AN ANCIENT TALE OF INFIDELITY…PERHAPS
A short while ago I did a post about the Romans being very superstitious. When my team and I were excavating the Roman temple one of the excavators found an interesting offering to the deities. While she was preparing a surface for documentation a small male clay figurine came to light. It had been purposely broken in half, the upper half of the torso had been laid face down, the lower half with its penis facing up. Buried along with it were a bone that might have been an offering of a piece of meat and a small rolled up lead curse tablet. The clay figurine had been ritually stabbed in numerous places. Its purpose was to function as what we would call today, a voodoo doll. Someone was wishing someone else something rather unpleasant. When the lead tablet was unrolled in the laboratory it had one word scratched on it, a name, Narcissus.
What was going on here 1800 years ago we can only speculate, but surely we are not far off the mark in thinking that a jilted or spurned lover was trying to get even for a hurt that must have occurred. Perhaps it was a woman whose partner had been untrue, and seeking revenge she went to the temple and had one of the priests form the figure representing her partner in clay. He then ritually murdered the figure, sticking a sharp utensil repeatedly into it before laying it in a fire to harden it. Then it was ceremoniously and deliberately broken into two pieces. Once the name had been scratched onto the lead tablet, the woman would have been given the objects and told to bury them on the temple grounds as an offering to the deity, who would hopefully grant her wish. She deliberately laid the upper half face down, looking into the dark underworld from which there would be no return. Why the lower half would have been placed with its erect penis facing upwards is anyone’s guess. But it certainly held a significant meaning for the individual who buried it, leaving us to wonder almost 2000 years later, whether or not Narcissus was punished for his act of infidelity.
And for us what remains is a small look at a moment in the past that reveals human feelings, no different than our own. Lost for centuries, the hurt and effort at retribution are once again revealed. As I always remark, seen from a human perspective, the dry science of the archaeology takes on a richer, deeper dimension. It connects us with the feelings and emotions of people that have been lost in the passage of time. It brings the past to life…
The photo of yours truly holding the two halves of the clay figure was published along with an article about the excavation in the local newspaper at the time of the figure’s discovery in May 2000.
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