Mockery of the Crucifixion: The Sacred Donkey and the Cross

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Return to the Convent by Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala (1868) Carmen Thyssen Museum (Public Domain)

Mockery of the Crucifixion: The Sacred Donkey and the Cross

In 1857 in a cell of the ruins of Imperial Palace on the Palantine Hill in Rome, a curious graffiti representing a crucified man (corpus humanum... suffigitur in cruce) but with the head and ears of a donkey (cervix asinina caputque auritu) was discovered. Beneath the sketch was etched in broken Greek: ‘Alexameno worships his God'. Who could have been the instigator behind this primitive, apparent blasphemous mural?

 ‘Alexameno worships his God' was graffitied next to an image depicting a monophonic Christ. "Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries",  by Rodolfo Lancian (1898) (Public Domain)

 ‘Alexameno worships his God' was graffitied next to an image depicting a monophonic Christ. "Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries",  by Rodolfo Lancian (1898) (Public Domain)

Careio and Alexameno

In 1903 Giovanni Pascoli dedicated his poetic composition in Latin, called the 'Paedagogium' to a fictional episode that could have occurred in third century Rome, at the Imperial Palace on the Palatine Hill.  The cells in the Imperial Palace were actually used to house the princes of foreign kings - captured or given as hostages to Rome - where they were educated according to local customs and cultural canons, including the study of Latin and Roman traditions.


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