in bratu dīanmani̯e etic ceisiwre for bringing this topic and resources to my attention.
While most scholarship of the God Cernunnos revolves around His attestation from the pilier des nautes, and His distinctive iconography, there are some lesser-known leads that are typically left out of discussion.
For example, one remarkable votive to Cernunnos was reported from Pollenza, Italy (CIL V, 894):
The historian Jacopo Durandi published this in 1773, saying it was related by the Monsignor of the church there. “VENAT” is taken as an abbreviated (or perhaps damaged) form of vēnātor ‘hunter,’ which would have made it of special interest to Durandi, who was researching the college of hunters from Pollentia at the time.
So the votive reads rather straightforwardly as:
To the God Cernunnos,
Fouscius the Hunter
Willingly fulfilled his vow, as deserved.
Of which Durandi opines:
I think I can insert from this most precious inscription, that the god Cernunno was invoked in the dangerous hunts of ferocious animals, instead of Diana presiding over the more commonly meek ones. What else does the epithet of Servatori applied to Cernunno mean, if not this Fouscio hunter (probably from the college of Pollentini hunters), finding himself at risk of life on the occasion of hunting some dangerous wild beast … ?
Such a complete and groundbreaking artifact to such a famous God as Cernunnos should certainly be more widely discussed, should it not?
Well, as interesting as all this may seem, we should take pause — for Mommsen, the editor of the monumental Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL), lists this inscription as “false.” While Mommsen offers no argument for his decision, we can start by noting that an unnamed church father is the votive’s only witness. And while many true inscriptions have been recorded and lost, there is more insight to glean for why Mommsen’s criteria would exclude this particular one.
Luigi Bruzza (1874) had this to say:
Illustrious and worthy writer of the country’s affairs was Jacopo Durandi, who died in 1817, and set about illustrating them with the help of ancient inscriptions. Except that in his works, amidst the sincere ones, false ones abound. … it must be said that Durandi, although a very learned man in the history of the Middle Ages, but not equally expert in epigraphic matters, was deceived, or fell into the defect of those scholars of his age who sometimes also availed themselves of spurious inscriptions. Those that he used, as found near the Apolline wood in the plain of Arro and Briango sull'Elvo, were all condemned by Mommsen.
In a biography of Mommsen, Fowler (1912) explains the surprisingly widespread phenomenon of forgery, and Mommsen’s great efforts at heading it off:
Wherever the Romans and their subjects had left their records on stone, trained men had to be sent to discover and decipher ; and it was with the general an absolute condition of service that each of his lieutenants should if possible actually *see* each stone with his own eyes, or if the inscription were only preserved in copies made at some earlier time, as often hapened, that they should see the original manuscript of such copies if possible. All this was necessary because, strange as it may seem, there were in existence an immense number of so-called inscriptions which turned out to be simply forgeries, the result of the foolish desire of old collectors to add to the volume and interest of their collections. All these false inscriptions have now been collected and printed apart from the real ones, so that there can never be in future any mistake about them.
And Silvestrini (1990) gives us yet another important detail about Mommsen’s methodology:
The Mommsenian criterion for distinguishing genuine inscriptions from suspected or false ones is equally well known:
The examination does not focus only on the entry itself, but on the author. It follows that inscriptions betrayed only by suspicious witnesses are certainly registered in the category of suspicious or false inscriptions. It is therefore possible (and has been verified) that inscriptions inserted by Mommsen in the «suspicious» section in the IRNL were later found or confirmed by reliable authors and appear in the CIL IX-X among the genuine ones. However, this is a small number that in no way undermines Mommsen’s extremely rigorous approach to the difficult problem.
So we have a situation where this votive was only ever witnessed by one anonymous church father, and whose contents seem virtually tailor-made to seduce Durandi’s particular research interest at the time. Furthermore, Durandi acquired a reputation with Mommsen for being unreliable with respect to inscriptions. All of this seems sufficient for us to reject this votive as a forgery.
That said, comparative mythologist Patrice Lajoye sought to rehabilitate the Pollenza votive in his book, L'arbre du monde : la cosmologie celte (2016).
… an inscription from Polenza (Northern Italy) has been known since 1773. It has since been systematically considered false. It is true that the spelling of the name of the dedicant, Fouscius, is curious, but the form of the dedication (“DEO CERNVNNO”; “VSLM”) is typically Gallo-Roman. Moreover, it is also in Northern Italy, as we have seen, in Val Camonica, that the oldest representation of the god is known, thanks to a rock engraving. Its presence on an inscription from Cisalpine Gaul is therefore not impossible.
Lajoye, however, seems to lack a proper understanding of why the inscription was judged false in the first place.
It certainly has nothing to do with the name “Fouscius,” variations of which are quite well-attested in other inscriptions, including some that are registered as true in the very same tome that Mommsen declared the Pollenza votive to be false in.
Furthermore, we know that Mommsen’s methodology revolves primarily around the credibility of the source. I have found no indication that he would judge whether an inscription’s find site was within the expected range of that deity’s cult. I expect that Mommsen must have known well that votives to Gods could be very far widespread beyond Their cult’s territory of origin.
So Lajoye’s statement that Cernunnos’ presence on a Cisalpine inscription is not impossible, is certainly true. In fact, I find nothing particularly suspicious about the votive on its face (aside from the fact that it would be unparalleled, being a complete votive unto Cernunnos).
Various “Savior” epithets are amply attested for several Greek and Roman Gods (including Apollo and Mercury), and we routinely find abridged or damaged words on inscriptions. The dedicant’s “unusual” name is actually not so unusual at all for the Mediterranean Keltiké, particularly the locale where this one was claimed to be found.
If it is a forgery, it is a well-crafted and learned one. But such a skilled fabrication hardly seems beyond the abilities of educated Italians from the period.
But rather than offer us any compelling reason to believe this votive, Lajoye proceeds to sprint with a grab-bag of seemingly unrelated points, drawing some equation between Cernunnos and Jupiter on his proverbial corkboard. In his own words:
Partons d’abord d’un simple postulat: l’arbre semble bien être une forme du Jupiter gaulois. Cernunnos est lui aussi le Jupiter gaulois. Faut-il en déduire que Cernunnos est un arbre? La question peut paraître saugrenue, mais elle ne manque pas d’arguments.
« Saugrenue » indeed!
While this votive is tempting, and not internally erroneous to my eyes, its external context makes it not credible, either. But in any case, it would not greatly upend anyone’s understanding of Cernunnos, even if it were real.
Someone with a Gallo-Roman practice could well adopt this Servātor epithet for Cernunnos if they were so inclined, keeping in mind that it is more likely an erudite 18th Century Piedmontese priest’s fancy of how Cernunnos should be addressed, rather than a fact of Cernunnos’ historical cult.