We sat as silent as a stone / We knew, though she’d not said a word / That even the best of love must die
These gloomy words come from “A Memory of Youth” by W. B. Yeats who evidently didn’t know the strange peculiarity of the Roman stones.
Until 150 years ago the Romans lived in a city controlled by the Papacy and the Church, in times when freedom of expression was not considered a fundamental right. The sharp tongue of the people was not appreciated neither later, when Rome became the capital city of the Kingdom of Italy and finally of the Italian Republic. But the Romans have always known their territory and the primary goods it could offer such as, for example, abandoned sculptures reduced to ruins and used to decorate crossroads or junctions.
These sculptures became the voice of the people: when they wanted to protest against abuses, taxes, the hypocrisy of the power (i.e. the Pope and his court) invectives and sarcastic poems written by anonymous were attached during the night to the statues, which could in this way “talk”. They were a number of elements which formed the so-called “Congresso degli Arguti” (the congress of the witty ones): there was Pasquino close to Piazza Navona, Madama Lucrezia near Piazza Venezia, Abbot Luigi in Piazza Vidoni and Marforio that was formerly in the Roman Forum.
Actually the poems were not written by the people, who were in large part analphabet, but by intellectuals who collected the rumours on the streets. This tradition went on until few years ago when it was prohibited for “decency” reasons. As you can see, fantasy can overcome any barrier so it’s time to invent something new!