Too-Late Tuesday: Poetic Epitaphs

Some literary epitaphs from Greece and Rome:

“If it were right for gods to mourn for mortals
Then the Muses would mourn the poet Naevius.
And when he was brought down to death’s warehouse
Rome would forget how to speak the Latin tongue.”

Immortales mortales si foret fas fiere
Fierent divae Camenae Naevium poetam
Itaque postquamst Orchi traditus thesauro
Obliti sunt Romae loquier lingua latina.

Naevius? A Roman poet who flourished between he first two Punic wars. According to Aulus Gellius, here is the epitaph of Pacuvius (Gellius I.24.4)

“Young man, even though you hurry by, this stone
asks you to look on it and then to read what is written.
Here is where you find interred the bones of the poet
Marcus Pacuvius. I desire that you know this. Farewell.”

Adulescens, tam etsi properas te hoc saxum rogat
Ut sese aspicias, deinde quod scriptum est legas.
Hic sunt poetae Pacuvi Marci sita
Ossa. Hoc volebam nescius ne esses. Vale.

 

The Romans, of course, were not the only ones in on this game. Famous as well is Callimachus, epigram 21.

“Whoever you are lifting your foot near my grave
Know that I am the child and father both of Cyrenian Callimachus.
You would know both men. One led the soldiers of his country,
And the other sang songs beyond envy.
Don’t be surprised: whomever the Muses behold at birth
Are not abandoned friends as they grow grey.”

῞Οστις ἐμὸν παρὰ σῆμα φέρεις πόδα, Καλλιμάχου με
ἴσθι Κυρηναίου παῖδά τε καὶ γενέτην.
εἰδείης δ’ ἄμφω κεν• ὁ μέν κοτε πατρίδος ὅπλων
ἦρξεν, ὁ δ’ ἤεισεν κρέσσονα βασκανίης.
[οὐ νέμεσις• Μοῦσαι γὰρ ὅσους ἴδον ὄμματι παῖδας
†ἄχρι βίου† πολιοὺς οὐκ ἀπέθεντο φίλους.]

 

Gellius also adds to Pacuvius’, an epitaph of a more commonly known comedian, Plautus:
“Now that Plautus has found death, Comedy weeps,
Abandoned on the stage. And then, Laughter, Play and Jest
mourn together with all the uncountable Measures.”

postquam est mortem aptus Plautus, Comoedia luget,
scaena est deserta, dein Risus, Ludus Iocusque
et Numeri innumeri simul omnes conlacrimarunt,

 

Ennius, Varia 17-18

“Let no one honor me with tears nor celebrate my funeral
with weeping. Why? Alive I fly on the mouths of men.”

Nemo me lacrimis decoret nec funera fletu
faxit. cur?  volito vivos per ora virum.

 

epitaph
A real epitaph

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