BMCR 2005.04.58

An Introduction to Wall Inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum: Introduction. Inscriptions with Notes. Historical Commentary. Vocabulary

, An introduction to wall inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2005. xlvi, 136 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm. ISBN 086516570X $29.00 (pb).

The dipinti and graffiti of the Campanian cities buried by Mt. Vesuvius in A. D. 79, though not all too easily accessible (especially for the beginner), are among the most fascinating inscriptional texts preserved from Roman antiquity. The epigraphy of the walls from these cities has been gathered in the fourth volume of the CIL, which inspired numerous minor collections in various languages.1 Some of these collections earned scholarly plaudits, others are mere compilations especially of more vulgar pieces among the inscriptions which seemed attractive to a broader public. What is missing so far is a selective introduction to the wall inscriptions equipped with edition and commentary for academic teaching and learning.

Wallace’s book, at first glance, might seem to be designed to fill this gap. His aim was “to provide Latinists with a reasonably comprehensive introduction to wall inscriptions from the Campanian cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum”, since “there is much to be learned about Latin and about the Roman world from these inscriptions, particularly the graffiti, of which a good portion was written by less educated members of society” (p. v).2 In an introduction of some 35 pages, Wallace covers more or less general aspects of his material. In Section 1 (p. ix sqq.) he gives an introduction to the genres of wall inscriptions, namely dipinti (painted inscriptions), graffiti (carved inscriptions) and their various subspecies. Section 2 (p. xxiv sqq.) is an account of phonological, morphological, and syntactical issues related to the inscriptions; unfortunately no reference is given to any of the standard works on Latin (and Romance) phonology and morphology. Discussion concerning the nature of certain features is suppressed. In the subsequent Section 3 (p. xxxvii sqq.) the organization of the main part of the book is laid out. In the subsections ‘Conventions in Inscriptions’ and ‘Noteworthy Features’ (p. xl sqq.) Wallace reflects on his editorial principles. He adopted the common diacritical signs, but he did so in quite a meager way: neither ligatures, nor graphical peculiarities like I longa or apices are indicated. Whatever one may think about this practice (I personally find it unacceptable for any serious edition), one must blame the author for his decision not to resolve any abbreviations in the texts (no justification given): he downright refuses to do his job as an editor of epigraphical texts. — The selection of scholarly work in the bibliography (p. xliii sqq.) in general is a sound one, but one misses e. g. Chiavia’s 2002 study of the Programmata or Langner’s Antike Graffitizeichnungen. Castrén’s book on the Ordo populusque Pompeianus has been slightly revised in 1982, and Varone’s Erotica Pompeiana appeared in 2002 in a revised English version). For some metrical inscriptions reference to Courtney’s Musa lapidaria would have been advisable, and for linguistic needs also e. g. Baldi’s Foundations of Latin might have deserved mention. In general, reference to major collections such as Dessau’s ILS and Bücheler’s CLE would have been highly welcome.

The main part of the book consists of the edition and commentary on a total of 116 dipinti (114 from Pompeii, 2 from Herculaneum) and 237 graffiti (222 from Pompeii, 15 from Herculaneum), based especially on CIL IV. Each entry follows the same scheme: reference to CIL IV, localization; text; brief commentary. Each main chapter is divided into minor sections where inscriptions of similar content or interest are gathered. (But what are ‘Miscellaneous Graffiti’, p. 83 sqq.?)

In many instances one cannot really be content with the commentaries. They tend to be by far too short and incomplete, and I also observed many inaccuracies here. (Wallace also does not usually indicate the source of his information, although much has been said earlier by others. But with respect to the bibliography at the end of the introduction, one may find this a minor quibble.)3 I cannot give a full account of all shortcomings and inaccuracies. The following highly selective catalogue may however illustrate my objections.

