Verse Epitaphs

JAany thousands of Roman epitaphs have survived, some of which take the form of a short poem. The three given here illustrate three common types, both in prose and verse. The first is a plain statement about the dead person; in the second, the tombstone itself is conceived as speaking and inviting the passerby to stop and read what is written on it (Roman tombs were very often placed alongside a road); in the third, it is the dead person who addresses the traveler. On Roman funerary practices, see page 79.

The texts of these epitaphs have been taken from E. H. Warmington, Remains of Old Latin, volume IV (Loeb Classical Library, 1940); the spelling and some forms have been changed to the classical norm.

A Epitaph of Lucius Cornelius Scipio, a member of a famous noble family (c. 160 b.c.)

Lfucius] Cornelius Gn[aei] ffilius] Gn[aei] n[epos] Scipio. Magnam sapientam multasque virtutes aetate cum parva possidet hoc saxum. cui vita defecit, non honos, honore, is hie situs qui numquam victus est virtute. 5

annos natus XX is locis mandatus. ne quaeratis honore qui minus sit mandatus.

a 1 The first line, which is in prose, gives the full name of the dead person and something of his ancestry; abbreviations (here expanded) were regularly used when giving this information; nepos nepotis m. grandson. af. The poem, which begins here, is in the Saturnian meter, the oldest verse form in Latin. Only a few examples survive, and its metrical structure has never been satisfactorily explained. The subject of the clause is hoc saxum (this [tomb]stone), which is said to hold (possided -ere) great wisdom (sapientia -ae f.) and many virtues with a short life. 4f. The antecedent of cui is is in 1. 5, for whom (cui is a dative of disadvantage [§G3i]); deficid -ere run short, fail; honos old form of the nom. sg. of honor, which is used here in two different senses: (1) honor, probity and (2) public office; honore abl. of respect [§g46]; lit., for whom life, not [his own] probity, ran short with respect to public office, i.e., he was worthy of assuming public office but did not live long enough to do so; hie here; with situs (buried) supply est; victus est was surpassed; virtute abl. of respect [§g 46].

6 annos ... XX acc. of time how long [§gii]; natus perf. pple. of nascor nascl be born; locis dat. to the places, a euphemism for to the Underworld; with mandatus (mando -are entrust) supply est.

7 ne quaeratis negative command [§G72]; take honore (herepublic office) with sit mandatus (mando -are entrust [someone] (acc.) with [something] (abl.)); qui (here why) introduces an indirect question [§G9i]; minus = non; trans, do not ask why he was not entrusted with public office.

B Epitaph of Claudia, a married woman about whom nothing further is known (c. 135-120 b.c.)

Hospes, quod dico paullum est; adsta ac perlege. hie est sepulchrum haud pulchrum pulchrae feminae. nomen parentes nominarunt Claudiam. suum maritum corde dilexit suo.

Natos duos creavit; horunc alterum 5

in terra linquit, alium sub terra locat. sermone lepido, turn autem incessu commodo. domum servavit, lanam fecit, dixi. abi.

meter iambic senarius [§m8]

hospes | quod di|co || paul|l(um) est ad|st(a) ac per|lege hie est | sepul|chr(um) haud || pul|chrum pul|chrae fe|minae b 1 Hospes here stranger, i.e., a passerby unknown to the dead person; the subject of dico, I, is the tombstone itself; paullus short; adsta (adsto -are) and perlege (perlego -ere) are both 2 sg. imp. act., stand by and read [it] through.

2 hie here; sepulchrum -i n. grave; haud = non; this line (here is the not beautiful tomb of a beautiful woman) plays on the popular (but completely false) etymology of sepulchrum from pulcher and the negative prefix se-.

3 nomen cognate acc. [§g 17] with nominarunt (= nominaverunt; nomino -are name) with Claudiam in apposition [§G5a] to it, lit., named [her] the name Claudia, i.e., gave her the name of Claudia; parens parentis m./f. parent.

4 corde ... suo abl. of manner [§G45] with [all] her heart; dilexit (diligo -ere) loved.

