“Quintio su-ks it.” The ancients romans let off steam by writing obscenities in public places, a behavior analyzed now in a new book that attests to how they talked in that Empire, two millennia before trolls changed the walls on the Internet.
“Oltre Pompei: Graffiti e altre iscrizioni oscene dall’Impero Romano D’Occidente” (Deinotera) is a curious anthology of outbursts left for posterity by the inhabitants of the Empire, from its heart, Pompeii (southern Italy), to its remote confines.
“The inscriptions allow us to capture the inhabitants of the ancient world in everyday moments,” the authors of the book, Stefano Rocchi, a researcher at the University of Pavia (north), and Roberta Marchionni, a member of the Latin dictionary project, explain to Efe.
The collected material, partly already integrated into the monumental Corpus of Latin Inscriptions (CIL), demonstrates, among other things, the way in which the ancient Romans publicly expressed what they thought by resorting to jokes or insults to discredit.
“We see them writing what was going through their heads, their names, a joke, the shopping list, a spicy poetry or an insult, in the most disparate places,” they say.
BEYOND POMPEII: FROM MÉRIDA TO GERMANY
The most famous inscriptions are undoubtedly those of Pompeii, the city buried by Vesuvius in 79 AD Some 10,000 have reached our days under the ash and their tenor was such that, after being found in the 18th century, many ended up in a room restricted to the public for a century and a half.
One of the walls of that city accumulated so much graffiti that someone decided to spoil the party: “Oh wall, it amazes me that you have not collapsed with the weight of so many idiocies”, settled that anonymous Pompeian, who knows if annoying or sarcastic.
Pompeii is the epicenter of a custom that spread throughout the length and breadth of that formidable Empire in innumerable public and private places: baths, baths, temples, columns or houses around the “Mare Nostrum”, in Hispania, Numidia, Galia or Slang.
At its western end, in Lusitania, someone did his part in a sacred precinct in Augusta Emerita, the current Spanish city of Mérida: “…ntio Fellato” (Quintio su-ks), wrote the author, revealing the gifts for fellatio of a man named Quintio, Dentio or Gentio.
The inscription, vertically, was found on a piece of red stucco on a portico under the current Alcazaba de Mérida Cultural Center, but it is incomplete, so the author’s message has lost part of its meaning over time.
THE INSULT TO UNITE THEM ALL
This widespread use of obscenity and eschatology, not always tolerated in more formal Rome, somehow demonstrates a certain linguistic uniformity of colloquial Latin throughout the Roman territory.
“There are no regional features in the texts. The vulgar variants (substandard) indicate a certain uniformity from Conímbriga (Hispania) to the other end of the Empire. It is the proper names that provide regional color”, explain the researchers.
This dialectical outlet also reached the battlefield. In 41 BC Perugia, in the center of the Italian peninsula, was besieged in the middle of the war between the faction loyal to Octavian Augustus and that of Marco Antonio, to the brawl but in the same triumvirate.
And, in that contest, the slingers of the future first emperor of Rome threw stones at the besieged city in which, even today, it can be read: “I aim at the clitoris of Fulvia”, the cunning wife of Marco Antonio who had entrenched herself inside.
A PUNCH AND A WALL, A SOCIAL EVIL OF TWO THOUSAND YEARS
However, it should be noted that the ancient Romans were not particularly foul-mouthed, or no more than today’s Europeans, their heirs, and they resorted to this custom in search of “liberation.”
In literature, the source that survived time, authors did not usually resort to obscene and if they did it was to surprise. Catullus, a poet from the 1st BC, used verbs like “pedicare” (to sodomize) very rare in the texts, but more than frequent on the walls.
It is easy to imagine the mental mechanism that led a Roman to discredit a neighbor, perhaps due to its similarity to very current behaviors, such as that of the so-called “trolls”, anonymous Internet users always with a knife between their teeth.
“If we think about the phenomenon of social networks, it is not difficult for us to see parallels between the Roman world and ours. The contents are the same and only the technique and the scope for action change, so now this type of message is more amplified ”, they point out.
The walls of the Empire were full of imprecations but they also contained authentic dialogue, a “give and take” inscribed in the stucco. “In some old latrines it seems that only the telephone numbers were missing, to understand each other,” the experts ironically.