18 Mar 2010

The Pagan Sites of Europe Remembered: (7) The Rude Man of Cerne, Dorsetshire, England

The village of Cerne Abbas in Dorsetshire, England, is famous for a giant naked, club-wielding figure carved into a hillside. The contrast between the white chalky soil and the green grass makes for a very vivid image.

There is much speculation and dispute concerning the age and meaning of the figure. The best guess is that it is a representation of the Greek and Roman god Hercules, dating from the Roman period.

As Hercules was especially popular in the Roman military, it seems reasonable to suppose that Roman legionaries stationed in Southern England carved it, perhaps inspired by more ancient chalk carvings like the Uffington White Horse.

Archaeologists have detected changes in the design over time. A cloak once hung from the giant's left arm, while the impressive erection was apparenlty created in Victorian times during a recutting when the original genitalia were accidentally joined to a circle representing the figure's navel.

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