An Amusing Graffito

Pompeii and Herculaneum provide some 11,000 inscriptions for scholars to study, most of them bring in Latin (although there are many still which are Oscan, Greek, Etruscan and at times, combinations of these). These inscriptions give a glimpse of what life was like at Pompeii from around 30 BCE to 79 CE shortly before its destruction, so it is easy for modern scholars to appreciate them. But apparently this wasn’t always the case. Unaware of his city’s impending doom and the usefulness of the writing on the wall, one rather interesting fellow lamented the following:

Ad miror te paries non c[e]cidisse qui tot scriptorum taedia sustineas.

Translation (given by Rex E. Wallace):

O wall, I am amazed that you have not fallen down since you support the loathsome scribblings of so many writers.

As Wallace aptly puts it in his An Introduction to Wall Inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum (2005), “While we can understand the sentiments of the writer, at the same time we are grateful to those who have, by means of their scribblings, provided us with an invaluable means for gaining insight into the affairs and the language of the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the first century AD.” (pp. xxiii-xxiv)

5 Responses

  1. Of further interest is The Jews in Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae and in the Cities of Campania Felix (review), which discusses what may be the earliest epigraphic evidence of Christianity.

  2. It was my impression that the possibility of Jewish and Christian communities in Pompeii were inconclusive.

    Joanne Berry proposes that it is commonly accepted that there may have been Jewish traders in the region–which may account for some semitic inscriptions found on amphorae–but because of the very few inscriptions found containing Jewish names (like Martha and Mary) and because of the so-called ‘Judgment of Solomon’ fresco in the House of the Physician (which appears to caricature Jews) might imply (although, again, inconclusively) that there was strong antisemitic feelings in the region (enough to have a painting commissioned). There may be some reasons to accept the possibility that what little evidence of Jewish inhabitants in Pompeii and Herculaneum (perhaps) that we have come from slaves bought by wealthy merchants or politicians in Pompeii after the Jewish War (66-73 CE).

    The conjecture that there was an underground Christian community in Pompeii is supported by similar circumstances. However there are reasons to question these as well. The impression of what appeared to be a cross impressed into stucco in Herculaneum in the House of the Bicentenary was actually a cupboard support. While the inscription in the House of the Christian Inscription (obviously named) is incomplete (even though it does contain the word ‘Christian’).

    From this meager evidence it is impossible to know whether these represent individual traders (perhaps even travelers) or actual communities. But I will look up that book and see if there is something more to the suggestion. Thanks for the useful link.

  3. There is a monograph on the Christian graffito: The Christian Inscription at Pompeii / Paul Berry (review).

  4. Thanks! I’ll have a look.

  5. Wallace’s remark reminds of me a poem by Philip Appleman…

    Creation

    On all the living walls
    of this dim cave,
    soot and ochre, acts of will,
    come down to us to say:

    This is who we were.
    We foraged here in an age of ice,
    and, warmed by the fur of wolves,
    felt the pride of predators
    going for game.
    Here we painted the strength of bulls,
    the grace of deer, turned life into art,
    and left this testimony on our walls.
    Explorers of the future, see how,
    when our dreams reach forward,
    your wonder reaches back, and we embrace.
    When we are long since dust,
    and false prophets come,
    then don’t forget that we were your creators.
    So build your days
    on what you know is real, and remember
    that nothing will keep your lives alive
    but art – the black and ochre visions
    you draw inside your cave
    will honor your lost tribe,
    when explorers in some far future
    marvel at the paintings on your walls.

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