With Malice Towards None

With thanks to Will, a lovely park ranger who answered my questions, gave me a fabulous book on Vicksburg’s monuments, and tipped me off to the gastronomic delight that is Mother’s Restaurant in New Orleans.

If there is one period of history other than the Classical world with which I am utterly fascinated, it is the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century, specifically the Civil War era. As such, when taking a little road trip on my way to New Orleans to attend the annual meetings of the AIA/SCS last week, I couldn’t resist a slight detour to visit the National Military Park at Vicksburg. The city of Vicksburg (if you need a little history lesson), marked the last battle between Union and Confederate forces for control of the Mississippi River, which had, to that point, been an essential conduit for supplies and troops in the Confederate war effort. It is the battle that made General Ulysses S. Grant known to President Lincoln, subsequently leading to his appointment as commander of the entire Union army for the last two years of the war. But more to the point, Vicksburg was a long, hard campaign for both sides, and ended only after the city was besieged by Union forces for more than fifty days in the summer of 1863. (Oddly enough, surrender came within a day of the conclusion of the other truly decisive battle of the war, taking place concurrently in Gettysburg.)

Having lived in the mid-Atlantic region for many years, I have already been to the majority of the Civil War battlefields in Maryland and Virginia, and of course, to Gettysburg. They are all well presented, heartbreaking, and monumental each in their own way. Yet I was wholly unprepared for the sheer beauty of Vicksburg, the manner in which the tragic efforts of approximately 100,000 men have been commemorated, and most surprisingly to me, the fact that so many of the monuments are Classical in style. Indeed, there are so many references to and copies of Classical art and architecture that I could probably write twenty blog posts (don’t worry, I won’t). The Vicksburg Memorial Arch at the entrance to the park resembles a Roman triumphal arch, numerous state monuments are composed of obelisks (New York, Navy Memorial), columns (Louisiana, Wisconsin) or some combination of these devices (North Carolina, Texas, Iowa). A number of states combine the obelisk or column with a bronze sculpture based on a Greek or Roman deity. Michigan‘s statue of the ‘Spirit of Michigan’ is based on Athena Promachos as sculpted in the fifth century BC by Phidias. The ‘Statue of Peace’ at the base of the Minnesota memorial copies the iconography of the Roman goddess PaxOhio, the only state that didn’t erect a single monument but a series of them around the park, built a number of small memorials that resemble a temple façade, similar to the aedicula style tomb popular in Roman cities in the first centuries BC and AD. Pennsylvania also built a monument resembling an ancient tomb, choosing a large exedra with a central pillar, with an inscription carved into the rear of the bench that closely resembles the bench tombs, or scholae, that appear in the necropoleis of ancient Pompeii. Clio, the Greek muse of history, is also a popular feature, appearing in conjunction with an obelisk on the Mississippi monument, as well as in the tympanum of the Illinois memorial.

There are two state memorials in particular, however, which were outstanding for their replication of ancient styles. The first, and perhaps most surprising, is the monument constructed by the state of Illinois. As this state contributed the largest number of men to the Vicksburg campaign, more than 36,000, it is not surprising that they also have the largest memorial. What may be more unexpected however, is that the designers of this structure chose to replicate the Pantheon in Rome.



The Pantheon, built in the early second century AD under Hadrian, was intended to honour the gods of Rome. But by the late eighteenth century, pantheon had become a term used to describe a monument to the dead, and thus was viewed as a fitting model by the architect of the memorial, Major William Le Baron Jenney, who stated that he wanted to design ‘not only a grand and imposing commemorative structure worthy of the State of Illinois, but a temple of fame as well, within the walls of which will be preserved in enduring bronze and stone the name of every soldier from Illinois who participated in that memorable and decisive campaign and siege.’ Although a scaled down version of the original Roman temple, this pantheon is similar in proportions, following the alignment and ratio of dimensions as directed in the first century BC books of the architect Vitruvius. Like its model, the roof has an oculus, a coloured marble floor, and a sculptural group in the tympanum. The three marble figures depict Clio, the muse of history, seated between personifications of North and South, recording the names of the dead in a ledger.


