Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.3.12

Edward Courtney, Musa Lapidaria. A Selection of Latin Verse, Inscriptions. American Classical Studies, 36. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995. Pp. x, 457. ISBN 0-7885-0142-9 (pb).

Reviewed by Maryline Parca, Department of the Classics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This anthology, for which its author envisages an audience primarily "of graduate students and young professors" (p. ix), is meant to bridge a gap between historians and philologists. The verse inscriptions which it gathers are treated both as documents of historical and social import and as texts suffused with a degree of artistic aspiration which summons a literary and philological approach. The selection was guided by the objective criteria that the poems be complete and not Christian, as well as by the author's sense of the particular wealth of their contents or of their uniqueness.

The book opens with several short sections. Bibliography and abbreviations come first (pp. 1-6), followed by an overview of previous scholarly treatments of Latin epigraphic verse and of the defining traits of such poetry (pp. 7-10) and a discussion of issues of textual criticism (pp. 11-18), dating (pp. 19-21), and meter (pp. 22-31).

The presentation of the bibliographical information is idiosyncratic and often inadequate. The place of publication is omitted throughout (following the practice in JRS but not that of most publications in Classics). Some titles are unexplainably abridged (so A. Otto's Die Sprichwörter der Römer) while most are quoted in full; others are truncated and therefore possibly misleading (who, on the basis of the title Die griechische Personnamen [sic] in Rom, without the subtitle Ein Namenbuch, would anticipate the three volumes of H. Solin's indispensable repertory?). Several abbreviations are coined, such as the space saver CL for Collection Latomus and Lex Icon (though LIMC has won general acceptance). An inconsistent use of capital letters in titles is also noted throughout the volume: some French and Italian titles display an admixture of lower case and upper case letters (e.g., Bassi, Demougin) while some are entirely capitalized (e.g., Pikhaus). To this well-informed bibliographical guide I would add the single most important series on Roman topography to appear in the last decade: the Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae (or LTUR) edited by M. Steinby (v. 1. A-C, v. 2. D-G, v. 3. H-O, Rome 1993-).

In the section on "textual criticism and presentation of inscriptions," C. pointedly addresses the question of the origin and nature of errors in epigraphic texts (pp. 11-15), outlines the main features of lapidary scripts from the republican period to the fourth century C.E. (p. 16),1 and describes the critical signs employed in the texts of his selection (pp. 17-18). Despite the claim that the volume's scope and intention free its author from the need to use "the full battery of critical signs which technical epigraphical publications require and on the use of which not all are agreed" (p. 17), one may question C.'s use of the double pointed brackets << >> to indicate text deliberately erased on the stone when all epigraphists agree that double square brackets [[ ]] be reserved for that purpose.2 In the pages devoted to the dating of inscriptions, C. lists some of the criteria -- graphical, orthographical, phonological and morphological -- which help to date inscriptions, especially the republican ones. On the topic of "tall letters," one can now add C. Ricci, Lettere montanti nelle iscrizioni latine di Roma. Un'indagine campione (Opuscula Epigraphica 3, Rome 1993). The introduction closes (pp. 22-31) with a very useful survey of the most notable divergences between the meter of inscriptional Latin poetry and classical versification with respect to prosody and according to each of the major metrical forms encountered in verse inscriptions (dactylic, iambic, trochaic, and saturnian).

A selection of 204 verse inscriptions -- twenty-three republican, the rest of imperial date -- constitutes the core of the book; the text and translation, on facing pages, occupy pages 34-197 and the commentary fills pages 199-409, an unfelicitous arrangement as it forces the reader constantly to flip back and forth in the thick book. The inscriptions of republican date (part I) comprise texts in Saturnians (A), the Scipio epitaphs (B), and other honorific and funerary verses (C). The imperial texts (Part II) are divided into eleven categories (labeled A through L) which range from "Emperors and Notables" (A), "Inns, Travel, and Tourism" (D), to "Trades and Professions" (H) and "Epitaphs of Animals" (L). The deliberate omission of a section on women is explained early on, "this would have been amorphous because of the large number of epitaphs devoted to them" (p. x). One may muse over this rationale and wonder whether the ubiquity of epitaphs does not make a section (II K) devoted to them similarly unwieldy. The lives and pursuits of women, unlike those of "notables" (II A) and of "animals" (II L), do not evidently comprise enough points of interest to merit separate consideration.

