Movember: Three Bewhiskered Latin Verse Inscriptions

Lucius Verus and Lucius Falsus in the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne.

Lucius Verus and Lucius Falsus, both in dire need of a shave, in the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne.

November is Movember, and as Movember is almost over now, it is high time to present a choice of three outstanding and remarkable inscribed Latin poems that mention beards.

As the idea behind Movember is to raise awareness of men’s health issues, may at least the first one of these poems be a reminder of that important issue.

1. The Perils of a Big City (CIL V 8652 = CLE 629: Zuglio)

[- – -] Laet[i]lio C(ai) [f(ilio) G]a[ll]o
de[c(urioni)] dum c[u]pidus i[u]-
venis urbem voluisse(m)
videre, inde regrediens
incidi febribus acris. at
pres[s]us graviter [a]misi
cu[m] flore i[u]vent[a]m,
quoniam [in]iqua me [i]am
sic fata voca[ba]nt, inton-
samque tuli cru[deli fu]-
nere barbam infelix
nec potui p[e]rfer[r]e vota
meorum. [f]unere acer-
bo iace[o] sedibus istis et
misera mater (h)abet in cor-
de dolorem. cottidie
fletus dat et in pectore
palmas. qui vixit ann(os) XX
m(enses) VII d(ies) VII Laetilia T(iti) f(ilia) Custa
filio carissimo atq(ue) pient(issimo)
mater infel(icissima).

Movember in Fayum. – Image source:

Movember in Roman Egypt. – Image source:

For Laetilius Gallus, son of Gaius, decurion.

When I was a young man still and I had the desire to see the big city, I fell into a painful fever on my way back. Viciously attacked, I lost my youth at its peak, as an unfair fate was already thus calling me, and, out of luck, I took my unsheared beard with me, in a cruel funeral, unable to accomplish what my family was praying for. In this place I lie, in a bitter grave, and my wretched mother feels pain in her heart: every day she cries and hits her chest with the palms of her hand.

He lived twenty years, seven months, and seven days. Laetitia Custa, daughter of Titus, the most wretched mother did this for her most beloved and dutiful son.

2. Cheeky! (CLE 1399: Rome)

Hoc situs est tumulo casto de semine Castus
filius Andreae nomen avi referens
qui nec bis denos vitae contigerat annos
implebat roseas barbula grata genas.

In this tomb lies Castus, sprout of chaste seed, son of Andrea, honouring the grandfather’s name, to whom not even twice ten years of life were granted and who filled his rosy cheeks with a welcome little beard.

3. A Horrendous End … Not Only To Movember (CIL VI 38425 = CLE 1948: Rome)

P(ublius) Grattius Sp(uri) f(ilius)
Col(lina) Celer.
hic ego nunc iaceo Grattius
infelix sub tegmine terrae,
barba deposita peragens
tertium et vicensimum annum,
infelix indigne subiectus
acerbe morte nefanda
occisus calce et manibus extra
fatum protrusus in has tenebras.
hoc opto: moriare malis ex-
emplis cruciatus et ipse,
nec te nunc liceat quo me
privasti lumen videre,
et tu des poenas quas meruist[i]
defensus inique. [- – -]
vos nunc conso[lor – – -]

Publius Grattius Celer, son of Spurius, of the tribus Collina.

I, Grattius, lie here now, under a cover of soil, my beard already removed, aged twenty-three, wretched, defeated in an undignified manner, infuriatingly, killed in an unspeakable murder, kicked and beaten beyond fate, pushed into this darkness.

I have this wish: may he (who did this), too, die, tortured in horrible ways, and may you not be allowed to see the light of day, which you stole from me, may you pay the price that you deserve, without proper guard … I console you now …

The end of Movember is marked by the removal of the moustache – something that neither Laetilius Gallus nor Castus got around to do.

Grattius had his beard removed – not, of course, for charity or any other good cause: the depositio barbae was a rite of passage, a sign that a young man had outgrown youthful folly.

Grattius did not get to enjoy his clearly only just recently celebrated (and thus still noteworthy) maturity, and one can only begin to fathom the pains that his horrendous death caused his family – and the grief that the families of Laetilius Gallus and Castus must have felt over their losses.

So let us hope that Movember does not only raise awareness through token gestures, but actually contributes something that will help to reduce pain and premature death in this world.

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
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