Rather than sculptures of gods placed around the interior of the round chamber, there are sixty bronze plaques affixed to the walls inscribed with the names of the Illinois corps. There are, of course, other elements of decoration that are clearly American in design, such as the large gilded eagle, various symbols of the Republic in the exterior moulding, and an inscription of a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. However, there is a significant difference in design apart from size, which I find rather interesting: this memorial uses the Doric order in combination with an egg and dart design more commonly found in conjunction with the Ionic order, whereas the capitals of the original Pantheon are Corinthian. This may seem a trifling feature of the design to be concerned with, but it speaks to an overall amalgamation of styles that is typical of the Classically themed structures found in the park.

For a clear example of this, just look to the memorial to Missouri:


Until 2001, this was the only monument that honoured the fighting men of both the Union and Confederate armies, as Missouri was a border state that was divided in its loyalties. It consists of a large stele, fronted by a bronze female figure standing on the prow of a boat, framed by an exedra with bronze reliefs depicting both Union (left) and Confederate (right) soldiers in action. The style is described as Roman composite, but this is not the traditional composite order which combined elements of Ionic and Corinthian style. Instead, it seems to be something of a slightly (at least to the view of a Classicist) muddled combination of elements of both Greek and Roman influence. The stele itself is common enough in both Greece and Rome, found in honorific and commemorative contexts throughout antiquity. And yet the name of the state is written using the Roman letter shapes (specifically ‘V’ instead of ‘U’) and is decorated with egg and dart and dentil mouldings. The exedra is also ubiquitous, as honorific benches also occurred in both places.

The bronze statue, called the ‘Spirit of the Republic’ is based on Nike of Samothrace, the Greek goddess of victory who was depicted landing on the prow of a ship at the moment of victory.


Despite being depicted as entirely Greek in nature, adorned with a peplos and aegis, the two items she holds in her hands are decidedly Roman. In her right hand, she clasps an olive branch. Although the olive itself was closely associated with Athena, it was the Latin poet Vergil with whom the association as a symbol of peace originates:

Aeneid VIII 117 ff.
‘High on the stern Aeneas his stand,
And held a branch of olive in his hand,
While thus he spoke: “The Phrygians’ arms you see,
Expelled from Troy, provoked in Italy
By Latian foes, with war unjustly made;
At first affianced, and at last betrayed.
This message bear: The Trojans and their chief
Bring holy peace, and beg the king’s relief.’

The left hand of the statue contains another Roman symbol, the fasces. This bundle of rods containing an axe was a symbol of political authority, and was carried by lictors who accompanied magistrates through the streets of the city, serving as a sort of bodyguard. Like the statue of Nike, the ‘Spirit of the Republic’ stands on the prow of a ship, to which a battering ram is attached. This was a common feature of ancient naval warfare and cannot be attributed to any one civilisation, although I would note that the shape of it does seem to closely resemble rams recovered from the sea floor near Sicily, the site of a final battle in a Punic War.

What I find fascinating about the design of the state memorials at Vicksburg is not necessarily that they are so heavily influenced by commemorative art and architecture of the Classical world: this is hardly unique in the U.S. (just look to the government buildings in Washington, D.C.), and more to the point, it makes sense to turn to civilisations known for their monumental structures, for honouring their war dead in a grandiose fashion, and perhaps more relevant to this location, suffering the horrors of civil war. The mixing of Greek and Roman styles, the odd combinations of orders, figures, and symbolic elements, however, is striking. To me, this indicates not so much the desire (or dare I say, adequate knowledge) for perfectly replicating Classical architecture, but rather the importance of using a traditional and universally recognised motif that was held in great esteem in order to sufficiently honour those whose dedication and sacrifice are still viewed as being part of the greatest tragedy to befall the U.S.