The items in the selection are numbered sequentially and in the commentary each entry begins with the item's catalogue number(s) in the corpora (a piece of information which could have been introduced alongside the running number in the text and translation section as well), followed by a bibliography of select previous discussions of the inscription and of any existing photographic documentation. The commentary proper is prefaced with a mention of the provenance and a brief paraphrase of the text, followed by a fine line-by-line literary exegesis, in which C. is attentive to historical context and prosopographical matters, and to issues relevant to ancient social, legal and religious history.

The republican section opens with eight 'Saturnian inscriptions,' among which the song of the Arval Brethen [no. 1 = CIL I(2) 2] whose structure, diction, rhythm and ritual function receive an exhaustive treatment and are aptly compared with the prayer to Mars preserved in Cato, De Agr. 141.2-3. The nominative plural form "magistreis" in the prose text of no. 2 [= CIL I(2) 364] deserves a note ad loc. before it can be adduced as a parallel for Vertuleieis in CIL I(2) 1531, no. 6 in the selection. No. 3, the Mummius inscription CIL I(2) 626, which C. believes to be in prose, is a fit companion to the texts commemorative of military triumphs presented in nos. 4 and 5 (the latter being the collection of literary references to the so-called tabulae triumphales already summarily commented upon by A. Traina, Comoedia. Antologia della Palliata [Padova 1960] 157-8). Nos. 6 and 7 [= CIL I(2) 1531 and 632] are two dedications to Hercules, with the hexametric no. 7 quoted as a parallel for the preceding Saturnians; fine translations obtain and the instructive relation which Buecheler recognized between no. 6 and Verg., Aen. 8. 364 is happily revived. Next come the Scipionic epitaphs (nos. 9-13 = CIL I(2) 8-9, 6-7, 10, 11 and 15), the discussion of which opens with a description of the physical configuration of the hypogaeum, an outline of the probable sequence of texts and a sketch of a tentative chronology of the tomb and its inscribed contents.3 The elucidation of linguistic features is consistently clear and detailed and the observations on the connotations, literary and political, of the diction are remarkably nuanced and perceptive, except for the note (one unhelpful reference to Latte) on the apex worn by the flamen Dialis in CIL I(2) 10.1 where Servius, ad Aen. 2. 683 would have sufficed. Extremely regrettable also is the omission of two indispensable treatments of the texts under consideration: A. Ernout, Recueil de textes latins archai=ques (Paris 1957) and E .H. Warmington, Remains of Old Latin. Vol IV. Archaic Inscriptions (Cambridge MA-London 1940, repr. 1953). Such omission is particularly glaring given the considerable overlap between C.'s selection and that of his precedecessors (Warmington translates no fewer than eighteen of the twenty-three texts chosen by C.) and the relevance of Ernout's linguistic notes to any treatment of archaic Latin (Ernout discusses 15 of C.'s 23 texts).

The other republican inscriptions include the verses praising the painter of the Temple of Juno at Ardea (no. 14* known only from Pliny, NH 35.155), an epigram commemorating the hauling of ships over the Isthmus in Rome's campaign against Cilician pirates (no. 15 = CIL I(2) 2662) and several epitaphs (nos. 16-23). In 14*.1, C.'s suggestion that the vexed "loco" be replaced by "Iovis" is palaeographically difficult and detracts from Juno, the actual dedicatee, whose name occurs in line 2 (Reginae Iunonis supremi coniugis templum); the emendation is meant to provide a suitable noun for the adjective supremi ("the temple of Queen Juno, wife of Highest Jupiter"), but the line could perhaps read "... of Queen Juno, [wife] of the Sovereign consort" (with an ellipsis similar to the one in CIL VI 1274: Caeciliae, / Q(uinti) Cretici f(iliae), / Metellae, Crassi). Brief treatments of no. 17** = CIL I(2) 1211 already exist: Warmington, ROL, IV no. 18 and S.B. Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves (New York 1995(2)) 199, and the first recorded funerary laudatio of a woman is that of Popilia (in 102 B.C.) mentioned in Cic. De or. 2.44. A list of the principal (attested) laudationes can be found in M. Durry, Eloge fune\bre d'une matrone romaine (Paris 1950) 65-66. To the remark that the epithet frugi said of the freedman commemorated on no. 18 (= CIL I(2) 1210) is often applied to freedmen and slaves, one should add that the homonymous laudatory cognomen is almost exclusively attested among the republican nobility (Kajanto, Latin Cognomina 63 and 253). To the discussion of no. 20 (= CIL I(2) 1214) add G. Sanders' article (reprinted in Lapides memores [Faenza 1991] 427 ff.) mentioned in the note on line 5. Finally, an explicit mention that no. 23 is a graffito would have elucidated the puzzling casualness of the 'epitaph' (of none other than P. Clodius Pulcher!) scratched on a wall at the entrance of the theater at Terracina.

