Review by: Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow, New England Classical Journal - November 1, 2005
New England Classical Journal, 32.4, November 2005
Rex E. Wallace, An Introduction to Wall Inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2005. Pp. xlvi + 133. Paper (ISBN 0-86516-570X) $29.00.
Nihil durare potest tempore perpetuo... "Nothing can last forever." The anonymous first century C.E. Pompeian graffitist who wrote this, the first of a four-line verse on how quickly love's passion can evaporate, has poignantly captured the problem scholars constantly face in the preservation of the written word from antiquity. The ephemeral nature of dipinti (painted wall inscriptions) and wall graffiti (writings incised with a sharp object or stylus) lends a certain urgency to our need to study them.
Among the treasures preserved by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E. that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum were more that 11,000 incised and painted inscriptions. While most of these are in Latin, we can also find inscriptions in Etruscan, Greek, and Oscan. These finds make the ancient cities on the Bay of Naples one of classical antiquity's most precious epigraphic resources.
The bulk of the dipinti and graffiti are preserved in volume IV of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL). For anyone who has tried to use the CIL, Rex E. Wallace's new introduction to wall inscriptions is a most welcome teaching aid. The book developed out of undergraduate and graduate courses at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was fieldtested by students, and is aimed at teachers and students of Latin who might wish to learn more about Latin written by the less educated member: of Roman society. Classicists, historians, linguists, and students in most fields of Classical Studies will find the volume a valuable resource.
The text is divided into two main parts. Part I contains introductory material including an overview of the inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum (inscriptions on stone are not included), more detailed discussion of the nature of wall inscriptions, the orthographic and linguistic features characteristic of both dipinti and graffiti, and a short bibliography on the topic. Part II comprises selections of wall inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum, facsimiles of key examples of the dipinti and graffiti, a list of abbreviations used in the inscriptions, an index of proper names, and a vocabulary list relevant to the entries.
Several striking facts emerge from part one. While most writing appeared on walls, we also find it on wooden tablets (such as the 153 receipts from the House of Lucius Caecilius Iucundus), and on amphorae, tiles, or metal implements and plumbing fixtures (ix). The most common type of dipinti were programmata, electoral announcements, of which 2600 have survived, giving the names of well over 100 candidates and the political offices for which they ran (x). We also have edicta munerum, announcements of gladiatorial contests (xv).
Dipinti of these types, as well as advertisements for rentals and sales, notices of "lost and found," public acclamations and salutations, and others, were painted in scripta actuaria, a script of professional sign-painters. Their design, therefore, shows much diligence and care. Most of the political programmata date to the period 50-79 C.E., while very few survive from the final decades of the Republican period (80-30 B.C.E.) or even from the early Imperial era (30 B.C.E.-50 C.E.). We have almost no information from Herculaneum on candidates for political office (xi).
Spontaneous and unauthorized graffiti (more than 5,000 examples survive) appeared both on public and private buildings. While a significant group of graffiti consists of proper names alone, we can also find humorous scribbles, popular wisdom, obscenities, historical references (rare), and homespun philosophizing (xvi). The most notable graffiti from Pompeii and Herculaneum are amatory in theme. Many of these, like nihil durare potest, were written in poetic meter.
Part II, consisting of specific examples of the wall inscriptions, is organized into three subdivisions: unit I. The dipinti from Pompeii; unit II. The graffiti from Pompeii and a few villae rusticae near the city; and unit III. The inscriptions (dipinti and graffiti) from Herculaneum. One caution I would offer readers is that the referencing system is rather complex. Unfortunately, a somewhat dizzying set of numbers accompanies each entry. When a dipinto or graffito is discussed in part I, it is very difficult to find the full entry in part II. Rather than a simple page reference, we are given the "unit" number, followed by a "section" number, Wallace's own personal entry number, the CIL number, and then the topographical location number for Pompeii or Herculaneum (region, insula, and house number), which itself looks confusingly like Wallace's own numbering system. The entry number 11.2.48, for example, refers to unit II (Graffiti from Pompeii), section 2 (Curses and Insults), item 48 (Wallace's number for the entry). This entry has the CIL number 6864, and it was found in Pompeii at IX, v, 11. The reader craves a simple page number and accompanying item number in order to maneuver more easily through the volume.
