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Statue of a Triple-Bodied Hecate

Roman art

Restored in about 1828 by Antonio d’Este, only the bodies of the figures are ancient. The three women are standing against a basket-shaped pillar called a kalathos, topped by a restored vegetal element. The women are wearing a long chiton with a peplos cinched under the breasts with a knot. The sculpture is an exemplar of the three-bodied Hecate type. The numerous ancient sources relative to the goddess point to her ambivalent nature, with both a negative connotation, linked to the dark aspects of the religion and nocturnal magical rituals, and a benevolent one, as the protector of the home and benefactor of men.

The sculpture is a Roman replica, dating to the second century CE, of an archetype attributed to the sculptor Alcamenes, who was active in Athens in the fifth century BCE.

Object details

II secolo d. C.
white marble with blue and grey veining
altezza cm 196

Borghese Collection, cited for the first time in the inventory of 1762 (AAV, Archivio Borghese, Busta 1007); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 54, no. 192. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 18th century - Restoration in marble and plaster of the girl: the right arm, the left arm and the head; the woman: the right foot with part of the plinth, the right arm, the left arm and the head; the old woman: the left foot with part of the plinth, the right arm from just above the elbow, the left arm and the head. All three heads with the double braid, the kalathos and the flower at the end and numerous chips in the drapery.
  • c. 1828 - Antonio d’Este
  • 1918 - Cesare Fossi,
  • 1966 - Tito Minguzzi
  • 1996–97 - Liana Persichelli


‘For I shall sing gently to you, goddess,

and to chthonic Hecate, at whom even the dogs tremble

as she comes across the tombs of the dead and the black blood’

Theocritus (Idylls 2.10–16)


The three female figures are standing on a basket-shaped capital called a kalathos (restored). The upper part of this element is above their heads, expanding in two splayed components topped by a flower. The women are wearing a long chiton that falls to their feet and a peplos with an apoptygma, cinched with a knot beneath the breasts. Only the bodies are ancient, while the heads, almost all of the arms, the kalathos and the vegetal element above them are modern. The faces depict the three ages of the goddess.

The sculpture is listed in the Inventario della Villa Pinciana e del Casino del Graziano of 1762 as a ‘gruppo di tre statue di marmo, che rappresentano tre dee con braccia stese, nelle quali mancano alcune dita’ (‘group of three marble statues, representing three goddesses with their arms extended, some of the fingers are missing’; AAV, Archivio Borghese, Busta 1007). In 1828, it was described as a ‘Diana Triforme a guisa di candelabro’ (‘Tri-form Diana in the form of a candelabra’) in the Quarta Nota, sent by Giuseppe Gozzani to Prince Camillo Borghese, listing the works selected to be restored by Antonio D’Este (Moreno, Sforzini 1987, p. 360). In 1832, Antonio Nibby mentioned it in Room VIII: ‘gruppo di tre figure muliebri, stanti, una addossata all’altra e rivestite di tunica talare, nelle quali sembra essersi volute rappresentare le tre età, siccome ne’ lineamenti nel volto di ciascuna ravvisatesi, cioè la gioventù, la età media, e la vecchiezza’ (‘group of three female figures, standing, one next to the other and wearing a priestly tunic, they seem to represent the three ages, since one can recognise in the features of the faces youth, middle age and old age’; Nibby 1832, pp. 122–123). In the Indicazione of 1840, the group is mentioned in its current location, in Room VI (p. 21, no. 7).

According to the earliest source, Hesiod, Hecate was the daughter of the Titan Perses and the nymph Asteria, sister of Latona. Over the centuries, her qualities and features evolved. In the Theogony, Hecate is the goddess ‘whom Zeus the son of Cronos honored above all. He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She received honor also in starry heaven, and is honored exceedingly by the deathless gods’ (411–415). In Hesiod, the goddess is a benevolent, powerful deity, attributes that she probably already had in Asia Minor, where her cult originated, and that she would maintain until its spread to Greece in the Archaic period (Serafini 2015, p. 43). In Homer’s Hymn to Demeter, she is associated with the chthonic world, helping the goddess to find her daughter Persephone, who was abducted by Hades, arranging for her to remain two seasons out of three with her mother. ‘And from that day forward, the Lady [Hekatē] became her [Persephone’s] attendant and substitute queen’ (Hymn to Demeter 440).

In the second half of the fifth century BCE, Hecate began to be presented in literature as a sorceress with a terrifying appearance and a dark, inauspicious nature, to whom purification ceremonies were dedicated that involved the sacrifice of dogs.

