Our professor Dr. Mauer is obsessed with ancient Roman tombstones and their inscriptions. Since the Romans couldn’t bury their dead within the city limits, they had streets of tombs outside the city walls. You can literally walk down the road and read these inscriptions as if they are mini novellas. The best part about them is that they are surprisingly blunt and human- there is hardly ever any pretense. They are apparently one of the best ways historians and classicists have of understanding what the ancient Roman people were like.
There was one that Dr. Mauer was telling us about in class that I will simply have to find and translate for you guys. My eyes teared up in class as he was talking about it. It was an inscription from a man to his dead wife. Apparently, she was a lot younger than he was, but they had been married for 40 years and he was still madly madly in love with her. He spends forever talking about all the courageous and yet also gentle things she had done for her friends and for the poor throughout her life, even from early childhood. He ends by saying that he has tried so hard to follow in her footsteps, to do good as she did, but all he can do is weep and wait to die.
In telling us this, Mauer said that for years he couldn’t understand why this guy would go on forever about how sad he was without her on a tombstone, seeing as it is kind of personal (and emotionally harrowing for the reader!) and not exactly something one writes for the world to see. It wasn’t until recently that he realized the reason- this guy wanted to completely surround and blanket what was left of her with overwhelming love and emotion as she sailed off into the afterlife.
This one isn’t as good as that one, but I thought it was really really interesting how transparent these people are. For instance, this one starts out being written in the first person, but almost immediately accidentally switches to 1st person when things start to get emotional.
[sepulchrum] animae sanctae colendae:
D[is] Manibus s[anctum] [fecit]
Furia Spes l[iberta] Sempronio Firmo
coniugi carissimo mihi. ut cognovi,
puer, puella obligate amori partier.
cum quo vixi tempori (sic) minimo, et
quo tempore vivere debuimus
a manu mala disparati sumus.
ita peto, vos Manes sanctissimae,
meum coniugem et vellitis
huic indulgentissimi esse
ut eum videam.
et etiam me fato suadere
vellit, ut et ego possim
dulcius et celeries
aput eum pervenire.
The tomb of a sacred soul to be taken good care of:
Furia Spec [freed woman] had made this tomb,
which is sacred to the divine shades,
for Sempronius Fimus, the spouse most dear to me.
A boy, a girl, we were bound by love mutually.
With whom I lived for the briefest time,
at, in what time we should have lived together,
we were separated by an evil hand.
I beseech you, most holy shades,
may you keep safe my spouse entrusted to you,
and may you be willing to be most indulgent to him
in the night hours
in order that I will see him.
And may he allow me to persuade fate
in order that I too may be able to
more sweetly and quickly
come to where he is.