Christopher Wordsworth

Inscriptiones Pompeianæ

Harrow, Dec. 12. 1837.


You will remember that when we visited Pompeii together in the summer of 1832, you chose to indulge yourself in some pleasant humour on the attention which I paid to the ancient inscriptions which are scrawled on the walls of the buildings and streets of that place. I have put off my retaliation for your pleasantry as you see, to a distant day, but it is arrived at last. I intend now to revenge myself on you for it by sending you some of these same inscriptions, with a few observations upon them:

Et quota pars hæc sunt rerum quas vidimus ambo,
Te mihi jucundas efficiente vias?
Seu rate cæruleas pictâ sulcavimus undas,
Esseda nos agili sive tulere rotâ.
Saepe brevis nobis vicibus via visa loquendi,
Pluraque si numeras verba fuere gradu.
Sæpe dies sermone minor fuit; inque loquendum
Tarda per æstivas defuit hora dies.
Est aliquid casus pariter timuisse marinos: —
Et modo res egisse simul; modo rursus ab illis
Quorum non pudeat posse referre jocos—1

which is an additional reason why I now address myself to you.

I 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. The Neapolitan antiquaries and topographers have altogether passed them by; and in the numerous guidebooks written by Ultramontans, there is scarcely any allusion to their existence.2 As they seem to me to possess some little interest, and as the communication of them to others has, at least, the merit of novelty, I have thought it worth while to put them here upon record. To proceed then to my subject.

Lucian tells us that it was a common practice for idle people to scribble their thoughts on the town walls in his day; and from him it appears that at Athens the sides of the Dipylum,—the great western gate of that city, were much used in this way. He3 has preserved one of these inscriptions. We know too, from Aristophanes, that this was also the case in his age. The greatest compliment which the Thracian king could pay to the Athenian city, was to daub on the streets of his northern capital the words ΑΘΗΝΑΙΟΙ ΚΑΛΟΙ!4 Athenians for ever! In later days too, in the city of Rome, the eloquence of walls was very powerful. It produced, according to Plutarch5, the Agrarian Laws of Tiberius Gracchus, who was excited to propose those democratical measures by the popular expressions which he read on the walls and porticos of the Eternal City.

You will remember the house of the author (now, alas! no more) of the Pursuits of Literature, on the Pizzofalcone at Naples. I must confess that its antique interior, in a classic country, gave me much pleasure. I liked it the better for the hospitable SALVE inscribed on the threshold of the door; nor was the momentary shock which was produced by the sight of that grim artificial dog which crouched like another Cerberus near it, with the huge uncials CAVE CANEM staring you in the face from the wall above him, ill compensated by the pleasant associations of antique scenes and manners connected with these illusions; and the household morality of the pithy apophthegms FESTINA LENTE, NE QVID NIMIS, and SVSTINE ET ABSTINE, engraved on the stucco walls of the saloon and library, was, I hold, a species of decoration neither useless nor unpleasing. You liked it, I am sure, quite as well as mural arabesques of Japanese jugglery, or riddling hieroglyphics.

Let us then, my dear P—, ascend once more, in fancy at least, our Neapolitan carratella, and drive off to Pompeii; and if you will put yourself under my guidance, we will go again through the particular streets in which the inscriptions I shall specify are to be found.

It should be premised that these inscriptions are, as you will see, for the most part scratched with a pointed stylus on the hard red stucco with which those buildings are covered. It is owing to the exceeding solidity of this material, that the words carelessly traced upon it by hands which have now withered and crumbled in the dust for more than seventeen hundred years, are still, in many cases, as legible as these printed characters which are now before you.

You will allow me first of all, in due courtesy to yourself, to introduce you to a line of your favorite Latin poet. It is written on the outside of the north wall of the Chalcidicum of Eumachia6, thus:


Here you recognise a line from Virgil. It is in the eighth Eclogue (v. 70.)—

Carminibus Circe socios mutavit Olyxis

perhaps inscribed in this spot by the hand of one of the poet's own friends, who enjoyed his intimacy while he lived and sung in this neighbourhood—

Firgilium quo tempore dulcis alebat Parthenope,

on the shores of whose bay,—the vicina Vesevo Ora jugo7, —he once dwelt, and now lies buried.

Some grammatical observations might be here made on the form Olyxis, which will not be neglected by the future editors of Virgil8. Heyne's reading, Ulixi, which is against all the MSS., is not a fortunate one. The word


(Ulyxe) appears engraved on a gem referred to by Lanzi9, and may be compared with the form in this inscription, which, like the population of Pompeii, contains a tinge of Greek mixed with Latin.