Apollonius of Rhodes presents us with Jason who, following Medea’s instructions, asks for help from the goddess: ‘Then, eighteen inches deep, he dug a pit and then he heaped wood-billets over it. He cut the sheep’s throat and above the height of wood he duly stretched it, set alight the billets, pouring on the offering mixed wine, asked Brimo Hecate to bring him triumph in the contests, and then drew away and, from the utmost depths, she knew his voice, that dread goddess, and came to find his sacrifice, while her dread serpents twined round the oak boughs; a multiplicity of torches were agleam, and one could see the hellhounds sharply barking all about’ (Argonautica 1349–1361). 

In Greece, Hecate was also venerated for her various manifestations in places of transition, in the form of small statues called hekataia, which are the focus of research published by T. Kraus in 1960 and by N. Werth by 2006. They were placed at crossroads and entrances, as we read in a passage from Aristophanes’s Wasps: ‘similar to the altars of Hecate, and that there would be such before every door’ (804).

The triple-form portrayal of the goddess is attested for the first time by Pausanias, who mentions a statue of this type by the sculptor Alcamenes, who was the student of Phidias and active in Athens in the fifth century BCE (Description of Greece 2.30.2). The statue, Epipyrgidia, was on the bastion of Athena on the Acropolis. The ancient sources provide various interpretations of the iconography of three bodies, from a representation of the three cosmic realms (Hesiod, Theogony 413–414, 427) to that of three different goddesses: Artemis, Hecate, Selene (Schol. Aristoph. Pluto, v. 594; Serv. Virg. Aen., IV 511). According to Athanassia Zografou, the triple-body form also fits well with the function of guardian of the crossroads (Zografou 2010, pp. 235–236, 247).

The Borghese sculpture, which is datable to the second century CE, is one of numerous Roman replicas inspired by the archetype by Alcamenes, in a classical rendering. It can be fruitfully compared to a small bronze, which also includes the goddess’s attributes, in the Museo del Palazzo dei Conservatori (Stuart Jones 1926, pp. 285–286, pl. 114) and a sculpture in the Musei Capitolini, Centrale Montemartini, Rome (Stuart Jones 1926, p. 228, no. 33, pl. 85). Lastly, the drapery of a small statuette in the Capitoline Museum, missing both the head and the forearms, is similar to that of the Borghese sculpture (Ensoli Vittozzi 1993, p. 227, no. 7, fig. 64).

Giulia Ciccarello

  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, pp. 122-123.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 21, n. 7, tav. 36.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 922, n. 7.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 24, n. 7.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 42.
  • G. Giusti, The Borghese Gallery and the Villa Umberto I in Rome, Città di Castello, p. 42.
  • H. Stuart Jones, A catalogue of the ancient sculptures preserved in the municipal collections of Rome: the sculptures of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, 1926.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (3° Edizione) Roma 1954, p. 18.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 10, nn. 65-66.
  • T. Kraus, Hekate. Studien zu Wesen und Bild der Göttin in Kleinasien und Griechenland, Heidelberg, 1960, pp. 119 – 181.
  • M. Bieber, Ancient copies, Contribution to the History of Greek and Roman Art, New York 1977, p. 93, figg. 433-434.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 17.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 101, fig. a pag. 87.
  • P. Moreno, C. Sforzini, I ministri del principe Camillo: cronaca della collezione Borghese di antichità dal 1807 al 1832, in “Scienze dell’Antichità”, 1, 1987, p. 360.
  • H. Sarian, s.v. Hecate, in “Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae”, VI.1, Zürich- München 1992, pp. 985-1018.
  • S. Ensoli Vittozzi, Le sculture del «larario» di S. Martino ai Monti. Un contesto recuperato, in “Bullettino della Commissione Archeologica Comunale di Roma”, Vol. 95, No. 1, 1993, pp. 221-243.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 160, n. 8.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 227, n. 213.
  • N. Werth, Hekate. Untersuchungen zur dreigestaltigen Göttin, Hamburg 2006.
  • A. Zografou, Chemins d’Hécate: Portes, routes, carrefours et autres figures de l’entre-deux, in “Kernos”, Supplément 24, 2010, pp. 227-248.
  • N. Serafini, La dea Ecate nell’antica Grecia: una protettrice dalla quale proteggersi, Ariccia 2015.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008474, P. Moreno 1976; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020