You’ve Been the Subject of So Many Dreams Since I Climbed Your Torso


I climbed the Statue of Liberty once, when I was probably around nine or so. This must not have been that long after it was reopened to the public in 1986, and it was one of the last trips I remember taking with both of my parents. My mom and sister went up separately from my dad, my brother, and me. My dad was carrying my brother, and fortunately we made it to the top of the pedestal around the same time, because he didn’t want to carry a child up the narrower steps of the statue itself. I remember being kind of annoyed that the pedestal was so much bigger than the actual statue. I guess a lot of statues are like that, but you can’t go inside most of those. Climbing up a large box is nowhere near as interesting as climbing inside a giant woman. By the way, the statue is clearly open at the bottom, so I have no idea how the Ghostbusters could get it to walk around. Then again, we don’t know all of the properties of that magic slime

Anyway, Beth and I visited Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn a few days ago, and they have a statue of Minerva that directly faces Lady Liberty.


This got me wondering if the more famous statue was based on a particular goddess, and it appears that the answer is Libertas.

She was the Roman equivalent of the Greek Eleutheria, about whom not a lot is known. She was sometimes associated with Artemis, and was pictured on some Alexandrian coins. The Roman version was somewhat more prominent, although I don’t know that there’s any actual mythology about her.

Originally more of an anthropomorphic personification, Libertas officially became a Roman goddess around the third century BC. While originally associated with individual freedom, she came to symbolize the Roman republic.

She had a temple on Rome’s Aventine Hill, in which census records were stored. Another temple was built on Palatine Hill, particularly the old home of the exiled Cicero. I’d say a land grab in the name of a goddess representing freedom is strange, but it’s not like modern governments don’t still do that kind of thing. Cicero was able to successfully sue to get his land back and the temple destroyed. The scholar Marcus Terentius Varro identified Libertas with Feronia, a goddess of wilderness and patron of travelers who was also associated with freedom. It is sometimes said that slaves were freed at a temple to Feronia.

Complicating matters somewhat is the fact that Libertas was not the only Roman deity of freedom. There were also two known as Liber and Libera, seen as a married couple, who represented liberty as well as wine and fertility.

Cicero referred to them both as children of Ceres, and Libera eventually came to be identified with Prosperpina (Persephone in Greek). Liber’s association with wine resulted in his being conflated with Bacchus, and hence Libera became his wife Ariadne. Another oddity is that Eleutheria/Libertas was sometimes seen as an aspect of Zeus/Jupiter, strange not so much because of the different gender as because the King of Olympus was a total autocrat.

Not only is the Statue of Liberty a representation of Libertas, but so are other female personifications of nations, such as the American Columbia and the French Marianne.

While the statue wears a pointed crown, it was more common for Libertas to wear either a laurel wreath or a pileus, a pointed felt cap worn by freed slaves. The hat was commonly confused with the Phrygian cap, although unlike the pileus that had the top pulled forward, sort of like what the Smurfs wear.

Due to the confusion, female depictions of liberty often wear a Phrygian cap instead of the traditional pileus.

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