The selection of inscriptions of imperial date is similarly guided by a desire to discuss interesting texts seldom read. The section concerned with emperors, notables, matters of state and public buildings (nos. 24-37) thus includes a Campanian inscription (no. 24 = CIL X 3757) documenting the cult of Augustus' adopted sons during their lifetime; the poem (no. 31 = CIL VI 1163) on the base of the obelisk brought from Egypt to Rome by Constantius; the (pedantic) epitaph (no. 32 = CIL VI 1779) of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus who seems to have been engaged in the correction of manuscripts of pagan classics, though there is no trace of him in the ms. subscriptions owed to the circle of Symmachus; and the verses (no. 36 = CIL III 735) which Theodosius II had inscribed above the Golden Gate at Constantinople. From among the texts written on private buildings and objects (nos. 38-56), of note is the couplet said to have been inscribed on the table of Saint Augustine (no. 55*) and which is found reproduced in a late antique inscription from former Yugoslavia.

Among the poems with literary, educational and philosophical associations (nos. 57-70A) is a riddle (CIL IV 1877) modeled on, and playing upon, Greek banking vocabulary in which the verb similo occurs intransitively. We also find the epitaph (CIL VI 35887) of Mus (a cognomen derived from fauna: Kajanto, Latin Cognomina 330), whose syllogistic form imitates an epigram ascribed to Epicharmus. The wall inscription (CIL IV 9131) from the shop of the cleaner Fabius Ululitremulus occasions a fun treatment of the relationship between owls and cleaners and of the link between the line itself, fullones ululamque cano, non arma virumq(ue), and the image of Aeneas and Anchises painted on the fac(s)ade of the workshop. The Virgilian sounding epitaph of Antigenides (CIL XI 6435) is that of a verna whose cognomen is rare (Solin I p. 21 records only one instance in the urban inscriptions); the form Antigenidis in line 1 is probably not the genitive of the more common Antigenes (as translated on p. 290) and the "barbarous" declension of cognomina in -ides according to the third declension is attested epigraphically as early as the Julio-Claudian period (e.g., Solin I p. 471 s.v. Diomedes).

Little need be added to the comments on verses documenting bar life at Pompeii and tourism in Egypt (nos. 71-76), but I would delete the irrelevant reference to the rights conferred by the ius trium liberorum from the discussion of exemptions conferred by imperial favor to men (such as access to the consulate prior to the minimal age of 32 documented in no. 74 = CIL III 21). The vulgarisms, metrical anomalies and literary echoes found in the erotic texts (nos. 77-102), nearly all scratched or painted on walls and mostly from Pompeii, receive an exhaustive treatment, but notes on 'technical' terms (paticus/pathicus, edo) omit A. Richlin's and J. N. Adams' work, and on the male name Falcula in no. 100 see Kajanto, Latin Cognomina 25 and 342. The selection on municipal politics and institutions (nos. 103-110) ranges from appeals not to deface electoral posters to patronal boasting about handouts of food and drink. There is also a wife's account of her deceased's husband political vicissitudes (no. 108) apropos of which the relationship between local domini and municipal patronus could have been explored, and concerning the epitaph of a member of a local iuventus (no. 110) one may add E. Eyben, Restless Youth in Ancient Rome (London-New York 1993) 81-97.

