Monthly Archives: October 2016

Zombies, Witches, and Werewolves (Oh my!)

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Although Halloween (or whatever variation you wish to call it), is a day that originates in Celtic and Christian traditions after the end of what we conceive of as the ancient Roman world, that doesn’t mean the Romans didn’t enjoy a good spooky story. Tied up within the various rites and practices of paganism and polytheism that dominated the ancient world were numerous superstitions, tales of transformation, and the threat of falling under the spell of a witch. Perhaps one of the best known examples of the latter comes from the second century AD writer Apuleius, whose novel The Golden Ass follows the adventures (and mis-adventures) of a man who is turned into an ass by a witch of Thessaly.

One of the most common themes is a straight-forward ghost story. What is interesting about these is that they relate directly to burial practices and observed rituals. In both stories that follow, the ghost is haunting his resting place, which is one that has been created without the completion of the necessary rites.

Suetonius Caligula 69
‘He lived twenty-nine years and ruled three years, ten months and eight days. His body was conveyed secretly to the gardens of the Lamian family, where it was partly consumed on a hastily erected pyre and buried beneath a light covering of turf; later his sisters on their return from exile dug it up, cremated it, and consigned it to the tomb. Before this was done, it was well known that the caretakers of the gardens were disturbed by ghosts, and that in the house where he was slain not a night passed without some fearsome apparition, until at last the house itself was destroyed by fire.’

Pliny Epistles VII.27
‘At first there was nothing but the general silence of the night; then came the clanking of iron and ragging of chains. He did not look up or stop writing, but steeled his mind to shut out the sounds. Then the noise grew louder, came nearer, was heard in the doorway, and then inside the room. He looked round, saw and recognized the ghost described to him. It stood and beckoned, as if summoning him. Athenodorus in his turn signed to it to wait a little, and again bent over his notes and pen, while it stood rattling its chains over his head as he wrote. He looked round again and saw it beckoning as before, so without further delay he picked up his lamp and followed. It moved slowly, as if weighed down with chains, and when it turned off into the courtyard of the house it suddenly vanished, leaving him alone. He then picked some plants and leaves and marked the spot. The following day he approached the magistrates, and advised them to give orders for the place to be dug up. Here they found bones, twisted round with chains, which were left bare and corroded by the fetters when time and the action of the soil had rotted away the body. The bones were collected and given a public burial, and after the shade had been duly laid to rest the house saw them no more.’

Slightly more disturbing is the idea of the raising of the dead. Although the idea of a zombie is a wholly modern one (the word was first used only in the nineteenth century), Romans did write of the re-animation of corpses, as was practiced by witches. Sextus Pompey, son of the great commander, wishing to know the future and the outcome of the Battle of Pharsalus, tracks down the most powerful witch in Thessaly, Erictho, to help him divine the future.

Lucan Civil War VI .624-673
‘Thus spake the hag
And through redoubled night, a squalid veil
Swathing her pallid features, stole among
Unburied carcases. Fast fled the wolves,
The carrion birds with maw unsatisfied
Relaxed their talons, as with creeping step
She sought her prophet. Firm must be the flesh
As yet, though cold in death, and firm the lungs
Untouched by wound. Now in the balance hung
The fates of slain unnumbered; had she striven
Armies to raise and order back to life
Whole ranks of warriors, the laws had failed
Of Erebus; and, summoned up from Styx,
Its ghostly tenants had obeyed her call,
And rising fought once more. At length the witch
Picks out her victim with pierced throat agape
Fit for her purpose. Gripped by pitiless hook
O’er rocks she drags him to the mountain cave
Accursed by her fell rites, that shall restore
The dead man’s life. Close to the hidden brink
The land that girds the precipice of hell
Sinks towards the depths: with ever falling leaves
A wood o’ershadows, and a spreading yew
Casts shade impenetrable. Foul decay
Fills all the space, and in the deep recess
Darkness unbroken, save by chanted spells,
Reigns ever. Not where gape the misty jaws
Of caverned Taenarus, the gloomy bound
Of either world, through which the nether kings
Permit the passage of the dead to earth,
So poisonous, mephitic, hangs the air.
Nay, though the witch had power to call the shades
Forth from the depths, ’twas doubtful if the cave
Were not a part of hell. Discordant hues
Flamed on her garb as by a fury worn;
Bare was her visage, and upon her brow
Dread vipers hissed, beneath her streaming locks
In sable coils entwined. But when she saw
The youth’s companions trembling, and himself
With eyes cast down, with visage as of death,
Thus spake the witch: ‘ Forbid your craven souls
‘These fears to cherish: soon returning life
‘This frame shall quicken, and in tones which reach
Even the timorous ear shall speak the man.
‘If I have power the Stygian lakes to show,
The bank that sounds with fire, the fury band,
‘And giants fettered, and the hound that shakes
‘Bristling with heads of snakes his triple head,
What fear is this that cringes at the sight
Of timid shivering shades? ”

Needless to say, it probably didn’t require a re-animated corpse to see that things weren’t going to end well for the Pompey family.

