‘Speak no ill of the dead,’ they say – an aphorism that Diogenes Laertius attributed to Chilon, one of the seven sages: τὸν τεθνηκóτα μὴ κακολογεῖν (usually just received in a non-antique Latin translation, de mortuis nil nisi bene or de mortuis nil nisi bonum).
What if that deceased person was a piece of work?
What if hatred outlasts the life of the object of hate?
What if one simply cannot forgive?
There are several examples of such scenarios recorded in the Latin inscriptions – e. g. a notorious piece from Pompeii, which I have discussed before on this blog as well as in a recent paper on the discourse about Reading and Writing in Pompeii (AE 1960.64):
Hospes paullisper morare | si non est molestum et quid euites | cognosce. amicum hunc quem | speraueram, mi esse ab eo mihi accusato|res subiecti et iudicia instaurata. deis | gratias ago et meae innocentiae, omni | molestia liberatus sum. qui nostrum mentitur | eum nec Di Penates nec inferi recipiant.
Visitor, sojourn a little, if it is no bother, and learn what to avoid: this friend, whom I had hoped to be my friend – by him were accusers brought forth and legal proceedings initiated against me. I thank the gods and my innocence, I was freed from all bother. He who lies about us: may he never be welcomed by the household gods and the gods of the underworld.
That is pretty bad – hard feelings, hurt feelings, set in stone: anger celebrated for future generations to behold, while the pre-deceased offender is left without the opportunity to give his version of the story.
But it could be worse.
Compare, for example, the following, rather outrageous, text from the city of Rome (CIL VI 20905 cf. p. 3526 = CLE 95; for drawings follow this link).
At the front, the casual reader was able to read the following lines (translations from Judith Evans Grubbs, Stigmata Aeterna: A Husband’s Curse, in: C. Damon, K.S. Myers, and J. Miller (eds.), Vertis in usum. Studies in Honor of Edward Courtney, Leipzig 2002, 230-42, esp. 230-1):
Iuniae M(arci) f(iliae) Proculae. vix(it) ann(os) VIII m(enses) XI d(ies) V miseros
patrem et matrem in luctu reliquid (!). fecit M(arcus) Iuniu[s – – -]
Euphrosynus sibi et [- – -]e tu sine filiae et parentium in u[no ossa]
requ(i)escant quidquid nobis feceris idem tibi speres mihi crede tu tibi testis [eris].
To the divine manes of Junia Procula, daughter of Marcus. She lived eight years, eleven months, (and) five days. She left her wretched father and mother in grief. M. Junius Euphrosynus made (this altar) for himself and for [name deleted]. You, allow the bones of the daughter and parents to rest in one (place). Whatever you have done for us, may you hope for the same yourself. Believe me, you will be a witness to yourself.
At the inscription’s back, however, there was a poem in iambic senarii:
Hic stigmata aeterna Acte libertae scripta sunt vene-
nariae et perfidae dolosae duri pectoris. clavom et restem
sparteam ut sibi collum alliget et picem candentem
pectus malum commurat (!) suum. manumissa grati(i)s
secuta adulterum patronum circumscripsit et
ministros ancillam et puerum lecto iacenti
patrono abduxit ut animo desponderet solus
relictus spoliatus senex. e(t) Hymno <e>ade(m) sti(g)m(a)ta
Here the eternal marks of infamy have been written for Acte the freedwoman, the poisoner, faithless and deceitful, hard-hearted. (I bring) a nail and a rope of broom so that she may bind her own neck, and burning pitch to consume her evil heart. Manumitted free of charge, she cheated her patron, following an adulterer, and she stole away his servants – a slave girl and a boy – while her patron was lying in bed, so that he pined away, an old man left alone and despoiled. And the same marks of infamy to Hymnus, and to those who followed Zosimus.
But even this is nothing in comparison to the following, single most epic case, which has been recorded in a (fragmentary) anonymous funerary inscription.
This inscription – a poem – dating to the second century A. D., on a densely inscribed pedestal from Como (Pais 732 = 1288 = CLE 1178; photographic documentation here):
On the top:
[Quid me nunc] cunct[is miser]atio iuvit ademptis,
[quae cas]um et tant[um me super]esse tulit,
[sic cas]u misero [supe]resse – inimica, loquaris –
[fatum] cui nul[lam tris]te reliqid (!) opem?
