Initialising

DSCF7789.jpg

 

The photo above is probably one of the most famous walls to be found in the city of Pompeii. It is one of the few examples still (fairly) legible and in situ of electoral dipiniti. There are multiple individuals and magisterial positions advertised in this one small section of wall, between two doorways on the Via dell’Abbondanza. Despite some measures of protection it has been damaged and faded over the years. Whilst I recognise many of the names on this wall, that’s not exactly the focus of this particular post. Something I have been working on for some time now is instead looking at some of the abbreviations used in the electoral programmata. This is part of a larger project on elections and voting that I have written about before, but as I walked by this wall last week, I had a chance to look again at the way such notices were painted.

The section of wall above contains five abbreviations and ligatures that were commonly used in electoral dipinti. Probably the two most common were simple abbreviations of the magisterial posts that one could run for – ‘aed’ for aedile, and the slightly less obvious ‘IIvir’ for duovir. This latter one is interesting in and of itself for the visual depiction of the word, combining the Roman numeral for two with the word man, which is, after all, quite literally what the post name meant. Two found here, ‘DRP’ and ‘OVF’, can be written in ligature, reducing the three initial abbreviations to one or two letters. Dignum rei publicae (worthy of public office) and oro vos faciatis (I beg you to elect) were very specific to these notices for elections. Whether or not the average man (or woman!) on the street knew what the abbreviated letters stood for or simply, through repetition, had a vague idea of the intention, is somewhat up for debate. (One additional abbreviation of this ilk not visible on this wall is ‘VB’ – virum bonum – a good man.) Two other common abbreviations that appear in dipinti refer to those who are either writing (scriptores) or sponsoring (rogatores) the text that is painted. There is an example of the abbreviation ‘rog’ present here, which again, seems to be specific to electoral signs. The name or identification of a scriptor might also appear in other painted notices such as those advertising games.

The abbreviation that spurned my interest in the dipinti, however, is not common, and one not easily deciphered unless you already happen to know what it is.

DSCF7791.jpg

The letters CIP are not an abbreviated word, but rather an abbreviated name. These three letters are, in fact, referring to a man named Gaius Iulius Polybius. He is one of nearly forty men that I have identified who ran for public office in Pompeii using his initials rather than any part of his name. This begs all sorts of questions about how one recognised such names, how well known a person had to be to win an election just using their initials, whether or not this was in part influenced by voting practices, and of course, how literate the average person walking down the street might be. The reality is that for a notice such as this to be useful in any way, a majority of the voting public had to be able to recognise that this:

CIP IIvir DRP

actually means this:

CIL IV 7872
C(aium) I(ulium) P(olybium) IIvir(um) d(ignum) r(ei) p(ublicae).
‘Gaius Iulius Polybius for duovir, worthy of public office.’

I remain unconvinced that this would have been possible for a barely or semi- literate society. I also cannot help but think that I have had to explain many of these abbreviations to people who are far better Latinists than I, as the use of abbreviations is not necessarily intuitive, but one that is developed through practice. The same must have been true of the Pompeian voters two thousand years ago, and I suspect, epigraphers one hundred years ago who failed to recognise the random letters for what they are: initials of would be magistrates.

 

Advertisements

Something Old, Something New

I’ve recently been on site in Herculaneum and Pompeii doing some work. Whilst my research often leads me to new areas of the city or I am trying to find some particular detail about whatever I’m working on, it is rare, having first set foot in Pompeii more than twenty years ago, for me to really see it in a new way. This visit, however, was different.

Currently (and until January), there are thirty bronze sculptures created by Igor Mitoraj placed around the city. This exhibit, reportedly curated by the artist before his death two years ago, places statues in various locales around the city. Many are in obvious public places like the Forum or the Stabian Baths, but others are placed in such a way that they kind of surprise you as you find yourself on the floor of the theatre with them looming above from the wall of the Triangular Forum. The artist was heavily influenced by Classical art, as is obvious from his work. I admittedly knew little about his work until quite recently, but have since read of his fragmented and misplaced or broken bodies as depicting both how damaged ancient statues appear, and as the physical representation of human despair. There is, certainly, a sadness in the faces that appear.

dscf7855
Temple of Venus
dscf7714
Stabian Baths

There were four sculptures, two in the changing room of the Stabian Baths and two in the Triangular Forum, that I found particularly reminiscent of ancient art. The wrappings and postures of these works are evocative of various ancient bronzes of boxers. One that comes to mind most immediately is Boxer at Rest, a late Hellenistic statue found in Rome.