Cemeteries, in the ancient world much like today, were also the focus of odd nocturnal activities. Both Martial (Epigrams 1.34 and 3.93) and Apuleius (Met. 4.18) wrote about whores and thieves operating in cemeteries. Tombs offered hiding places for both stolen goods, and for entertaining clients. Witches also frequented burial areas, stealing bones and ashes from tombs or corpses from the funeral pyre (Tib. 1.11.41-48, Horace Epod. 5.15-24, and Lucan Civil War 6.510-830). For Petronius, it is also a place where one migth witness a startling transformation from man to wolf.

Petronius Satryicon 62
‘We got among the tombstones; my man went aside to look at the epitaphs, I sat down with my heart full of song and began to count the graves. Then when I looked round at my friend, he stripped himself and put all his clothes by the roadside. My heart was in my mouth, but I stood like a dead man. He made a ring of water round his clothes and suddenly turned into a wolf. Please do not think I am joking; I would not lie about this for any fortune in the world. But as I was saying, after he had turned into a wolf, he began to howl, and ran off into the woods. At first I hardly knew where I was, then I went to take up his clothes; but they had all turned to stone. No one could be more dead with terror than I was. But I drew my sword and went slaying shadows all the way till I came to my love’s house. I went in like a corpse, and nearly gave up the ghost, the sweat ran down my legs, my eyes were dull, I could hardly be revived. My dear Melissa was surprised at my being out so late, and said, “If you had come earlier you might at least have helped us; a wolf got into the farm and worried all our sheep, and let their blood like a butcher. But he did not make fools of us, even though he got off; for our slave made a hole in his neck with a spear.” When I heard this, I could not keep my eyes shut any longer, but at break of day I rushed back to my master Gaius’s house like a defrauded publican, and when I came to the place where the clothes were turned to stone, I found nothing but a pool of blood. But when I reached home, my soldier was lying in bed like an ox, with a doctor looking after his neck. I realized that he was a werewolf, and I never could sit down to a meal with him afterwards, not if you had killed me first. Other people may think what they like about this; but may all your guardian angels punish me if I am lying.’

Pliny the Elder also wrote about werewolves, but he, in his usual pragmatic manner, finds these tales wholly ridiculous, and puts them down to the overactive imagination of the Greeks.

Pliny Natural History 8.34
‘That men have been turned into wolves, and again restored to their original form, we must confidently look upon as untrue, unless, indeed, we are ready to believe all the tales, which, for so many ages, have been found to be fabulous. But, as the belief of it has become so firmly fixed in the minds of the common people, as to have caused the term ‘Versipellisto be used as a common form of imprecation, I will here point out its origin. Euanthes, a Grecian author of no mean reputation, informs us that the Arcadians assert that a member of the family of one Anthus is chosen by lot, and then taken to a certain lake in that district, where, after suspending his clothes on an oak, he swims across the water and goes away into the desert, where he is changed into a wolf and associates with other animals of the same species for a space of nine years. If he has kept himself from beholding a man during the whole of that time, he returns to the same lake, and, after swimming across it, resumes his original form, only with the addition of nine years in age to his former appearance. To this Fabius adds, that he takes his former clothes as well. It is really wonderful to what a length the credulity of the Greeks will go! There is no falsehood, if ever so barefaced, to which some of them cannot be found to bear testimony.

So too, Agriopas, who wrote the Olympionics, informs us that Demænetus, the Parrhasian, during a sacrifice of human victims, which the Arcadians were offering up to the Lycæan Jupiter, tasted the entrails of a boy who had been slaughtered; upon which he was turned into a wolf, but, ten years afterwards, was restored to his original shape and his calling of an athlete, and returned victorious in the pugilistic contests at the Olympic games.’

Considering some other practices the Romans engaged in, particularly regarding the rites of the dead, and in conjunction with their obvious appeal for a scary story or two, I can’t help but think that the ancient Romans would have quite enjoyed the idea of Halloween, and especially would have recognised aspects of Día de Muertos as akin to their own rituals. So today, I suggest you scatter some beans as in the practice of Lemuria to ward off evil spirits, and watch a scary film in honour of Halloween. Just don’t forget the chocolate.

