Ancient Pompeiiโ€™s Hidden Messages, Preserved in Graffiti | Jacqueline DiBiasie-Sammons | TED

TED
2 Mar 202315:57

Summary

TLDRThe video script explores the world of ancient Roman graffiti found in Pompeii, offering a window into the lives of ordinary people in antiquity. It highlights the differences between modern and ancient graffiti, emphasizing the social acceptance and widespread nature of these messages. The speaker's personal connection to Latin and Roman history is shared, along with insights into how studying these graffiti can reveal more about human nature and our own identities. The script also discusses the variety of graffiti, from simple names to intricate drawings and playful messages, reflecting the creativity and daily life of the Pompeiians before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Takeaways

  • ๐Ÿ“œ The ancient Romans used graffiti as a form of communication, much like modern social media, to share news, thoughts, and drawings on public walls.
  • ๐ŸŒ‹ The preservation of graffiti in Pompeii is largely due to the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, which froze time and preserved these messages.
  • ๐Ÿ‘ถ The graffito about 'Iuvenilla' provides a personal glimpse into the lives of ancient Romans and raises curiosity about the fate of those mentioned in the graffiti.
  • ๐Ÿ“š The study of Latin graffiti offers a unique perspective into the lives of ordinary Romans, especially those marginalized in historical records, such as women and the enslaved.
  • ๐ŸŽจ Ancient graffiti differed from modern counterparts; they were often welcomed and even permitted, appearing in nearly every space within a city.
  • ๐Ÿ–Œ๏ธ Graffiti in ancient Pompeii were typically created by scratching into wall plaster with sharp instruments, unlike modern graffiti which are often spray-painted.
  • ๐Ÿ–ผ๏ธ Some graffiti were more artistic, using charcoal or chalk to create more elaborate and playful messages and drawings.
  • ๐Ÿ’– The exchange between 'Prima' and 'Secundus' through graffiti showcases the personal and emotional connections between individuals in ancient Pompeii.
  • ๐Ÿ›๏ธ The graffiti found in Pompeii, including names, greetings, and drawings, provide valuable insights into the social dynamics and daily life of the city's inhabitants.
  • ๐Ÿ“ The study of ancient graffiti is not only about the content of the messages but also the aesthetics and the intentions behind the writing and drawing.
  • ๐ŸŒŸ The urge to leave a mark, whether through writing or art, is a timeless human desire that connects us to our ancient predecessors.

Q & A

  • What is the significance of the graffito mentioning 'Iuvenilla' found in Pompeii?

    -The graffito mentioning 'Iuvenilla' is significant because it provides a glimpse into the personal lives of ancient Romans. It was a birth announcement made by a parent on the walls of Pompeii nearly 2,000 years ago, offering a rare personal narrative from antiquity.

  • How did the eruption of Mount Vesuvius contribute to the preservation of graffiti in Pompeii?

    -The catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD led to the destruction and burial of Pompeii under volcanic ash. This event inadvertently preserved many aspects of daily life, including the graffiti on the walls, which would have otherwise been lost to time.

  • What was the narrator's personal connection to the study of Roman history and Latin?

    -The narrator has been interested in Romans since childhood and shares their birthday with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. They began learning Latin in high school and continued their studies in college, where they discovered the value of Latin graffiti as a source of understanding the lives of ordinary Romans.

  • How did ancient graffiti differ from modern graffiti in terms of public perception and legality?

    -Ancient graffiti were welcomed and often permitted, appearing in various public and private spaces. In contrast, modern graffiti is typically considered illegal or taboo in urban centers today.

  • What tools were used by the ancient Romans to create graffiti?

    -Ancient Romans typically used sharp instruments like styluses or nails to scratch their graffiti into wall plaster. Some graffiti were also written with more perishable materials like charcoal and chalk, which have largely not survived to the present day.

  • What does the graffiti 'Oh wall, I'm amazed you haven't fallen down, holding up so many scribblings' reveal about the Pompeiians' attitude towards their graffiti culture?

    -This repeated message across Pompeii indicates that the Pompeiians were aware of the abundance of graffiti covering their walls. It suggests a culture where graffiti was both common and accepted, and perhaps even a source of local humor.

