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Graffiti

(plural of the Italian graffito, “a scratching”). A name used of the inscriptions, drawings, and scrawls found upon the walls, doorposts, pillars, and tombs of Rome, Pompeii, and other ancient cities. They are the work of idlers—schoolboys, slaves, loungers, etc.—and are valuable as giving an insight into the daily life, habits, and thoughts of the common people, as well as furnishing, at times, valuable hints as to the nature of the popular language. (See Sermo Plebeius.) They are usually scratched with some sharp instrument—for instance, a stilus, or written with charcoal or red chalk—and are of the most varied character, as might be expected, comprising quotations from the poets, doggerel verses, insulting, coarse, and often obscene words and figures, caricatures, popular catchwords, and amatory effusions, in each of the three languages common in southern Italy—Greek, Latin, and Oscan. They are often of a more serious character, intended as handbills. Of this class, we find advertisements of plays, election notices, public announcements, and admonitions to servants. The following is an example of the political graffito: VETTIVM FIRMVM

Graffito AED.from the Palatine, Rome.

O.V.F.D.R.P.V.O.V. F. PILICREPI FACITE (Aulum Vettium Firmum aedilem, oro vos faciatis, dignum re publica virum oro vos. facite pilicrepi, facite!), an appeal to the pilicrepi or ball-players of the city to rally round a kindred spirit and friend of sport. Many quotations from the poets appear, Ovid and Propertius being great favourites, but only one complete line from Vergil is found among the graffiti collected by Garrucci. Of the poetic quotations from the Aeneid, the following (i. 1) is interesting as throwing light on the vulgar pronunciation of the letter R: ALMA VILVMQVE CANO TLO—. Occasionally a line from some poet is altered to suit the purposes of the writer, as the following: CANDIDA ME DOCVIT NIGRAS ODISSE PUELLAS, evidently a variation of the Propertian line: Cynthia me docuit castas odisse puellas, and intended to flatter some blonde. A love-quarrel between Virgula and her lover Tertius is indicated by the following: VIRGVLA TERTIO SVO: INDECENS ES. There are many allusions to athletic and gladiatorial games. One Epaphras, whose name often appears, is told that he “doesn't know how to play ball” (EPAPHRA PILICREPVS NON ES), and some friend of Epaphras has drawn a line through the last three words. School-boys have scratched their lessons by way of practice on

Supposed Caricature of the Crucifixion.

the walls, since there are long lists of nouns, verbs, etc., and alphabets repeated again and again.

An interesting graffito is that represented in the preceding illustration. It was first published by Father Garrucci in 1857, and is now in the Kircherian Museum of the Jesuit College at Rome. Apparently it belongs to the third century A.D., and is in ridicule of a person, one Alexamenos, who is represented as worshipping a crucified figure depicted with the head of an ass. Beneath is scrawled in Greek the sentence ΑΛΕΞΑΜΕΝΟΣ ΣΕΒΕΤΕ [ΣΕΒΕΤΑΙ] ΘΕΟΝ, “Alexamenos worships (his) God.” It was found in one of the subterranean chambers of the Palatine in 1856. Scholars are not wholly agreed as to the subject of this caricature, some believing it to be a blasphemous representation of Christ, while others think it refers to Anubis, the jackal-headed god of Egypt. Prof. Lanciani in his Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries (Boston, 1888) mentions an interesting collection of graffiti discovered in 1868 on the walls of an excubitorium, or station-house, and made by the Roman policemen when off duty. These can be seen in the Annali dell' Instituto for 1869, edited by Henzen.

Another well-executed drawing from the Palatine walls is that given above. It represents an ass turning a mill with the inscription, LABORA ASELLE QVOMODO EGO LABORAVI ET PRODERIT TIBI (“Toil on, little ass, as I have done, and much good may it do you!”), possibly written by a slave who had been made to do a turn at the mill (pistrinum) as a punishment (cf. Ter. Andr. i. 2.28). The subjoined graffito, which resembles the attempt of a modern school-boy, is from the bar

Graffito in Chalk from Pompeii.

racks at Pompeii, and was executed on the barrack-wall with a piece of red chalk by a Roman soldier. It caricatures one Nonius Maximus, whose name appears elsewhere on the same walls coupled with insulting words, and who was probably a centurion whose strictness had made him unpopular.

Another Pompeian wall-caricature refers to a fierce town-andcountry fight in the amphitheatre between the Pompeians and Nucerians, as the result of which Nero forbade the Pompeians to open the amphitheatre for a period of ten years. The graffito represents an armed man descending into the arena bearing the palm of victory, while on the other side a prisoner is being dragged away in bonds. The legend in the corner gives a clue to the meaning of the caricature. It reads: CAMPANI VICTORIA VNA CVM NVCERINIS PERISTIS

Caricature from the Outer Wall of a Private House. (Pompeii.)

(“Campanians, you suffered in the victory as well as the Nucerians!”)

The first notice of this class of inscriptions appeared in the Journal de Fouilles for October 18th, 1765; and in 1792 the German archaeologist Murr published at Nuremberg a collection of graffiti that had been transcribed for him by a friend. A supplement to this appeared in 1793.

The first good collection published was that of Bishop C. Wordsworth in 1837, consisting wholly

Graffito from Pompeii, representing the Labyrinth. (
Mus. Borb.
xiv. tav. a, 1852.)

of graffiti from Pompeii, and reprinted in his Miscellanies in 1879. A large number of them in Latin are given in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, vol. iv. (ed. Zangemeister), under the title Inscriptiones Parietariae Pompeianae, Herculanenses, et Stabianae, and in the supplementary volume. Inscriptions in Oscan will be found in Fiorelli's Inscriptionum Oscarum Apographa (1854). See, also, Garrucci, Graffiti de Pompéi (Paris, 1856); Parton, Caricature (N. Y. 1878); and the article Pompeii.

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