Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.01.23

Maria Teresa Sblendorio Cugusi, L'uso stilistico dei composti nominali nei Carmina Latina Epigraphica. Quaderni di "Invigilata Lucernis", 25.   Bari:  Edipuglia, 2005.  Pp. 144.  ISBN 88-7228-422-8.  €18.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Evelyne Prioux, CNRS, HiSoMA, Lyon (
Word count: 3311 words

Maria Teresa Sblendorio Cugusi's latest contribution to the study of the carmina Latina epigraphica (henceforward CLE) focusses on the stylistic value of nominal compounds in Latin verse inscriptions. This new book provides very interesting material for the study of the carmina Latina epigraphica -- a currently burgeoning field, given that the project of a CIL XVIII, that aims to reorganise all Latin verse inscriptions, is in progress. As a matter of fact, M. T. Sblendorio Cugusi presents her book as a first sample of a much larger enquiry on the linguistic aspects of Latin verse inscriptions. Her new contribution is also framed as the result of a collaboration with Paolo Cugusi, who is expected to publish a much awaited corpus of the carmina Latina epigraphica post-buecheleriana, including ca. 2000 verse inscriptions that were not known to Bücheler-Lommatzsch.1 As a result, M. T. Sblendorio Cugusi has taken into account a remarkably large number of CLE: the documents she comments come from very heterogeneous media (Pompeian graffiti, funerary monuments, comments on works of art ...), from different times (from the 2nd cent. BC to the middle of the 6th cent. AD), and from different places (Rome, Italy, and the provinces).

Chapter One presents the author's approach and objectives, and defines the type of nominal compounds that will be taken into consideration in the book. The book aims at evaluating the level of stylistic elaboration involved by the use of nominal compounds in Latin verse inscriptions: this can be done by studying the various CLE that contain nominal compounds, but also by comparing the use of nominal compounds in the CLE with their use in other literary works of the same period. This approach, which is clearly inspired by the work of Puccioni,2 provides an illuminating insight into the study of the carmina epigraphica as a (para)literary genre: it is argued that the stylistic use of nominal compounds may help us in defining the characteristics of a kind of poetic language specific to Latin verse inscriptions. M. T. Sblendorio Cugusi's enquiry is also interesting in that it is based on a wide range of material: as expected, she considers the CLE in the syllogai published by Bücheler-Lommatzsch, Cholodniak, Engström and Zarker, as well as the Christian inscriptions gathered in ILCV (Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres) and ICVR (Inscriptiones Christianae Vrbis Romae), but she also takes into account the material gathered in Paolo Cugusi's forthcoming carmina Latina epigraphica post-buecheleriana.

Chapter Two consists of a table presenting the various compounds that will be studied -- 175 compounds found in more than 230 verse inscriptions. The material is organized in alphabetical order -- beginning with aequaeuus and ending with xylesphongium -- and the table provides references to the various CLE in which each compound can be found. The reader should be aware that, for obvious reasons, the form given in the table does not always present an accurate transcription of the form found in the inscription. The fact that the same word found in several CLE will be entered only once leads to some inconsistency in the presentation of the table. The author does indeed present restorations and lost parts in brackets, but, when a word is found in several CLE, the presentation follows the text found in the first inscription, whatever the word may look like in the other inscriptions: for example, the compound altit(h)ronus is attested in ICVR 4134, but in CLE 1448 = ILCV 1629, this same compound appears as the result of a restoration ([alti]tron(i)). Cugusi also writes archipresbiter where the inscription has archipresuiter.

