PALEOLITHIC ART MAGAZINE
FOUR-HEADED HERMAE OF ROME
Director of the website of the Museum of the Origins of Man
Genova, Italy, December, 4 2002
- Description of the four-headed sculptures
- Photographies of the hermae.
- Spiritual life and religion.
I want to say first that this description is not an analytical study, but is a whole of signallings in order to propose a search with the principles and the method of the archeoartology.
It is important to become aware of the connections between the two-faced anthropomorphic sculptures of the Paleolithic and the successive prehistoric ages, with the two, three and four-faced anthropomorphic sculptures of the historical ages, that represents divinities, and where has been no interruption and no connection with the zoomorphic paintings of the upper Paleolithic and the Mesolithic, and no connection with the art and the religions of the people who have produced graffiti on cliffs.
DESCRIPTION OF THE FOUR-HEADED SCULPTURES
I have visited all the museums of Rome with "classic" sculptures, i.e. of historical age, seeing many two-headed sculptures, i.e. two heads joined for the nape, with every type of coupling: man and woman, bearded and without beard, bearded and bearded, without beard and without beard, bearded and satyrus, etc. I have not found sculptures with three, or four heads.
I have found three sculptures with four heads, two on a bridge, and one on a monument; they are the "Four-headed Hermae of Janus", and this is the name read on the sign near the bridge.
Two four-headed hermae (Fig. 1, 2, 3, 4) are on the Fabricio Bridge, said also of the "Four heads", on the Tevere River, in the archaeological zone of Rome.
The bridge, like handed down by the historian Dione Cassio, (XXXVII, 45), was built up by the consul and Curator viarum Lucius Fabricius in the 62 B.C., as also engraved in a inscription on the arcades: "L. FABRICIUS C. F. CUR VIAR FACIUNDUM COERAVIT"; it is said that the hermae were added by Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590): some sources say that the hermae were initially four, the fourth then was removed. According to other sources, instead, the hermae were inserted in the parapet of the bridge in 1849.
The bridge leads to a small "island", the Tiberina Island, where was the Temple of Aesculapius, God of the medicine, imported to Rome from Greece in order to fight a terrible pestilence ( according to other sources, there was before a temple dedicated to Janus; effectively, at the place of the near Basilic of St. Nicola in Carcere - VI century- there were three temples , dedicated to Janus, Juno Sospita and Spes).
The third herma is inserted in the monument-fountain to the poet of Rome Gioacchino Belli (Fig. 5 and 6), situated in the Sidney Sonnino square, Rome; such monument is dated MCMXIII.
The herma inserted in the monument of G. Belli has been removed from the Fabricio Bridge.
I do not know the reasons, for which the herma has been inserted in the monument, but is possible that it is a homage to the poet in order to have written poems or anecdotes about the hermae or about Aesculapius or the Tiberina island.
For who loves the sculpture of every time (modern, ancient and prehistoric), this monument to the Poet is exceptional, in how much it joins two works made 2.000 years of distance between them.
Portraits are of two types: that of the Poet is "physionomic" portrait, while the prtraits of the four heads of the herma are "intentional". The monument, moreover, is interesting for the architecture and the bas-reliefs.
The statue of G. Belli is a "colossus", while the herma is of natural stature.
It seems that the three hermae come from the Greece, perhaps of IV century B.C., but I am not sure of it.
Every herma has some of the four heads whose features of the face are canceled. The more probable hypothesisis of such disfigurement is that, during the rituals of cult, the devotees caress their faces; but in order to know more, it would be useful to consult studies of historians, that have faced the probem.
To the dawn of the history, the sculptures of hermae with four four heads or four faces were coeval of sculptures with two or three heads or faces, and their spread varied from zone to zone. These types of sculptures are all of religious character, and derive from the two-faced prehistoric anthropomorphic sculptures.
PHOtOGRAPHIES OF THE HERMAE
Fig. 1) Lithic sculpture with four heads. Greek herma , IV century B.C., placed on the Fabricio Bridge, Rome.
Fig. 2) Fabricio Bridge on the Tevere River, Rome, with two Greek hermae on the parapets .
Fig. 3) Fabricio Bridge on the Tevere River, Rome, and on the background the houses on the island where was the Temple of Aesculapius.
Fig. 4) Herma on the Fabricio Bridge, Rome.
Fig. 5) Monument-fountain to the G.Belli poet with greek four-faced herma, situated in Sidney Sonnino square, Rome. Work dated MCMXIII
Fig. 6) Four-faced erma inserted in the monument of G. Belli. The features of the face of the head of the right herma are canceled, probably by the devotees who caress it during the income in the temple.
SPIRITUAL LIFE AND RELIGION
We know with certainty, also from written testimonies, that the sculptures with two, three, four heads or faces, were of religious character, i.e. that were divinities.
In historical times, in the course of the time and in different zones, these divinities have changed the name, and often also the divine attributions, conserving the shape with two, three or four heads.
For these interpretations, of the historical periods, is important to know how made by the scholars of religions, who moreover give tu us information on the spread of these cults, and therefore on the spread of the sculptures, that have gone nearly all destroyed.
Raffaele Pettazzoni, who was professor of the History of Religions at the university of Rome, has been the most great Italian scholar of religions. From his book "The all-Knowing God" (London, 1956; original edition: "L'onniscenza di Dio", Edizioni Scientifiche Einaudi, Torino, 1955 ) I have drawn (pp. 132 - 133) some historical information of religious type on the sculptures with four heads or four faces:
In the post Biblical Judaism and in the the ancient Christianity (especially of Syria) is found the tradition of a divine simulacrum with four faces, or four heads, that would have been adored by the Hebrew. This tradition concerns:
- a) the Ba' al of Tyrus that Ahab, king of Israel, introduces in IX century B.C. in Samaria, as a result of his wedding with Izebel, daughter of the king of Syria ( The Kings 16. 29 followings): it is described like "four-shaped" by Eustachius from Antiochia (approximately 300 a.D.);
- b) the idol that Manasse king of Juda (VII century) makes to construct and to place in the temple of Jerusalem (2 Chr.. 33. 7), but removing them when he returns repenting from Babylon (2 Chr. 33. 15): in the Syrian version (Pesitta) of 2 Chr. 33. 7 he is described like a idol " four-faced". Efrem Syrus (+ 373 a.D.), in the poem against Julian the Apostate, and Jacob from Sarug (+ 521) in the homily on "the Fall of the Idols" and in that of palm Sunday, reproach the Hebrew to have adored a idol "four-faced", and that this idol was that one of Manasse, and just the simulacrum of 2 Chr.is said explicitly in Barhebreus, like also in George Syncellus, Cedrenus and Suida (in Greek the name of the God with four faces is expressed with "Zeus"). Also in the Thalmud the idol of Manasse has four faces, while in the Syrian "Apocalypses of Baruch" it has five - and of this conception is found an echo in St. Girolamus;
- c) the simulacrum of Jahve make made by Micha son of Efraim for his private cult (illegitimate), then come in possession of the Danites and worshipped later on in Dan-Lajis (Jew. 17 and 18): it is, according to the Thalmud, the same as the idol of Manasse, and it had in fact four faces;
- d) also the "imagine of jealousy" in the Temple of Jerusalem ,according to Ezech. 8. 3, 5, is identified in the judaic and christian tradition with the idol of Manasse, and has therefore four faces.
Copyrightę2000-2002 by Paleolithic Art Magazine, all rights reserved.