It is rather surprising that Horace, as far as our evidence goes, does not seem to have been a favorite author at Pompeii. Of all the Latin poets who nourished before its destruction by the volcano in its neighbourhood, he would appear most likely to have been popular here. He was probably known in person to many of the Pompeians. He once frequented the tepid waters and myrtle groves of Baiæ, and had no doubt enjoyed the breezes of Sorrento, and explored the other delightful retreats of this beautiful coast: but while, as you will see, several of his contemporaries are more fortunate in this respect, not a syllable from the writings of Horace survives on the walls of Pompeii. Perhaps the very novelty of his metres, which he considered as his own peculiar merit, was the cause of this.

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. Our Pompeiis do not yet exhibit the words of our Virgils, nor does it seem probable that they soon will. The leisure thoughts and stray musings of our provincials do not wander much in such directions:—but to return to Pompeii.

If we walk down the street which lies to the north of the Chalcidicum of Eumachia, we shall enter what was once the Forum of Pompeii. Crossing the Forum, and keeping a little to the left, you approach the Basilica or Law Court of the town. This place will, no doubt, call together in your mind some agreeable professional associations; we will pause then a little here.

In Westminster Hall, Shakspeare, Milton, and Dryden, are remembered by those who plead there; but I doubt whether the mixed audience who listen to the pleadings, would, if left to themselves, beguile their leisure moments by references to the writings of these poets. This seems to have been otherwise in the small provincial town of Pompeii.

Two lines, familiar to us from our childhood, are found twice inscribed on the right-hand wall, near the principal entrance of the Basilica. They served, perhaps, as the consolation of a weary client while listening to the prosecution of his tedious suit. There is in their orthography a little admixture of Greek, and a little ignorance of Latin, which was probably common enough in the dialect of the Greek colonists of this part of Italy, who had a national claim to write and converse Canusini more bilinguis. The lines are as follows:


You have here the popular distich of Ovid10, though the words are parcè distorta:

Quid pote tarn durum saxso, aut quid mollius undâ?
Dura tamen molli saxsa cavantur aquâ.

The variation of Quid pote tarn from the poet's Quid magis est, is a curious Græcism; and in the case of the word saxso an English tiro will proudly correct the false Latinity of an Italian scribe who wrote in the Augustan age!

At a little distance from this point, we have four lines from two different poets:


You see here two lines of Ovid, followed by two of his friend Propertius. The poets are here united as formerly when one of them said:

Sæpe suos solitus recitare Propertius ignes,
Jure sodalitio qui mihi junctus erat.11

The first two of the above four lines are, as you will see:

Surda sit oranti tua janua, laxa ferenti:
Audiat exclusi verba receptus amans

which will be found in our editions of Ovid, Amor. l. viii. 77.: the two latter

Janitor ad dantis vigilet, si pulsat inanis
Surdus in obductam somniet usque seram12

axe still extant in Propertius (iv. v. 47.), where the printed copies have pulset: the orthography of the accusative dantis in the third line of inscription is a conclusive evidence of the practice of the best ages of Latinity in that particular respect, and may serve to confirm the assertions of Bentley and Heyne in their respective prefaces to Horace and Virgil13 upon it.

We pass from Ovid to the patron of his Fasti, Germanicus. The following date, scratched on the stucco of the wall before us, carries us back in imagination from the present year, A. D. 1837, to A. D. 18. You there read:


This was a critical period in the history of the noble Germanicus14. It was the year which intervened between his splendid triumph, gained by his German conquests, and his melancholy death at the Syrian Antioch.

This inscription remained visible for sixty years after it was here first written; it was then buried for seventeen hundred by the ashes of Vesuvius, and promises to survive as many more. It is, I apprehend, the oldest Latin MS. in existence.

You will observe that the writer has determined the controversy which Cicero was unable to decide. Cicero in doubt between Tertium and Tertio, discreetly recommended to Pompey, who had applied to him as arbiter on the subject, to compromise the matter, and write TERT15. Our scribe is a bolder man, and writes at full length TERTIO.

Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona, but no record remains of their courage. See the fickleness of fortune! for while great battles have been fought, and splendid victories won, without leaving a trace behind them of their splendour or greatness, you will find on the wall before you an advertisement of a game of rackets, which was to be played here seven hundred years before the conquest of England. Enimvero Dî nos quasi pilas homines habent. You see there traced on the cement the following words:


i. e., as I conceive,

Amianthus, Epaphra, Tertius, ludant cum Hedysio, Jucundus Nolanus petat, numeret Citus et Stacus Amianthus—

Some of the persons here mentioned they are either slaves or freedmen appear in a marble fragment of an inscription preserved in the Studii at Naples, which came from Pompeii. It is this:

EX D· D·

Here you recognise the names of Tertius, Epaphra (both appellations familiar to us from a very different source, namely, the Epistles of St. Paul16), and Citus, all of which appear in the former inscription.

The name Epaphra is an instance of the rule so well illustrated by Bentley17 in his letter to Mill, which prescribed that the appellatives of slaves, which in Greek terminated in as, were to be Latinised into a, which was not the case with free Greek names of the same termination. Thus the slave carried the badge of slavery in his very name, till the happy moment when he

———momenta turbinis exit
MARCUS Dama18.

Ἐπαφρᾶς, the slave in Greek, became in Latin Epaphra (and so the name ought to stand in our Bibles), while Anaxagoras the philosopher retained his original termination,

Id quod Anaxagoras sibi sumit.
Lucret. i. 876.

To return to our game. The best commentary on it is a sentence in one of Seneca's19 letters to his friend Lucilius (the one which precedes his curious description of the Grotto of Pausilypo, through which we passed the other day), where he congratulates himself on being able to prosecute his studies to a certain extent even while sitting over a noisy bath-room20, where games at rackets were going on. “Ecce,” says the philosopher, “varius clamor me circumsonat: supra ipsum balneum habito; si vero pilicrepus super venerit, et numerare cœperit pilas, actum est.” The pilicrepus is explained to mean the person qui pilâ ludit, in a gloss of Isidorus21; the etymology of the word is ascertained from the lines of Statius22 which describe the bath of Claudius Etruscus:

“Quid nunc strata solo referam tabulata crepantes
Auditura pilas, ubi languidus ignis inerrat Ædibus et tenuem volvunt hypocausta vaporem.”23

I find that this same word occurs in another inscription on this wall, and connected with this same Epaphra, who was probably distinguished for his skill in this game.


that is,

Epaphra, pilicrepus non es;

a line of erasure has been drawn through the words by some one who did not approve of their jealous detraction from the professional merits of Epaphra. There seems to have been a company of Pilicrepi at Pompeii, if we may judge from an electioneering inscription once visible on a wall in this town, and now preserved in the collection at Naples, and in the work of the Herculanensian Society24.


that is25,

A. Vettium Firmum
Ædilem Oro Vos Facite, Dignum Republicâ,
Oro Vos Facite; PILICREPI facite.*

This is an appeal to the Pilicrepi to VOTE FOR FIRMUS at the next election of municipal officers; perhaps for the same reasons as the lovers of a more modern game might have been called upon, a few years ago, to support its parliamentary patron. To conclude our notices of this same player, I refer to another allusion to him which is still visible here:


that is,

Epaphra, glaber es;

which requires no other explanation than is given by the directions of the cook in Plautus26 to his lacquey while dressing the dinner:

Tu istum gallum, si sapis,
Glabriorem reddes mihi quam volsus Ludiu’ st. v.

Can you discover the meaning of the following words?


They seem to refer to the lady mentioned in the inscription from the Neapolitan Studii27; and may express her sentiments to be, that whoever did not ask her to supper (literally, whomsoever she did not sup upon) was to her as bad as a Barbarian.

Listacidiæ (i. e. γνώμη) Quem non cæno, barbarus ille mihi est.

Catullus laughs at the vicious pronunciation of his friend Arrius28, but bad spelling was probably too common in his time to provoke his satire. We have a curious instance of it here. The name of the building in which we are is in several places inscribed on its walls; but in no instance that I can find, is it correctly spelt. It is always written


As specimens of the same inaccuracy I select from the same spot,


that is,

Amiantum quod timaeo (timeo) Oro Vos.
In that I fear Amianthus, I implore your aid.


that is,

Somius Corneilio (Cornelio) jus pendre (perendie?)

that is,

Somius threatens Cornelius with an action the day after to-morrow.

These words were probably scrawled by some slave on the stucco while the lawyers of Pompeii were engaged in pleading here; a circumstance which suggested the above threat.