 

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Mistaken Identity

I have previously written a bit about my work on abbreviated names as they appear in the electoral dipinti of Pompeii. I had, previously identified thirty-nine men who engage in the practice of campaigning by initials. Last week, I accidentally came across a fortieth. What makes this one, whose attestation is a little tenuous anyway, is that he is one of (now) six men who run for political office who share initials.

Gaius Iulus Priscus appears (perhaps) in only two dipinti. The first provides his cognomen:

CIL IV 107
C(aium) I(ulium) Priscum.
‘Gaius Iulius Priscus.’

The second is a rendering of three initials only, but has the added attribute of the office he seeks, duovir.

CIL IV 108
C(aium) I(ulium) P(riscum) IIvir(um).
‘Gaius Iulius Pricsus, (for) duovir.’

 The only thing that makes it likely that the letters ‘CIP’ here refer to Priscus is the proximity to the first dipinto. Priscus is entirely unattested in any of the epigraphic evidence from Pompeii apart from these two dipinti. This lack of documentation, in some respect, makes it seem unlikely he ever served as aedile, a prerequisite for seeking the higher office of duovir. Who then, could this text belong to? Unlike Priscus, Gaius Iulius Polybius is named in nearly fifty electoral programmata, including one located in Puteoli (AE 1985: 292). His name is both spelled out in full and abbreviated, and he has multiple notices that indicate he has run for both aedile and duovir.

CIL IV 429 = ILS 6412e
C(aium) Iulium Polybium / aed(ilem) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) panem bonum fert.
‘We ask for Gaius Iulius Polybius for aedile, he has good bread.’

CIL IV 134 = ILS 6412ab
C(aium) Iulium Polybium / IIvir(um) muliones rog(ant).
‘The muleteers ask you to elect Gaius Iulius Polybius, duovir.’

CIL IV 316
C(aium) I(ulium) Polybium d(uumvirum) i(ure) d(icundo) d(ignum) r(ei) p(ublicae).
‘Gaius Iulius Polybius for duovir with judicial power, worthy of public office.’

CIL IV 909
C(aium) I(ulium) P(olybium) d(uumvirum) i(ure) d(icundo).
‘Gaius Iulius Polybius for duovir with judicial power.’

I would suggest the abbreviated dipinto attributed to Priscus should instead be seen as evidence for Polybius. There is far greater likelihood he’s the ‘CIP’ running for duovir, and that is simply placement that the reason for assuming it is Priscus.

This issue of initials creating confusion as to whom they should be attributed is not a singular occurrence. This happens twice more in Pompeii. The initials ‘LNR’ appear in CIL IV 315 and 885. These programmata could belong to either Lucius Naevius Rufus or Lucius Numisius Rarus. The same issue concerns a single dipinto, CIL IV 3617, which promotes ‘PCP.’ This could be Publius Calventius Proculus or Publius Caesatius Postumus.

This problem, of course, is not limited to Pompeii, and is in fact the subject of a minor point once made by Cicero, which has led scholars to the conclusion that when voting, Romans wrote initials on voting tablets.

Cic. Dom. 43. 112
‘This gentleman, after realizing that he could bypass the aedileship and have himself pronounced praetor by the consul Lucius Piso if only he had someone as competitor who shared the same initials, put his aedileship to rest in two locations – his strong-box and his gardens.’

I was initially (ha!) excited to discover there was another person using his abbreviated name to campaign in Pompeii, but now that I have looked at it a bit more, I am convinced that CIL IV 108 has been attributed to the wrong man. However, if Cicero’s commentary is anything to go by, maybe that was Priscus’s intent all along.

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Rock the (Female) Vote

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One thing that has always been a bit of a pet peeve in my teaching of the ancient world is when students talk about both Greece and Rome as misogynist societies because women didn’t have the right to vote. Whilst I’m not denying that the ancient world was, for the most part, patriarchal by design, I’ve always found the enfranchisement of women as a rather daft piece of evidence considering that women couldn’t vote in the UK until 1918 (and even then only those over 30 with property qualifications) and in the US from 1919. It seems somewhat ridiculous to my mind to hold the ancient world to a standard that wasn’t met in modern life until the 20th century. Women in ancient Rome certainly couldn’t hold political office or vote, which we know from the laws collected by Justinian (D. 50.17.2), but there is ample evidence from Pompeii that women were very much engaged in the political process.