One piece I found quite interesting simply for its placement was at the junction of the Via dell’Abbondanza and the Via Stabiana. In antiquity, much like today, this crossroads was a hub of activity and foot traffic coming and going from the Forum, the theatre district, and the commercial area of the street leading to the amphitheatre and palaestra. It was here one of the most prominent men in Pompeii in the Augustan period built an arch, which was surrounded by statues, including one dedicated to himself, Marcus Holconius Rufus. As this was an area once filled with honourific statues, it was really quite something to see one (more or less) as it should be. The same could be said of an equestrian statue placed in the Forum, positioned on one of the remaining statue bases of antiquity.

dscf7699
Equestrian Statue in the Forum

 

dscf7713
Junction of Via dell’Abbondanza and the Via Stabiana.

I absolutely loved seeing Mitoraj’s work scattered across the city. Besides the fact that his work is incredibly beautiful in its own right, seeing these bronze sculptures against the backdrop of the Pompeian cityscape was quite extraordinary. For one thing, it is rare to see bronze in an ancient site like this – where bronze survived antiquity without being melted down, it is almost exclusively kept in museums. This, although modern art, provided a small glimpse into a missing element of the ancient city. Beyond that, it made me look at Pompeii in a completely different way than I have before. I don’t want to say I am blasé about the remains of the city – I do still feel the same awe as I did the first time I stepped into the Forum as a high school student – but there is a certain amount of complacency when one has worked in the same place year after year. This exhibit of sculptures made me look again at familiar places, in a way that made me appreciate the artistry not just of the art work, but of the buildings, the scenery, and the way they worked together, giving me an entirely new impression of a city I have been in love with for decades.

DSCF7752.jpg
Quadraporticus

 

Touring the Temple of Isis

The Temple of Isis in Pompeii has always been an intriguing structure for those who work in the ancient city. Not only is it a clear representation of the influx (and acceptance) of foreign gods in Rome, it also has had a distinct place in the conversation regarding euergetism, the political advancement of the sons of freedmen, and the rebuilding of the city after the earthquake in AD 62. The temple, seemingly demolished in its entirety in the earthquake, was rebuilt quickly due to the generosity of a six year old boy named Numerius Popidius Celsinus. It was among the first structures to be excavated in Pompeii, discovered in 1764.

I was recently in Pompeii doing a bit of work on graffiti, and much to my surprise, found a few in the Temple of Isis that I had somehow never noticed before. This, much like last week’s post, isn’t ancient graffiti, but instead is something more akin to early modern graffiti. The small building just to the south of the cella identified as a purgatorium (you can see the plan of the temple complex here) is still fairly well covered with the original ancient stucco work.

DSCF7740

The plaster has been used to record names of tourists and visitors, going back to the time the building was first excavated.

DSCF7727

The earliest I found was the above, J. Broom, who carved his name in 1789. The majority seem to date to the last few decades of the 1700s and the 1800s. The latest specific date I saw was 1900. Whilst the majority of the names were Anglophone (hardly a surprise considering the popularity of the Grand Tour amongst the British at that time), I was pleased to see at least one Italian had also left his mark. A man named Giuseppe (I can’t quite make out the surname), was there in 1790.

DSCF7736

I’ve already written about the seemingly inherent human desire to leave behind a mark (here and here), but there were a couple of other things that struck me about these particular graffiti. One is the handwriting. It is very obvious that most of these texts were written in a different era simply by the penmanship. This is particularly stunning in view of carving a name in stucco – few blocky large letters – but almost exclusively the fine cursive fonts of another century. It has the appearance of names having been signed with pen and ink rather than carved with a sharp object into a hard surface. Also, the specificity. A few people didn’t just record their names and the year, but also the month, and even the day.

DSCF7732

These visitors to the temple in May of 1797 (specifically on the 24th for the one on the left), used the column as their writing surface, thus limiting themselves considerably on space.

