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The Truth About La Bocca della Verita' (The Mouth of Truth)

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(I have both the honor and the privilege to review Anne Olga Koloski-Ostrow’s “The Archaeology of Sanitation in Roman Italy: Toilets, Sewers, and Water Systems." This is just a preview of my later complete review.)


Reviewing Professor Koloski-Ostrow’s book, I came upon this interesting insight concerning a very famous Roman attraction.



(click to enlarge image)


Many people are familiar with the Roman La Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth) stone. This large ancient stone disc is now used as a test for truthfulness, including among the betrothed or newlyweds to test their pledges of fidelity. Legend has it that the monument’s mouth would bite down on the hand of any liar.




The stone disc was prominently featured in this famous scene from the movie “Roman Holiday” featuring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck:



Professor Koloski-Ostrow makes a convincing argument that the large stone was not a decorative stone for a fountain. Instead, it probably was, despite its large size, a sewer cover. “After careful study of the water wear pattern on the eyes, nose, and mouth of the Bocca—perhaps a representation of a water god or the Tiber River itself—I believe it was originally lying down flat for a very long period of time in a place where it received a continuous flow of runoff water onto its orifices, not out or them.”


Professor Koloski-Ostrow presents other evidence of the stone’s potential use as a sewer cover and not the decorative face of a fountain. She gives contemporary anecdotes (from both Suetonius and Tacitus) that provide support for the existence of large sewer openings in the city of Ancient Rome that would require sewer covers as large as La Bocca della Verità. The professor further asserts, “The fact that it is cracked directly down its center also suggests that it was perhaps damaged as it was lifted from a flat position or when it was thrown down again.”


Professor Koloski-Ostrow summarizes by saying, “…we can say that the Bocca is more likely a sewer covering that allowed water to pour into it than fountain face, and the evidence therefore points in a much less romantic direction than contemporary Roman marital traditions would have us believe.”



guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

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