Reading’s Latin Inscriptions: New Book by Prof. Peter Kruschwitz

We are delighted to announce the publication of a new book by Prof. Peter Kruschwitz with Reading’s very own Two Rivers Press:

WotWThe book contains an anthology of 48 Latin inscriptions that are on display in Berkshire’s county town of Reading (as well as an extra four that have disappeared some time ago!) – covering some 1,800 years of Latin in use as a language of authority, of the church, of business, of learning, and – of course – as a language to honour the dead.

The book, showcasing the very finest examples of a body of some 200 inscribed Latin texts altogether from the Reading area, is the result of several years of fieldwork (about which Prof. Kruschwitz has occasionally blogged on his blog ‘The Petrified Muse’) – and if you wish to follow his walking routes, there is even a handy map that shows you the location of the various pieces that are covered in the book on Google Maps!

The book, beautifully designed and illustrated, is available from the publisher, Inpress Books, Waterstones, and – soon –  Amazon.

For anyone in and around Reading: Prof. Kruschwitz will be signing copies of his book at Reading’s branch of Waterstones next Saturday (12 September, 3-4pm) as part of Reading’s activities during the 2015 Heritage Open Days (further information can be found here).

Materialising Poetry

A one day workshop to be held on Tuesday 8th September 2015 at the Department of Classics, University of Reading

Organisers: Prof. Peter Kruschwitz  and Dr Rachel Mairs

Outline

Recent years have seen increasing levels of interest in the material dimension(s) of poetry. Just as there appears to be defining spatial and societal contexts for poems, whose study is essential for a thorough appreciation of a poem’s meaning(s), its materiality is increasingly understood as a defining, perhaps even vital, feature of verbal art. The investigation of textual materiality (or, in fact, materialities) thus becomes an important step towards a more adequate and complex understanding of poetic artifice.

From the sounds and images that begin to take shape in a writer’s head to the impact that poetry has on the human brain, from the choice of writing material and the deliberate, careful design of a poem’s layout to the multidimensional sensual stimulus that comes with an encounter of poetry: during its life-cycle, poetry undergoes multiple material transformations. In fact, it seems as though each and every material transformation, often occurring in conjunction with a change of ‘ownership’, has its own, often significant impact on the nature of the artefact itself.

This international and interdisciplinary workshop will, in an informal and communicative setting, explore the materialities of poetry as well as the poets’ playful and intellectual interactions with this dimension. While the main focus will lie on the verbal artistry of the ancient Mediterranean (broadly conceived), specialist contributions will also elucidate creative processes, craftsmanship, and the cognitive science that underpin the ways in which poetry materialises.

Participants will include –

Discussions will start at 10.00 am and finish by 4.15 pm, and lunch will be provided. The workshop will take place in room G25 of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HumSS) Building [click here for a campus map].

Booking

There is no booking fee, but as space is limited, and in order to help the organisers arrange catering, it would be helpful if those intending to come could contact Prof. Peter Kruschwitz at p.kruschwitz [at] reading.ac.uk by 1 September at the very latest.

Hope and Despair in Roman Britain

The Yorkshire Museum in York houses a most impressive collection of Roman inscriptions from York and the immediate vicinity. On occasion of a trip to Yorkshire in August 2013, I was finally able to see for myself a particularly noteworthy item of their collection, an item that has fascinated me for quite some time: the tombstone of a girl named Corellia Optata.

Inscription of Corellia Optata

Inscription for Corellia Optata

The stone, arguably dating to the second half of the first century A. D., more plausibly somewhat later in date, is heavily damaged. At the top, a sculpture is lost altogether (as is a letter ‘D’ on the left-hand side, which would have corresponded with the letter ‘M’ on the right). In its present state, the lower part of a (presumably female) figure’s legs survives, standing in the middle, resting on the frame that contains the actual inscription.