Despite Wallace's rich and varied selections of graffiti on gladiators, soldiers, entertainers, and lovers, many other topics are, of necessity, omitted. Here are a few of my favorite graffiti entries from both Pompeii and Herculaneum. From unit II, Graffiti from Pompeii, section 2, Curses and Insults, #39=CIL 2409a; from Pompeii's VII, i, 1 on the Via dell'Abbondanza:
3 nil scit
Wallace suggests (51) that different people wrote the graffito: line 1, perhaps by Stronius himself; and lines 2 and 3 as a derogatory comment by someone else deliberately misspelling Stronius' name. From unit II, Graffiti from Pompeii, section 6, Lists, Memoranda, Notices, #96=CIL 4000; from Pompeii's I, iii, 27 on the Vicolo di Tesmo: a list of seven grocery items and their cost in asses (67). From unit II, Graffiti from Pompeii, section 8, Citations from Latin Poets, #159=CIL 9131; from Pompeii's IX, xiii, 5 on the Via dell'Abbondanza: fullones ululamque cano non arma virumq. This is a distorted citation from Vergil's Aeneid 1.1 (83). Although Wallace does not say so, its aim was possibly to call attention to the fullers and their cry for human urine, used in their cleaning and dyeing processes. From unit III, Dipinti and Graffiti from Herculaneum, section 2, Graffiti, #9=CIL 10606; vi, 11:
3 a XI
This graffito is a memorandum about the cost (eleven asses) for the removal of dung (101). The facsimiles at the back of the book (105-110) were all carefully prepared by Mat Olkovikas, but poor quality print and paper often obscure the thin lines of the originals. (Cf. Facsimile #19, for example, from unit II, 8. #159=CIL 9131 from Aeneid 1.1 above, which is scarcely readable.)
While Wallace did not set out to write social history, his book deserves to be placed within the wider context of the question of literacy in the ancient world. William V. Harris' Ancient Literacy (1989) attempted to discover how widespread literary was among the Greeks and Romans, what part the written word played in their lives, and why literacy reached only a certain extent and went no further. Since the parameters of Harris' study were so vast, the evidence from Pompeii and Herculaneum inevitably received rather limited treatment.
In response to Harris' magisterial study came Literacy in the Roman World, JRA supplement no. 3 (1991), which offered, among its eight essays, more focus on the evidence from Pompeii and Herculaneum (especially in the article by James L. Franklin, Jr., "Literacy and the Parietal Inscriptions of Pompeii"). The book as a whole, edited by J.H. Humphrey, opened discussion to the social, cultural, and linguistic differences across the Roman world.
Many more questions about the uses of writing in first century C.E. Pompeii and Herculaneum, however, are still to be addressed. Although Wallace did not concern himself with the scholarly debate on literacy, lie has made much primary evidence more accessible to a wider audience (including beginning Latinists) so that the topic of literacy can continue to invite further lively debate. As a teaching tool, Wallace's book has a lot to offer.
NECJ 32.4 (2005) Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow Brandeis University
Review by: M.G.L. Cooley, JACT - September 1, 2005
AN INTRODUCTION TO WALL INSCRIPTIONS FROM POMPEII AND HERCULANEUM, Rex E. Wallace; Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers; 2005; p/b; $29-00; ISBN 0-86516-570-X
THE STATED AIM of this book is 'to provide Latinists with a reasonably comprehensive introduction to wall inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum.' Wallace succeeds in this aim. His intended audience is [American] undergraduates and more advanced students. Though Wallace selects the most interesting texts from an historical point of view, these will be students of linguistics, rather than of Roman history, since the notes on the texts are largely philological. Technical terms (clearly explained in the introduction) abound, 'monophthongization' being particularly common. (One can imagine Wallace as the centurion in The Life of Brian shouting `How many times have I told you not to monophthongize?' at some hapless innkeeper writing copo for caupo)
Wallace is a reliable guide to what the people of Pompeii wrote on their walls and to how we should interpret it. He reminds us that Latin was an everyday language, full of variations in spellings, even when the graffiti is a quotation from Ovid or Virgil, and colloquialisms. My favourite is da fridam pusillum which, with the help of the accompanying drawing, we can translate as `Give me a drop of cold water'. The book contains a full vocabulary list though this does not really do justice to some colloquialisms. Secundus hic cacat does rather lose its impact if translated (in accordance with the vocabulary list) 'Secundus defecates here'.
Wallace is also reliable in historical notes, though he seems not to realize that annual magistracies in Pompeii ran from July 1, rather than January 1, (as can be shown from Caecilius' wax tablets) so a set of games announced in February (his no. 65) is misdated by one year, thus missing an important connection with the earthquake of AD 62. Some facsimiles of inscriptions are included, taken (with due acknowledgement) from the drawings in Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum IV, though without the measurements provided there.
M. G. L. Cooley King Henry VIII School, Coventry
Review by: Vicki Wine, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers - March 15, 2005
Chilroius was Here—in Pompeii and Herculaneum
by Vicki Wine
The newly published An Introduction to Wall Inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum by Rex E. Wallace offers several opportunities for teachers’ use in the classroom, at any level, for a variety of courses:
? college: elementary Latin to the reading level, undergraduate or graduate; Classics Civilization or Introduction to Language
? high school: all levels of Latin; world history
? middle school: Latin language, introductory Roman civilization or the Roman culture of “...Populusque Romanus.”
