Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Monday, July 18, 2011

Roman dedicatory and ephemeral verses on the built environment

Inscriptions on the Ark of the Bankers. From

¨In the last paper we took up for consideration some of the Roman metrical epitaphs. These compositions, however, do not include all the productions in verse of the common people of Rome. On temples, altars, bridges, statues, and house walls, now and then, we find bits of verse. Most of the extant dedicatory lines are in honor of Hercules, Silvanus, Priapus, and the Cæsars. Whether the two famous inscriptions to Hercules by the sons of Vertuleius and by Mummius belong here or not it is hard to say. At all events, they were probably composed by amateurs, and have a peculiar interest for us because they belong to the second century B.C., and therefore stand near the beginning of Latin letters; they show us the language before it had been perfected and adapted to literary purposes by an Ennius, a Virgil, and a Horace, and they are written in the old native Saturnian verse, into which Livius Andronicus, "the Father of Latin literature," translated the Odyssey. Consequently they show us the language before it had gained in polish and lost in vigor under the influence of the Greeks. The second of these two little poems is a finger-post, in fact, at the parting of the ways for Roman civilization. It was upon a tablet let into the wall of the temple of Hercules, and commemorates the triumphant return to Rome of Mummius, the conqueror of Corinth. It points back to the good old days of Roman contempt for Greek art, and ignorance of it, for Mummius, in his stupid indifference to the beautiful monuments of Corinth, made himself the typical Philistine for all time. It points forward to the new Greco-Roman civilization of Italy, because the works of art which Mummius is said to have brought back with him, and the Greeks who probably followed in his train, augmented that stream of Greek influence which in the next century or two swept through the peninsula.
In the same primitive metre as these dedications is the Song of the Arval Brothers, which was found engraved on a stone in the grove of the goddess Dea Dia, a few miles outside of Rome. This hymn the priests sang at the May festival of the goddess, when the farmers brought them the first fruits of the earth. It has no intrinsic literary merit, but it carries us back beyond the great wars with Carthage for supremacy in the western Mediterranean, beyond the contest with Pyrrhus for overlordship in Southern Italy, beyond the struggle for life with the Samnites in Central Italy, beyond even the founding of the city on the Tiber, to a people who lived by tilling the soil and tending their flocks and herds.

Inscription on Fabricius´ bridge. Google images

But we have turned away from the dedicatory verses. On the bridges which span our streams we sometimes record the names of the commissioners or the engineers, or the bridge builders responsible for the structure. Perhaps we are wise in thinking these prosaic inscriptions suitable for our ugly iron bridges. Their more picturesque stone structures tempted the Romans now and then to drop into verse, and to go beyond a bare statement of the facts of construction. Over the Anio in Italy, on a bridge which Narses, the great general of Justinian, restored, the Roman, as he passed, read in graceful verse: "We go on our way with the swift-moving waters of the torrent beneath our feet, and we delight on hearing the roar of the angry water. Go then joyfully at your ease, Quirites, and let the echoing murmur of the stream sing ever of Narses. He who could subdue the unyielding spirit of the Goths has taught the rivers to bear a stern yoke."
Excerpt from:
The common people of ancient Rome. Chapter II Their Dedicatory and Ephemeral Verses. Author: Frank Frost Abbott. New York, 1911

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