Suggested too, by the place, seem to have been the following:


that is,

Quod pretium legi?

which may be compared with the

Auro pulsa fides; auro venalia jura; Aurum lex sequitur:

of Propertius29; and the

Quod vocis pretium?

in a somewhat different sense, of Juvenal's seventh satire.


Tu enim me doces?

A literal translation of the σὺ διδάσκεις ἡμᾶς in St. John's Gospel30: it was, no doubt, a proverbial expression.

We turn from the bad spelling of Pompeian slaves to a little of their good humour. Here you will see a letter from one of them to his fellow-slave: it is a very laconic one. You will perceive in it an attempt to parody the pompous style of diplomatic despatches, such as those of Cicero31.

M· T· M· F· CICERO· S· D· CN·

Ex literis tuis quas publice misisti cepi una cum omnibus incredibilem voluptatem, &c.; or again this,


Non moleste fero eam necessitudinem quæ mihi tecum est, notam esse quàm plurimis, &c.

Our slave then, scribbling on the wall, writes as follows:


that is,

Molesté fero, quod
audivi—Te mortuom
Itaque VALE.
I take deeply to
heart what I
have heard—
that you are
deceased. Therefore

Cicero in his Pompeian villa here could not have written in a more statesman-like style.

An effusion of raillery, somewhat similar, is the following; it is a slave's character:


that is,

Cosmus nequitiæ est magnussimæ.

The new superlative magnussimæ, coined for the occasion, may remind you of the story current in these parts, of his Eminence Cardinal York, who was irritably tenacious of his royal dignity, and when asked at dinner in too familiar style, as he thought, whether he could taste a particular a viand: “Non ne voglio,” he replied; “perche Il Rè, mio padre, non ne ha mangiato mai, e La Regina, mia madre, maiissimo.”

You perhaps remember hearing a person say to his friend in the Corso at Rome, “Io non sono grande, e la mia moglie è piccola; ciò non ostante, i miei figli sono proprii granatieri”; and a similar somewhat ludicrous intimation of the conjugal infidelity,

ῥηΐδιοί τε γοναὶ τέκνα δ’οὔκετ ἐοικότα πατρί,

which is now the curse of Italy, is presented on this wall by the following:


Mulier ferebat filium simulem sui;
Nec meus est, nec mî simulat, sed vellem esset meus,
Et ego volebam ut meus esset.

which requires no other explanation than the

ἦ καλὸν, ὄκκα πέλῃ τέκνα γονεῦσιν ἴσα

of Nossis, or the

Laudantur simili prole puerperæ

of Horace34.

To the specimens of bad spelling given a little above, I add one of peculiar orthography:


that is,

Nemo est bellus, nisi qui amavit:35

where the II stand for E, as in a metrical epitaph in the Vatican, of which the first line is


that is,

Te lapis optestor, leviter super ossa residas!

There are some other instances of this here, but not many.

Let me now point out to you one or two poetical fragments:


You perceive here two lines of Propertius29, taken from the elegy in which he describes his evening walk from Rome to Tibur. They are as follows:

Quisquis amator erit, Scythiæ licet ambulet oris,
Nemo adeo ut feriat barbarus esse volet.

To those who are fond of various readings each line will supply one: the former, Scythiæ for Scythicis, as it stands in all the MSS.; the latter, feriat for noceat, which is the better reading of the two.

This distich has experienced a fate similar to that of the other writings of Propertius. The earliest MS. of his poems was not found till the middle of the XVth century, when they were drawn forth from beneath some casks in a wine-cellar. These two lines have lain from the first century to the eighteenth, under the ashes of a volcano.

Perhaps you may be able to point out the author (who does not occur to me) of the following distich:


which seems to be,

Scribenti mi dictat Amor, mostratque Cupido;
Ah peream! sine te si Deus esse velim.

that is,

Without thee, pretium ætas altera sordet.

The turn of the phrase resembles Virgil's8 lines to Antonius Musa:

Dispeream si te fuerit mihi carior alter;
Alter enim quis te dulcior esse potest?

And the sentiment, in which the word Deus36 is used as a term for expressing a state of the greatest felicity, reminds us of the φαίνεταἰ μοι κῆνος ἴσος ϑεοῖσιν of Sappho, and its version by the Latin poet; and the si quis in cœlum ascendisset, naturamque mundi et pulchritudinem siderum perspexisset, insuavem illam admirationem ei fore, quæ jucundissima fuisset si aliquem cui narraret habuisset, of Cicero31 in his De Amicitiâ, and more forcibly of his Ne vivam, mi Attice, si mihi μακάρων νῆσοι tanti sunt, ut sine te sim.