Amongst the electoral programmata that once covered the walls of Pompeii, there are fifty-four women supporting the candidacies of twenty-eight men. The majority of these women, thirty-three of them in fact, do so alone. That is, the dipiniti for which they are responsible is sponsored by them alone.

CIL IV 3479
Caecilium Capellam // d(uum)v(irum) i(ure) d(icundo) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) / Cornelia rog(at).
‘Cornelia begs you to elect (Lucius) Caecilius Capella duovir with judicial powers.’

Perhaps surprisingly, (see above – patriarchal society), only thirteen women offer an electoral notice with a man.

CIL IV 207
M(arcum) Cerrinium Vatiam aed(ilem) / Nymphodotus cum Caprasia rog(at).
‘Nymphodotus with Caprasia asks you to elect Marcus Cerrinius Vatia aedile.’

Four women sponsored dipinti with another woman, and two represent a larger group, as indicated by the word suis.

CIL IV 3294 = 3678
M(arcum) Casellium et L(ucium) Albucium aed(iles) o(ro) v(os) f(aciatis) / Statia et Petronia rog(ant) tales cives in colonia in perpetuo.
‘Statia and Petronia beg you to elect Marcus Casellius and Lucius Albucius, excellent citizens for the perpetuity of the colony, aediles.’

CIL IV 1053
Polybium / IIvir(um) Lollia / cum suis.‘Lollia, with hers, (asks you to vote) for Polybius, duovir.’

What is particularly interesting, however, is that some of the candidates who are supported by female rogators have an incredibly high proportion of these notices. Gaius Iulius Polybius, for example, is supported by six different women: Cosseia (CIL IV 10051), Cuculla (CIL IV 7841 = AE 1913: 95), Fabia (CIL IV 7189), Specula (CIL IV 7167), Vatia (CIL IV 123), and Zmyrina (CIL IV 7864 = AE 1912: 238). Another candidate popular amongst the female population of Pompeii was Gnaeus Helvinius Sabinus. He is supported by nine women – although the data may be skewed in part because he has far more surviving notices – Aegle (CIL IV 7862 = AE 1912: 236), Biria (CIL IV 9885), Caprasia (CIL IV 923), Iunia (CIL IV 1168), Maria (CIL IV 7866), Parthope (CIL IV 3403), Poppaea (CIL IV 357), Primgenia (CIL IV 3410), and Recepta (CIL IV 1083). What made these particular men so popular and seen as worthy of a magisterial position remains, unfortunately, lost in history. The programmata written by women do not differ in format from those by men, and thus give no specific clues as to why these women chose to support these men.

The evidence for women participating in the electoral process in Pompeii despite not being able to vote or run for office themselves is one that has always intrigued me, and one, as I stated at the outset, that I think challenges the idea of  women accepting a non-civically minded role in the ancient world. In the final weeks leading up to the American presidential election, the idea of the impact of women voting (or actively campaigning for male candidates) has taken on a new importance. Polls have revealed that women alone may be responsible for the defeat of Donald Trump. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but the possibility, in conjunction with the ancient evidence, demonstrates how much women are interested in politics, and always have been.

 

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H.R. Fecit

Much to my chagrin, one of my most recent forays into finding graffiti included a supremely klutzy moment wherein, distracted by some scratchings in the stone wall, I completely missed a couple of steps in what was probably the most inelegant tumble ever,  and am still limping around Oxford with the resultant sprained ankle. Nevertheless, I was much intrigued by what I saw on the walls of Kenilworth Castle.

Kenilworth Castle is largely a ruin today, but has stood on a hill for nearly nine hundred years. Its ruinous state is largely down to Oliver Cromwell, who ordered the demolition of the castle after the Civil War. It remained the possession of a single family from the time of the Restoration until 1938, when it was given to the state, and later in the century, English Heritage. Despite private ownership, it became a tourist destination in the early nineteenth century, with a little help from Sir Walter Scott’s novel Kenilworth (1821).

It should come as no surprise then, that the graffiti I stumbled upon (literally!) in the castle keep is not medieval, but fairly modern. The earliest date I found was 1835:

DSCF7972.jpg

 

The latest was inscribed by Cindy and Guy in 1983. I expect, as the castle  passed into the hands of English Heritage in 1984, the area was better secured against would be graffitists as none have a date after this point.

DSCF7980.jpg

The keep itself is a sort of reddish-greyish sandstone, so whilst not the easiest surface to carve into, isn’t as difficult as some other rocks. This, and the interest of time, is probably why most of the marks left behind are merely initials.

dscf7975

I was, naturally, thrilled to see that one tourist had traveled to the castle from my homeland – specifically – my home state:

dscf7977

W.A. came from New York in 1871. At that time crossing the ocean was a much more difficult endeavour than now, and thus I can understand that this individual felt some compunction to record where it was s/he had originated. It is the only graffito of its kind in the castle, as far as I was able to locate, making me conclude this may have been one of the only foreigners who chose to leave a mark.

