Comparative Guts

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Marble votive relief

showing votive body-parts c.480 B.C., fourth-century B.C. from Asklepieion at Athens Notwendige

Votive Relief – Acr. 7232 © Acropolis Museum
Photo: Constantinos Vasiliadis

A number of Greek sanctuaries, and in particular sanctuaries of healing god Asklepios, have yielded dedications of votive body-parts. These include arms and hands, legs and feet, eyes, ears, breasts, genitals, and sections of torso, but they include no internal organs. In this they contrast strongly with the anatomical votives found in Italy. This fourth-century relief, from the Asklepieion at Athens, shows a worshipper kneeling (itself a rather rare attitude for Greek worshippers) in front of a statue of a male figure wearing an animal skin (perhaps some manifestation of Herakles). Behind the woman are various votive body parts, arranged to more or less reconstruct a whole body. We have lower limbs at the far right, the thighs and abdomen above them to the left, and then arms above to the right, and the upper torso and head above to the right. It is as if a body has been chopped up. Or rather, it is as if a statue has been chopped up. For there is no hint here that these parts might contain anything by way of organs. What is more, it is unclear whether these are parts of a man or a woman. The upper legs and abdomen are certainly those of a woman, but is the upper body a woman’s seen from the back – the head is very like the head of the kneeling woman – or a man’s? The absence of guts here says something about attitudes to divine healing: votives do not point to what may be the cause of the malady that needs healing, they point to the part of the body where the effect of the malady is felt. The god is left to do the diagnosis.