Chapter Three ("valutazione stilistica del materiale", p. 25-82) is the longest chapter in the book; it provides a careful and precise analysis of each nominal compound to be found in the CLE. Cugusi comments on each term and compares the attestations found in the CLE with the attestations found in other literary texts. The material gathered by Cugusi is divided in four categories. Category A corresponds to compounds composed of a noun stem plus a present participle (e.g. siluicolens). Category B brings together a wide number of compounds formed of a noun stem plus a verb stem plus an o/a suffix (laetificus, caelicola). Category C gathers the compounds formed of two noun stems (aequaeuus, frondicomus). According to Oniga, these three categories are markedly poetic and are characteristic of an elevated register.3 M. T. Sblendorio offers a detailed analysis, that often reinforces Oniga's conclusions. The case of category C is especially interesting. The terms included in this category are extremely rare in prose and are "poeticisms". Some of the compounds of type C that can be found in the CLE are first attested in late Republican or in Augustean poetry (aequaeuus, alipes, longaeuus, primaeuus, bicornis, biformis, triformis, triceps, tergeminus, semifer): from a stylistic point of view, the use of such compounds is extremely significant -- all of them can be considered as marks of an elevated style, and they often involve effects of intertextuality (aequaeuus can be considered as a "virgilianism"). As noted by Cugusi, type C also contains a number of "technical words": under the term tecnicismi, the author describes specific Christian usages (e.g. archipresbiter), as well as architectural terms (e.g. arcisolium), and terms of a more obscure signification, such as [car]rucotechnites and pantorgana.

After having studied the three categories of compounds described as "altamente poetiche" by Oniga, Cugusi turns her attention to a fourth series of compounds: category D, which consists of a nominal stem, followed by a verbal stem, with no suffix (e.g. tibicen, carnifex). Whereas Oniga had noted that the compounds belonging to type D could be found equally in prose and in poetry of a rather modest level, Cugusi offers the argument that some of these compounds can be used as poeticisms in elevated contexts. Such is the case of triplex in CLE 1529 B and in Paul. Nol. Epist. 32, 13 and 15.

Chapter Four presents a chronological study of the nominal compounds found in the CLE. The chapter starts with a very useful table, which presents the compounds of Cugusi's catalogue in chronological order. This table thus provides dates for the inscriptions in which the compounds are found -- a very difficult task considering the diverse epigraphical findings with which the author deals. After this table, the chapter proceeds with a stimulating analysis: it is shown that during the late Republic and the Augustean period, nominal compounds are often found in epic and tragic poetry, but remain very rare in the CLE. Much the same can be said for the poetry composed in the 1st cent. AD: compound names of a high stylistic value are frequently found in high poetry, but remain rare in the CLE. Yet, a change can be observed as early as the Trajanic period, and this change will become more and more obvious towards the 2nd and 3rd centuries: a growing number of compound nouns can be found in the CLE of this period, and the CLE often provide the first attestations of neologisms that will appear much later in more established literary genres. The compounds that were one of the specific characteristics of epic and tragic poetry tend to become a common "marker" of poetic language. From the 4th century onwards, nominal compounds are increasingly numerous. They also tend to become "markers" of Christian themes in the text. This is true for "technical terms" linked to the structure of the Christian church (pontifex, archipresbiter...) but also for epithets of high stylistic value. This whole analysis should interest a wide audience, since it provides us with new clues for stylistic dating of Latin texts. For example, it would be most interesting to re-read the Anthologia latina in the light of Cugusi's conclusions.

Before turning to the last chapters of the book, I would like to make some reflections on the datings adopted by Cugusi. For instance, it can be interesting to compare the dates provided in Chapter Four with those proposed in Colofrancesco, Massaro and Ricci's Concordanze dei Carmina Latina Epigraphica.4 If one considers, as a sample, the CLE dated to the 2nd or 3rd century AD ("tra sec. II e sec. III"), the differences are spectacular, and show the effort that has been made in providing the reader with recent data. In Cugusi's book, the list contains CLE 266, 483, 1279, 1307, 1535 -- five inscriptions labelled as of uncertain date by Colofrancesco-Massaro-Ricci. This list also contains CLE 273, 543, 1996, three inscriptions for which Cugusi's dating is in line with the one proposed by Colofrancesco-Massaro-Ricci. They disagree on CLE 1557, which is not later than the 2nd century, according to Colofrancesco-Massaro-Ricci. When compared with other authoritative works, most of the dates proposed in this new book seem likely to be correct. To take an example, CLE 1279 = CIL II, 4314 = RIT 444 is dated by Alföldy to the 2nd century AD.