You may also exercise your ingenuity in discovering the author and the sense of the following hexameter:


Quonam digrediens magnis a laudibus Oppi?

Is it a remonstrance from a client to a pleader who was digressing from his main subject to a minor point in the cause? So the poet expostulates with himself:

Sed quid ego a primo digressus carmine plura Commemorem?37

This, I say, may be a remonstrance to a pleader, as the following distich seems to be an expression of gratitude to one, from some client who had gained his cause by his advocate's ability, like that acknowledgement to Cicero for his eloquence from his grateful client Catullus38,

Disertissime Romuli nepotum, &c.

The two lines are



Littera Theorianis semper dictura salutem
Nomine nunc dextri tempus in omne manet.

The sense of which seems to be, that the littera39 capitalis with which the name of Theorianes begins, which was known before only as an intimation of death, the nigrum Theta of condemned40 criminals, as the X was of condemned words,—had now, by the influence of its bearer, who was probably an insigne mæstis præsidium reis, become a symbol of safety instead of destruction.

As an illustration of the well-known meaning of this letter, I may be allowed to refer to an inscription, I believe unpublished, which is preserved in the museum at Naples. It is a titulus, or catalogue of a familia: it consists of five columns, and is entitled


In it occur the names of certain slaves and freedmen, with the ⊙ prefixed, indicating that they were dead, as

⊙ G ALEXANDER VIL. (i. e. villicus)

There is also in the same collection a muster-roll of soldiers41 to which the same observation is applicable: and at Pompeii, on the wall of the corridor between the two theatres,


is still legible. Near the same spot as the last inscription, is a memorial of one of the noblest, bravest, and most eloquent men of his age—one who called Cicero, Horace, Tibullus, and Augustus, friends. It was probably addressed to him when he was setting out on one of his campaigns, from which he returned covered with glory;


Vale Mesala42 (sic) fac me ames.

The writer of the following iambics, legible on the same wall of the Basilica, seems to have been a second Ofellus, who, when sitting down to his usual dinner of *olus fumosæ cum pede pernæ, had been surprised, and not very agreeably, by the arrival of an unexpected guest.


that is,

Quoi perna cocta est, si convivæ adponitur,
Non gustat pernam, lingit ollam out caccabum43.
“One who has only a flitch of bacon for his dinner, if it is set before a guest in addition to himself, has nothing to do but to dine off an empty plate.”

Here is a moral maxim, also in iambic verse:


Minimum malum fit contemnendo maximum,
Quod44, crede mî, non contemnendo erit minus.

Purporting that the smallest evils, by slighting them, become greatest; and the greatest, by not doing so, become less.

Here another of a similar character and metre,


which seems to say,

Non est exsilium ex patriâ sapientibus.

You remember the story—rendered famous by the application of Burke—of Diogenes and the people of Sinope; and the Omne solum forti patria est of Ovid was often in the mouth, if never in the heart, of Bolingbroke45. These two last inscriptions were perhaps left here by some unfortunate defendants, when they quitted the Court after an unfavourable sentence had been passed upon them.

The learned author of “The Introduction to the Literature of Europe46,” in tracing the continuance of Latin in the seventh century, cites what seems to be a song of a female slave in rhymed trochaics, which he considers to be as old as the destruction of the Empire, and which, if so, is a pleasing specimen of the poetry of that time. With that fragment I would compare another very brief one, which you may read here


that is,

Sarra non belle facis,
Solum me relinquis:
Debilis * * *

These are, as you see, trochaics, and rhymed ones; they show that popular songs in the metre to which that writer alludes, are as old as the Augustan age47.

Here is a warning against the use of calidi fontes, such as the neighbouring ones of Baiæ or Cumæ, to persons in peculiar circumstances.


Quisquis amat, calidis non debet fontibus uti;
Nam nemo flammis ustus amare potest.

All these inscriptions, to which I might add others, exist on the walls of the Basilica.

In leaving this building, in the way to what is called the Forum Nundinarium, we pass through a street now termed the Strada de' Teatri.

On the plaster wall of the third house on the right as you descend that street, you see traced in red letters an advertisement concerning the loss of a wine-vessel, which was stolen from this shop in the time of Horace's thieves, Cœlius and Birrhius. It runs thus:


Urna vinaria48 periit de tabernâ,
Set eam quis retulerit
H. S. LXV; Sei furem,
qui abduxerit,
dabitur duplum49
A Vario.

