Monday, December 2, 2013

1, 2, 3 Smile!

According to the old legend the Romans had a code of conduct obliging the one who takes an oath to put his hand in the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth) at the church of Saint Mary in Cosmedin. If they were not telling the truth the mouth would close and bite off the liars hand.

Firstness: The entity - http://en.wikipedia
The Bocca della Verità is at least 2200 years old and weighs about 1200 kilos. It is a Pavonazzetto marble disk depicting a head, where the eyes, nostrils and mouth are carved all the way through the 19 cm thick stone. According to studies, it probably represents the god Océanus. He is the source of all rivers, the entire sea, all springs and all deep wells according to Homer (Iliad 21. 194 ff). This is why most scholars presume it to be the original drain cover of the ancient temple of Jupiter or the temple of Hercules. The temple was built using a similar circular domed rotunda or vault roof construction as the Pantheon with an oculus, round open space, in the middle. That would also explain the 2 holes on the side of the stone, which could have been used for the horizontal fixing on a vaulted roof.After the demolition of the temple the Bocca della Verità was placed in the narthex or portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin church around 1650 where it stayed ever since and became known as a place to take the test of truth.
Secondness: The Relation -
To put this in perspective, the temple of Hercules is directly across the street from the Cosmedin church. In 1953, the general public was introduced to the Bocca della Verità in the Audrey Hepburn film, Roman Holiday. I won’t go into the significance and details of this scene. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, then you really should! It is a classic. It’s Audrey Hepburn. It is filmed in Rome.
Over Thanksgiving I break I traveled to Roma to visit my sister who is completing her study abroad semester. We did a lot of sight seeing and ate a lot of pizza and gelato. It was a fantastic week. Of course there are long lines to see the world famous ruins and art in Rome. We decided to go see the Mouth of Truth on a whim and didn’t think there would be a line. On the contrary there was a line extending out of the church. We waited and waited and when we got close enough we realized everyone was talking about Roman Holiday and imitating the scene in front of the Mouth.

Since the line was pretty long, I had a lot of time to think about Charles Sanders Peirce. I was thinking about the profound effect a popular film had on this artifact. All of these people were excited to imitate this scene and reproduce an iconic moment. Maybe it was the intense sugar high from all of the gelato but I started thinking in Peircean triads.
First we have the entity; the Mouth of Truth. Second, we it’s relation to the film. Third, we have fanatical representation of an image. Now the artifact embodies new meaning in relation to the film. According to Peirce “Now Thirdness is nothing but the character of an object which embodies Betweenness of Mediation in its simplest and most rudimentary form; and I use it as the name of that element of the phenomenon which is predominant wherever Mediation is predominant and which reaches its fullness in Representation” (Peirce 244).
The Thirdness depicted below is not the image itself, but the element of image that represents the Mediation of the Roman Holiday phenomenon. Moreover, there are certainly hundreds of these images taken everyday representing this same Thirdness. It is interesting to see how meaning of an entity can change given each new relation to new entities or new meanings. Peirce certainly discusses this phenomenon but I hadn't thought too much about it in archaeological tourism.
Thirdness: Representation


Peirce, Charles S., and James Hoopes. Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1991. Print.

Post by Becky Fisher

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