  • How does the narrator's research focus on less studied forms of graffiti contribute to our understanding of ancient Roman society?

    -The narrator's research on graffiti written with perishable materials like charcoal and chalk provides insights into the aesthetics and creativity of the ancient Romans. These forms of graffiti are often more elaborate and elegant than their inscribed counterparts, offering a richer understanding of Roman expression and art.

  • What is the significance of the graffiti written in the Roman cursive script found on the gates leading out of Pompeii?

    -The graffiti in Roman cursive script demonstrates the elegance and individuality of personal writing styles in ancient Rome. The message 'Victor with Phyloterus everywhere', written with flourishes and a playful branch, showcases the artistic nature of even utilitarian communications.

  • How do the graffiti messages between 'Prima' and 'Secundus' provide insight into the social interactions of Pompeii's residents?

    -The exchange of greetings between 'Prima' and 'Secundus' illustrates the personal connections and social dynamics of the Pompeiians. It suggests a culture where public declarations of affection or friendship were common, and where the act of writing on walls was a form of communication and community engagement.

  • What can the graffiti from Pompeii teach us about human nature and communication?

    -The graffiti from Pompeii demonstrate that the desire to express oneself publicly and leave a mark behind is a persistent aspect of human nature. It also shows that communication through writing and art is a fundamental part of our shared history, transcending time and culture.

  • How does the final graffito 'On September 3, Satura was here' reflect the enduring human desire to leave a trace of oneself?

    -This graffito exemplifies the timeless human impulse to leave a mark as a form of self-expression and to create a lasting impression. Despite the destruction of Pompeii, this simple message has survived, preserving Satura's memory for future generations.

Outlines

00:00

๐Ÿ›๏ธ The Enduring Legacy of Ancient Graffiti in Pompeii

This paragraph introduces the historical context of a graffito found in Pompeii, dating back to August 2. Despite the personal nature of the message, it was not about the speaker's own child but rather a form of public announcement common in ancient times. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD played a crucial role in preserving these messages, offering a unique insight into the lives of ordinary Romans. The speaker's personal connection to the subject is established through shared birth dates with the infamous eruption and a lifelong interest in Roman culture. The paragraph also contrasts the modern perception of graffiti with its ancient counterpart, highlighting the social acceptance and prevalence of graffiti in Roman society, and sets the stage for a deeper exploration of the subject matter.

05:02

๐Ÿ–Œ๏ธ The Artistry and Aesthetics of Ephemeral Graffiti

This section delves into the artistic aspects of ancient graffiti, particularly those made with perishable materials like charcoal and chalk, which have largely been overlooked by scholars. These graffiti are noted for their more intricate and expressive qualities compared to those inscribed directly into the walls. The speaker provides examples of such graffiti, including a playful message and a sketch, emphasizing the elegance and creativity of the Roman people in their everyday expressions. The discussion extends to the implications of these findings on our understanding of ancient aesthetics and the motivations behind the creation of such public art.

10:02

๐Ÿ“ Exploring the Literacy and Social Dynamics of Pompeii through Graffiti

This paragraph examines the graffiti on the Vicolo del Menandro in Pompeii, providing insights into the literacy rates and social interactions of its inhabitants. It highlights the presence of male and female names, suggesting a higher level of female literacy than previously assumed. The speaker discusses specific examples of graffiti, including a greeting from 'Prima' to 'Secundus' and the accompanying drawings, which may have been the work of adults or children. The paragraph also explores the playful nature of Roman graffiti, such as a message written upside down and an inventive use of the alphabet. The discussion underscores the human desire for self-expression and the thrill of discovery in leaving messages for others to find.

15:06

๐ŸŒฟ The Resilience of Personal Expression in the Face of Disaster

In this final paragraph, the speaker reflects on the enduring nature of personal expression, as exemplified by the graffiti left by individuals in Pompeii. Despite the catastrophic eruption that preserved these messages, the speaker suggests that the urge to leave a mark, to be remembered, is a timeless human instinct. The discussion includes a farewell greeting, a puzzling graffito, and a message from an enslaved individual, showcasing the diversity of voices from the past. The speaker concludes by inviting the audience to consider the legacy of their own messages and the impact they may have on future generations.