On the use of the word periit in the sense of is lost, there are some learned observations in Bentley's17 Remarks on Free-thinking; but the best illustration, not merely of this word, but of the whole inscription, is that agreeable Elegy of Propertius29, in which he advertises the loss of his pocket-book, and offers a reward for its discovery.

Ergo tam doctae nobis periere tabellae,
Scripta quibus paritertot periere bona.
* * * * *
si quis viihi rettulerit, donabitur auro:*
Quis pro divitiis ligna retenta velit?
I, puer, et citus hæc aliqua propone tabella,
Et dominum Esquiliis scribe habitare tuum.

A similar advertisement,—a parody of course,—is preserved in Petronius50, where the notice is given vivâ voce by a crier who, instead of a bell, carries a lighted torch, which he shakes to attract notice. It is as follows:


Passing through this street, we arrive at the larger of the two theatres. It is on the right. On the outside of the stage wall, toward the Forum Nundinarium, you will see some ancient names inscribed. They are in Greek characters, and, as far as I am aware, in the only Greek characters which occur on the walls of Pompeii51. Probably they are the names of persons connected with the theatre; and, if so, they lead to the inference, otherwise probable, that Greek plays were the favorite dramatic literature of Pompeii. The names are


Διώφαντος (sic)
Ἀπολώδωρος (sic)
Ἀπολόνιος (sic)

They are not, as you will observe, very correctly written, and were probably inscribed by some theatrical amateur of the place.

From the theatre of Pompeii we will pass to what now remains of the cellars of its former inhabitants. These are now under the special care of the custode of the place. He will unlock for us the curiosities of his cella promptuaria. Here you see the amphoræ which served to regale the Pompeians of old. To this fictile diota Horace might have written an ode. That may have imbibed the mellowing smoke in the consulship of Tullus: this may have remembered the Marsic war; another have been racked off capillato consule. To most of them indeed now

patriam52 titulumque senectus
Delevit multâ veteris fuligine testæ.

But still there are one or two in the collection which contained wine, whose age we still read inscribed on their terra-cotta sides (οὗ τὴν ἡλικίαν ἀναγιγνώσκομεν ἐπιγεγραμμένην τοῖς κεραμίοις53).

On one, for instance, we decipher the letters


that is,

[Cosso Cornelio Len] tulo
M. Asinio (Agrippa) Consulibus

Indicating that this vessel once held wine made in the year A.D. 25., at Fundi, to the excellence of whose produce Martial bears testimony,—

Haec Fundana tulit felix auctucnnus54 Opimi:


Cæcuba Fundanis generosa coquuntur Amyclis,
Vitis et in mediâ nata palude viret.

Pompeii was destroyed on the 25th of August, A. D. 79., so that this wine, if not yet consumed at the time of the city's destruction, was then more than half a century old; about eight years older than that which, born in the same consulship as himself, was reserved by Horace for the entertainment of the generous and learned Messala55.

On a second of these amphoræ we read,


On a third,


On a fourth, the tempting title,


Liquamen Optimum!

But, alas! for the curious connoisseur, this delicious beverage has been drained fæce tenus; and not even does its fragrance remain to tell of its virtue.

Having, my dear P—, thus called your attention to some of these vestiges of the manners and feelings of a distant age, I may remark, that we are furnished by these fragments with some curious evidence concerning the poetical taste, pervading, as it seems, the lower orders of the people of the period to which they belong. We receive from them some information too, concerning the orthography and written characters commonly in use in this part of Italy during the Augustan age56. We are supplied with a solution in the negative to the question whether a cursive character was employed in the writings of that period. We are enabled to prove, against the theories of L. Aretino, Cardinal Bembo, Strozza, and the learned Scipio Maffei57, that the vernacular language of that era did not differ, as they maintain, from the learned dialect; and that no dialect, as they imagine, similar to the modern Italian, was then familiarly in use. These inferences may be drawn from the specimens now submitted to your notice. They are selected from a larger number which I might have adduced. But I content myself with these examples, which are, I trust, not so copious as to cause you much weariness, and may yet prove sufficient to excite the attention of others who have better opportunities than myself of making additions to their number.

