Marble relief with portraits of the freedmen Publius Licinius Philonicus and Publius Licinius Demetrius, 30 BC-10 BC. The British Museum.
By Dara Sanchez
Observe traveler, the epitaphs of a long-gone era. In the field of classical studies, scholars mostly spend time looking over the grand works of Roman elites. Of course, we learn a lot about Roman society in this way, but with these translations, I wanted to highlight funerary epitaphs and get a glimpse of the people who were once beloved as daughters and wives or even had the more complicated status of being freedmen or enslaved. For example, the first epitaph, which I translated as “the ashes of the female reader of Sulpicia” (Sulpiciae cineres lectricis cerne viator), can be understood in multiple ways. The female reader might be Sulpicia herself, or, as I translated it, she could be the female reader of Sulpicia (i.e., she is enslaved to Sulpicia). Overall, with these epitaphs, I hope readers are overwhelmed by the complexity of relationships among individuals and maybe even feel a connection to the past.
Dickinson, Sheila K. and Judith P. Hallett. A Roman Woman Reader: Selections from the Second Century BCE through the Second Century CE. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2015.
AE [L’Année Epigraphique] 1928.73 Petale Epitaph – Epitaph of Petale Sulpicia. Rome, ca. 20 BC.
Sulpiciae cineres lectricis cerne viator
quoi servile datum nomen erat Petale.
Ter denos numero quattuor plus vixerat annos
natumque in terris Aglaon ediderat.
Omnia naturae bona viderat arte vigebat
splendebat forma, creverat ingenio.
Invida fors vita longinquom degere tempus
noluit hanc fatis defuit ipse colus.
Observe traveler, the ashes of the female reader of Sulpicia,
to whom the servile name Petale was given.
For thirty-four years she had lived,
and she had given birth to a son, Aglaon, while on earth.
She had seen all the goodness of nature, she was flourishing in skill,
she was radiating in beauty, she had grown in natural character.
Envious luck had not wished that this woman remain alive a long time in life,
the distaff, itself, failed the Fates.
Tu qui secura spatiarus mente viator
et nostri voltus derigis inferieis,
si quaeris quae sim cienis en et tosta favilla,
ante obitus tristeis Helvia Prima fui.
coniuge sum Cadmo fructa Scrateio,
concordesque pari viximus ingenio.
Nunc data sum Diti longum mansura per aevum,
deducta et fatali igne et aqua Stygia.
You, traveler, who wanders with an untroubled mind
and directs your gazes to our tombs,
if you ask who I am, behold ash and roasted ember,
before our sorrowful exits, I was Helvia Prima.
I enjoyed Cadmus Scrateius as a husband,
and we lived harmoniously in equal good natural talent.
Now, I was given to Dis to remain in the underworld for a long of time,
led down both by destined fire and Stygian water.
Paguri C. l. Gelotis
Hospes resiste et tumulum hunc excelsum aspic[e],
quo continentur ossa parvae aetatulae.
Sepulta haec sita sum verna quoius aetatula;
gravitatem officio et lanificio praestitei.
Queror fortunae cassum tam iniquom et grave.
Nomen [s]i quaeras, exoriatur Salviae.
Valebis hospes. Opto ut seis felicior.
Gaius Pagurius Gelos, freedman of Gaius
Pause visitor and behold this honored tomb,
where the bones of the little youth are preserved.
I, as this house-born slave, am rested and interred, whose early time of life was spring-like;
I imparted dignity to my obligation and wool-working.
I protest the disaster of my fortune, so unjust and burdensome a thing.
If you should ask the name of Salvia, she will spring up.
You will be well, visitor. I wish that you may be luckier.
Posilla Senenia Quart. f. Quarta Senenia C. l.
Hospes, resiste et pa[rite]r scriptum perlig[e]:
matrem non licitum ess[e uni]ca gnata fruei,
quam nei esset credo nesci[o qui] inveidit deus.
Eam quoniam haud licitum [est v]eivam a matre ornarie[r],
post mortem hoc fecit aeq[uo]m extremo tempore;
decoravit eam monumento quam deilexserat.
Posilla Senenia, daughter of Quartus, Quarta Senenia, freedwoman of Gaius.
Pause, visitor and also read over the inscription:
that it was not permitted for a mother to enjoy her only daughter,
whom some god or other envied so that she might not exist, I believe.
Because it was not permitted that she while living, be honored by her mother,
after her death she did this just act in the last moment;
she honored her, whom she had cherished, with a tomb.
Dara Sanchez (College ’25) is a student at the University of Pennsylvania with a prospective major in Classical studies.