Monday, July 2, 2012

Harry Potter's Roman Bulla, A Mokeskin Pouch of Protection

Look at these two pictures and tell me what you see in common:

Emperor Nero as a boy

Did you notice the pouch worn around the neck of both boys?  Look closely:

The boy (Nero) in the statue is wearing a Roman bulla.  Harry is wearing his mokeskin pouch.

A few days ago, I was researching an item for my WIP and came across images I'd saved of the Roman bulla.  I'd noticed its likeness to Harry's mokeskin pouch years ago, but at that time didn't have a blog to share it with.  Now I do!

A bulla was a protective locket given to Roman boys by their fathers to wear around their neck from the time they were 9 days old until they reached manhood and became a Roman citizen (usually at 16).  The bulla could be made of various materials depending on the wealth of the family -- gold for the rich, leather for the poor.  Inside the bulla were amulets that served to protect the boy from harmful spirits and turn back the evil eye.

Unlike a Roman bulla, Harry's pouch was given to him not as an infant, but on his 17th birthday, the day in magical law where he legally attained adulthood.  However, like the Roman bulla, his pouch contained magical items which would serve in the coming campaign to protect him from evil forces.

Harry filled Hagrid's mokeskin purse, not with gold, but with those items he most prized, apparently worthless though some of them were: the Marauder's Map, the shard of Sirius's enchanted mirror, and R.A.B.'s locket.  He pulled the strings tight and slipped the purse around his neck, then sat holding the old Snitch and watching its wings flutter. (p. 132, Deathly Hallows, Scholastic)

Later, the Snitch, the letter from Harry's mom to Sirius, and Harry's broken wand would join the contents of the pouch.  While Harry's pouch was not given to him by his father but rather by Hagrid, one of his last remaining father figures, inside the pouch Harry placed items from James (Marauder's map), godfather Sirius (two-way mirror shard, also used with James), mentor Dumbledore (Snitch w/ the Resurrection Stone), as well as his mother (the letter to Sirius).   Each amulet, each item of his pouch, given by a parent or mentor, served to either protect Harry against Voldemort or else teach a valuable lesson in his final journey to manhood:

  • The Marauder's Map helped Harry "see" Ginny at Hogwarts while he was wandering in the wilderness.
  • The shards of Sirius's mirror with the other piece in Aberforth's protection served as a means for Aberforth to know when Harry needed help and to send Dobby.
  • R.A.B's locket was, of course, a faux-Horcrux, but also an important lesson on human nature in the treatment of those considered beneath them.
  • The letter from Lily to Sirius prepared Harry both for some of Dumbledore's backstory with Grindelwald as well as Lily's connection to Snape.
  • The Resurrection Stone inside the Snitch brought Harry the comfort of his deceased loved ones in his greatest time of need.
  • And Harry's broken Phoenix wand, and its resurrection, served as a final example of power and Harry's command over it rather than being controlled by it.

Harry wore his pouch throughout his campaign to seek out and destroy Voldemort's Horcruxes.  He also wore it to meet his death in the dark forest, where he pulled out the Resurrection Stone to bring him the comfort of his mother, father, Sirius, and Lupin by his side, as well as into the final battle.  The last time we see the pouch is when Harry pulls his old wand out of it and uses the Elder Wand to resurrect his more beloved, and less powerful, Phoenix wand.

If deliberate, and I think it is, JK Rowling's use of Harry's mokeskin pouch as a modern wizard bulla, is a wonderful example of all the little Easter eggs she hid in subtext for her readers to find and delight in.  Knowing and understanding the Roman bulla is completely unnecessary to understanding the role of the mokeskin pouch in Deathly Hallows.  But finding the connection sharpens its role in the story and gives a little thrill to the Harry Potter fan.

Have you ever hidden any little Easter Eggs in a story?