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Bill Thayer

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Generous, but Can't Spell


[image ALT: A small, primitively carved, fragmentary Roman inscription, which is transcribed, translated, and commented on this page.]

386 × 122 mm
5th century A.D.?
narthex of S. Sabina, Rome

There is no virtue, strictly speaking, in spelling correctly; but poor spelling makes it very difficult to get your message across. Here in fact, in a first pass we must blame the stonecarver, since it's obvious that he didn't know how to write, but was tracing what someone had given him: yet if the person who commissioned the inscription had known how to read, surely they would have corrected it. Having been so generous as to share your tombstone with an even poorer friend, would you take delivery of this?

Transcribed and expanded:
1
2
3
SALVO PRIMO DONAVIT
SEBIBUE ECII
. . .
Spelling corrected:
1
2
3
SALVO PRIMO DONAVIT
SIBIQUE FECIT
. . .
Translated:
To Salvus Primus
. . . gave [this tombstone]
and made it for himself/herself.
Or better yet, I think:
To Salvus Primus
. . . gave [this tombstone]
ank maoe it fornserf.

The inscription is approximately dated by the style of the lettering, and in particular by the shape of the A's. From the size of the stone and the obvious poverty of the people involved, I would say that this is not from a full-sized tomb, but from a loculus in a columbarium or in a catacomb. There is no definite indication that they were Christian, but the name SALVUS and the late date make it likely.


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Page updated: 28 Feb 03