Last weekend I was hunting inscriptions near Hadrian’s Wall. In particular, I was keen to see a number of Carmina Latina Epigraphica in Carlisle’s magnificent Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery – if you have never been, do go and visit!
My visit was both highly enjoyable and successful, not least thanks to the museum’s wonderfully knowledgeable and forthcoming curator, Mr Tim Padley.
Among other things, I discovered that one of the texts had been slightly misread in the past – always a highlight for an epigraphist, underlining the continued vital importance of the principle of autopsy.
But as the reader of this blog may get a bit tired of my constant preoccupation with the Latin verse inscriptions, I would like to present a selection of other texts that I managed to see on my trip.
1. A Greek Poem from Corbridge, Northumberland
You behold me, an altar for Astarte: Pulcher set me up.
A humble hexameter, and one of a mere four (!) verse inscriptions in the Greek language that have been discovered in Britain to the present day.
2. Quarry Inscriptions at Comb Crag
Staying in a delightful B&B at Low Row, Cumbria, my host suggested looking for a set of Latin inscriptions that were reported for the Roman quarry at Comb Crag, situated by the river Irthing and ‘located on the east face of the cliff at Coombe Crag, 535 m. south-west of milecastle 51’ (as noted by Roman Inscriptions of Britain, ad n. 1946).
I managed to inspect the following items (clicks on the links will take you to the edition and translation in RIB):
a. RIB 1946
b. RIB 1947
c. RIB 1948
d. RIB 1950
No clear traces of text remain below 1951; yet, closer inspection appears to reveal some faint traces of letters (partly visible in the photo, above, as well).
3. Rediscovering Vergil…?
Okay, I can’t help it – I must return to my beloved Carmina Latina Epigraphica once again.
Inspired by the successful visit of the Roman quarry at Comb Crag, I decided to visit another, nearby Roman quarry at Lodge Crag by Low Row – the find-spot of a peculiar set of texts, RIB 1953 and 1954.
RIB 1954, a quote of, or allusion to, Vergil’s Aeneid, had long been on my list of texts of interest, as it had been reported in 1694 and not been seen since:
Aurea per caẹḷụm volitat Victoria pennis
Golden Victory flutters through the sky with her wings.
Accessible by a public footpath, there are two areas of interest. There is an exposed rock face, with a solitary tree on it, to the east of a small wood, and then there is a significant quarry site in that wood. (I kindly spare the reader gory images of sheep carcasses rotting away by that site, sheep that apparently had fallen off the crag there – my degrees did not prepare me for creepy encounters like this!)
According to a note at RIB 1953, ‘Horsley inquired about the inscriptions ‘on’ the crag ‘but was told they were now entirely defaced’. Bruce reported that ‘any trace of antiquity … is entirely removed’.’
I am not entirely sure about that, and I am particularly unsure about that with regard to the exposed rock face that is outside the little wood – here is a panoramic shot of the area from north (on the left of the photo) to south (on the right).
RIB 1953 and 1954 were described as written on an ‘altar cut on the rock-face’ (and it seems undisputed that both were carved into the rock, rather than a free-standing object).
With a bit of good will, it may in fact be possible to see such a form, just underneath that solitary tree.
Using grazing light and a filter, here is what the rock face looks like:
Did I manage to find the inscription?
I am not at all sure about that.
Certainly nothing that could be read as a text anymore.
But it seems (to me, anyway) as though there were traces of letters there at some point – now weathered beyond recognition.
So perhaps this was the find-spot?
It is nice to think that this place, with its magnificent (nowadays even idyllic) view towards Hadrian’s Wall, was the very space in which someone once decided to inscribe a line of Vergil.
But one must be careful for one’s euphoria not to turn into a state of inscriptional paranoia, where one wishes to see letters just about everywhere…