Academic journal article Antichthon

Suggestions of Sentiment: The Epitaphs of Tomb 87 (Isola Sacra) *

Academic journal article Antichthon

Suggestions of Sentiment: The Epitaphs of Tomb 87 (Isola Sacra) *

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Epigraphic material has traditionally been used to explore a variety of topics ranging from demography to family relationships, but the subject of emotion is not often addressed. In this paper I examine three inscriptions which were discovered in situ in Tomb 87 at the cemetery at Isola Sacra. The paper provides a detailed analysis of these inscriptions within both their immediate context and the broader context of the body of epigraphic material discovered at the cemetery. Here I comment on the function of the inscriptions in relation to their location in the tomb and identify evidence related to the expression of emotion. I focus on the extent to which sentiment could be an element in the commemorative practice of ordinary Romans in the early centuries AD with a particular emphasis on the relationship between freedman and patron.

Keith Hopkins has observed: 'Romans had feelings, and it seems reasonable to ask what they were.' 1 Obviously in the ancient world the family and friends of a person who died must have experienced feelings similar to those which we in the modern world associate with the loss of someone close. In some instances the literary sources give a glimpse of this. The depth of emotion felt by Cicero following the death of his daughter Tullia in February 45 BC is evident in the letters which he wrote to Atticus during that year. In an attempt to remedy his grief, an emotion which he describes as vis enim urget ('the power [of the grief] presses down on me', Att . 12.14.3), Cicero occupied himself with the composition of a literary consolation and the search for a suitable property on which to build a shrine for Tullia. He notes that he is quite decided about the form the shrine will take, although this is not revealed in any detail, but is unsure as to its location, adding that consideration of the design will re-open the wound of his grief: quae res forsitan sit refricatura vulnus meum ('perhaps that will re-open my wound', 12.18.1). Although all mention of the shrine disappears from the letters, and as far as we know it was never built, we can be reasonably certain that Cicero's decisions regarding the appearance of the building and the text of its inscriptions would have been influenced by the decorative and epigraphic conventions of the period. However, if the shrine had been built and was available for study today, we may well have some difficulty with its interpretation. 2 Given the differences in genre, the sentiment that is apparent in Cicero's correspondence would naturally have been lost when translated into a different medium - but to what extent?

This gap between a monument and the emotion felt in respect of death is well illustrated when we compare the contents of a letter written by the younger Pliny (Ep. 5.16) on the occasion of the death of Minicia Marcella, the daughter of his friend Minicius Fundanus, with the contents of the epitaph on the funerary altar which has been identified as belonging to her. Although Pliny describes Minicia's character, the circumstances of her death, his own grief and the distress of her father at some length, there is no hint in her epitaph of the person she was or of her father's sorrow. The top of the simple marble altar is decorated with a carved eagle and flowers and, in common with many thousands of memorials, the inscribed words merely state her name and her age at the time of her death. 3 There are, of course, many epitaphs in which emotions were recorded; the inscription known as the 'Laudatio Turiae' is a notable but unusual example. But, as Hopkins pointed out, in many cases these are the work of stonemasons working either from a 'stock of conventions' or possibly hand-books.4

This is one of the problems inherent in the material on which we are forced to rely in order to discover any information about the feelings of the majority of ordinary Romans, and probably one of the reasons why social historians have shown a certain reluctance to address the subject. …

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