There is one point more. You will perhaps inquire whether there are not other specimens of a different character, which, from their nature, I feel it right to suppress. There are; and because I suppress them, it is due to the cause of truth, which even these trifles serve, not only to confess, but openly to avow this; for a more important inference than any of those to which I have just alluded may be drawn from these instances. I do not conceal their existence; far from it: I profess gratitude to God, by whose wonderful order this city was overwhelmed, for their very preservation during so many centuries to this day. Who laments the existence of such writers as Catullus, Juvenal, and Martial? Who would annihilate them? Nay, did not, in their works, the passages still survive which are similar to the instances of which I speak as found in this place, blended with efforts of mental vigour, of acuteness, and of poetical power, which those authors exhibit, a man might perhaps wish that he himself had lived in an age eminent for all the luxurious accomplishments which art and intellect could supply. But these passages forbid him; they dispel the delusion which wit and poetry might produce; they are the dead bones that whiten on the isle of the Sirens; they remind him how and from what he has escaped. And so in this city of Pompeii, surrounded as we are by the brilliant productions of painting and sculpture, beautiful even in decay, and by the exquisite remains of the soft refinements with which its ancient inhabitants charmed their voluptuous hours, we might be dazzled by their fascination, and almost wish that we had lived as contemporaries with them. But the inscriptions to which I allude warn us against this; they show us with what moral depravity these graceful embellishments were allied. Therefore we neither envy them, nor are we prone to believe that man's Art or Intellect will ever reform the world. We no longer indulge in such a dream, nor question the j ustice of Providence which buried Pompeii in the dust. Cum Deus censor esset, Impietas ignium meruit imbres, quo magis de montibus suis Campania timeat erepta Pompeios58.

Believe me,
My dear P—,
Yours very truly,


  1. Ovid. Pont. ii. 10. 

  2. I except one article in the Bulletino dell' Instituto of Rome, and a very few scattered hints on the subject in Sir W. Gell's Pompeii. [Sir William Gell, John P. Gandy, Pompeiana: the topography, edifices and ornaments of Pompei, 1817-1819] 

  3. Lucian, tom. iii. p.287. Comp. Callim. Ep. Ixx. 

  4. Aristophanes, Achar. 144. Cf. Bergler's note, and Creuzer, præf. Plotin. p. xxv. 

  5. Plut. in T. Gracch. c. 8. Cf. Martial, Ep. i. 118.: Scriptis postibus hinc et inde totis. 

  6. The position of which you will easily find by reference to the Plan of Pompeii, No. 29., in the Atlas of the Society for Diffusing Useful Knowledge. 

  7. Virg. Georg. ii. 224. 

  8. Catall. xiii. 4. 

  9. Saggio di Lingua Etrusca, i. p.168. 

  10. Ovid. A. A. i. 475. 

  11. Ovid. Trist. iv. 10. 44. 53. 

  12. Cp. Plaut. Asin. i. iii. 89. Si offers, turn patent; si non est quod des, ædes non patent. 

  13. P. xli. Cf. Gell. N. A. xiii. 20. 

  14. At this mention of Tiberius, I may observe that on one of the columns in what is called the Quartiere dei Soldati, at Pompeii, are inscribed the words CANIDIA NER——. Whether they contain an allusion to Nero as bearing any resemblance in character to Canidia, both of whose poisonings and incantations, as well as those of Folia, were probably notorious to the otiosa Neapolis, et omne vicinum oppidum (Hor. Epod. v. 43.), I do not attempt to determine. For the sobriquets of Tiberius, see Sueton. Tib. 38. 42. of Vespasian, Vesp. 19. That pasquinades on Nero were written on columns in his life-time, appears from Sueton. Ner. 45., adscriptum et columnis &c. Canidia seems to have been a general term for a venefica; Heindorf, Hor. p.242. 

  15. Aul. Cell. x. I. 

  16. See Rom. xvi. 22. ; Coloss. i. 7. iv. 12.; Philipp. v. 23. Grotius (ad Luc. init.) considers him to be the same person as Epaphroditus. 

  17. P.275. Cf. The same use of ϑνήσκω in Aristoph. Ran. 983.: τὸ τρυϐλίον τὸ περυσινὸν / τέθνηκέ μοι. 

  18. Persius, v. 78. 

  19. Epistola, Ivi. 

  20. Quippe (says Bentley on Hor. Sat. i. 6. 126. fugio campum lusumque trigonem) a pilæ lusu balnea semper adibant, aut, &c. 

  21. See Lipsius on the passage of Seneca, and particularly Turneb. Adver. vii. 4. 

  22. Sylvæ, I. v. 57. 

  23. Compare especially, the very curious metrical inscription in Orelii Inscr. Lat. i. p.453., Gruter, 637., where the word occurs twice. 

