Bocca della Verità, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Aventine, Rome, Italy.
La Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth) - is an image carved from Pavonazzetto marble, most likely representing the God Oceanus, and is located in the portico of this 8th century church. The piece is 1.80 meters in diameter, about 1,300 kg in weight, and is now attached to the wall. It was placed in its current location in 1632.
The church itself was built during the Byzantine Papacy over the remains of the Templum Herculis Pompeiani, in the Forum Boarium, and of the Statio annonae, one of the food distribution centres of ancient Rome. This church is also credited as being home to the relics of Saint Valentine.
The Bocca della Verità was used to unmask lies in the Middle Ages, and to judge a defendant’s innocence or guilt. If after putting his (or her) hand in the disc, he (or she) managed to extract it, they were considered innocent. In case of guilt, the defendant ran the risk of having his hand cut off. It is also said that the judges, if certain of the person’s guilt, would order to cut the hand by a third person, hidden behind the mask.
In other accounts, it is thought that it was a test of unfaithfulness. Returning soldiers would test their spouses loyalty and truthfulness by asking them to do likewise. Guilty partners were said to have been stung by Scorpions (with the aid of the monks!).
The sculpture is now thought to have been the cover of a temple water collector. The Mouth of Truth would have been in the middle of a temple with an opening in the roof, similar to the Pantheon. In this case the quantity of water would be limited and this would explain the absence of significant erosion near the holes.
It would make sense to use such quality marble and the image of the God of the Ocean (or waters) for such purpose, the 2 holes on the side would explain a kind of horizontal fixing, the holes in the eyes and nostrils would make sense as water receptors. It is possible that the "Bocca" was in the temple of Jupiter Jurarius, where oaths were made, and used as a water collector. Perhaps for this reason the legend of "The mouth of truth" has remained.
The verse of Properzio quum subito Triton ore recondit aquam, means, “after the rain the mouth of a triton hides the water”. As Triton represents the son of Neptunus, and it was Homer's belief that Oceanus is the origin of all Gods and life, therefore it is a reasonable conclusion that, the Bocca della Verità represents Oceanus.
According to legend from the Middle-ages, it was hidden in the river to prevent its destruction by the Christians.
Taken in June 2007.
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