Getting Your Word’s Worth



I recently came across what is quite likely the earliest treatise to appear on Pompeian graffiti: Inscriptiones Pompeianae; or Specimens and Facsimiles of Ancient Inscriptions discovered on the walls of buildings at Pompeii. Published in 1837, this small volume penned by Charles Wordsworth, nephew of the famous poet, Classicist, and bishop of St. Andrews, is, if not always entirely accurate in its interpretation of the texts, nonetheless an altogether lovely presentation of the texts scratched into the walls of the ancient city.

A mere thirty-three pages, this slim volume takes the form of a letter Wordsworth addresses to a friend – his dear P—, who seemingly accompanied him on a trip to Pompeii in 1832. He states the letter is ‘retaliation’ for P, who indulged in ‘some pleasant humour’ for his interest in the graffiti they saw on their trip. He further writes that he ‘should indeed have abstained from this undertaking as unnecessary, had any notice whatever been taken of these fragments to which I now invite your attention, by any of the writers who have described the antiquities of Pompeii.’ He claims (rightly) that apart from a few vague references in William Gell’s revised 1832 publication of Pompeiana, no one has yet mentioned the texts in print, much less published them in any way. This then, is what he sets out to do.

Wordsworth invites P to join him, as he acts as guide, to go back through the streets of Pompeii, and examine more thoroughly a number of the ancient graffiti. Likely to pique the interest of his friend, Wordsworth begins with a text from Vergil, P’s favourite Latin poet, which is to be found on a wall in the Building of Eumachia.


Now recorded as CIL IV 1982 (CLE 1785 = CLE 2292):

Circe socios 

the graffito is line 70  from Book VIII of Vergil’s Eclogues, the entire stanza (lines 69-71) of which reads:

Carmina vel caelo possunt deducere lunam,
carminibus Circe socios mutavit Ulixi,
frigidus in pratis cantando rumpitur anguis.

‘Songs can even draw the moon down from heaven; by songs Circe transformed the comrades of Ulysses; with song the cold snake in the meadows is burst asunder.’

Wordsworth demonstrates again and again throughout the book his thorough knowledge of ancient literature, but more astonishingly, an understanding of the graffiti and the culture of writing on display on the walls of Pompeii that is not always found in later (dare I say, even recent) works on the Pompeian epigraphy. This is clear in his recording of the following text, one of many found in the Basilica. Here, the writer combined the words of two poets, Ovid and Propertius, who wrote similar entreaties regarding gifts, matchmaking, and the difficulties of love.



Ovid Amores I.8.77-78 and Propertius Elegies IV.5.47-48

CIL IV 1893 (CLE 1785)
Surda sit oranti tua ianua laxa ferenti
audiat exclusi verba receptus amans

CIL IV 1894 (CLE 1785)
Ianitor addantis vigilet si pulsat inanis
surdus in obductam somniet usqu[e] seram 

‘Let your door be deaf to prayers but wide open to the bearer of gifts; let the lover who has been admitted hear the laments of the one excluded. The door-keeper must be awake for bearers of gifts, but when empty hands knock, let him be deaf and sleep against the bolt.’

There are a number of things that I find remarkable about this book, and not just because I love a beautiful, old, leather-bound tome. One is the faithful rendering of ancient handwriting throughout the text, as seen in the photos above. Wordsworth does this for every grafitto he presents, both in Latin and in Greek, which presumably would not have been possible if he had not made a faithful rendering of each one at the time he visited Pompeii five years before writing. Considering many of the early visitors to the excavations were more interested in collecting images of themselves in a romantically ruinous vista, or, for those bent on more scholarly pursuits, reproducing the ancient artworks, this attention to the non-lapidary texts is an unusual occurrence. As a feature of epigraphic publishing, illustrations of the handwriting do not appear again for nearly forty years until the first volume of CIL IV, and even then, is not applied systematically until sometime late in the 20th century. Wordsworth also shows an astuteness in his observations on language and the literary nature of the texts. Not only does he recognise the origin of those he records, but he seemingly has no difficulty in discerning the accurate quotations from those that are adapted or conflated in some way. He remarks once or twice on the poor spelling of the texts (which he attributes to slaves), but does not assume this is due to illiteracy, but rather refers to it as the ‘false Latinity of an Italian scribe.’ He also remarks on the very nature of literacy itself (which is a topic I have been meaning to address myself at some point), and makes a point with which I strongly agree, that ‘We hear much of the diffusion of literary tastes among all classes of people in our own age and country; and comparisons, injurious to other nations and times, are founded on this assumption. This is hardly fair. I should much question whether all the walls of all the country towns in England, would, if Milton were lost, help us to a single line of the Paradise Lost.’

