I did not know that the word votive is derived from vow, and so is used to describe an object or an act offered up to honour or thank a god. Now I think about it, that makes perfect sense — all those candles on altars are lit as vows, votives.
Back 2500 years ago, the Etruscans were more hardcore about their conversations with the gods. Not prepared to risk their vows being snuffed out or lost in the afterglow, they made thousands of votives from long-lasting terracotta and apparently left so many of them lying and hanging about temples and holy places that pits full of them have been uncovered.
And the most common of those votives are body parts. The academic jury is out about how these clay bits and pieces worked. Or didn't.
Perhaps they were a request for help, with a statue of the bit needing the most attention in case the deity got confused and answered the wrong prayer: "Please help me overcome these splitting headaches. And here's a replica of my head to help you find your way to me through the white-noise of the clamouring throng. Please, don't worry about my cleft chin. I can live with that."
Or, votives may have been a way of saying something less seriously medical in nature: 'Thanks for my awesome dandruff-free curly hair. I gave it a run at the Full Moon Feast last night and was the envy of every flaky-skulled centurion in Rome".
Or, they may even have been a sort of pre-emptory strike, a symbol associated with a completely non-health related request:
" Oh great gods, it has been decreed that I must sit beside Dullius Volumnius at the Forum next month. Please help me to ignore the boring droning old fart, and give me the strength to speak up against his daffy old-fangled notions."
|A tray of Etruscan penis votives.|
Image credit: Wellcome Library
But of course it's not.
In fact, this carefully labelled storage drawer leads me to speculate that, perchance, many votives may have been little more than bad Etruscan selfies.
Well, not selfies so much as pecker pics.
Fashioning an effigy of a boy's bit out of clay is not a quick process, I'll grant you that, but... like...well... you know... graffitiing on the side of a chariot with ... you know ...like mosaics takes... like literally a lifetime.
An Etruscan lad's gotta do something for a giggle.
During the month of April, I am participating in the Blogging from A–Z Challenge.
My posts all feature images of and by the Wellcome Collection, Euston, London: the free destination for the incurably curious.