Mindmap

Keywords

๐Ÿ’กIuvenilla

Iuvenilla is the name of a baby girl whose birth was announced through a graffito in ancient Pompeii nearly 2,000 years ago. This serves as a historical example of how people in the past communicated significant personal events. In the context of the video, Iuvenilla's story illustrates how the eruption of Mount Vesuvius preserved this form of communication, offering a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Romans.

๐Ÿ’กPompeii

Pompeii is an ancient Roman city that was destroyed and preserved by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The city's ruins provide a rich source of historical information, including thousands of graffiti that offer insights into the daily lives and thoughts of ordinary people. In the video, Pompeii serves as a case study for understanding the use of graffiti as a form of communication and self-expression in ancient times.

๐Ÿ’กMount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius is a volcano in Italy that had a catastrophic eruption in 79 AD, which led to the destruction and preservation of the ancient city of Pompeii. The eruption's ash covered and thus protected many of the city's structures and graffiti, providing a time capsule of Roman life. In the video, the eruption is highlighted as the reason why the graffiti from Pompeii have survived to the present day.

๐Ÿ’กLatin graffiti

Latin graffiti refers to the informal writings and drawings found in ancient Roman cities, such as Pompeii, which were typically scratched into walls or other surfaces. These graffiti provide a unique perspective on the lives of everyday people, including those marginalized in official historical records. In the video, the study of Latin graffiti is presented as a way to hear the voices of ordinary Romans and understand their thoughts, feelings, and daily activities.

๐Ÿ’กAncient graffiti

Ancient graffiti are writings or drawings from historical periods, often found on walls, monuments, or other surfaces. Unlike modern graffiti, which is often considered illegal or taboo, ancient graffiti was commonly welcomed or permitted, appearing in various public and private spaces. They served as a means of communication, expression, and record-keeping for people in antiquity. In the video, the speaker explores how studying ancient graffiti can reveal insights into human nature and our own identities.

๐Ÿ’กSocial media

Social media refers to the use of digital platforms and applications to communicate and share information, ideas, and multimedia content. In the context of the video, the speaker draws a parallel between ancient graffiti and modern social media, suggesting that the desire to share personal news and thoughts publicly is a timeless human behavior. The speaker also implies that the graffiti found in Pompeii could be seen as the equivalent of today's tweets or social media posts.

๐Ÿ’กRoman cursive

Roman cursive is a style of handwriting used in ancient Rome, characterized by its flowing and connected letters. It was a faster and more casual form of writing compared to the formal Roman script. In the video, the speaker describes how some graffiti exhibit the elegant Roman cursive, showcasing the aesthetic considerations of the ancient writers and their desire to communicate not just the content but also the beauty of their writing.

๐Ÿ’กPlayfulness

Playfulness refers to the lighthearted or whimsical quality often found in creative expressions, such as writing or drawing. In the context of the video, the speaker highlights the playfulness of Roman graffiti, noting how the ancient Pompeians used writing and art to express humor, wit, and creativity. This aspect of the graffiti provides insight into the character and spirit of the people who lived in Pompeii.

๐Ÿ’กMarginalized

Marginalized refers to individuals or groups who are excluded from mainstream society or whose voices are not typically heard in official records. In the video, the speaker emphasizes that ancient graffiti provide evidence of the lives and thoughts of people who were marginalized in the historical narrative, such as women and the enslaved. The graffiti offer a unique opportunity to understand their experiences and perspectives.

๐Ÿ’กAesthetics

Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty, art, and taste, and the creation and appreciation of beauty. In the context of the video, the speaker is interested in how the style and presentation of the ancient graffiti reflect the personality and motivations of the writers. The aesthetics of the graffiti provide insights into the cultural values and individual expressions of the ancient Romans.

๐Ÿ’กContext

Context refers to the circumstances or background information that helps to understand the meaning of something. In the video, the speaker emphasizes the importance of examining graffiti within their historical and physical context to fully understand their significance. By looking at where and how the graffiti were placed, one can gain a deeper understanding of the messages and the lives of the people who created them.

Highlights

The birth of Iuvenilla was recorded as a graffito on the walls of ancient Pompeii nearly 2000 years ago.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD preserved thousands of graffiti, providing a snapshot of daily life in Pompeii.

