinate derives from the Latin fascinum, meaning witchcraft.[1] Throughout the romantic languages, it is very closely linked to mystical forces of attraction, yet the context of the word changes in small ways between languages. The French word fasciner[2] is synonymous with enthrall, hypnotize, spellbind, and enchant. Unlike the English word, fasciner becomes a symptom of enchantment. This introduces the perception that a person is being taken over by the control of another's influence. Fasciner recalls the powers of hypnotists and snake charmers, who exert an inexplicable force over their audiences.
In Italian, the word affascinare is interchangeable with incantare, simultaneously translating in English to both enchantment and incantation. Through the Italian evolution of the root word, fascinate has developed similarly to the French usage, but with a characteristic application to the influence of lyric or song. For Italians, the fascinating force is not as undefined as for the French, but is attributed to a verbal influence. The witches spell and the poet's lyre are equally powerful, entrancing the listener into submission. Similarly, the Spanish word fascinar refers more to the seductive powers of love and attraction. Here, as in the English definition, when one is fascinated, the subject shifts from passive to active. Fascinar is the influencing powers that urge one's actions, rather than controlling them by a mystical force. By transition, the Spanish have an almost identical word, fascina, which means to strongly like something.
In any of these languages, the word for fascinate derives from the same root, fasces, meaning "bundle"[3]. In Ancient Rome, the word fasces referred specifically to "a bundle of rods carried by the men who attended the magistrate. The rods were used to punish men by beating them. The fasces were thus a symbol of the magistrate's authority"[4]. The fasces, as a symbol, represented authority, control, and violent suppression, would later be used to define the rulers of the Roman Empire, and the word itself would carry over to the 20th century empirical rule of Benito Mussolini.
The Italian word Fascismo associated the gathering of fasci to the political grouping of revolutionaries in the aftermath of the Great War. Benito Mussolini developed a political platform around the ideas of nationalism, combatantism, and violence, in a campaign to achieve absolute control over the Italian State[5]. In its symbols, myths, and rituals, Mussolini drew heavily from the Ancient Roman Empire in order to manufacture a Fascist cultural history. Mussolini used Rome as an archetype for the fascist mythology, and he once said that the historic soil of Rome had "a magical power" [6]. Indeed, once the myth of Rome was connected to the myth of Mussolini's "New Italian", he succeeded in fascinating an entire nation into absolute submission to his totalitarian rule.[7]

[1] "fascinate, v.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/68362?redirectedFrom=fascinate& (accessed November 18, 2012).
[2] "fasciner, v.". Concise Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary, 2009. Oxford University Press. Accessed through WordReference.
[3] "fasces, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/68337 (accessed November 21, 2012).
[4] Jo-Ann Shelton, As The Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History (New York: Oxford, 1998), 217.
[5] Philip Morgan, Italian Fascism, 1915-1945 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004),  28
[6] Emilio Gentile, "Fascism as a Political Religion", Journal of Contemporary History 25 (1990): 245-8
[7] Roberto Vivarelli, "Interpretations of the Origins of Fascism", The Journal of Modern History, 63 (1991): 30

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