  24. Herculanensia, Dissert. Isagog. p.66. Tavole, p.1. Tav. x. 

  25. This inscription and others similar to it, have been generally considered as invocations of favour from the Ædile or other officer specified in them, and not as solicitations of votes for him before his election. That the latter is the true interpretation may be gathered from the inscriptions in Tav. xi. of the Diss. Isag. and other documents of the same nature. 

  26. Aulect. ii. 9. 7. where see the note of Turnebus. Ludii adolescentes erant tuniculas induti insignes galeati et ensiferi peltatique, qui omnibus circensibus et theatralibus pompis in versum incedebant, Saliis similes. Si qui eorum essent grandiusculi, vellebantur et glabri reddebantur. Compare Orell. Inscr. Lat. i. p.172. 

  27. Her name is inscribed on the podium of the amphitheatre here. Ibid, p.444. 

  28. Carm. Ixxviii. 

  29. Propert. iii. 14. 14. 

  30. ix. 34. 

  31. C. 23. Ep. Att. xii. 3. Compare Catull. Ixv. “Null! se mulier dicit mea nubere malle / Quam mihi, non si se Juppiter ipse petat.” 

  32. Ep. Div. xiii. 5. 

  33. This word is uncertain. 

  34. Od. iv. 5. 21. 

  35. Martial, iii. 63.: Bellus, foemineas totâ qui luce cathedras / Desidet, atque aliqua semper in aure sonat. 

  36. Terent. Hecyr. v. 4. 3.: Deus sum / Si hoc ita est. 

  37. Catull. Ixiv. 115. 

  38. Catull. xlvi. 

  39. Cp. the Littera Longa in Plaut. Aulul. I. i. 38. 

  40. Persius, iv. 13. Of. Martial, vii. 37. “Nosti mortiferum Quaestoris, Castrice, signum, / Est operse pretium discere theta novum.” 

  41. Alexander ab Alex. iii. 5. Per ⊙ defunctos in acie tribunes annotare prodiderunt. 

  42. M. Valerius Messala Corvinus, the “fulgentissimus juvenis” of Velleius, ii. 71. 

  43. The word κάκκαϐος is explained by Casaubon, Athen. i. c. 8. and iv. c. 20. ed. Schaefer. Olla and caccabus are the words in the Latin versions of 1 Sam. ii. 14. 

  44. So, perhaps, the hiatus may be supplied. 

  45. Cf. Cic. Tus. Quaest. v. 37., where the subject is treated at large. 

  46. Vol. i. p. 31. 

  47. Compare Ego nolo Caesar esse / Ambulare per pruinas, &c. and other similar effusions in Suetonius. Cf. Santen. ad Terentian. Maur. p. 182. 

  48. This word is doubtful. 

  49. This word is doubtful. 

  50. P.169. 

  51. The Oscan inscriptions will be found in Iorio's Viaggio a Pompei

  52. Juvenal, v. 34.; Martial, i. 106. Exuit annosa mores nomenque senecta. Heindorf, Hor. p. 212. 

  53. Galen ap. Bentl. Hor Od. III. xxi. 5. Cf. Petron. p. 59. Amphoras allatse quarum in cervicibus pittacia affixa cum hoc titulo, Falernum Opimianum annorum C. Cf. Turneb. Advers. i. 1. 

  54. xiii. 113. and 115. Cf. Harduin. Plin. N. H. xiv. 5. Caecubo generositas celeberrima in palustribus populetis sinu Amyclano (near Fundi). 

  55. Ode iii 21. 

  56. Tiraboschi, Storia, iii. 1. page 4. Leonardo Bruni soprannomato l’Aretino erudito e colto scrittore del XV. secolo pensò e lusingossi di dimostrare che la lingua Italiana sia antica al pari della Latina, e che amendue al tempo medesimo fossero usate in Roma: la prima dal rozzo popolo e ne' famigliari ragionamenti; la seconda dai dotti scrivendo e parlando nelle pubbliche assemblee. 

  57. Ibid. p.7., who supposes that the Italian language arose dall' abbandonare il parlar colto ed elegante, e dall' introdursi il popolar grossolano. 

  58. Vide Tertullian de Pallio, p.7. Salmas. 

Published on <o> future <o>, February 20, 2020.

Christopher Wordsworth, Inscriptiones Pompeianæ, or, Specimens and Facsimiles of Ancient Inscriptions Discovered on the Walls of Buildings at Pompeii, London, Murray, 1837.