The speaker's interest in Romans and Pompeii was sparked by sharing a birthday with the infamous eruption.

Latin graffiti offers a unique perspective into the lives and thoughts of ordinary Romans, beyond the well-documented historical figures.

Ancient graffiti were welcomed and even permitted, unlike modern graffiti which is often illegal or taboo.

The word 'graffiti' originates from the Italian word for 'scratched', inspired by the scratched graffiti of Pompeii discovered by 19th-century archaeologists.

Ancient graffiti were typically scratched into wall plaster using sharp instruments, as opposed to modern graffiti which often uses spray paint.

Graffiti in Pompeii were used as a means of communication and record-keeping due to the lack of inexpensive writing tools.

Some graffiti were written with perishable materials like charcoal and chalk, which have been largely ignored by modern scholars.

Elegant and inventive graffiti show that the Pompeiians valued not only the message but also the beauty of the writing.

The graffiti found on the Vicolo del Menandro offers insights into the literacy rates and social interactions in ancient Pompeii.

Some graffiti depict drawings that may have been the work of both children and adults, showing the human instinct to doodle.

The exchange of messages between 'Prima' and 'Secundus' demonstrates the personal and emotional connections captured in graffiti.

The graffiti on the walls of Pompeii serve as a historical record, preserving the memories and lives of individuals like Amianthus, a slave.

The urge to write on walls and leave a mark behind is a timeless human desire, as evidenced by the graffiti left by Satura.

The study of Pompeian graffiti provides a deeper understanding of what makes us human and offers a connection to the people of antiquity.

Transcripts

play00:27

On Saturday, August 2, at around 9:30pm,

play00:31

Iuvenilla was born.

play00:33

While I do have a daughter, her name isnโ€™t Iuvenilla,

play00:36

and she wasn't born on August 2.

play00:38

This was a graffito,

play00:40

a message written by a proud papa or a proud mama,

play00:43

on the walls of ancient Pompeii nearly 2,000 years ago.

play00:47

And while we might send a birth announcement

play00:50

or take to social media,

play00:51

this Pompeiian took to the walls to exclaim their happy news

play00:56

and even accompanied the message

play00:57

with a drawing of little Iuvenilla herself.

play01:01

The reason why we have this graffito and thousands like them

play01:04

was the destructive and deadly eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

play01:10

This volcanic eruption preserved this graffito for us today.

play01:14

We might wonder what happened to little Iuvenilla,

play01:17

likely only a few weeks old when the eruption happened.

play01:20

I hope she was able to escape with her family as many did.

play01:24

I've been interested in the Romans since I was little

play01:27

and Pompeii, especially,

play01:29

as I share my birthday with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24.

play01:34

I started learning Latin in high school,

play01:36

and while I enjoyed the language

play01:38

and enjoyed learning about the Romans,

play01:40

I couldn't connect with the stories of Julius Caesar

play01:43

or even the love poetry of Ovid.

play01:46

I wanted to know what were ordinary Romans doing and thinking.

play01:51

And in college, I was introduced to Latin graffiti.

play01:54

Now for the first time I could hear the thoughts and words of ordinary Romans.

play01:59

When I went to Pompeii, I could put myself in their sandals

play02:03

standing next to a column,

play02:05

imagining the messages they might write to one another.

play02:09

Line graffiti allow us to hear the thoughts and words of ordinary people

play02:14

who lived in antiquity.

play02:16

But I believe by studying Roman graffiti,

play02:18

we can learn a lot more about what makes us human

play02:21

and a lot more about ourselves too.

play02:25

Now, when you hear the word graffiti,

play02:26

you're probably imagining spray-painted messages in urban centers,

play02:30

bathroom graffiti or maybe graffiti artists like Banksy.

play02:34

But ancient graffiti were much different than modern graffiti.

play02:38

Modern graffiti are typically illegal or at least taboo in cities today.

play02:44

Ancient graffiti were welcome or even permitted.

play02:47

They appear in nearly every space in the ancient city:

play02:51

temples, tombs, bars, public spaces and even inside homes.

play02:56

Almost nothing was off limits.

play02:59

Modern graffiti are typically written in spray paint

play03:02

or scratched into a surface like a bathroom stall.

