The Mouth of Truth is a marble mask, built into a church wall. The sculpture represents a bearded male face with piercing eyes, nose and mouth; it has a diameter of 1.75 m and it weighs about 1300 kg. It can be dated back to around the first century.
But what was once this big mask which is almost two meters tall? Its origins seem quite clear: it was a manhole of an ancient Roman street.
Just like Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and St. Peter’s Basilica, the Mouth of Truth is one of the most famous symbols of Rome. In this case, however, it is not the work of art that enters the scene, but man’s imagination. It owes its notoriety to the many tales that accompany its history and continue to be passed on from generation to generation.
Legends and Tales
The most famous of these tales says that the Mask has the ability to unmask liars: if you tell a lie with your hand in the mouth of the mask, it magically bites down, cutting off the supposed liar’s hand. Over the years, this legend has excited the curiosity of many tourists, who queue up there every day in long lines, even just to take a photo.
Another legend says that a rich wife of a Roman patrician – after being accused of adultery – was tested by her husband through the ‘Mouth’. But the woman, knowing she had to lie, resorted to a clever trick: in front of the crowd that had gathered, her lover embraced and kissed her. She pretended not to know him and mistook him for a madman. Then she declared she had never kissed anyone except her husband and the madman who had just attacked her in front of the population. In this way the woman was sure that she had not lied. So, she saved her hand and the betrayed husband saved his honor. However, the Mouth of Truth lost its credibility and it was no longer considered a fair judge. The moral is clear to everyone: a woman does not get stuck in any situations, neither dealing with magic.
The Mouth of Truth in the film “Roman Holidays”
The Mask appears for the first time in 1485 and, from that moment, the sculpture is constantly mentioned in Roman tourist guides. But it was the film “Roman Holidays”, in 1953, that made it unforgettable in the hearts of everyone. A scene of the movie – starring the memorable Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck – takes place right in front of the Mouth of Truth.
“Along the streets of Rome which are vast and tight,
one could never find something so rare.
A face made of stone which teaches you
who told, and didn’t tell a lie.”
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