“The White Lotus” season two moves the vacation-themed series to Sicily, and there’s one iconic part of the island that the show makes note of: the intricate statues of heads.
During the first episode, Cameron (Theo James), Ethan (Will Sharpe), Daphne (Meghann Fahy), and Harper (Aubrey Plaza) ask about the statue in their room. Their hotel-worker guide explains to them that it’s called a Testa di Moro. He explains, “The story is a Moor came here a long time ago and seduced a local girl. But then she found out that he had a wife and children back home. So because he lied to her, she cut his head off.”
The group wonders why people would want to display the statues if they have such a dark backstory. Daphne tells Cameron, “It’s a warning to husbands, babe. Screw around and you’ll end up in the garden.”
Rocco doesn’t tell them the rest of the legend, or the other interpretations of the Testa di Moro’s origins. According to Visit Sicily, after the girl removed the man’s head, she used it as a vase to grow basil. The scent attracted her neighbors, who loved the vase and had copies of it commissioned.
But Visit Sicily also gives another backstory for the statues. In a different version of the legend, the girl and the Moor fell in love. When her parents found out, they beheaded both of them and hung their heads as a warning. That’s why the heads are usually shown in pairs, though “White Lotus” mostly shows the man’s head alone, referencing the other version of the story.
What Is the Meaning of the Head Statues in “White Lotus”?
Based on Rocco’s explanation, it seems the heads are a reminder of the secrets that can be kept between couples and the way they turn into poison — and even violence. It thematically resonates with the show’s second season, which seems to all be about dramas between couples. Daphne and Cameron seem like the picture-perfect rich couple, but Harper doesn’t trust them. And at the end of the night, while Cameron and Daphne have sex in their hotel room, Harper and Ethan are disconnected in bed.
Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge)’s marriage to Greg (Jon Gries) isn’t going great either. He’s furious she brought her assistant Portia (Haley Lu Richardson) with her and reprimands her about her weight and eating. And Dominic (Michael Imperioli) gets berated by his wife on the phone. She calls him a liar, accuses him of keeping secrets, and ends up crying. His actions have kept his wife and daughter from joining the men of the family on vacation, and his apology for his inaction seems particularly disingenuous since he hires Lucia (Simona Tabasco) to sleep with him before he even arrives in Sicily.
But other resonances are tied to the statue in the series, too. The hotel worker says the statue is of a “Moor,” a word that Europeans used in the Middle Ages to mean Muslim people, and especially those from North Africa or the Middle East. In Shakespeare’s “Othello,” the title character is described as a Moor, and that’s why he doesn’t fit in with the rest of Venetian society. The characters of “White Lotus” season two are almost all white. Harper notes to Ethan at the end of the episode that the two of them are the “white-passing, diverse friends.” The Testa di Moro, then, is a literal objectification of a nonwhite person, a person who otherwise wouldn’t be welcome in this ultra-elite space. And he became an object through violence; only through murder can he be an accepted part of Sicilian life.
We already know that at least one guest won’t make it through their vacation alive. Could it be because of the secrets and lies that come between a husband and wife? We’ll have to wait and see.