# I 1 ( CIL IV 61): False localization, read VIII 5, 31.4 Right at the beginning Wallace’s practice not to resolve any abbreviation proves to be idiosyncratic: Why “M: abbrev. for Marcum, praenomen, acc. sg. masc.” in the commentary instead of M(arcum) in the text? The explanation is childish. (I do not give any further examples for this issue.) The word order of faci(atis) oro uos would have deserved a brief note.

# I 2 ( CIL IV 103): False localization, read VII 1, 18/20. The note “Phoebus: cognomen of Greek origin” is not really helpful, and it does not promote the understanding of the inscription either.

# I 3 ( CIL IV 120): Vatia’s candidacy does not date “probably … to the last ten years of the city”, but more precisely to either A. D. 77 or 79. The abbreviation fac(iatis) instead of f(aciatis) would have deserved a note.

# II 1 ( CIL IV 1227): Wallace repeats the (absurd) communis opinio that this piece was written by a tourist visiting Pompeii. The text, however, was found in the peristyle of the so-called Casa di Vesta; how would a tourist get there? One must regard this inscription as a repetition of CIL IV 9849, a (probably) painted inscription from the popular tavern of Euxinus, combined with a pentameter more or less spontaneously invented and added by the scribbler. (I am going to deal with this in extenso elsewhere.) See also below on # II 145.

# II 17 ( CIL IV 4118): See on # II 159.

# II 43 ( CIL IV 4765): Mau ad loc. noted erroneously that ” ardalio pro ardelio hic primum occurit”; Wallace absurdly thinks that this is “probably a misspelling for ardelio”. The first occurence, however, is Phaedr. 2, 5, 1, and ardalio beyond doubt is the original form, while ardelio is secondary; see TLL s. v. ardelio, 481, 20 sqq.

# II 45 ( CIL IV 4993): Wallace arbitrarily interprets Ampliatus Pedania fur [est]. Ampliatus is a common slave name, while Pedanius Pedania is not (cf. Schulze, Eigennamen 365. 533); it seems more likely then that a slave called Ampliatus is denounced here.

# II 92 ( CIL IV 1679): No reference given to the Addenda on CIL IV p. 463. 704; no discussion of whether this is a verse inscription (argued e. g. by Wick). Various difficulties in the reading are not indicated; note e. g. that the reverse S of l. 13 was deleted already by the ancient scribbler, while Wallace neither notes that it was written inversely, nor offers an explanation how this deletion might be explained (he himself deletes the following C instead!). Supplying valeas after Castrensi, as suggested in the commentary, is arbitrary.

#II 145 (Giordano 38): No explanation given for h[oc] instead of h[uc]. Wallace’s reference to # II 1 is problematic, to say the least, since the pentameter is a different one; see above. This graffito as well was found inside a house (sc. of Fabius Rufus), more precisely at the stairs at the northern side of the peristyle. Solin, Neue Forschungen provided a photo which would nicely have illustrated this inscription for the reader.

# II 159 ( CIL IV 9131): “For the association of launderers and the screech owl” Wallace refers to # II 17 ( CIL IV 4118), but there is no further explanation given (not even a cross-reference to # II 159!). He is unaware of the fact that the inscription is also punning on the name of a fullo called Fabius Ululitremulus; see Courtney, Musa lapidaria 280 sq.

# II 174 ( CIL IV 1870): Here, as elsewhere, the odd word Menedemerumenos was read; Wallace thinks that it is not clear “what this Greek-sounding word refers to, if anything”. But there is little doubt (if any) that Menedemerumenos refers to Terence’s HT, where Menedemus serves as protagonist.

# II 193 ( CIL IV 4533): The localization given (“VI, xiv, 37”) is correct, but again it misses one important point: The inscription was found inside this house; this is relevant, since the graffito is usually thought to be some public insult. The name Hadius Ventrio seems to be a punning invention (since Ventrio goes well with inter beta(m) et brassica(m)). While Wallace notes that the previous inscription # II 192 ( CIL IV 4456) has been claimed to be an elegiac couplet, he does not mention here that Bücheler felt this one to be a iambic senarius; cf. CLE 41 adn.