Wordsworth’s attention to the graffiti shows, in many ways, that he was ahead of his time, not just in the recording of the texts, but in his appreciation for them, for the literary and literate proclivities of the Pompeians, and for recognising what an important artefact these scratched words were. For that, I would argue anyone working on ancient graffiti or Pompeii owes him a great deal of admiration and gratitude.

Vergil Abuse

The last week has seen much discussion about the use of a quotation from Vergil’s Aeneid on the 9/11 memorial soon to open in lower Manhattan. Whilst much has been said already about the (perhaps?) inappropriateness of taking a quotation out of context and whether the significance of the memorial is somehow diminished by a text that relates more to the death of two warriors in battle than the senseless killing of thousands through an act of terrorism, this is not actually the first time this quotation has been used for a memorial, and more to the point, not the first time it has been taken out of context – after all, Vergil did that himself. Ancient literature – or any literature for that matter – is not inherently sacrosanct. The words of authors have been used in ways other than intended, mis-appropriated, taken out of context, or just adapted for another purpose entirely virtually since writing began, and a series of literary graffiti found in Pompeii prove this.

Many of the texts scratched or painted onto the walls of Pompeii quote known literary texts. This practice, whether lines of text appear in full, in fragments, or with minor faults was common enough to warrant study, as is evident from Kristina Milnor’s latest book. Yet at the same time, these ancient authors were also being modified – not in error, but rather to use give their words an alternate meaning. Ovid, Propertius, Ennius, and, of course, Vergil, all have had their words adapted in some way on the walls of Pompeii.

I have already written of the similarity of a text offering a ring to Primigenia of Nuceria to a poem from Ovid’s Amores:

CIL IV 10241
Nucer[in]ae sal(utem)
vellem essem gemma (h)ora non amplius una
ut tibi signanti oscula pressa darem.
‘Greetings to Primigenia of Nuceria. Would that I were the gemstone (of the signet ring I give you) if only for one single hour, so that, when you moisten it with your lips to seal a letter, I can give you all the kisses I have pressed on it.’

Ovid Amores II. 15
Ring, to encircle my beautiful girl’s finger,
appreciated only in terms of the giver’s love,
go as a dear gift! Receiving you with glad heart,
may she slide you straightaway over her knuckle:
May you suit her as well as you suit me,
and smoothly fit the right finger with your true band!
Lucky ring, to be touched by my lady:
now I’m sadly envious of my own gift.
O if only I could, suddenly, be my present,
by the art of Circe or old Proteus!
Then, when I wanted to touch my girl’s breasts
and slip my left hand into her tunic,
I’d glide from her finger, however tight and clinging,
and with wonderful art fall into the loose folds.
Again, so I could seal a secret letter,
the sticky wax not freeing from a dry gem,
I’d be touched first by the lovely girl’s wet lips –
so that sealing the work would give me no pain.
If I were to be plunged in your purse, I’d refuse to go,
I’d cling, a shrinking ring, to your finger.
I’ll never be an embarrassment to you, mea vita,
so your tender finger refuses to carry the weight.
Wear me, when you drench your body in the hot shower,
and let the falling water run beneath the jewel –
though, I think, your naked limbs would rouse my passion,
and, as that ring, I’d carry out a man’s part.
A vain wish? Off you go then little gift:
show her that true loyalty comes with you!

At least two complete graffiti find their inspiration in the same line of Ovid, also from the Amores:

Ovid Amores 3.11.35
Odero, si potero; si non, invitus amabo.
‘I will hate if I have strength; if not, I shall love unwilling.’