play03:06

Ancient graffiti were typically scratched into the wall plaster

play03:10

using a sharp instrument like a stylus or a nail.

play03:13

In fact, our English word "graffiti" comes from the Italian word meaning "scratched"

play03:19

and was coined when 19th century archaeologists first encountered

play03:22

the scratched graffiti of Pompeii.

play03:25

Ancient graffiti were written by a wide variety of people,

play03:29

and they're some of our best evidence

play03:31

for people marginalized from the literary record,

play03:34

like women and the enslaved.

play03:37

Now the reason why the Pompeiians wrote so many graffiti

play03:40

is they didn't have access to inexpensive writing tools like paper.

play03:45

So they took to the walls to send messages to one another,

play03:49

record observations

play03:50

or even record things using tally marks

play03:53

in the same way we might use scrap paper,

play03:56

our phones or even social media.

play03:59

Now on the screen now are two of the most famous graffiti from Pompeii.

play04:03

Unfortunately, both of them don't survive for us today,

play04:07

but drawings made at the time of their excavation

play04:09

allow us to see what they once looked like.

play04:12

The one on the top says,

play04:13

"This is the labyrinth,

play04:15

the Minotaur lives here,"

play04:17

and is accompanied by a drawing of a labyrinth from mythology.

play04:21

This graffito was written inside a private personโ€™s home.

play04:25

There wasn't the same taboo about writing in personal space like there is today.

play04:30

I doubt any of us would be too happy if somebody came into our living room

play04:34

and wrote a message such as this.

play04:37

The bottom graffiti shows us

play04:38

that the Pompeiians themselves had a keen awareness

play04:41

of how many graffiti covered their walls.

play04:44

It says, "Oh wall, I'm amazed you haven't fallen down

play04:48

holding up so many scribblings."

play04:51

This message was repeated several times throughout Pompeii.

play04:54

This particular one comes from the amphitheater,

play04:57

which is the space in which the gladiators would fight.

play05:01

Now, most graffiti in Pompeii were scratched as I mentioned,

play05:05

but some were written with perishable materials

play05:08

like charcoal and chalk.

play05:10

These graffiti are the subject of my present research,

play05:13

and they've been almost totally ignored by modern scholars

play05:17

in part because very few of them survived to this day.

play05:21

This is a shame,

play05:22

as these graffiti are often more flourishing,

play05:24

inventive and elegant than their inscribed counterparts.

play05:28

It was far easier to draw on top of the wall plaster

play05:31

than to inscribe into it.

play05:33

Now here's an example of one of these graffiti.

play05:37

This one was written on one of the gates leading out of the city,

play05:41

and it was likely made with chalk or maybe even just a clod of earth.

play05:45

It says, "Victor with Phyloterus everywhere."

play05:49

You can see the very elegant Roman cursive in which this message was written.

play05:54

Can you trace the large flourishes on the V, Y and R letters?

play05:59

The author included a playful branch to the right to complete the message.

play06:04

Now, just above this one was a graffito made in charcoal.

play06:08

This time the name Victor, with a flourishing V.

play06:12

And right below it, a portrait, maybe of Victor himself.

play06:16

We can just make out the right side of his face, his eye and his nose.

play06:22

Now, I'm interested in ancient aesthetics.

play06:24

What does the way the graffito was written tell us about the person who wrote it

play06:29

and their motivations?

play06:31

Now, here's a graffito you don't need to know Latin to understand.

play06:35

This one was inscribed into one of the bathhouses of the city.

play06:40

Can you read it?

play06:43

How about now?

play06:45

That's right.

play06:46

This was originally written upside down.

play06:49

Now we don't know if the author wrote it upside down while standing right side up

play06:53

or if they twisted their body to write it upside down.

play06:57

But either way it shows us the playfulness of so many of the Roman graffiti.

play07:02

Have you figured out what it says?

play07:05

What if I do this?

play07:08

This was an alphabet.

play07:10

It's the Latin alphabet interspersed forwards and backwards.

play07:14

So it starts with A,

play07:16

then it goes to X, which is the last letter of the Roman alphabet,

play07:20

then B,

play07:21

then U, which is the second to last,

play07:23

then C, then T, which is the third to last,

play07:26

and so on and so forth.

