[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail: Bill Thayer 
[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home

If it ain't broke, don't fix it!


[image ALT: A photograph of a 9‑line inscription on a square slab of stone. It is a Roman inscription in Narni, Umbria (central Italy); the inscription is transcribed, translated, and commented in the text of this webpage.]

The inscription above has been disfigured within the last hundred years. Fortunately it is reversible: with your own eyes.

First, here it is, as transcribed in a printed brochure:

Q GRAI[VS]

STATOR D [..]

GRAIAE Q L BE [. . .]

MEAE D[..]ANIH[..]D

O GRAIO O A B

ATELIA ET LAIVS

VIV OVF EI VLC

POSTERISQVE MEIS V

INFERVNDI VTI ESSE OP

A lot of this makes no sense, yet there are very few missing letters in this nicely cut inscription. What happened?

The Romans themselves used to highlight the letters of their inscriptions with red paint, a habit they may have inherited from the Etruscans: at any rate, a text "lined out" this way is much easier to read, and it can be rather attractive, too.

Well, since the Renaissance, we moderns have occasionally done some lining out of our own. Since the cutting of the letters, however, many centuries have passed, and they are often no longer quite as clear as they could be. When you factor in people who don't understand the text in the first place, many an inscription falls victim to inexpert lining out, and this is one of them.

The last step in the process is for someone to record the lining-out, rather than the underlying inscription, in a publication. From that point on, "I saw it in a book" takes over — a process in which one writer copies another, and all the readers believe almost any absurdity since after all it's in print — and you have a mystery.

As with many mysteries, undoing it requires going back to the source, in this case the actual physical inscription, and taking a good look at it. Here I was able to make some elementary corrections; others might have been possible had I been able to get rid of the paint. As it is, I tried reading the stone with my fingers.

Partial success here. Contact with the actual stone of this inscription revealed at least a few clear corrections, which I've . . . lined out in red below. Some of them you can see for yourself in the photograph, but others are hiding under the paint.

A more nearly correct transcription:

Q GRAI[VS]
STATOR D [..]
GRAIAE Q L BE [. . .]
MEAE D[..] AN III [..] D
Q GRAIO Q A B
ATELIA ET LAIVS
VIV QVE [S]EPVLC
POSTERISQVE MEIS V
INFERVNDI VTI ESSE OP[VS]

Expanded:

Quintus Graius
Stator D [. . .]
Graiae Q l[i]be[rtae?]
meae d [. . .] ann [. . .] III [. . .] D [. . .]
Quinto Graio Q A B
Atelia et Laius
vivique sepulchrum
posterisque meis v [. . .]
inferundi uti esse opus


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 9 May 01