Bocca della Verità: Would You Dare Insert Your Hand?
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Are you brave enough to confront the world’s oldest lie detector?
The Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verità) is an ancient and monumental marble mask in Rome.
It depicts a male bearded face whose expressive eyes, nostrils and mouth are all formed from holes. The mask’s flowing beard encircles the gaping hole of his mouth, thus adding texture to the work of art.
Today, the mask is located against the left wall of the portico of a church in Piazza della Bocca della Verità.
What was the original purpose of this large disc? It has been speculated that this mask was meant to represent the face of the God Oceanus who embodied the Sea, and that it was originally used as a decorative drain cover in the nearby Temple of Hercules Victor; a drain which would have drunk the rain water that entered the building by means of its large oculus. In antiquity, it was indeed very common for water drains to feature a representation of a Sea or Water God, thus complementing the very function of the object (to collect water). It has also been speculated that cattle merchants originally used the mask to drain the blood of the cattle that they would sacrifice to Hercules inside the Temple.
Regardless of its original function, today the marble disc has a different and very distinct meaning. A popular legend (that began in the middle ages) states that if you lie and insert your hand into the mask’s mouth, its mouth will clamp shut on your hand, eating and dismembering it. Only those speaking the truth will remove their hand to find it intact.
Would you dare to insert your hand into the mask’s formidable and gaping mouth?