And finally – the one that I found most exciting (pointing it out to my partner immediately preceded my tumble down the steps) is, in fact, in Latin:

dscf7981

Here we see some attempt to draw an artificial box around a collection of names (not unlike some Roman graffiti that present themselves as documents) and the date – 1901. This is likely a group of friends who decided to leave a substantial reminder of their visit. Although a cursory glance suggests there are a few different hands potentially at work here, it seems likely one is responsible – or at least claiming so. H.R. made this.

 

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I Predict a Riot

Earlier this week I had the great privilege to spend an hour in a room full of engaged and enthusiastic Year 9 students talking about Pompeian graffiti. These students are studying for a GCSE in Classical Civilsation after school as part of The Iris Project at Cheney School. During the paper, in which I was introducing them to various aspects of graffiti and dipinti and the ways historians use these inscriptions, I was asked a question that rather took me by surprise. It wasn’t about graffiti, but about a wall painting that I was using to illustrate an event in Pompeii’s history which is related to a number of graffiti.

amphitheater_fresco_by_kerrybush-d6xo2k8

This painting, found in the House of Anicetus, ( I.iii.23 ) famously depicts the riot that took place in the amphitheatre in AD 59. We know this is a real event because Tacitus tells us about it:

Tacitus Annals 14.17
‘At around the same time, there arose from a trifling beginning a terrible bloodbath among the inhabitants of the colonies of Nuceria and Pompeii at a gladiatorial show given by Livineius Regulus, whose expulsion from the senate I have recorded previously. Inter-town rivalry led to abuse, then stone-throwing, then the drawing of weapons. The Pompeians in whose town the show was being given came off the better. Therefore many of the Nucerians were carried to Rome having lost limbs, and many were bereaved of parents and children. The emperor instructed the senate to investigate; they passed it to the consuls. When their findings returned to the senators, the Pompeians were barred from holding any such gathering for ten years. Illegal associations in the town were dissolved, Livineius and the others who had instigated the trouble were exiled.’

In addition, there are a number of graffiti that illustrate the kind of animosity between neighbouring towns that may have contributed to, or resulted from, the event that Tacitus describes.

CIL IV 2183
Puteolanis Feliciter / omnibus Nuc{h}erinis / felicia et uncu(m) Pompeianis / Petecusanis.
Good fortune to the Puteolans; good luck to all Nucerians; the executioner’s hook to Pompeians.’

CIL IV 1329
Nucerinis / infelicia.
‘Ill luck to the Nucerians.’

One even accompanies a drawing depicting a gladiator holding a palm of victory:

glad

CIL IV 1293
Campani victoria una / cum Nucerinis peristis.
Campanians, in our victory you perished with the Nucerians.’

The question that was asked, however, related not to the graffiti but to the painting itself, or more to the point, how unusual it was to have a painting in one’s house that depicted such violence. On most occasions when I have come across a reference to this painting in a scholarly work, if the oddness of it is mentioned at all, it is done in a very offhand way of wondering why someone would wish to commemorate such an event (even if the Pompeians were considered the victors). I have never come across a comparison to other wall paintings in terms of the nature of the violence illustrated. In the moment when the question was asked, I was racking my brain for a similar scene – and I couldn’t think of a single one. The closest may be the Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun, which depicts a military battle. Still, as detailed as it is in regards to fallen men and distressed looking horses, it does not depict seemingly dead bodies still on the ground as we can see in the painting from Anicetus’s house. The very nature of gladiatorial combat is a gruesome and bloody sport to which Romans were largely accustomed, but sitting in an arena watching a contest which may result in spilled blood (but, contrary to popular belief, rarely death) is quite a different thing than displaying images of the dead or dying on the wall of your house.

The question, as raised by this student, made me think about the painting in a different way, and really wonder about the mindset of the person who had it commissioned. (I am now extremely curious to see if I can find anything comparable on the wall of a Roman house. If anyone has any examples – do let me know.)  This has been on my mind for a number of days, not just because of the nature of the question, but because of who asked it. It was a timely (and to be honest, necessary) reminder that for as much as I know and continue to learn about the ancient world, there is always a new and interesting way to think about things. More to the point, it is more often than not our students who point us in a different direction, and that our research, without our students, is lacking something essential.

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