Insignia. Identité et construction sémiotique de l'image divine à Rome

Maurizio Bettini


What are the semiotic devices constituting the specific identity of divine images in Roman culture? At Rome, identity is conveyed through "recognisability": cognitio, notitia. Accordingly, identity, exactly like "person" (persona), is in the first place a public and social phenomenon, which is at work in, for instance, the imagines maiorum, the images of the aristocratic forefathers. This conception of identity as recognisability is closely tied to the identity of divine images in Latin literary sources. The identification of these images is rooted, for the Romans, in "tradition" (consuetudo) and is enacted through insignia, that is, those signs that stand out in the set of elements that make up the image. These insignia possess a strong identificatory power, which we can detect by studying some borderline cases, i.e. Terminus, whose images – simple stones or cippi – are never characterised per se, but always through a web of spatial references, or Vertumnus, who metamorphosizes himself by changing his insignia. "To sum up, the insignia open a channel of communication towards the knowledge shared by the community".

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