I admittedly rather like this little collection of names and dates in the Temple of Isis, despite the fact that usually I am disgusted by the addition of graffiti by modern tourists to sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum. Normally, I consider this defacement, and the destruction of irreplaceable ancient surfaces. This strikes me as particularly egregious when someone has written across a wall painting (what kind of tourist even brings a marker into the site?). Yet these texts, despite being defacement of an ancient monument, also tell a story about the site, about the history of the excavations and access, and about how Pompeii became a recognizable place in the world’s collective cultural mind. So whilst I am somewhat conflicted about their existence, finding them, searching for different years, looking at handwriting styles and names, was a few minutes of absolute joy, and a reminder of why I love doing what I do.

Queer Graffiti

In recent weeks I’ve had cause to travel a bit within the UK, and during this time, I’ve come across a couple of (modern) graffiti that I found interesting, for related but somewhat different reasons. The first is really a text that no longer exists. That is, it is clear that an attempt was made to remove the sprayed inscription, but it failed in the respect that the original words, though faded, are still visible. On the side of a building at the University of Manchester, one can see this:

20160718_161128
‘FIGHT AIDS ACT UP’

ACT UP – the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power – was founded in New York City in 1987. Growing up in New York at the time, and with gay and lesbian friends as part of my community, church, and extended family network, this slogan, along with the image of the pink triangle and SILENCE = DEATH, were a familiar part of my childhood. I was, up to the moment I stumbled upon this, completely unaware of the slogan being used in the UK, or in fact, any time in the last twenty years or so. I am not by any means dismissing the continued need to campaign for gay rights, healthcare, and AIDS research (let’s face it, for everyone really), I just wasn’t aware of the ongoing use of this slogan. This of course set my epigraphic mind racing: when was this written? was it put up by an American? is it a relic of a very different time and place or reflective of a current movement? None of these questions seem to have answers (as far as I can tell), but it intrigued me nonetheless.

Then earlier this week I was in Belfast, and came across this:

20160807_175823-01

Having never been to Northern Ireland before, I may have held the somewhat stereotypical view of it being fairly conservative socially. As I walked around the city on Sunday and Monday, I was rather taken aback by the number of rainbow flags on display, and thought how wonderfully progressive  it was to see such a bold statement of acceptance on display. I couldn’t figure out why this would be the case in August, as Pride Month is in June, when most cities see annual events and parades organised by LGBTQ communities. It was only after I looked online that I discovered I missed Belfast Pride by a day – there had in fact been a parade on Saturday.

These messages are reflective of an important movement for rights and inclusion, and are reflective of a modern society, not to be found a few hundred years ago much less a few thousand. Attitudes and perceptions of homosexuality in antiquity are as conflicted and contested as they are in some parts of the world today. Nevertheless, what both of these graffiti brought to mind was the enduring importance of being able to have relationships in an individual’s life, whatever the sex or gender of the person you love. To quote a more recent slogan used in the gay rights movement worldwide, love is love is love. Here, four texts (two for men by men, two for women by women) provide some ancient evidence from the walls of Pompeii that echo this sentiment.

CIL IV 4485
Hectice pupe, va(le) Mercator tibi dicit.
Hecticus, my pet, Mercator says hello to you.’

CIL IV 1256
Sabine calos, Hermeros te amat.
‘Sabinus, my beauty, Hermeros loves you.’

CIL IV 5296 = CLE 950
O utinam liceat collo complexa tenere || braciola et teneris / oscula ferre labelis. || I, nunc ventis tua gaudia, pupula, crede. || Crede mihi, levis est natura virorum. || Saepe ego cu(m) media / vigilare perdita nocte || haec mecum meditas: multos / Fortuna quos aupstulit alte || hos modo proiectos subito / praecipitesque premit. || Sic Venus ut subito coiunxit / corpora amantum || dividit lux et se / parees qui{d} amant.
‘Oh, if only I could grasp my gentle arms around you and and give kisses to your delicate little lips. Come now, my little darling, entrust your pleasures to the winds. Believe me, the nature of men is flighty. Often as I have been awake, lovesick, at midnight, I think on these things: many whom Fortuna raised high, then suddenly thrown down headlong, she now oppresses. Thus, just as Venus joins the bodies of lovers in a moment, daylight divides them and you will separate their love.’

CIL IV 8321a
Chloe Eutychiae s(alutem): / Non me curas, Euty / chia. Spe firma / tua Ruf(um)? amas.
‘Chole greets Eutychia: Eutychia you don’t care about me. With a firm hope you love…’

Love can be unrequited, relationships can be forbidden by law or moral code, or be the basis of a decades long campaign for equality. Regardless, in antiquity, or today, love is love is love. And that is definitely worth fighting for.

