Even before the Internet, people apparently needed a public spot to post snarky observations about others. In Rome, for the past 500 years, that spot has been a pedestal supporting the marble torso of a decrepit statue named Pasquino, reports Esther Inglis-Arkell for io9.com.
The statue is much older than the tradition. Historians think it was carved in the 3rd century B.C. and it originally depicted the characters Menelaus and Patroclus from the Illiad. All that remains, however, is the torso of Menelaus and a bit of Patoclus, which was unearthed in the early 1500s and displayed in what is now called the Piazza Pasquino. Soon after, the mischief started. Inglis-Arkell writes:
Cardinal Oliviero Carafa, an enemy of Pope Alexander VI (better known to us as Rodrigo Borgia), decided to dress the statue up and cover it with witty little sayings in Latin. Other people followed his lead. If you had something mean to say about anyone, especially the pope, you put your message on Pasquino. And if you wanted to read something mean and funny, you headed over to the Piazza Pasquino to check out who people were snarking about.
The tradition of spreading insults and satire through pamplets became a popular one in Rome at the time. Legend has it that Pasquino got his name from a particularly witty craftsman who lived near the statue or from a headmaster at a nearby school, according to ItalyGuides.it. Other statues around the city joined the snark chorus and became known as the talking statues of Rome.
Now the word pasquinate in local dialect means an anonymous insult in verse or prose. The guide reports:
These stinging insults came to be called “Pasquinate,” taking the name of the statue that best demonstrated the people's discontent about corruption and abuses of power. But that's not all: these same powerful people often used the Pasquino to spread slander against their political opponents, with the authors naturally being well compensated.
In this way, Papal elections were fought with Pasquinate that aimed to curry favor with the populace.
Take one of the insults against pope Urban VIII, who hailed from the Barberini family. When this pope removed bronze from the Pantheon and used it to make the baldachin over the high alter in the Basilica of St. Peter, among other structures, this phrase appeared: quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini, or "what barbarians did not do, the Barberini did," according to Andrea Pollett of Virtual Rome.
Most of the statues have fallen silent over the years, but Pasquino still bears the scathing remarks and commentary from more modern discontents.