5f. Natos duos two sons; creo -are give birth to; horunc archaic form of horum; alterum ... alium ... the one ... the other ... (the variation is because of the meter); linquit (linquo -ere leave) and locat (loco -are put) either are historic presents [§g6o] o'r represent the state of affairs at Claudia's death.

7 Supply erat—both phrases are ablatives of description [§g 44]; sermo sermonis m. conversation; lepidus charming; incessus -us m. bearing; commodus proper; the two ablative phrases are joined by turn autem (lit., but then), trans, her conversation was charming, yet her bearing was proper—charming conversation may not have always accompanied the bearing considered proper for a Roman matron.

8 domum servavit she kept (servo -are) house; lana -ae f, wool—spinning wool for clothing was a traditional occupation for a Roman housewife; dixi i.e., that is what I have to tell you; abl (2 sg. imp. abed abire), lit., go away, trans, go on your way—the wish not to unduly delay the reader is a frequently occurring theme in epitaphs.

C Epitaph ofHelvia Prima, another otherwise unknown Roman matron (c. 45 b.c.)

Tu qui secura spatiaris mente, viator, et nostri vultus dirigís inferiis, si quaeris quae sim, cinis en et tosta favilla;

ante obitus tristis Helvia Prima fui. coniuge sum Cadmo fructa Scrateio, 5

concordesque pari viximus ingenio, nunc data sum Diti longum mansura per aevum deducta et fatali igne et aqua Stygia.

meter elegiac couplet [§m2]

tü qui I sécü|rá || spátí|árís | menté vi|átór ét nós|trí vül|tüs || dirigís | inferí|is c 1 secura... mente abl. of manner [§g45] with carefree mind; spatiaris 2 sg. pres. ind. spatior -ári walk leisurely, stroll; viator viátoris m. here voc. traveler.

2 Take nostri (gen. of nos (pi. for sg. [§053])) with inferiis—the possessive adjective nostris would be more normal; vultüs acc. pi., here gaze, glance (pi. for sg. [§g 53]); dirigo -ere direct; inferiis,(inferiae -arum f.pl.) dat. of motion toward [§g 35] to my (nostri) funeral offerings—the deceased Helvia supposes that the traveler is looking at the customary offering placed on her tomb.

3 quaeris introduces an indirect question [§g 91], quae sim, and what follows is the answer; cinis cineris m. ashes; én behold!, look!; tosta perf. pple. of torreo -ere burn; favilla -ae f. ashes, remains; trans, look! [I am now simply] ashes and burned remains.

4 obitüs tristis (pi. for sg. [§g53]) sad death (obitus -üs m.).

5 This hexameter, which has only five feet, is defective; coniuge (coniunx con-iugis m./f. spouse) abl. (with Cadmó ... Scrateio) after sum ... fructa (fruor frui + abl.), trans. I enjoyed Cadmus Scrateius [as my] spouse.

6 Trans, concordes (concors (concordis) harmonious) by an adverb [§C355J; pari (par (paris) matching) ... ingenió abl. of manner [§g45] with matching temperaments; viximus 1 pi. perf. ind. act. vivo -ere live.

7f. data sum 1 sg. perf. ind. pass, do dare; Dis Ditis m. another name for Plütd, the king of the Underworld; longum ... per aevum for a long age (aevum -i n.); mansüra f.sg. nom. of the fut. pple. of maneo (-ere), agreeing with the understood subject I, lit., going to stay; deducta perf. pple. of dédücó -ere take down; et... et... both ... and ...; fatali (destructive) igne... aquá Stygiá (Stygius adj. of the river Styx) both instrumental ablatives [§g47]—the fire is that of the pyre on which Helvias body was cremated; aqua Stygia is a rather odd way of referring to Helvias passage over the river Styx in Charon's boat (see page 79),

This epitaph illogically combines the two conflicting beliefs about an afterlife. The old Roman belief was that the dead woman lived on in her tomb, and so required funeral offerings (inferiae), and that she could still communicate with the living. However, according to imported Greek notions, her shade went down to the Underworld, where it was to stay forever.

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