Unrequited love: a Paraclausithyron from Pompeii

A paraklausithyron is a ‘motif from Greek and especially Augustan love elergy’ which typically places a lover outside his (or her) mistress’s door, desiring entry.  This one, in a woman’s voice, was found in Pompeii on the door of a modest private dwelling and is reportedly ‘the only female homoerotic love poem to survive from the ancient Roman world’.

Oh, if only I could hold your sweet arms around my neck
In an embrace and place kisses on your tender lips.
Go now, entrust your joys to the winds, my darling,
Believe me, fickle is the nature of men.
Often I have been wakeful in the middle of the wasted night
Thinking these things to myself:
many men whom Fortune has raised up on high,
Now suddenly rush headlong, and fall, overwhelmed by her.
In this way when Venus has suddenly joined together lover’s bodies
But daylight comes to divide them.

‘The fleeting nature of love, desire, and pain of separation, all at Venus’s behest’ are recurring themes of graffiti in Pompeii.

Featured image: Simeon Solomon.  Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene.  1864.

Vandalism As Literature

The Dish


Emily Gowers is captivated by Kristina Milnor’s Graffiti and the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii:

Milnor reads the graffiti as carefully as any literary text, picking out clever manipulations of lines from Ovid and Virgil and the rhymes hidden in abbreviations that speak of subtle play on the aural and read experience of words. She also takes account of the original location of graffiti, which was often placed so as to initiate a dialogue with adjacent visual images. Along with crudity, she finds delicate sequences of erotic poems and even – wishful thinking, perhaps – Rome’s only personal declaration of lesbian desire. Her project fits well with other recent explorations of the fuzzy areas at the margins of canonical Latin literature: paratexts, pseudepigrapha (fakes ascribed to famous authors) and centos. In her view, one reason graffiti should intrigue us is because it shows how permeable the borders were between elite…

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The Last Days of Pompeii?

I was at Pompeii again with friends yesterday, for perhaps the 5th time over the last two years.  In the late autumn sunshine, the ruins were as wonderful and evocative as ever.  The administration of the site remains dysfunctional.

To be confronted, at 10 o’clock in the morning at the main entrance to a UNESCO world heritage site visited by 2.5 million people per year, with scribbled signs proclaiming ‘No maps’ was shocking, even by Italian standards.

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