The texts relative to games, performances and performers (nos. 111-124) include verses commemorating charioteers, a woman organ-player who gave public recitals, actors, toreadors, and a juggler. Here again the selected curiosities receive fine notes. On the topic of children entertainers (as in no. 113*), however, one might add J. Gardner, Women in Roman Law and Society (Bloomington-Indianapolis 1991) 246-248, and one might also correct the nomenclature of the young freedman commemorated in CIL VI 10097 (no. 123). Ti. Claudius Esquilina Aug. Tiberinus cannot be "Tiberius Claudius Tiberinus, Augustalis of the Esquiline tribe" (so on p. 121) since the title Aug(ustalis) usually signifies that an inscription originates outside of Rome. The correct reading here is Aug(usti) <l(ibertus)>, and the omission was already pointed out by Henzen and de Rossi in their 1882 edition of the text. Ti. Claudius Tiberinus was an imperial freedman, of Claudius or of Nero.

Among the individuals in the trades and professions mentioned in verse inscriptions (nos. 125-133) are an expert at replacing eyes in statues, a 'stunt' soldier, a dealer in goat skins, a doctor, and a carpenter. On the involvement of freedmen in the purple trade documented in AE 1972, 74 (= no. 133), see M. Parca, The Franchetti Collection in Rome (Opuscula Epigraphica 6, Rome 1995) 47-50, and on paired mythological names, such as etus and Amphio, commented upon apropos of the dedicatee's cognomen in the same text, see H. Solin, Namenpaare. Eine Studie zur roemischen Namengebung (Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum 90, Helsinki 1990).

The section devoted to religion (nos. 134-165) comprises verses honoring Hercules (whose filiation Silvani nepos in no. 135 is otherwise unattested), consecrations of elephant tusks to pater Liber, dedications of antlers to Diana, praises of Vestal Virgins, and poems to Priapus. Little need be added to the informed notes on literary echoes, metrical anomalies, and religious issues, though the translation of Greek texts quoted alongside the Latin (no. 159) or utilized in the discussion thereof (no. 160) would have been in order. Particularly welcome are the texts which testify to the syncretism prevalent in the later imperial period, such as the assimilation of deified Antinous to the Celtic god Belenus in no. 158, the identification of Jupiter with Taranis in no. 161, or the conflation between Virgo and Dea Syria in no. 164.

The range of verse epitaphs (nos. 166-199) is also remarkably broad. The selection illustrates traditional themes (such as the ephemeral nature of human existence or the inconsolable grief of parents over a child), features pieces ringing with Virgilian echoes, documents the rich man's arrogant pride (thus no. 199A, the "longest existing Latin verse epitaph") as well as the unheroic ways of dying of the humble. While "nutritor plus quam genitor" in no. 179. 12 (= CIL VI 19007) is aptly rendered as "rearer rather than father," the individual need not be the deceased's stepfather (so on p. 377) for child minders in Rome were often of servile or freed status, and recourse to child minders occurred at all social levels. On the epigraphical evidence for male nurses in Rome, see K.R. Bradley, "Child Care at Rome: The Role of Men," in Discovering the Roman Family (New York-Oxford 1991) 37-75. The use of "coniunx" in no. 180. 10 and 19 (= CIL VI 12652) does not necessarily imply marriage since it was common among the servile and freed to refer to a lifelong companion with that noun: M. Moraboti, "Etude de stratégies serviles." in Parenté et stratégies familiales dans l'antiquité romaine (CEFR 129, Rome 1990) 439-446. On embalming, mentioned in no. 186 (= CIL VI 30102), see now: D. B. Counts, "Regum externorum consuetudine: The Nature and Function of Embalming in Rome," ClAnt 15 (1996) 189-202.

Several epitaphs of horses and dogs (nos. 200-204) are discussed with an expert sense for the humanising strategies at work, the admixture of elevated diction and less grand language, and the obvious literary debts. Of interest also is the bibliography on recently published new such poems.