# II 195 ( CIL IV 4603): palim is hardly “borrowed from Greek palin“, but a transcription of this word.

# II 197 ( CIL IV 4755): The words Cresce(n)s architectus form the shape of a ship, as should have been noticed by Wallace (cf. by the way Langner, Graffitizeichnungen tab. 1 for illustrations of this quite common feature).

# II 200 ( CIL IV 4957): It would have been of interest for the interpreter that this inscription was discovered not in a hotel (as easily might be guessed from the text and as is often written in publications on this text), but outside the officina of M. Surus Garasenus.

# II 207 ( CIL IV 5244): False localization, read IX 8, 6; there it was found in a latrine (which, of course, is most important for the understanding of Marthae hoc trichilinium | est!). Wallace does not give any hint that this is a metrical inscription.

Sapienti sat. On the backcover of the book, one reads in red letters: “Journey into the life of Rome’s “everyman””, and the dipinti and graffiti of the Vesuvian cities indeed offer a plethora of material for such a journey. But is Wallace’s book a good guide for the curious wayfarer? There must remain serious doubts about that. This introduction is written in much the same fashion as was W. M. Lindsay’s still useful, but (also methodologically) hopelessly outdated Handbook of Latin Inscriptions (Boston / Chicago 1897), since it is hardly more than a textbook, leaving its passenger alone with minimal information. The very reason why the wall inscriptions of the Vesuvian cities (as well as the wax tablets etc.) have been incorporated into a separate volume of the CIL (and not into CIL X, where they otherwise would have been published) is that they represent Roman cursive writing. Wallace does not even mention this fact, neither does he give any introduction to the peculiarities of Roman handwriting. The 24 facsimiles, reproduced from the CIL, cannot replace any proper introduction. But moreover, Wallace fails in making the inscriptions speak and supporting the (undisputably correct) view that these texts can illustrate the life of Rome’s “everyman”. Almost all other genres of inscriptions are nowadays seen in their micro- and macro-contexts, as parts of monuments and the general ‘epigraphic habit’ of the Roman world. It is a shortcoming of scholars dealing with the wall inscriptions from Pompeii and Herculaneum not to have adopted and modified this view for the treatment of handwritten texts on the wall. But this general criticism admittedly may not do justice to the aim of Wallace’s Introduction.


1. See e.g. E. Diehl, Pompeianische Wandinschriften und Verwandtes (Berlin 1930, 2nd ed.); M. Della Corte, Amori e amanti in Pompei antica (Pompei 1958; Engl. transl. by A. W. van Buren, Cava de’Tirreni 1960); G. O. Onorato, Inscriptiones Pompeianae (Firenze 1957); W. Krenkel, Pompeianische Inschriften (Leipzig 1961); A. Baldi, Iscrizioni Pompeiane (Cava de’Tirreni 1982); E. Montero Cartelle, Priapeos. Graffitos amatorios Pompeyanos. (…) (Madrid 1990); L. Canali / G. Cavallo, Graffiti latini (Milano 1991); P. Moreau, Sur les murs de Pompéi (Paris 1993); F. P. Maulucci Vivolo, Pompei: I Graffiti d’amore (Foggia 1995); K.-W. Weeber, Decius war hier (Zürich / Düsseldorf 1996).

2. This is communis opinio among scholars dealing with the graffiti. Thinking about what I read on the walls of certain rooms within buildings of what is regarded as higher learning in our days, I should like to suggest re-thinking this issue. Wallace’s statement however is unsupported by any evidence.

3. Two further minor objections: (i) The inscriptions are numbered separately in each chapter, which causes some trouble in finding certain texts, especially since Wallace gives reference to chapter, section, and number and the number of neither the chapter nor the section is indicated on the top of any page. (ii) A Concordance to CIL IV at the end of the book would have been useful.

4. The author must be congratulated for his decision to include the localization of each inscription. But why he does not use these indications at all for his interpretation?