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"Talking statue" gets gussied up PDF Print E-mail
Mar 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Image His real name is probably Menelaus (the Greek king of ancient times who was married to Helen before Paris kidnapped her and took her off to Troy) or possibly Ajax, a hero of the same Trojan War. But for centuries, the Romans have called this rather battered, third century BC statue, Pasquino after one of the city's first outspoken dissidents, some say a tailor who lived nearby, some a local school teacher, some say a Vatican insider, who signed that name to diatribes and satirical poems hung around the statue's neck that expressed criticism of the Pope, who until 1870 was, after all, also the city's temporal and non-democratic ruler.

Thus began a tradition, made more or less obsolete by modern newspapers, of Rome's "talking statues" of which Pasquino, now given some much needed spit and polish by stone restorers, was the most famous. It also is the source of the word, pasquinade, which means a satirical lampoon generally posted in a public place.
The story goes that the statue, dug up during street works near to what today is known as Palazzo Braschi, was erected in April, 1501 on the southwest side of what today is called Piazza Navona by Renaissance cardinal Oliviero Carafa, who must have thought he was being clever by establishing an annual ceremony in which the statue was draped in a toga to which the educated could attach epigrams in Latin.

 Much to the  Holy See's annoyance, the Roman populace, at least those among it who could write, began to use the statue as a sounding board for dissent. And whenever this got so irritating to the pontiff of the moment that he would declare the piazza out of bounds to passersby, dissidents would transfer their attentions to other "talking" statues such as Marforio, Madame Lucrezia, Il facchino, Il Babbuino and Abbot Luigi.

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