 

 

The Legacy of Venus

A number of months ago I had the chance to go to the V & A for the exhibit ‘Botticelli Reimagined.’ Whilst the exhibit as a whole was about more of the artist’s works than just Venus, both she and the similarly inspired by antiquity painting of Primavera were certainly a focal point of at least half of the collection on display. The artwork ran the gamut from Botticelli’s own paintings to modern works, fashion, dance, and performance art.

Untitled_Panorama5© Victoria & Albert Museum, London

What struck me about this collection of artwork is the enduring legacy of the image of Venus. It occurred to me that whilst I have previously written about Venus in her guise as a goddess of love in the graffiti of Pompeii, and her special role as the patron deity of Pompeii known as Venus Pompeiana, I have paid much attention to the image of Venus that was so prevalent both in antiquity and in the modern world.

The number of images (whether painting, mosaic, or statue) are far too numerous for me to catalogue here. What I am intrigued by, however, is the most recognisable form of Venus, in which she is depicted with emerging from the sea, usually from a shell, at the moment of birth. This is the image that Botticelli used in his painting, and is one that can be traced back to the walls of Pompeii.

wall-painting-in-the-house-of-venus-in-the-shell-in-pompeii-italy

In the peristyle of the eponymously named House of Venus in the Shell (II.iii.3), this is the precursor to the famous  painting of the Italian renaissance. But it isn’t the only such image that survives antiquity. A second century AD mosaic from Zeugma in Turkey depicts Venus (here as the Greek Aphrodite) in her shell, surrounded by ikhthyokentauroi (consider them the fish version of centaurs) identified as Aphros (Sea Foam) and Bythos (Sea Depths), obvious references to her birth story.

0eb25a63b9e6e3918dd027274ac95208

A late third century AD wall painting from Rome, found in the lower levels of the Case Romane del Celio, also depicts Venus in her shell, surrounded by erotes in small boats.

IMG_8624-20130927

Of course Venus was not just depicted in painting, or by Romans, as is evidenced by this third century BC terracotta statue from Greece.

8cb6e9cab40b668846d04fa18e5fe740

This image of Venus has endured for thousands of years, and Botticelli was not the only painter of the modern era that choose Venus as his subject. He will probably remain, however, the most famous. I have a number of theories as to why this version of Venus is so popular – her fantastical birth, the ability to depict her nudity as she wouldn’t be fully clothed in the sea – but one of the modern interpretations I saw at the V & A may hold the key to understanding this legacy of Venus.

venus
David LaChapelle ‘Rebirth of Venus’ (2011)

Here, the shell has moved to the forefront, and is used to shield the viewer from the genitalia of Venus. Concha, the Latin for shellfish or mollusc, has been used as a slang or derogatory term for a woman’s vagina in numerous languages and cultures. I cannot help but wonder, if in this context, the shell depicted in the many images of Venus’s birth across the millennia hasn’t been a nod to her sexuality, her guise as the goddess of (physical) love, and in fact has little to so with her birth story per se. Perhaps this is why this version of Venus has so long been the obsession of artists.

 

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.

 

 

 

F is for Festius

Whilst finishing corrections to the manuscript that became my book, I discovered that one of the funerary inscriptions carved into the city wall in an area of poor burials between the Porta di Nola and the Porta di Sarno had been misread. CIL X 8351 was read as Aulus Fistius, but is in fact, Aulus Festius. The ‘i’ is actually an ‘e’.

Photo 1.JPG

The name ‘Fistius’ doesn’t actually occur anywhere else in the Roman world, whereas Festius does – including in Pompeii. There are a series of dipinti (CIL IV 1182-1184) that record a man named Numerius Festius Ampliatus, who was a lanista, organising gladiatorial games. The most famous of the texts naming Ampliatus was written in charcoal on a tomb at the Porta di Ercolano. As this dipinto was recorded alongside an elaborate stucco decoration of games, gladiators, and wild animals, his games are believed to have been quite the spectacle.

festius.jpg

The article that discusses my findings and the evidence for the mis-reading of the name of Festius has been published in the latest volume of Epigraphica. If anyone would like a PDF of the article, please email me here.