. LacusCurtius • Via Appia — Epitaph of Maarcus Caicilius

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Bill Thayer

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A Courteous Voice Not Stilled (CIL I2.1202)

[image ALT: A horizontal rectangular slab of stone, with a crack traversing it from top to bottom at a 30‑degree angle. It bears an inscription the text of which is given, translated and commented on this page; it is the tombstone of Marcus Caecilius on the Via Appia near Rome.]
Slightly modernized,
in classical Latin:
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Hoc est factum monumentum
Marco Caecilio.
Hospes, gratum est cum apud
meas restitisti sedes:
bene rem geras et valeas;
dormias sine cura.

This is the monument made
to Marcus Caecilius.
Guest, it is pleasing that you stopped at my place:
may you run your affairs well and enjoy good health;
may you sleep without a care.

This tombstone, on the Appian Way within the graveled precincts of the Tomb of Caecilia Metella — presumably a relative — is of uncertain age, but it's old. The Loeb edition (Remains of Old Latin, vol. IV, Archaic Inscriptions, pp10‑11) dates this to about 140 B.C., while footnoting that with "But it may be much later, the formation of the letters pointing, some think, even to the Augustan age."

I'm not one of those: for me, these unshaded letters with just the barest hint of serifs — although this is a beautifully cut, carefully made inscription — are earlier.

The double vowels are usually referred to as "Accian", named for L. Accius, the tragic poet, who is said (but see note below) to have introduced them as a way of marking quantity: at any rate, these are just long vowels. According to Sandys' Latin Epigraphy, the earliest example known to us is on a milestone from Forum Popilii, which its text dates to 132 B.C.; but Sandys' statement begs the question: of this very inscription before you, for example, we don't know the date. Another dated example is the Sulla inscription in Chiusi (photo): it must be no earlier than 82 B.C., the year of Sulla's dictatorship.

Accius's career, at any rate, covered the end of the 2c B.C.; and, oddly considering that almost the entire course of Latin literature lay after him, he was the last real tragedian Rome had: the gruesome blood-orgies of Seneca and other lesser writers hardly count. As recognized by Shakespeare and countless others in his time and since, the great tragedians of Rome are her historians: so often with the Romans, as here with M. Caicilius, it is in real life that we find dignity.

Note on the so‑called Accian vowels:

It is widely affirmed that Accius invented this way of marking long vowels, but no source ever seems to be given for the statement. In its article on him, the careful Oxford Classical Dictionary makes no mention of the vowels, merely stating that he was much interested in questions of spelling reform and orthography, and sending us to Varro, L. L. X.70 (a passage on the quantities of certain vowels in Greek words — close but no cigar).

A bit more poking around and I believe I've found the source of the attribution, a passage in the Institutio Oratoria by Quintilian, which reads (I.VII.14), correctly translated except for a minor omission, by H. E. Butler in the Loeb edition:

Semivocales geminare diu non fuit usitatissimi moris, atque e contrario usque ad Accium et ultra porrectas syllabas geminis, ut dixi, vocalibus scripserunt.

For a long time the doubling of semi-vowels was avoided, while down to the time of Accius and beyond, long syllables were indicated by repetition, as I said, of the vowel.

The words I added back to the English translation, "as I said," no doubt refer to the earlier passing statement by Quintilian (I.IV.10) when speaking of diphthongs and the length of vowels generally,

ut veteres scripserunt qui geminatione earum velº apice utebantur,

(compare the obsolete method of indicating a long vowel by doubling it or by using an apex)º

It's clear from these passages that Quintilian, a 1c A.D. expert in orthography and phonetics, thought that these double vowels go back earlier than Accius. It's also easy to see how a reader with a taste for certainty might interpret the same passage as "Accius invented this," after which the usual chain of unverified quotation and paraphrase takes over completely. All I'm willing to say is that he knew about it and maybe adopted it, possibly from Oscan, the nearest relative of Latin, where double vowels are a regular feature.

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Page updated: 25 Aug 20