Some years ago I came across this stone in an antiquarium in rural Italy. It’s catalogued and well known, but I’d never seen it. I liked it then and still do.

Figure 1. Tombstone of Quintus Caelius and Camidia Aphrodisia. CIL X 5371. Photo: author.

It’s from a lower stratum of society. Caelius, the presumed author, was literate, but his Latin is a bit shaky here and there. Still, to have any command of written Latin at all puts him well ahead of most other Romans.

The text, in Latin. • represents an interpunct, a word division mark added by the cutter.


Tidied up:

Q(uintus) Caelius Sp(urii) f(ilius) vivi(t)
architectus navalis.
uxor Camidia Marci Liberta

Hospes, resiste et, nisi molestust, perlege.
Noli stomachare; suadeo caldum bibas.
                                       Moriundust. Vale.

Hospes resiste is a commonplace incipit used in this Latin funerary epigram of two and a half iambic senarii: the “moriundust vale” that follows is not the beginning of a new verse, but it is the latter half of one.

The Latin senarius is a loose verse, looking in theory like this:

x ¯ x ¯ | x ¯ x ¯ | x ¯ ˘ x

Here, ˘ indicates a mandatory short syllable, ¯ a mandatory long syllable, and x a syllable which may be long or short. The x may be filled by a ˘ or a ¯; and the latter may then be replaced by its mathematical equivalent, ˘ ˘. The final x is always just one syllable, long or short. So how do our senarii scan?

Hōspēs rĕsīst/ ēt nĭsĭ mŏlēstūst, pērlĕgĕ. (slash = elision)
Nōlī stŏmăchārĕ; suādĕō cāldūm bĭbās.
                                          Mŏrĭūndūst. Vălē.

In English:

He lives!
Quintus Caelius, son of Spurius, alive!
a naval architect.
She lives!
[His] wife Camidia Aphrodisia, freedwoman of Marcus.

Stop, stranger, and unless it’s a burden, read [this epitaph].
Don’t be put out: I recommend you drink a hot one.
Everyone must die. Farewell.

Imma leave aside the philology, though there’s a lot to be said here. But even restricting ourselves to the translation, there seems to be a story here, right? The inscription is on what appears to be a tombstone and it contains very conventional elements besides the hospes resiste.

For example, there are three insistent statements that one or the other of the couple is alive. To my eye, this couple is making the not uncommon claim to have prudently taken care of their burial “pre-need.” The usual way this claim is made is something like Q. Caelius hoc monumentum sibi fecit vivo: “Quintus Caelius made this monument for himself while still alive.” Our author chose the exclamations “he lives,” or maybe “he’s alive.” So it seems Caelius was a spirited man.

He was a freeborn Roman citizen, since he’s named himself as the child of his father. Aphrodisia was a freed slave: she’s noted as the freedwoman of her former owner Marcus (Camidius: she took his Roman family name when he manumitted her). That she is styled uxor, wife, means they were married after she was freed: slaves couldn’t marry.

Besides being a freeborn Roman citizen, Caelius had a good trade, that of naval architect. Professional pride is a bit of posturing, and, like his language, marks Caelius as a member of the less elevated classes: drawing attention to your profession is very alien to aristocratic sprezzatura.

The Romans wrote their epitaphs as though compelling someone, such as a passerby at their grave, to remember them and read aloud their name momentarily took the pain and grief out of being dead. Caelius’ poem, therefore, is an example of wheedling the passerby to read the epitaph; and if the traveler is in fact put out by having to take the time to read it, he is advised to have the Roman equivalent of a cold beer as a compensation. After all, he shouldn’t begrudge reading the epitaph, because, as the poet notes, “everybody dies.”

Pros might find some of the choices I’ve made in translation and interpretation are debatable. Have a look at the collections of Buecheler, Dessau, and Diehl (all available online, look under CIL X 5371) online for some idea of where I’ve gone with this.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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