play07:28

So we have the alphabet written upside down

play07:31

and interspersed forwards and backwards.

play07:33

It doesn't get more playful than that.

play07:35

And we can see a utilitarian message such as an alphabet

play07:39

could even be written with elegant writing.

play07:42

The C and the D letter tails are so long, they cross.

play07:45

For the Pompeiians, it wasnโ€™t enough to write on the walls.

play07:49

They wanted to write beautifully.

play07:52

Now looking at graffiti in isolation such as this is interesting,

play07:56

but we can gain so much more

play07:58

when we examine them in context

play08:00

to understand how these graffiti relate to each other

play08:03

and the places they were written in.

play08:06

But to do that we're going to have to travel to ancient Pompeii.

play08:10

Now I wish we could all go there together.

play08:12

Instead I'm going to take us there virtually.

play08:15

We're going to walk down one avenue in ancient Pompeii

play08:19

to find the graffiti that were once written there

play08:22

and figure out what can these graffiti tell us

play08:25

about life in antiquity and life in the 21st century.

play08:29

This is our avenue that weโ€™ll be walking down,

play08:32

the Vicolo del Menandro,

play08:34

a small street in a residential district.

play08:37

We're one block off from the main avenue in town,

play08:40

in between the theater and the amphitheater.

play08:44

As we walk down the avenue, we see many names.

play08:47

Most of the names are male,

play08:49

as we believe many more men than women were literate in ancient Pompeii,

play08:53

but some female names jump out to us too.

play08:56

It used to be assumed that very few women in the ancient world were literate,

play09:01

but graffiti from Pompeii have truly complicated that picture.

play09:06

Amongst all the names,

play09:09

we see a greeting.

play09:11

This greeting says,

play09:13

"Prima sends many greetings to Secundus."

play09:16

Now Prima and Secundus mean first and second in Latin.

play09:20

So these might be names or they might be nicknames.

play09:24

So we have a message from one person to the other.

play09:27

Well, why did Prima write her message here on the facade of the wall plaster?

play09:32

Well, partly to get her message to Secundus

play09:34

and to make sure the rest of Pompeii could read it.

play09:38

This is the equivalent of a tweet or a Snapchat.

play09:41

Wall posts have been around for over 2,000 years.

play09:47

Now we can take a look at how Prima wrote her message.

play09:52

She wrote it in Roman cursive,

play09:54

but we can see it looks a lot different

play09:56

than the charcoal and chalk examples I showed earlier.

play09:59

It's difficult to inscribe into wall plaster

play10:02

so some of the letter forms become economical,

play10:05

such as the Es which are underlined on the slide.

play10:08

They become just two vertical marks.

play10:10

We can see though that Prima included an interpunct,

play10:14

a horizontally centered dot between the first and second word

play10:18

and I literally mean first and second.

play10:20

That's what those words mean in Latin.

play10:22

This interpunct helped to show where the first word stopped

play10:25

and the second word began and was a mark of elegant writing.

play10:30

Now, just below this graffito there were several drawings.

play10:33

Unfortunately we don't have these ones today,

play10:36

but I've drawn them here to show you what they might have looked like

play10:40

based on other drawings found at Pompeii.

play10:42

There were four boars, three birds,

play10:45

a gladiator, a ship and a partridge in a pear tree.

play10:48

I'm kidding about the last one.

play10:51

Now, scholars such as Katherine Huntley have used developmental psychology

play10:55

to propose that some drawings were the work of children,

play10:58

but others like these could be the work of adults, too,

play11:02

replicating things they'd seen or heard in picture form.

play11:06

My point here is that just like the urge to write on a wall is as old as time,

play11:12

I believe the urge to doodle is a feature of the human spirit.

play11:18

Now, a little bit further down our wall

play11:20

we might have a reply from Secundus to Prima.

play11:24

Again, these might be nicknames,

play11:26

so we're not sure, but it's possible.

play11:29

This message says, "Secundus too greet his Prima everywhere.

play11:34

I ask, mistress, that you love me."

play11:37

Now let's look at the way Secundus wrote his message.

