We will begin our journey into the imagination of the Romans with an object that today we would define as obscene, forgetting that this term, in ancient worlddoes not have the same meaning it has for us today. A Roman would never have defined obscenus, a winged phallus because in his world, this term indicated what was a bad omen, and therefore the exact opposite of what instead identifies one of the best-known images from Pompeii, from the Roman world and Roman art.
To call upon all his magical strength, the winged phallus must be reproduced, immeasurable, enormous, propitiatory, capable of driving away evil spirits, capable of giving home protection and work environments, a force of nature against evil, flagellant demons and the fascination: the negative power of dry eye.
Always fall, make them twisted, phalluses in the form of animals, phalluses that intertwine with phalluses, phalluses that are grafted onto phalluses. And it really seems like an endless chase, a real mania, to reproduce this protective symbol on a thousand objects, hanging everywhere.
Religion and superstition intertwine in a world where everything seems to revolve around sex which, source of life and joy, is for the Romans a positive, magical phenomenon, sometimes endowed with a spiritual power that directs life, and, through reproduction, goes beyond it.
We would define practical superstition or trivial magic that will to possess a amulet against that oculus malignant, always lurking and codified, in its substance since Pliny the Elder; age-old source of tribulation for human beings, it must protect the weakest, the most fragile, and it is therefore for this reason that, as Varro recounts in De lingua latina, children are hung around the neck, against the evil eye, a bulla containing a phallic-shaped amulet.
The fantasy of Roman craftsmen it was often inclined to take flight and the magical power of a symbol can also be seen in the ability to give it bewitched or grotesque connotations, wings, in this case.
Also inserted in the Pompeian road signs, these images, bizarre for us, fluttering here and there, served to drive away the darker side of our humanity and through a stylistic mutation that will lead to the horn, continue their work of reclamation even in age Contemporary.
Laura Del Verme
For those wishing to learn more:
Eva Björklund, Lena Hejll, Luisa Franchi dell'Orto, Stefano De Caro, Eugenio La Rocca (editors), Reflections of Rome. Roman Empire and Baltic Barbarians, exhibition catalog (Milan, AltriMusei at Porta Romana, from 1 March to 1 June 1997), L'Erma di Bretschneider, 1997.
Megan Cifarelli, Laura Gawlinski (Editors), What shall I say of clothes? Theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of dress in antiquity, American Institute of Archaeology, 2017.
Carla Conti, Diana Neri, Pierangelo Pancaldi (editors), Pagans and Christians. Forms and attestations of religiosity of the ancient world in central Emilia, Aspasia editions, 2001.
Jacopo Ortalli, Diana Neri (editors), Divine images. Devotion and divinity in the daily life of the Romans, archaeological evidence from Emilia Romagna, exhibition catalog (Castelfranco Emilia, Civic Museum, from 15 December 2007 to 17 February 2008), All'Insegna del Giglio, 2017.
Adam Parker, Stuart McKie (Editors), Material approaches to Roman magic. Occult objects and supernatural substances, Oxbow Books, 2018.
heroine, Pompeian Erotica (Love inscriptions on the walls of Pompeii, L'Erma di Bretschneider, 2002.