For Women, By Women

One thing that I have always had some issue with in dealing with the epigraphy in the Roman world, particularly the graffiti, is the somewhat antiquated view that very few women could read or write. Literacy in general for the ancient world is normally restricted to the upper classes, and even more so for women. I have never exactly agreed with this approach to literacy, as I have discussed here previously. As Kristina Milnor discussed in her book on literary graffiti in Pompeii (see especially Chapter 4), even when texts are seemingly written by a woman for a woman, male scholars have attempted to change the sex of the writer to fit their preconceived notions of literacy, gender, and sexuality.  There are, however, some graffiti that simply cannot be explained away by mistakes of grammar or as a joke. This is one of my favourites:

CIL IV 10231
Gravido me tene(t) / At(i)me[tus].
‘Atimetus got me pregnant.’

It is simple, it is straightforward, and there really can be no doubt it was written by a woman. I have always seen this as part warning to other women – look what he did to me, best to stay away from Atimetus – and part admonishment for the man who, by virtue of the graffito’s existence, clearly is not taking responsibility for his actions.  Pregnancy is mentioned in other inscriptions – see for example CIL IV 7024 Gravid(o) (te)net – but this is the only I am aware of that names the man who caused such a state. That factor, in and of itself, suggests to me that not only did a woman write this graffito, but in doing so she must have expected a significant number of other women to be able to read it. Thus, in four words, our anonymous writer has provided evidence for literacy amongst the female population in Pompeii.

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “For Women, By Women

  1. The noun *gravedo* is clearly a derivative from the adjective *gravis* and means some sort of “heaviness”. The normal meaning of the word is “stuffy nose”/”head cold” (OLD, Lewis-Short s.v.). The only attestation of the meaning “pregnancy” is from the late poet Nemesianus (Cynegetica 125). Nemesianus pretty clearly made up this (etymological) meaning for the purposes of metrical convenience on the basis of the literal meaning. Otherwise, the word is widely attested in the sense of “head cold” in all periods (it’s already in Plautus, Cicero uses it frequently, and in *Tusc.* 4.27 the derivative adjective *gravedinosus* is used by Cicero in a way that shows that this adjective pertains to an illness, not to pregnancy).

    *Gravedo me tenet* means “‘gravedo’ holds me”. It seems strange to speak of pregnancy “holding” someone. On the other hand, to say that an illness has possession of you seems much more natural, and one might compare Seneca, *Ad Marciam* 26.2: *Cur te, filia, tam longa tenet aegritudo* (“Why, daughter, does such a long illness have possession of you?”). All evidence suggests to me that these graffiti were written by people suffering from a head cold.

    As for the supplement At[i]met[us]. The nominative makes no apparent sense since *gravido* is the subject. Surely the vocative *Atimete* makes more sense: “I’ve got a cold, Atimetus” (or, as the Romans would have it, “A cold has me”!).

    • I have seen CIL IV 10231 translated as I have in numerous publications, including Antonio Varone’s ‘Erotica Pompeiana,’ wherein he states ‘gravido’ is for ‘gravidam’, and includes CIL IV 7024 and CIL IV 7080 as further evidence of similar texts. He does include reference to the thought this is ‘gravedo’ as in heaviness of the head, but suggests it can also mean pregnancy. See page 167, with n. 304 and 305.

  2. Guy Chamberland

    Oops… the last line is mine (I forgot to close the ” after GRAVIDOMIITIINII).

  3. Well… Yes. That does seem to happen a lot.

  4. Guy Chamberland

    Shouldn’t it be “gravido me tene(t) (from GRAVIDOMIITIINII on the wall)?

    • Admittedly away from the CIL and took the text from the Clauss Slaby database. (http://www.manfredclauss.de/) I’ll check the CIL next time I’m in the library. Thanks for pointing it out.

      • Guy Chamberland

        Heikki Solin in Härmä ed., Veikko Väänänen, latiniste et romaniste: un bilan (2012), p. 26 n. 78: “L’éditeur Della Corte lit dans 10231 gravidam tenet; il faut lire (autopsie du 23 mai 1973) gravido me tene(t), écrit GRAVIDOMIITIINII.
        Not surprisingly, Della Corte is (again) wrong.

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