Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Like most people, I tend to think of graffiti as an eyesore. I will admit that there is some small fraction that aspires to art but most of it is banal. For archaeologists, however, graffiti can be an invaluable tool for understanding the common language and culture of a vanished people.

Today's link is a list of gaffitos found at Pompeii.

There are declarations of love ("I don’t want to sell my husband, not for all the gold in the world"), of hate ("Serena hates Isidorus"), and of bitterness ("I want to break Venus’ ribs with clubs and cripple the goddess’ loins. If she can strike through my soft chest, then why can’t I smash her head with a club?"). There are sexual boasts ("Floronius, privileged soldier of the 7th legion, was here. The women did not know of his presence. Only six women came to know, too few for such a stallion"), insults("Chie, I hope your hemorrhoids rub together so much that they hurt worse than when they every have before!"), and compliments("Crescens is sweet and charming"). There are philosophical proclamations ("Once you are dead, you are nothing"). There are advertisements ("Palmyra, the thirst-quencher") and admonishments ("heophilus, don’t perform oral sex on girls against the city wall like a dog"). There are some that sound like a something out of LiveJournal ("On April 19th, I made bread").

There are also the critics: "O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin."

The overall impression is that there were ordinary people just like ourselves, although every so often you come across an entry that's jarring to our modern sensabilities ("Take hold of your servant girl whenever you want to; it’s your right"). On the whole it is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who were beneath the notice of History, as are most of us.

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