The volume ends (pp. 411-457) with several indices (places; personal names; military and administrative terms; religion; grammar and style; significant Latin words and phrases; literary matters; a general index; an index of beginnings; concordances) and four maps featuring the provenances of the texts in the selection. An entry for hapax legomena would have been welcome since the following new words are signaled along the way: sereneficus and peroccultus in 26; coniuuenes in 114; Iouigena in 138; altifrons in 141; cornigera (noun) in 142; omnisata and falcitenens in 151; canistriferae in 184; frugea (=frugifera) in 188; cerineus and florisapus in 199.

Producing a flawless camera-ready manuscript is no mean feat and, given its length, C.'s volume is relatively free of typographical errors (p. 19: cross-reference with p. 16 (not p. 18); p. 131: translation of line 4 of text should be "knew"; p. 199 and 208: Roma repubblicana; p. 200 (penultimate paragraph): occurrence; p. 213: Hercules Victor at 3.9 and not 3.4; p. 321: superfluous a after "This"; p. 329: read Leppin, Histrionen; p. 330: read Leppin and not Lippen; p. 362 (init.): de Vries (on 158); p. 374: (jardins) romains; p. 402: suggests). The format, however, leaves a fair amount to be desired. One deplores the homely capital letters used for emphasis in select Latin words: quolUndam and agE(n)dai on p. 206, or aidilEs, merEtod, and co(n)sOl at the end of p. 221. The subheadings (a) and (b) on p. 300 have no pendants in the text & translation section where they should have appeared on p. 92; lines 10-11 of no. 136 appear twice on pp. 132 and 134; the "unbracketed" transcript of no. 183 suggests that the Latin text is complete while we are told that only the first halves of 1-12 survive (p. 381).

Few reproaches can be addressed to the elegant and precise translations, but I would point out several omissions and offer small suggestions. The translation of no. 15 omits the second neque (line 1) and pro consule (line 3); crinitus is left out in no. 26 (line 2); in no. 70 the name of the deceased is alternately translated as Antigenes and Antigenides; lines 8-9 of no. 108 might be translated "great envy issued from his title; the citizens, like managers, tried to drive their patron out." In no. 110 "He lived nineteen years" (line 4) is not translated; and in no. 119 B, line 19 "The course of destiny is invincible" might be a better rendering. The translation of no. 120 omits iuuenis (line 2) and Latona in no. 139, line 2, Aug(ustae) in the preamble of no. 141, and v(ir) p(erfectissimus) in no. 161 are similarly left out of the English. In the prose subscription to no. 133 "... [con]libertus et socius uiuus [hoc] monumentum fecit ..." must be translated "... fellow freedman and partner, had this monument built during his lifetime ..." (rather than "fellow-freedman and partner in life"), and in no. 180 olim (line 12) may be better taken as "once." The first word of no. 181 and the first line of no. 190 are not translated.

C.'s Musa is remarkable for its chronological breadth and geographical scope, the wide range of topics which it tackles and the wealth of information which it provides on provenance, transmission, prosopographical matters, metrical practice, lexical use, and poetic allusions. Some of its weaknesses derive from these same qualities: it attempts much more than can be satisfactorily realized in a single volume. It is nonetheless a book which students of Latin epigraphy and of Latin poetry, young and old, will profitably consult.    


1. For an examination of the epigraphic production in pre-imperial Rome, see S. Panciera, "La produzione epigrafica di Roma in età repubblicana. Le officine lapidarie," Acta Colloquii Epigraphici Latini (Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum 104, Helsinki 1995), pp. 319-42.  

2. Clear and succinct descriptions of epigraphic editorial conventions can be found in A. E. Gordon, Illustrated Introduction to Latin Epigraphy, Berkeley-Los Angeles-London 1983), pp. 234-235 and L. Keppie, Understanding Roman Inscriptions (Baltimore 1991), p. 140. The authoritative discussion of the diacritical signs to be used in the transcription of epigraphic texts is that of S. Panciera, "Struttura dei supplementi e segni diacritici dieci anni dopo," Supplementa Italica n.s. 8 (Rome 1991), pp. 9-21.  

3. This complex material is being considered anew in H. I. Flower, Ancestor Masks and Aristocratic Power in Roman Culture (Oxford 1996), pp. 166-180.