Some of the dating could be improved or discussed at greater length. CLE 1301 is placed among the inscriptions of uncertain date (p. 92). This "uncertain date" is due to the fact that the monument was long thought to be lost. But G. B. Waywell has produced a new publication of this grave altar after showing that it had found place in the Lever collection.5 In fact, as Waywell has shown, this inscription should be dated to the 1st or 2nd century AD: the former date corresponds to the stylistic dating of the grave altar and relief itself, whereas the latter date corresponds to the palaeographical characteristics of the inscription. CLE 1301 thus becomes one of the first attestations of the compound sarcophagus with the meaning of "funerary monument made of stone" (cf. Juv., Sat. 10). I would also like to mention two dates that might seem problematic. The Faustinus inscription found with the famous sculptures of Sperlonga is dated to the middle of the 4th century AD: for this dating, Cugusi refers (p. 71, n. 440) to Paolo Cugusi's discussion of the monument.6 To be brief, the Faustinus inscription has been dated to the 3rd or 4th century by a small number of scholars (most of them are specialists in the CLE): Krarup, Bendz, P. Cugusi, Courtney and now M. T. Cugusi, who interestingly brings new elements to support this dating with her general diachronic analysis of the use of nominal compounds (other arguments have been sought in the palaeography and in the metre of the text).7 And yet, such a late date is often rejected by archaeologists and art historians. Problematic as the dating of the various findings of Sperlonga may be, the Faustinus epigram is often seen as a Flavian poem,8 and it seems to me that such objections should have been mentionned in Cugusi's book. Another highly problematic inscription is CLE 346, an inscription dated by Cugusi to the 4th century (p. 89, n. 8), on the grounds of a comparison between its text and the text of a 4th century carmen musiuum found at Farningham (UK), and included in Zarker's sylloge (Zarker 121 = R. P. Wright, JRS, XL, 1950, 117 = AE 1951, 131). The comparison between the two texts can be made on two grounds: both texts exemplify the literary culture of Roman Britain in late Antiquity (CLE 346 was found in the river Severn) and both texts are directly related to mythological images (CLE 346 was written around the medallions of a lost metallic vessel, and Zarker 121 is written on a mosaic representing the rape of Europa). Fruitful as the comparison between the two artefacts may be, I am not sure that such elements are sufficient for dating CLE 346. A more relevant argument could be sought in the stylistic analysis of the lost vessel (a plate was indeed provided in the editio princeps).9

To sum up this review of the fourth chapter, the datings on which Cugusi's analysis is based are generally reliable and well documented. Several could have been improved or presented with more caution, but such cases are isolated and are of little weight if one considers the number of examples treated.

Chapter Five analyzes the geographical distribution of the CLE containing nominal compounds: with a notable exception in the 3rd century the vast majority of these compounds were found in Rome. Chapter Six compares the proportion of nominal compounds found in apparently pagan texts with the proportion found in Christian inscriptions. From the 4th century onwards these compounds are almost exclusively found in inscriptions containing references to Christian themes.

Chapter Seven presents a detailed analysis of a few inscriptions that prove to be particularly interesting, since they present more than one compound or lead to specific conclusions on the stylistic possibilities that are offered by the use of nominal compounds. Cugusi thus focusses on seven CLE: CLE 1109, 1233, 1526, 1529, 1557, 2151 and Zarker 156.

In general, this book is edited with great care and accuracy. Before turning to other considerations on this interesting contribution to the study of CLE, some remarks ought to be made on the presentation of the epigraphical material. In the course of the book, references to the CLE are given under the form of abbreviations alluding to the existing collections.1 For the sake of brevity, references to the CIL or to an editio princeps are only provided for the poems that have not yet been included in one of the existing CLE syllogai: e.g. poems found in CIL XI, and isolated findings of the last century, such as the Faustinus epigram of Sperlonga. The book offers no table of concordances, which may create some difficulty for researchers who are not familiar with the study of CLE. Cugusi's book is designed to be used with a good library at hand, and partly relies on one's ability to decode a reference thanks to the various concordances which are carefully cited in the bibliography. For instance, the reader will have to decode references like Zarker 133, and is thus expected to work with Zarker's unpublished Princeton dissertation, or with Mastidoro's concordance.10