One, found in the House of the Scientists (VI.14.43), laments the hold Venus (i.e. love) has over a man:

CIL IV 1520 (CLE 354)
Candida me docuit nigras / odisse puellas odero si potero sed non invitus / amabo / scipsit Venus fisica Pompeiana.
Blondie has taught me to hate dark girls. I shall hate them, if I can, but I wouldn’t mind loving them. Venus Pompeiana Fisica wrote this.’

The second, found on the other side of the city in the house at I.11.10, is nearly identical in sentiment:

CIL IV 9847
Candida me docuit nigras o[d]isse / puellas odero si potero si non / invitus amabo.
‘A fair girl taught me to scorn dark ones. I will scorn them if I can; if not… I will reluctantly love them.’

Further texts (CIL IV 1526 and 1528) begin with the same words Candida me docuit: CIL IV 1523 simply says ‘Candida’, and CIL IV 3040 misspells the text ‘Cand[id]a me docu(it), suggesting further attempts to record the same sentiment were never completed. All six of these graffiti are also linked to Propertius’ work:

Propertius Elegies I.1.3-6
Tum mihi constantis deiecit lumina fastus
et caput impositis pressit Amor pedibus,
donec me docuit castas odisse puellas
improbus, et nullo vivere consilio.
‘It was then that Love made me lower my looks of stubborn pride and trod my head beneath his feet, until the villain taught me to shun decent girls and to lead the life of the ne’er-do-well.’

Propertius and Ovid were more or less contemporaries, so who inspired whom, and whether one or both were the inspiration for our Pompeian scribblers is impossible to determine.

Vergil also appears in abundance on the walls of Pompeii. He is the most quoted of the ancient authors in the extant evidence, with the majority of the texts coming from the Aeneid. The Georgics and Eclogues are also represented, as here:

CIL IV 5007 (CLE 2157)
Det mihi Damoeta felicior quam P{h}asiphae haec omnia scripsit Zosimus.
‘Let Damoetas give (it) to me and he will be happier than Pasiphae. All this is written by Zosimus.’

Dic mihi, Damoeta, cuium pecus? an Meliboei?
‘Tell me, Damoetas, who owns the flock? Is it Meliboeus?’

This verse obscenely paraphrases Vergil, as noted by Varone, wherein Zosimus is bragging that his skills as a lover are superior to that of the bull Pasiphae engaged in sexual relations with whilst disguised in a contraption resembling a cow.

There is one graffito, however, that perhaps is the best illustration of altering a famous literary passage for new – and humourous – purposes. The text is based on the best known line from the Aeneid, one that could probably be quoted by school children in antiquity as easily as it is today:

Vergil Aeneid I.1
Arma virumque cano
I sing of arms, and of the man.

The first line of the Aeneid was incredibly popular in Pompeii, appearing on walls more than fifteen times, either in full or shortened versions (it was often abbreviated ‘arma virumq’). On the outer wall of the Fullonica of Fabius Ululitremulus (IX.13.5), beneath a wall painting of Aeneas leading his father and son from a burning Troy, we find something rather different:

CIL IV 9131
Fullones ululamque cano, non arma uirumq(ue).
‘Of fullers and the owl I sing, not of arms and the man.’

Ululitremulus – the ‘owl trembler’ – owned a shop where wool was worked, which fell under the patronage of Minerva, the goddess of weaving and crafts to whom owls were sacred, and chose to decorate the façade of the building with the hero of Vergil’s poem. Thus, the first line of the Aeneid, altered to include a reference to owls and fulleries, becomes a visual and literary joke for anyone in the know.

What this graffito in particular, and those above as well, demonstrate is that manipulating a literary text to a different purpose is nothing new. Single lines of text were taken out of context, quoted, adapted, and re-used frequently on the walls of Pompeii. Undoubtedly, the meaning of a text can change. Writing, as the ancient poets well knew, is a means of preserving memory, and it is up to the reader, not the writer, to determine what that memory is. I think Vergil would have known this, and would have appreciated the hilarity of singing about owls instead of a man as much as he would recognize the solemnity of his words on the wall of a memorial to thousands of dead.