PANEL OF “TEMPTATIONS”
The pulpit has five panels sculpted in bas-relief reassembled (we do not know if placed in their original positions) at the time of construction of the Romanesque pieve. The first one next to the lectern, to the observer’s left, shows a mermaid with a forked tail, under a masculine figure between two serpents with open jaws at the sides of his head; both the man and siren are holding, respectively, either their ankles or the ends of the two tails. In Christian symbology the siren with a fish tail (depicted thus only from the Middle Ages: the first description of mermaids with fish tails, "who hide in eddies," is found in the 8th century in the Liber monstrorum de diversis generibus (I, VI), while in ancient Greece and Rome their lower bodies were in the form of birds) is the seductive power of the senses and of illusion, which distract man from the spiritual, attracting him towards temporal pleasures; and in this case the serpents are also negative elements, also representing temptation, the powers of evil with their seductive arts, and also the evil that man has to overcome in himself. The mermaid, like every human-animal hybrid, is the duality of intellect-primordial instincts and the conflict inherent in this double nature of mankind. This panel, in the overall meaning of the pulpit, could therefore show the journey of the soul towards eternal salvation, the necessity of man to not succumb to the temptations of evil. According to other interpretations it might symbolize also the Word of God which brings salvation to all human beings, to all who inhabit the far corners of the world (Fornasari 2005). Forked-tailed sirens such as the one in Gropina are not very rare: they are found in the cathedral of Sovana (Grosseto), dedicated to St. Peter, and in the portal of St. Michael’s of Pavia, of the 9th-12th centuries, as well as in one of the eight metopes of the cathedral of Modena (attributed to Wiligelmus and his students), just to cite an example in Tuscany and others not too far from Gropina and stylistically similar, as will be seen later.