As can be seen, Cugusi's book expects a "diligent lecteur". When interested in any specific text, readers will have to be careful about the way CLE are edited. Cugusi's use of diacritical signs may indeed be misleading or ambiguous. A striking example is provided by the Pompeian graffito labelled Zarker 156 = CIL IV, 8873 cited on p. 117 as follows: homnes nego deos, uinca, uinca pantorgana Tal[ / citaredus canta Apolo, tibicina nempe ego. / came(l)o(p)ardus abet cor ut Achilles ob clar{r}ita(tem)./sum rabid(a). ia(m) Volcanus e(m) medicina est. By checking the inscription in the CIL, the reader will find out that it was first and better edited in the Notizie degli Scavi (NSc 1927, p. 107, no. 104). In the NSc, the reader will find a somewhat different text, and important explanations on the meaning of this strange CLE -- explanations that s/he may have wished to find, in the first place, in Cugusi's book. For such difficult texts, authors should also carefully follow the epigraphical conventions provided by S. Panciera in the Supplementa Italica11: these conventions have indeed been designed to avoid the ambiguity of parentheses and brackets, through the use of a wider range of signs. In Cugusi's text, the parentheses are used to reintroduce some of the omitted letters (e.g. came(l)o(p)ardus, ia(m)), to indicate the supplementation of a line whose end is lost (e.g. clar{r}ita(tem)), and, possibly, to mark a mistaken letter (e(m) pro en (?)). Such ambiguities could be easily avoided, if further treatments of the CLE matched recent epigraphical conventions.

To turn to non-epigraphical remarks, this short monograph often suggests interesting possibilities. Sometimes, these ideas are not explored fully and are left only implicit. Three examples may be chosen. On p. 119, Cugusi argues that technical compounds may not be systematically devoid of any poetic value: this assessment softens the somewhat blunt dichotomy that tends to be drawn between technical compounds (stylobata, thuricremus...) and poetic compounds (omnipotens, armiger...). This remark could provide an interesting clue as to how to study the way in which technical literature and poetic texts were sometimes closely intertwined. In the same paragraph, Cugusi focusses on the example of a poetic prayer painted on the walls of a Roman mithraeum, while a number of other paragraphs are devoted to the specific use of nominal compounds in Christian texts or to the study of an inscribed hymn to Diana (CLE 1526 = CIL II, 2660 = ILS 3259). It might have been interesting to assess in more general terms the value that was given to compounds in religious texts -- a value that may sometimes be understood as an echo of Greek hymnology and to the use of compounds as epithets in Greek aretalogies. Moreover, such allusions to Greek words could have been studied in a more synthetic way: the reader will indeed find tantalizing remarks on the use of Grecisms at various places in the book (e.g. on pp. 70-71 and on p. 75).

It is my opinion that a point not directly addressed in the book could also bring further clues to study the use of nominal compounds: although the author rarely mentions differences in media and archaeological contexts, one could make the hypothesis that the use of compounds also varies according to their relationship to monuments and images. Quite a number of the compounds studied by Cugusi were indeed found in image-related inscriptions. A non-exhaustive list may be easily provided: CLE 346 comments on a series of mythological medallions ; CLE 350 was written on a Pompeian painting ; the Faustinus epigram is directly related to the famous sculptures of Sperlonga ; the funerary altar that bears CLE 1301 is adorned with a series of reliefs that may be compared to the poetic images found in the text ; the same may be said of the monument that bears CLE 1279 ; CLE 1529 comments on the paintings of the mithraeum under the Church of Santa Prisca in Rome. Zarker 156 = CIL IV, 8873 which seems to bear an incorrect version of the word camelopardus is written next to a drawing that could evoke the image of a giraffe. Given that image-related CLE are rare, one might possibly think that nominal compounds were used in such contexts because of their ability to convey poetic images and to make a description more vivid: I would therefore argue that nominal compounds were one of the devices used to induce a comparison between poetic images and sculpted or painted images. The differences in media and contexts may also help to determine the stylistic value of the various compounds found in the CLE. Zarker 156 = CIL IV, 8873 (a poem studied on p. 117) is again a good example: the fact that this poem is a Pompeian graffito directly related to a drawing may provide important elements in evaluating its remarkable use of four compounds in four lines. The poem is at the same time vulgar and poetic: the angry tibicina who wrote this poem after defeat by a citharoedus in a musical contest (pantorgana) uses the compounds to confer strength and acrimony on her accusations. Vulgarity and vividness of image work hand in hand. Her rival is efficiently transformed into some kind of ridiculous hybrid: a coward Achilles and a giraffe playing the cithara in a musical contest involving all sort of instruments.

