Posting Anonymously: The Talking Statues of Rome

Anonymity affords a kind of honesty and directness that isn’t always possible when people know who’s doing the talking. It’s important to find ways to break free of the tyranny of our real identities. For me, privacy is only a part of the problem on the web. Services like Google+ address the diversity of our social lives, but still tend toward identifiable speech. I wonder what social media would be like if it was optimized to enable users to not only choose who they are posting to, but who they are posting as.

The talking statues of Rome (or the Congregation of Wits) provided an outlet for a form of anonymous political expression in Rome. Criticisms in the form of poems or witticisms were posted on well-known statues in Rome. It began in the 16th century and continues to the present day.

The first talking statue was that of Pasquino, a damaged piece of sculpture on a small piazza. In modern times the weathered fragment has been identified as representing the mythical king of Sparta, Menelaus, husband of Helen of Troy, and a major character in the Iliad, holding the body of Patroclus. In 1501, the statue was found during road construction and set up in the piazza; soon after small poems or epigrams critical of religious and civil authorities began to be posted on it. One story of the origin of the statue’s name, and of its witticisms, is that it was named to honor a local resident named Pasquino. A tailor by trade (in some versions of the story he is a barber or schoolmaster), this man’s career took him into the Vatican, where he would learn behind-the-scenes gossip. He would then spread this gossip, with acerbic commentary, for the entertainment of friends and neighbors. Upon his death, the statue was named in his honor, and people began posting commentary similar to Pasquino’s on the statue. (wikipedia)