? elementary: language, culture, or “College for Kids” classes
The inscriptions provide instruction in two major areas:
? Reading: The book is written for the intermediate college or advanced high school levels and provides a useful glimpse into both the daily life of the Romans and the colloquial use Latin by the lesser known half of Roman society. The dialect and changes in the language also show to the upper level reader how varieties of Latin developed.
? Culture: The inscriptions would be an excellent component of a course about ancient Roman society, in which both the culture of well-known personages as well as that of citizens and slaves on the street is discussed. The examples show real Latin in real contexts. Knowing the language is not necessary in order to understand the topics addressed, or even the linguistic changes.
The book contains 351 different illustrations, 24 of which are reproduced as facsimiles as well. The teacher would probably want to put an example on an overhead for the class, in order to point out the abbreviations, typical structure and style, variations in forms (loss of –m ending, orthographic changes in vowels), and then demonstrate a reading or interpretation, and follow with elaboration on the cultural interest.
The facsimiles especially bring the students closer to the Roman writer and the wall, by showing various styles, artistic flourishes, and the actual style of writing, not entirely legible until compared with the reproduction or with the help of the notes or teacher. By presenting on an overhead some of the facsimiles or the reproduced illustrations, the teacher can explore linguistic or cultural topics, to enrich students’ acquaintance with the Romans about whom they are reading or studying.
The illustrations are organized by categories. The electoral announcements; advertisements for rentals and sales; lost and found notices; public acclamations and salutations; and curses and insults reflect everyday, commercial, and romantic life of the Romans, specifically those in Pompeii and Herculaneum. The gladiator advertisements can be used to demonstrate different forms of dress, winning and losing, styles of fighting, as well as understanding of this form of entertainment. Some of the miscellaneous entries (I.95, a birth announcement; I.107, found in a room next to a latrine with a picture of a man defecating and with cacator inscribed; I.109, cacator appearing again in a sign near a water reservoir) reflect other daily activities and remind students of the humanness of the people using the language they are studying.
In order to provide a cultural unit, the teacher (either high school or college) could spend a period of days or weeks with assignments and discussion in class. Or this could occur on activity days on either a regular or irregular basis. In a Latin class, the teacher can assign (or allow students to select their own) inscriptions on the basis of subject matter, names used, vocabulary, or illustration of grammar. A set of An Introduction to Wall Inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum in the classroom would allow for individual students to work on their own assigned piece. Accessing the books’ vocabulary glossary, lists of abbreviations, commentary, and finally the teacher’s help should allow each student to come up with an adequate understanding of what the piece means and allow for presentation and ensuing discussion with the class; the different inscriptions can then be compared.
The Latin teacher can find selections appropriate to the students’ level. Many inscriptions use forms of the subjunctive, but just as many don’t. The examples are short, of course, both in the number of lines and length of lines, and sentences. Repetition is part of the style and structure. Translating short phrases with nouns, prepositional phrases, and few verbs, or verbs in short phrases or sentences, allows for accessibility. The teacher may wish to use illustrations of particular grammar points: vocatives appear frequently; the lists use nouns in the accusative; genitive, dative, and ablative appear for specific purposes as well.
The reproductions themselves offer the student the fun of decoding the abbreviations and reading real Latin, which was written for a real purpose, on a real wall, in a language they are studying but which has undergone dialectic, regional, and colloquial modifications. Studying the language itself then provides the student with an insight into the use of a language which may seem “foreign,” detached, or unapproachable. Students will be able to recognize vocabulary (oro, vos, vir, cupit, cum, optimos, signi sunt, sum, facit, panem, iuvenem, civem, bonum, universi, ille, et, te, suos, ex, sententia, rei publicae, in vita, quicquam, gloria, debet, e.g.,) while learning new vocabulary used in real life: abomino (despise), amator (lover), aquarium (water pitcher), auction (public sale), axungia (hog’s fat)--to use the a’s as an example.
For review at the beginning of the second semester of my college elementary Latin class, I selected nine inscriptions, all of them using vocabulary the students would recognize and using case endings from the first three declensions. Some used verbs in 3rd person, all in present with one perfect (docuit). This list shows the grammar I wanted the students to review in the inscriptions:
II.45—all nominatives in 1st, 2nd, 3rd declensions
II.37—all words in vocative in 2nd, 2nd-i, 3rd declensions
II.187—nominative 2nd declension (er and us)
(11)—3rd declension nominative and dative
(13)—2nd declension nominative , accusative, and genitive
II.164—nominatives, relative pronoun; 3rd person present tense verb ending
II.33—nominative; present tense verb
II.183—nominative; present tense verb
II.179—nominative, accusative; perfect tense verb
The short sentences illustrated cases and declension endings with the pungent intent of an insult; the other graffiti showed how both soldiers and gladiators wanted to proclaim their presence.
Culture will be easily introduced through reading the inscriptions, but understanding a little Latin can also be readily introduced through looking at the inscriptions for cultural purposes.