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The meaning behind the Testa di Moro head statues in 'The White Lotus'

The vases, scattered about the hotel, reference a Sicilian tale of heartbreak and betrayal.
/ Source: TODAY

Warning: This post contains spoilers for “The White Lotus.”

In Season Two of "The White Lotus," all eyes are on the couples — even the eyes of numerous vases floating around the Sicilian hotel.

As guests Harper Spiller (Aubrey Plaza) and Ethan Spiller (Will Sharpe) get checked into their room in the first episode, hotel employee Rocco (Federico Ferrante) shares that the hotel used to be a convent.

Cameron Sullivan (Theo James) is scoping out the view from his friends' room when his wife, Daphne Sullivan (Meghann Fahy), asks while peering at Mount Etna, "Is that a volcano?"

Theo James, Will Sharpe
Ethan and Cameron have drinks at a restaurant at "The White Lotus."Fabio Lovino / HBO

As the pressure builds, Ethan asks Rocco, "Hey, what is with these head things? We keep seeing them everywhere."

What is the deal with those statues? Here's how the show explains the legend.

The statues have a legendary backstory

Rocco replies to Ethan's question with an ominous story from Italian folklore called the Testa di Moro, or the Moor's Head.

"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," he tells the group. "So, because he lied to her, she cut his head off."

"Oh, Jesus," Ethan responds. "So if you put one of those outside of your house, what are you saying?"

"If you come into my house, don’t f--- my wife," Cameron interrupts.

As the group laughs, Daphne says with a smile, "It’s a warning to husbands, babe. Screw around and you’ll end up buried in the garden."

Rocco then hurries to try to show the couples the feature that their rooms can become conjoined, an unsettled conclusion to an unsettling exchange.

Beatrice Granno, Adam DiMarco, Simona Tabasco
"It’s a warning to husbands, babe. Screw around and you’ll end up buried in the garden," Daphne says of the Testa di Moro vases.Fabio Lovino / HBO

There's more to the story

The legend dates back to Muslim Arab rule on Sicily, which spanned from 827 A.D. to 1070.

And according to Visit Sicily, there's a bit more to the tale than what Rocco says in "The White Lotus." After cutting off the man's head, the woman in the legend used the decapitated head as a vase to plant a bud of basil (recycling, of sorts).

She watered then watered the herb with her tears, causing the plant to grow. The scent of the basil caused her neighbors to grow jealous, and immediately order vases with the same features of the man's head.

And that, dear children, is how the head-shaped vases ended up being used throughout Sicily, according to Visit Sicily, including the convent-turned-hotel depicted in "The White Lotus."

In another version of the story, a Sicilian girl falls in love with a young Arab, according to Visit Sicily. When her family finds out about their affair, they behead the both of them. Their heads are turned into vases and displayed on a balcony as a warning.

These vases are usually shown as a pair, according to Visit Sicily, suggesting “The White Lotus” is referencing the first story.

The Testa di Moro vases appear throughout the show

Beyond the initial scene, the ceramic vases continue to pop up throughout the rest of the series, as do paintings and marble statues.

Tanya McQuoid-Hunt (Jennifer Coolidge) comes face to face with a Testa di Moro while she's sleeping with her husband, Greg Hunt (Jon Gries). She pushes him away, saying she was disassociating and seeing strange visions.

Jennifer Coolidge, Jon Gries
Tanya and Greg ride a Vespa along the Sicilian countryside.Fabio Lovino / HBO

Harper and Ethan have another moment with the statues when they're lying in bed, and Harper tells her husband about a weird encounter with Cameron earlier in the day. Ethan says he doesn't think it was that weird, and Harper goes to sleep.

As Harper gets ready for bed, the couple can hear Cameron and Daphne laughing in their room. Ethan sighs and takes a long glance at the Testa di Moro in their room.

While it's unclear how the themes of revenge, heartbreak and betrayal that the Testa di Moro embodies will play out through the rest of the season, it does suggest infidelity, dishonesty and jealousy could lead to violence.

From the opening scene, at least one character ends up in a body bag by the end. But who (or who all) will it be?

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