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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Roman Graffiti: From Pompeii with Love


Roman Graffiti: From Pompeii with Love

Sex and the Pompeii City
In Pompeii all roads lead to.. err... . - Photo by Declan Tan
When someone tweeted "Follow penis symbols to find ancient brothel!" in reply to the news of Pompeii being the next - after Stonehenge and parts of the Wall of China - world heritage site to be available for 'armchair tourism' on Google Earth, this reminded me of some of the ancient graffiti found at Pompeii.  Because - guess what - apparently the Roman inscriptions did not differ that much from the graffiti, scribbling and tagging that you can find on a contemporary toilet wall (or for the web 2.0 generation: Facebook). Some are thoughtful and offer valuable advise - "the smallest evil if neglected, will reach the greatest proportions" - but more often, they are on the level of a teenage X Y or well... the more questionable - and often pornographic - works of toilet-door-scribbled-art.
We'll skip the boring politics, except maybe for this; a person named 'Vatia' must have been incredibly popular with the Pompeii lowlifes. "The sneak thieves request the election of Vatia as Aedile. The whole company of late drinkers favor Vatia. The whole company of late risers favor Vatia." It is thus not surprising that the the aediles were responsible for maintenance of public buildings and regulation of public festivals such as the Saturnalia. More surprisingly is probably that the sneak thieves actually had something to say in this? Probably the merchant who wrote "Lucrum gaudium" (Profit is happiness!) would not have protested the election of Vatia. ;)
Let's get one to the more interesting graffiti, shall we? The 'romantic teenage love' department doesn't offer that much choice. It seems that while the Romans weren't as literate as the Egyptians, at least they out-eroticise the Amarna poems and maybe even the Turin papyrus. "If anyone does not believe in Venus, they should gaze at my girlfriend" is one of the few near-romantic statements to be found on Pompeii's ancient walls. From there it all goes amusingly downhill.
On the brothel walls there is the usual  (still today, even on Facebook)  bragging such as "Celadus the Thracier makes the girls moan!" - wherein the army definitely shouts the hardest ("Gaius Valerius Venustus, soldier of the 1st praetorian cohort, in the century of Rufus, screwer of women") and  "Myrtis, you do great blow jobs." The only thing still missing is their hastily-scribbled phone numbers. Oh, and Ladies, beware; "Restitutus has many times deceived many girls."
"Weep, you girls.  My penis has given you up.  Now it penetrates men’s behinds.  Goodbye, wondrous femininity!" might just be the earliest ancient 'outing', although the Romans seemed to have taken a more casual, laid-back approach to gay porn.
This collection of Pompeii graffiti - gathered at Pompeiana for more reading and chuckling pleasure and not to be confused with some of the more literally works found in the Villa of the Papyri - are just some of the diverse ancient Roman, albeit it less classy, alternatives to quoting Catallus' Carmina in email? As for the young lady, maybe she should have just mailed back, "Chie, I hope your haemorrhoids rub together so much that they hurt worse than when they every have before"?

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