With a book of this interest and originality, such differences of view are unavoidable: they also show that Cugusi provides material that will stimulate reflection on the language and style of the CLE. The numerous tables in which the author presents and organizes her findings are always clear and prove more effective than many words. This short book thus makes a worthwhile and interesting contribution to the study of Latin verse inscriptions and opens up intriguing possibilities for studying the evolution of poetic language.


1.   F. Bücheler, Carmina Latina Epigraphica, I-II, Leipzig, 1895-1897 (with a Supplementum (= Carmina Latina Epigraphica, III) edited by E. Lommatzsch, Leipzig, 1926 (I, II, III repr. Amsterdam, 1972). In this review, abbreviations are used according to F. Bérard, P. Petitmengin (et al.), Guide de l'épigraphiste, Paris, 2000 (3rd edition). CLE plus a number, Bücheler and Bücheler-Lommatzsch are used as references to Bücheler's sylloge and to its supplement ; Zarker is used as a reference to J. W. Zarker, Studies in the " Carmina Latina Epigraphica", Diss. Princeton, 1958.
2.   G. Puccioni, "L'uso stilistico dei composti nominali latini", Atti della Accademia nazionale dei Lincei (Memorie. Classe di Scienze morali storiche filologiche), ser. 7, 4, 1944, p. 371-481.
3.   R. Oniga, I composti nominali latini, Bologna, 1988.
4.   P. Colafrancesco, M. Massarro, M. Lisa Ricci, Concordanze dei Carmina Latina Epigraphica, Bari, 1986.
5.   G. B. Waywell, "A Roman grave altar rediscovered", AJA, 86, 1982, p. 238-242 ; Id., CSIR Great Britain, vol. III. 1, The Lever and Hope Sculptures. Monumenta artis Romana, no. 16, Berlin, 1986, p. 24-25.
6.   P. Cugusi, Aspetti letterari dei carmina epigraphica, Bologna, 1985, p. 46 sqq.
7.   P. Krarup, "L'iscrizione di Faustinus a Sperlonga", Analecta Romana Instituti Danici, 3, 1965, p. 73-84 ; Id. "Ancora l'iscrizione di Faustinus a Sperlonga", Analecta Romana Instituti Danici, 4, 1967, p. 89-92 ; Id., "The Faustinus-Inscription from Sperlonga", in: Acta of the Fifth international congress of Greek and Latin epigraphy (Cambridge 1967), Oxford, 1971, p. 215-218. G. Bendz, "Vergil in Sperlonga", Opuscula Romana, 7, 1969, p. 53-63, esp. 62-63. E. Courtney, Musa Lapidaria. A selection of Latin Verse Inscriptions, American Classical Studies, Atlanta, 1995, no. 49.
8.   The entire bibliography would be far too long to be cited here. For a recent point of view, see F. Coarelli, "Sperlonga e Tiberio", in: Reuixit ars, Rome, 1996, p. 470-500 and 519-520.
9.   Anon. (Jacobus), "Antique Vase found in the Bed of the Severn", Monthly Magazine, 59, 1825, p. 218-219 with plate. Comparanda may be sought among silver vessels dated to the 4th and 5th centuries. If correct, this dating would induce us to consider CLE 346 as one of the earliest poems ever written in Leonine lines.
10.   M. R. Mastidoro, Concordanza dei Carmina Latina epigraphica compresi nella silloge di J. W. Zarker, Amsterdam, 1991.
11.   S. Panciera, "Struttura dei supplementi e segni diacritici dieci anni dopo", Supplementa Italica, n.s., 8, Rome, 1991, p. 9-21.

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