Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Evolutionary Role of Ex Voto Offerings

Verona is a lovely city, clean and energetic with a fair number of interesting archaeological monuments. But the first thing they take you to will almost certainly be "Juliet's balcony," after the great romantic heroine who never lived her nor, in fact, anyplace else. There you'll also see the wall--really two walls--full of messages--little notes penned out by countless nameless visitors and presented as entreaties to the spirit. They say the favored form of adhesive is chewing gum, so that in a short time they will all blow away, making room for the new batch.

All of which prompted me to wonder again: what, exactly, is the evolutionary function of these ex voto offerings? In this respect I don't see a dime's worth of difference between the Juliet wall in Verona and the wailing wall in Jerusalem nor letters to Santa Claus. Nor, I suppose, curse messages, where the sender writes "may my enemy be covered with honey and tied to an anthill"--and puts the document into a clay pellet or whatever. Query, is there a "Dracula wall" someplace in Transylvania?

Everybody does it, but what is the point? I mean, I can understand the function of religious feeling in a group as a kind of social glue, holding together tribes or fighting forces (religare="to bind fast"). But what is it with all these purely private utterances of impulse? At the moment, the only one I can think of is that it provides harmless employment--perhaps he only remaining source harmless of employment--for postal clerks from Juliettaville, Italia, to Santa Claus, Indiana.

By the way, at the Juliet wall, there is also a Juliet statue, where you can get your picture taken. There is also a "Club de Julietta," which seems to be a sewing shop, not the one she hits Romeo over the head with when he spends too much time with with Rosaline. It is said that if you want to get married in an aura of romance, the mayor of Verona will rent you Juliet's balcony for a mere 2,000 Euros. No word on whether they allow Elvis regalia.


BuzzP said...

And then there's the Ponte Milvio, Rome's oldest still-standing bridge and site of one of the West's defining battles:

from wiki

In late 2006, the bridge began attracting couples, who use a lamppost on the bridge to hang padlocks as a sign of their love. The ritual involves the couple locking the padlock to the lamppost, then throwing the key behind them into the Tiber. The ritual was invented by author Federico Moccia for his popular book and movie "I Want You".

After April 13, 2007, couples had to stop this habit because that day the lamppost, owing to the weight of all padlocks, partially collapsed. As a replacement, a web site has been created allowing couples to use virtual padlock.

From July 2007, for people in love, it's possible to hang padlocks again thanks to steel columns put by the mayor. Similar "locks of love" traditions have appeared in other places of Italy and Europe.

New York Crank said...

The purpose, my dear Underbelly, is simply to give an embodiment to hope. It is a form of prayer, no different from praying at the statue of a patron saint.

The comedian George Carlin once said that instead of praying to God, he prayed to Joe Pesci, and like his prayers to God, they worked about 50 percent of the time.

With that thesis in mind, I went to the Pantheon in Paris last week and prayed silently (and with unbended knee, as it happens) to Voltaire in front of his tomb.

Will it work? Voltaire willing. We shall see.

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank

BuzzP said...

And lest we forget the existential foundations of such belief, especially in hoc signo vinces:

from wiki

According to legend, Constantine adopted this Greek phrase, "εν τούτῳ νίκα", as a motto after his vision of a chi rho on the sky just before the Battle of Milvian Bridge against Maxentius Oct.12, in the year 312.

end wiki

So, from triumph of the Cross to triumph of the padlock. Not bad for 1,700 years.

At least in Verona there's still some poetry to soothe the soul.