The Latin text, full of abbreviations, ligatures, and spelling oddities, reads as follows:

[D(is)] M(anibus).
Corellia Optata an(norum) XIII.
Secreti Manes, qui regna
Acherusia Ditis incoli-
tis, quos parua petunt post
            5
lumina uite exiguus cinis
et simulacrum, corpo<r>is um-
bra: insontis gnate geni-
tor spe captus iniqua
supremum hunc nate
                        10
miserandus defleo finem.
Q(uintus)
Core(llius) Fortis pat(er) f(aciendum) c(urauit).

(Carmina Latina Epigraphica 395)

 In translation:

To the divine Manes.
Corellia Optata, aged 13.
You reclusive Manes, who inhabit the Acherusian realm of Hades, whom the little pile of ashes and the spirit do seek after but a short span of life, the body’s shade: I, the begetter of an innocent daughter, trapped by wrongful hope, wretched, wail this, my daughter’s ultimate destiny.
Quintus Corellius Fortis, the father, had this made.

The central part of this inscription (lines 2–11 in the Latin) forms a poem comprising five dactylic hexametres:

Secreti Manes, qui regna Acherusia Ditis
incolitis, quos parua petunt post lumina uite
exiguus cinis et simulacrum, corpo<r>is umbra:
insontis gnate genitor spe captus iniqua
supremum hunc nate
miserandus defleo finem.            5

Inscribed poems, very common in other parts of the Roman world, appear to have been exceptionally rare in Roman Britain: a mere two dozen or so have survived to the present day. In that respect, a poem of five perfectly preserved lines is rather spectacular.

The poem, dedicated to the secreti Manes, those reclusive, hard-to-grasp spirits of the Roman underworld, seems topical at first: a girl dies young, and a parent expresses his grief, complaining about the injustice of the premature death. Yet this father, Q. Corellius Fortis, at least superficially familiar with the literary classics of his day and age, went beyond that: and the way in which he did this is precisely what makes this poem so remarkable.

Corellius was a brave man, certainly by name: Fortis is not only the father’s name, but also a Latin adjective denoting the quality of ‘brave’. Perhaps he earned this nickname in a military career? He and the (altogether nameless, absent) mother of the child clearly desired a child, for they gave the daughter the name Optata, ‘Desired’, ‘Hoped-For’.

The brave man was fooled, however, a soldier trapped (captus) by spes iniqua, a hope that brought undeserved disappointment: the verbal allusion of spes (‘hope’) to the name of the daughter, Optata, could hardly be more obvious. A similarly inspired word play can be seen in the placement of the word finis (‘destiny’, more literally: ‘end’) at what is indeed the very end of the poem.

Corellius may have been fortis, but he was not ashamed to express his sorrow, his lament, and, in fact, his bitter disappointment, and to record it for eternity. Following the expressive alliteration parua petunt post – the ‘spitting’ Ps barely conceal the author’s contempt –, Corellius stresses the daughter’s innocence, using the loaded term insons. This not only implies the absence of guilt, but also utter harmlessness. This increases the contrast between the innocent victim of premature death – the daughter – and those who now, undeservedly, get to enjoy the presence of Optata’s physical and immaterial remains: the Manes in their reclusive abode, the dark realm of Hades.

Yet, the poem also leaves little doubt over who is the real victim: Corellius Fortis, the genitor (‘begetter’), a wretch (miserandus) first trapped by deceitful hope, then robbed by the untimely demise.

Funerary inscriptions, whether prose or poetry, deal with commonplaces, necessitated by the events and the need to offer consolation for those left behind, and many a time they resort to truisms, banalities, and ideology. Corellius Fortis was forced to face the same fate as many parents in the ancient world, the loss of his child at a relatively early age. His poetic attempt to come to terms with this stands out not only because of the (relative) rarity of inscribed poems in the environment of Roman Britain: it stands out because of the amount of skill and thought that have gone into this highly individual, personal, and touching little poem, expressing hope, despair, and grief with a gripping immediacy.

Peter Kruschwitz