The More Things Change …

Roman Graffiti from Pompeii

Roman Graffiti from Pompeii

Let us say we were seated across the table from an ancient Roman and, say, a Viking. Aside from the obvious language problem, would there be enough commonality to allow for a spirited discussion? I think there would be, primarily because I have read enough Roman and Viking (I should say Icelandic and Norse) literature to vouch for the fact that, when all is said and done, we are not all that different from one another.

Let me take as a case in point graffiti that has been discovered from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. You can probably find the equivalent in any nightclub’s restroom wall:

  • Philiros spado – “Philiros is a eunuch”
  • Apollinaris, medicus Titi Imperatoris hic cacavit bene – “Apollinaris, physician to the Emperor Titud, had a good crap here”
  • Oppi, emboliari, fur, furuncle – “Oppius, you’re a clown, a thief, and a cheap crook”
  • Miximus in lecto. Faetor, peccavimus, hospes. Si dices: quare? Nulla matella fuit –
    This one was found in an inn: “We have wet the bed. I admit we were wrong, my host, but if you ask why, it is because there was no chamber pot.”
  • Virgula Tertio su: Indecens esVirgula to Tertius: You are a nasty boy.“
  • Suspirium puellam Celadus thraex – “Celadus makes the girls moan”

Now I have not seen the graffiti of Ancient Rome, but I saw the viking graffiti in the tomb at Maes Howe in the Orkneys. Built over 5,000 years ago, Maes Howe was frequently visited by Viking raiders in the hopes that some buried treasure could be found there. They found none, but left such observations as the following in their Futharc runes:

  • “Thorni fucked. Helgi carved.”
  • “Ingigerth is the most beautiful of all women” next to a picture of a slobbering dog.
  • “These runes were carved by the man most skilled in runes in the Western Ocean.”

You can find more about the Pompeiian graffiti by clicking here. The runes at Maes Howe are explained here.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.