Reader’s wildlife photos

April 8, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we have another text-and-photo odyssey from reader Athayde Tonhasca Júnior. His text is indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

The long dead speak to us

The Ancient Greeks and Romans shaped Western culture with their philosophy, laws, plays, poetry, treatises, historical narratives and memories. By and large, these texts were the works of the elite: educated white men high up in the pecking order (naturally, then, the Church of Woke loathes the Classics). But women, soldiers, slaves, ordinary citizens and assorted hoi polloi left their impressions on a few texts, clay and wood tablets (such as the ones in the Vindolanda museum), and epitaphs. Some of latter sound surprisingly contemporary and touching, considering how odd, cruel and violent the Ancients often seem to us.

All but two of the following images are mine, but most of the information comes from their respective museums (in parenthesis).

This thin marble plaque with a Greek alphabet inscription must have been secured to a wall, as indicated by traces of studs in the corners. There are also traces of the original red colour in the first and fourth lines. 3rd century AD (Cyprus Museum, Nicosia – CM).

This grave belongs to Evodia who enjoyed a happy life; the immortal fame of her modest nature is shining. But the sweet end of life has been decreed by the gods for all mortals and this nobody can ever avoid.

This lyrical funerary epigram in Greek consists of five elegiac couplets, but the last three verses are illegible. It was placed on the grave of Sostratis by her father, who expresses his grief for the premature loss of his daughter, before he could see her married. It is written in the first person singular as if the deceased girl is speaking. 1st c. BC (CM).

I, Sostratis, like a tender olive tree branch, was cut off by the wind from my father’s chambers. My wedding is like a meaningless name to you because the girl you have so caringly raised will remain unmarried. Yes, but since god has divorced me from such things, you should now enjoy your children who are still alive while I pray to the gods of the underworld….

This Cypro-syllabic inscription on limestone, possibly from 6th c. BC, is not completely legible because of some unidentified script. So we will never know the objective of this funerary stele; was it to celebrate Nikanor the brave? Nikanor the influencer? Forever the mystery of Nikanor (CM).

Nikanor the… who fell in battle.

If you ever studied Latin from a textbook, you may have come across this famous transcript from a tablet or pillar found in Rome, now lost, from 135-120 BC (image © Clauss et al. EDCS-Journal).

Stranger, what I say is brief. Stand still and read it. Here is the scarcely beautiful tomb of a beautiful woman. Her parents named her Claudia. She loved her husband with her whole heart. She bore two sons; of these she leaves one on earth; under the earth she has placed the other. She was charming in conversation, yet proper in bearing. She kept house, she made wool. I have spoken. Go your way.

Here’s the original, with its faulty syntax:

Hospes quod deico paullum est asta ac pellege / h(e)ic est sepulcrum hau(d) pulc(h)rum pulc(h)rai feminae / nomen parentes nominarunt Claudiam / su(ou)m mareitum corde deilexit s(o)uo / gnatos duos creavit horunc alterum / in terra linquit alium sub terra locat / sermone lepido tum autem incessu commodo / domum servavit lanam fecit dixi ab(e)i:

A plaque from 2nd c. AD (Capitoline Museums, Rome).

In this respectable tomb Glyconis lies serenely: sweet in name, but even sweeter in her soul. She never cared for splendid honours for her (too?) austere, but rather she preferred to be wild and pleasant, to be inebriated by wine (Bacchus) and to perform songs with simplicity. She often amused herself by weaving beautiful wreaths of flowers with sweet love for herself and for her children, who she left in puberty (the sons) she created were brothers in the likeness of Castor and Pollux. Worthy to enjoy a blessed and eternal life (lux), she hurried to where the good fates call (us). Publius Mattius Chariton saw to (the making of this tomb) for his well-deserving wife.

The original reads:

Hoc iacet in tumulo secura Glyconis honesto. / Dulcis nomine erat, anima quoque dulcior usque / que nucquam tetricos egit sibi lucis honores, / set magi(s) lascivos suabes, Bacchoq(ue) madere, / simplicitate sequi cantus. Mollesq(ue) coronas / lusibus ipsa suis generabat saepe et amore / dulce sibi natisque suis quos reliquit. / Castorea fratres sub imagine quos generavit. / Digna quidem frui perpetua de luce benigna. / set celerat quo nos fata benigna vocant. / P(ublius) Mattius toit Chariton coniugi b(ene) m(erenti) f(ecit):

The funerary stele of a Roman soldier who died naturally or was killed in Cyprus during Roman rule, 2nd c. AD. The Latin inscription speaks of a soldiers’ fate: to die before his time, away from home (CM).

Erected in memory of the centurion Caius Decimius, son of Titus from the tribe Stellatina.

A limestone funerary stele from the 5th c. BC. The middle-aged bearded man – the deceased – offered his right hand for a handshake, a sign of farewell. The parchment in the hand of the standing man suggests that the deceased was a man of letters (CM).

A marble funerary stele from Plakalona (Aptera), Crete, 3rd-4th c. AD (Heraklion Archaeological Museum).

