The writings on the walls of Pompeii: between eroticism, irony and politics

by Anna Barone

The writings on the walls of Pompeii are a cross section of lives that seem more current than ever. Yet the wall is that obstacle that separates, distances, divides, which places not only physical but also human barriers, which intimates not to communicate. But once upon a time, this was a valid means to express one's passions, feelings, political opinions and insults, a means that brings us back to the everyday life of a place that has remained immortal.

And that's what happens to Pompeii, although its history was extinguished one night in 79 AD by the ashes of Vesuvius, the inscriptions and graffiti on its walls still make us immerse in the vitality that distinguished it, often giving us the sensation of hearing echoing the voice and personal and intimate thoughts of a people, the Roman one, who in the end do not differ from ours .

The ancient city preserves the most varied writings: real ones can be found posters e slogan election, prophecies, announcements of shows, sales or rentals, shopping lists or simple reminders, signs of hotels and taverns, personal outbursts, slanders and insults about hated people, phrases of friendship, clashes, considerations on the passing of time, prank messages, but above all poetic messages of love, reciprocated or not.

Scritte sui muri di Pompei
Photo by Antonio Casertano

Love erotic and poetic inscriptions

It is widely recognized that Pompeii was a rather libertine city, with the presence of famous ladies and numerous brothels, on the other hand its inhabitants were rich enough to be able to afford luxury and not miss the pleasures of Venus. The walls, therefore, have often witnessed the hottest moments in the life of the Pompeians, real "showcases" where they can tell their love adventure, express dissatisfaction or affection, address insults and make malicious insinuations with a specific recipient.

The love celebrated on the walls of Pompeii is transversal, has no borders, embraces both heterosexuality and homosexuality, the latter concept different from how it is contemplated today with its burden of prejudice, but recognizing sexual behaviors only on the basis to the roles, active or passive.

You can read promotional spots of prostitutes and feedback left by the customers of the brothel: for example at the alley of the skeletons we find "Libanis felat A II", highlighting specialties, price and above all who had to be asked.

Yet: “Slave offers herself for two coins. It has refined tastes ".

Other writings are less explicit, but just as much unequivocal, such as the statement "Here is happiness," which might seem absolutely innocent were it not for the fact that it was placed next to a drawing of a phallus!

Although most of the inscriptions with declarations of love were written by men, such as one who stated "If anyone hasn't seen the Venus of Apelles look at my girlfriend. It shines like her " there is no shortage of writings by female hand "Oh, if I could hold you tight with my arms around your neck, and kiss your tender lips! Go now, girl, entrust your joys to the winds. Believe me, the nature of men is light. Often I, lost in the middle of the night, kept awake, meditating on this thing with myself. "

This is how the unknown courageous Pompeian lady expresses her love, even writing the name of the person she lovesto “O carter, if you felt the fire of love, you would hurry more to see Venus. I love a young man, Venusto, please, spur the mule, let's run. You drank: let's go, take the reins and shake, take me to Pompeii, where my sweet love is ". CIL IV, 5092

Pompei panoramica Vesuvio scavi
Pompei - photo by Raffaella De Rosa

Yet:

"If you know the power of love, if you know you are a human creature, have mercy on me, forgive me and let me come to you." CIL IV, 4971

"Long live whoever loves, die whoever is unable to love and die twice whoever forbids love". CIL IV, 4091

“Reproaching those who love is like tying up the air and preventing the spring water from always flowing”. CIL IV, 1649

Electoral inscriptions and posters

This type of inscription in Pompeii is found almost everywhere: the candidate's name was written in larger letters than the rest of the manifesto and was followed by a series of acronyms. The respective supporters usually wrote the slogans.

"Please elect Elvio Sabino as a builder, worthy of the state, a decent person".

Even the ironic considerations do not change: one scriptor, respectively at the Basilica, the Teatro Grande and the Amphitheater of Pompeii, he leaves his bitter consideration "I am amazed, O wall, that you did not collapse under the weight of so much nonsense ”.

It is still possible to read on an artefact preserved in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples "Vote for him, because during his previous term not even a donkey died."

Written on the walls of Pompeii of another kind

There is no shortage of graffiti and writings inherent to the time, complaints for dishonest people e cacatores (people who defecated in the alleys of the city, some of these also on the statues of the gods and magistrates, on the tombs of the dead or even in the sacred precincts of the temples, regardless of the wrath of the gods), the idlers, advertising, the role of 'friendship, parodies and tongue twisters, and others of various kinds, such as:

“Nothing can last forever: after having shone well, the sun returns to the ocean, the moon decreases which was full a short time ago, the violence of the winds often turns into a light breeze”. CIL IV, 9123

“If only such deceptions would come back to haunt you, host! You sell water, but drink pure wine ”. CIL IV, 3948

"Cacator, beware of you that persimmon, or if you dare to ignore this warning, the wrath of Jupiter may return to you." CIL IV, 7716

“This place is not for the idle. Go away, idler! " CIL IV, 4813

“Here we have been two endless friends; if [you ask] the names, [they were Gaius and Aulus] ”. CIL IV, 8162

“When the ham has been put together (from the leftovers), if you serve it to a guest he doesn't enjoy the ham, he licks the pot or the pan”. CIL IV, 1896

"The laundry, the owl I sing, not the weapons and the hero". CIL IV, 9131

"Barbaric things stammered under barbaric beards." CIL IV, 4235

“Lovers, like bees, have a life as sweet as honey. I would like it too!" CIL IV, 8408

We find many of those inscriptions in our lexicon and why not, we continue to reproduce them on our walls as well, as evidence of their contamination in our culture. The wall was considered the social network of that time, a blog, a "social space" where to share, send and address the most disparate thoughts, often enriched with answers and comments.

The life of a lost city we find it there, in the countless writings on the walls of Pompeii.

-Anna Barone

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