play11:40

He didn't write it in the Roman cursive like Prima

play11:44

and definitely not like the flourishing cursive we started with.

play11:48

Instead, he wrote his message in capital letters

play11:51

so that Prima and the rest of Pompeii wouldn't miss it.

play11:56

And if we look, he accentuated the message with the box surrounding it

play12:00

as a way to highlight the message and to make it look more official

play12:05

like official inscriptions.

play12:07

If we look at the way Secundus spelled his words,

play12:10

he left off the [As] on most of the words,

play12:13

likely because they weren't being pronounced at the time.

play12:16

If you've ever said "gonna" instead of "going to,"

play12:19

you're familiar with this sort of phenomenon.

play12:23

Just below this message, Secundus wrote two further greetings.

play12:28

Unfortunately we don't have drawings of these ones,

play12:30

but the excavator who discovered them

play12:32

said that they were written by the same person

play12:34

and using the same instrument.

play12:36

So they probably looked pretty similar to the message above.

play12:40

And these ones say, "Secundus greets his Prima, Secundus."

play12:43

"Secundus greets his Prima."

play12:45

Can we just feel Secundus's love through these messages?

play12:49

Again, Secundus has left off the A in spelling Prima's name,

play12:54

all three times.

play12:56

Probably because it wasn't pronounced.

play12:59

I tell my Latin students, "Don't be afraid of making mistakes.

play13:02

Even the Romans made them."

play13:05

Now, why did Secundus and Prima write these messages to one another?

play13:09

Well, partly it was to get their messages to the other person.

play13:13

But I believe there's something else going on here too.

play13:15

Part of it is to take part in this thrill of discovery.

play13:19

How many of us have left a sticky note for somebody

play13:22

or put a note in a lunch box

play13:24

or written on somebody's social media to find later?

play13:28

Oh, come on, everybody's hands should be up.

play13:30

Right.

play13:31

You want to get your message to the other person,

play13:33

but it's also taking part in the thrill of discovery,

play13:36

knowing you're leaving something behind for somebody to find later.

play13:40

And I believe that's a motivation for these greeters in Pompeii.

play13:45

Now we continue down our walk and we find more evidence of elegant writing.

play13:50

Here we have a farewell greeting, "Veneria, goodbye."

play13:54

And the ends of the letters made to look like branches.

play13:59

Just below it is a graffito that has stumped scholars.

play14:02

It doesn't really make sense in Latin.

play14:05

I believe it was a first attempt for the graffito above.

play14:09

Or perhaps somebody was replicating the elegant graffito above

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in rather simpler form, and they werenโ€™t as effective.

play14:17

These two graffiti show us the true elegance that was possible

play14:21

in some of these Latin graffiti.

play14:24

As we continue down our avenue,

play14:26

we end with a graffito that shows us a group

play14:30

almost completely left out of the literary record,

play14:32

and these are the enslaved.

play14:34

This graffito says,

play14:36

"Amianthus, slave of Coelius Caldus, a clothes washer."

play14:40

Now, clothes washing was a notoriously dirty business in antiquity.

play14:44

One of the materials used to wash clothes was urine.

play14:48

While we wish we could know more about Amianthus's life,

play14:52

this graffito has at least given us the name

play14:55

of one of the many enslaved

play14:57

whose lives have been lost to history.

play15:02

We end our tour with one final graffito.

play15:05

This one says, "On September 3, Satura was here."

play15:10

How many of us have seen a graffito such as this

play15:14

or such as this

play15:16

while waiting at the train station or using the restroom?

play15:20

Satura could hardly have known

play15:22

that a destructive and deadly eruption in 79 AD

play15:25

would preserve this graffito

play15:27

and thereby her memory for us today.

play15:30

The urge to write on the wall,

play15:32

to leave your name behind in space and time,

play15:36

is as old as time.

play15:39

While I am by no means advocating

play15:41

that we all go out and start writing graffiti,

play15:44

I hope we can consider what messages we're leaving behind

play15:48

and what we hope will last for the next generation.

play15:51

Thank you

play15:52

(Applause)

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Related Tags
Ancient GraffitiPompeii LifeRoman HistorySocial MediaCultural HeritageArchaeological FindsLatin LanguageHuman ConnectionEphemeral Art