Here I lie, Sympherousa, aged thirty, a foreigner of Libyan origin. Through prudence and affection in all my affairs I joined the dwelling of the gods and greatly for [my] attitude valued, in this valued city, among the people of Aptera, who too rewarded me with their grief at my sudden death, simply sending me off to Hades, [having laid me] in a grave. Farewell to all, you, passers-by, and you, people of Aptera, who with no hesitation laid me to rest in this great urn, with passion and honour. I, Nikon, wrote this. Her onetime husband. Now no more: a victim of the evil eye… the woman that I desired so much, for her prudence, as I wrote above, and I am helpless. I shout, but she does not hear. To hold on to [this] love, I will continue to be, who I was, but I can do nothing; she flew straight away like the wind.

An inscription by Philon dedicated to the goddess Nemesis, who punishes mortals for their sin of hubris (nemesis and hubris are much in vogue in the age of Putin). This limestone plaque may have been at the base of a statue or built into a wall of a temenos (a portion of land assigned as an official domain, or dedicated to a god). 1st c. AD (CM).

Philon, the son of Tryphon, made and erected me, the powerful goddess Nemesis and the personification of Justice, born to punish the irreverent and to bring, on the other hand, fortune to those who know how to be just, in the holy temenos, thus fulfilling a wish:

A Funerary stele of a hoplite (a citizen-soldier of Ancient Greek), who typically was kitted out with a helmet, a spear, a shield and a sword. The inscription mentions the name and the hoplite’s hometown: Kardia, in Thrace. This stele may have been dedicated to a soldier who fought on Cyprus during the Persian wars. ~400 BC (CM).

Dionysio(s) Kardiano(s)

Cypro-syllabic understatement on a funerary stele from 5th c. BC (CM).

[This stele belongs to] Divina, who has no life:

A wall graffito in cursive Latin found in Pompeii in 1913 but lost two years later when the wall fell after torrential rains. The graffito’s image survived thanks to a line drawing by the Italian archaeologist and epigraphist Matteo Della Corte (1875-1962) (image from Della Corte, 1965. Case ed abitanti di Pompei. Faustino Fiorentino, Naples). The poem has several versions; here are two of them:

Nothing is able to endure forever;
Once the sun has shone brightly, it returns to the ocean;
The moon grows smaller, who just now was full;
The savagery of winds often becomes a light breeze.


Nothing can last forever:
the sun, when its course is complete,
hides itself behind the sea; the moon, once full, now wanes.
Thus, love’s wounds shall heal and fresh breezes will blow once more.

And the original:

nihil durare potest tempore perpetuo
cum bene sol nituit redditur oceano
decrescit phoebe quae modo plena fui
ventorum feritas saepe fit aura l[e]vis:

This one is not about the dead, rather those hanging by a thread. This structure is a 5th c. alms box at the Congregation of St Michelle in Fano, Italy. This hole in the wall is a gateway to a tale of etymological evolution for word geeks. The expositorum part is straightforward: from the Latin verb exponere, it means abandoned, exposed: the pauper, in other words. But here’s the journey of Eleemosynis: from Ancient Greek ἔλεος (éleos, pity) and ἐλεημοσύνη (eleēmosúnē, alms, charity, mercy), it jumped to Latin as eleemosyna(alms); it then morphed into eleemosynarius in Medieval Latin before being shortened by natural selection and becoming almes in Old German and ælmesse in Old English. From there it mutated into ‘alms’, ‘almonry’ and ‘almoner’. But the word’s ancestral English branch did not go extinct, so today we also have the rare and endangered ‘eleemosynary’. The eleemosyna that did not migrate to Anglo-Saxon territories metamorphosed into the Italian elemosina and the Portuguese esmola for ‘alms’:

Death is not all about doom & gloom. This 3rd to 2nd c. BC double-sided votive relief depicts the head of Dionysus on the front side. On the reverse, a couple is engaged in the oldest of all couple’s games (CM).

11 thoughts on “Reader’s wildlife photos

  1. I greatly enjoyed. It is easy to forget, while reading histories, that there were lots just plain, funny, interesting people who lived. People we will never know.

    And I could summarize this post, “death is inevitable, so f*ck it!”.

  2. Once again a fascinating and informative RWP. One can really feel the bereft anguish of Sympherousa’s husband. A reminder that even though the ways of ancient people are in many ways unknowable, we connect to them through the bits that remain, like these stele.

    Thanks, Athayde.

  3. Thank you! It’s always amazing that it can feel more heartbreaking to read about someone’s heartbreak thousands of years ago.

  4. It’s a great and beautiful post. Fascinating to read.

    Most people will not be remembered beyond one or two generations. It’s seems people just try to honor some essence of a person and try to make it permanent. These are beautiful remembrances. Same as we do now when someone dies. We capture something about them that we hope lives on, but we all just disappear into the history of people that will live and die and forgotten in time. We are all just people through the ages.

  5. Interesting. Of course people had tender feelings for others—including the deceased—throughout all of (human) time, but I had no idea that there was a written record of such going back so far into the past.

  6. Wonderful! Seeing, hearing, touching these personal connections from ages past is like time travel to me. It’s the most rewarding thing about what I do, helping to recreate music of the distant past, often incorporating actual centuries-old instruments.

  7. Touching. This shows the endearing legacy of love and loss and the mourning that accompanies it; these traits express our humanity and these examples reveal how long these traits have been a part of our collective experience on earth.

    Thanks for another remarkable RWP, Athayde.

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