Did pirates really believe that earrings improved their eyesight?
20 July 2021
The traditional pirate stereotype
We’re all familiar with the storybook pirate stereotype which includes a wooden leg, a bandana, and a parrot on the shoulder. Although real life pirates these days might not resemble this image all that closely, pirates from several hundred years ago were supposedly more aligned with the stereotypes we know today. Two of the most significant parts of the classic pirate look actually relate to their eyesight – the eye patch and the golden earring. As eye care providers, this is particularly exciting for us to delve into!
Can a golden earring make your vision better?
Interestingly, the alleged main reason that pirates wore a golden earring – often hooped – was because they believed it improved their eyesight. Without any science behind this rumour, the widely held belief among the pirate community was that the precious metals forming the earring had magic powers to heal their vision.
However, a more science-based explanation for how an earring can improve your vision is acupuncture. Of course, this depends on your attitude towards acupuncture, as there certainly are some sceptics out there, but some people say that there is an acupuncture point on the earlobe that can improve your vision. Apparently, there are reports of people enjoying boosted vision following an ear piercing. However, once scar tissue forms around the piercing hole there are no further improvements as this long-term healing leads to the loss of the benefits of acupuncture.
Aside from potentially boosting your vision, a golden earring was often used as a means to pay for the funerals of pirates who died at sea. If their body were to wash up on land after a storm, the cost of the earring, once sold, could also pay to send the pirate back to their home port. Many pirates also had their home port engraved onto the earring so that people would know where they were from. Other purported benefits of gold earrings include keeping seasickness at bay, and preventing drowning at sea.
Why did pirates wear eye patches?
we might commonly think that pirates wore eye patches to conceal any eye injuries they sustained while at sea, this is actually not the case! Pirates spent a lot of time going below deck on their ships, either working there or using the area as living quarters. It was typically a place without much daylight and our eyes take time to adjust when going from a light environment into a dark one.
Pirates combatted this issue by covering one eye with a patch to keep it permanently adjusted to dark settings, while the uncovered eye gave them good light vision. Having this disparity between the two eyes can cause issues with depth perception (hence why most people nowadays are happy to wait for their eyes to adjust to darkness naturally!), but given the strength of the pirate eye patch stereotype, it appears that they thought the trade-off was worth it!
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