Within the context of ancient history, Rino Barbieri explains that double-edged, Italian gesture that can mean either good luck or that your partner is cheating on you.
Cornuto is an offensive term in Italian to inform you that your loved one is busy loving someone else. The horns of an animal are translated as corna and a literal rendition of the expression would be “horned”. The shape of the hand gesture, with the index finger and little finger pointing skywards, mimics the horns of a bull. The thumb can be either folded in on sticking out.
However, if we turn the same gesture upside down and point the index finger and little finger down towards the ground, the gesture becomes a superstitious plea to ward off bad luck. For extra good luck, this gesture can also be repeated several times with a stabbing motion downwards.
So what is the reason behind this very Italian gesture? Intuition tells Rino Barbieri, that the reason dates back to prehistoric times. He was looking at the carvings on an Etruscan sarcophagus housed at the Volterra Guarnacci Museum in Tuscany, when he noticed that the deceased was clearly portrayed with his hand and fingers in the famous gesture. The care, details and intricacy of the sculpting work must surely mean that gesture was not carved by chance. And the same gesture can be seen on numerous Etruscan funeral urns. Until now, the gesture has always been translated as a superstitious symbol of good fortune but Signor Barbieri decided to dig deeper and find out a little more about the gesture’s real meaning.
In the world of the ancient Romans, the bull was their sacrificial animal of choice. Taurobolium, which refers to practices involving the sacrifice of a bull, was common and the blood of a freshly killed bull was spread over the fields to ensure longer, greener grass next spring.
The bull was sacrificed to mythological Mars, the god of war, thunder, rain and fertility. And let’s not forget Mithraism, the Roman religion centred around the god Mithras, which was popular in Rome from the 1st century AD and showed Mithras killing the sacrificial bull. One could argue that they were mythological figures but then again, as Rino Barbieri says, all mythological stories have a pinch of truth in there somewhere.
These are symbols of regeneration and therefore added to ease the dearly departed’s process of rebirth.
Rino Barbieri firmly believes that the corne hand gesture sculpted onto sarcophagi and Etruscan funeral urns is not there to simply ward off bad luck. To him, it was more a symbol of hope: a hope of a successful rebirth with the help of the regenerative force of the bull. It was a positive gesture when the dead were depicted using it. The gesture can be only understood to hold superstitious value when it is used by the living.