[cum me] perdid[eris expende] piacula fati,
[tu pere]as iun[ctis qui] placuere tibi.
[- – -]s[- – -]te [e]t BIIN[- – -]II
– – – – – –
What good does pity do me, now that everything has been taken away from me, which allowed for me to survive such downfall, to survive in such misery? Fiend, you may speak! A dire fate left me without any resources. As you destroyed me, afford the atonements of fate: may you perish, together with those whom you favoured.
[The remainder of this part cannot be deciphered.]
At the front:
[te quicumque leges] oro ne laeseris ul[lum]
[versum sic veniant o]mnia laeta tibi.
[- – -] misera set imulat[a – – -]
[- – – a]rte [- – -]
[- – – o]bsecro [te] discere versu
[- – – adv]ersi sideris [- – -]i
[nec potuit muta]re sacra mise[rat]io cura
[ausa ut cru]delis rumperet exitii.
et sic insonti fecit, men[s impia suasit],
argenti auxilio, sp[es] d[eus i]ps[e dedit].
[de]fessi perot VC(?) [- – -] tumultus
suae i[- – – perfi]diae(?)
cuncta pirei[- – -] dei [- – -]
nec fructus rerum nec manet ulla quie[s],
[i]gnava infelix, iamq(ue) obliviscere nost[ri]:
hic cinis exigu(u)s ossaq(ue) parva man[ent].
Whoever you are who reads this, I ask you not to damage a single line: thus may everything happy come to you.
[Fragmented lines follow, of which only a few phrases stand out: … wretched, but … with skill … I beg you to learn from the verse … of an ill star …]
Nor did pity manage, in its sacred effort, to cause change, so that she would discontinue her plot of cruel destruction. Thus she acted against an innocent man, a wicked mind suggested it, helped by lucre, a god himself gave hopes.
[Further fragmented text follows, which does not add up to much: tired … riot … of her wickedness … all … of god …]
Neither proceeds of things nor any tranquility remains, wretched coward, and you already have forgotten about us: here remains a little heap of ashes and tiny bits of bone.
On the right:
circumitu adversi te rite notavi sepulcri,
ut dignam Scythico sidere fama vocet,
qum nos deceptos ad iura forumq(ue) vocabas,
dum vis nec legem nec meminisse fidem,
quam tunc fingebas divos hominesq(ue) vocando,
cum tibi noctis opem lenta (!) ferebat anus,
[u]t comissa tibi nisi nobis salva manerent,
et tunicam esse tuam, cum morerere, velis.
I have noted you rightfully at the opposite side of my tomb, so that Fate may call you, worthy of that Scythian star [i. e. Arctos, symbolising the cold of night], as you repeatedly called us, deceitfully, to court and to the Forum, as you wished not to remember the law and your duty, a claim to which you faked back then, invoking divine and human witnesses, when that old bawd (?) lent you a hand at night, so that your actions remained unscathed to your benefit, if not to ours, and you wanted that you had something proper to wear on your deathbed.
At the back:
qua mea naufragio tamquam intercepta ia[cebant];
heu ne fragmento me voluisti tegi.
ad (!) grassatores, sola est quib(us) orbita nummi,
volnera quae intuler(int) linqueret tecta volent,
defuncta et vita iam deplorata suprema
velantur palla corpora funerea.
ad mihi viventi tua sic miseratio venit,
ut cassus nostri sors tibi praeda fo[ret],
[m]ilia quom erueres auri de nomin[e nostro],
igne deum effigies impia pollueres,
ut mea cuncta dares venum, deim scripta crem`ares’
praecipitiq(ue) fuga cetera diri<p>eres,
hostiles audax temptares deinde rapinas,
ut te sacrilegam scire(t) et imperium,
sed tutam, inlecebris si nulli nota m[aneres (?)],
– optamus credas – ambitiossa tui[s].
Thus my property lay around, intercepted, like in a shipwreck; woe is me, you did not want me to be left with even as much as a scrap. But rovers, whose only way is that of money, will want to leave the wounds they inflicted covered up, and the deceased, bodies, lamented, are being wrapped up in a funerary cloak. In the exact same way your pity came to me, while still alive, so that this useless fate of mine would become your prey when you embezzle a thousand pieces of gold from our name, pollute, wickedly, the effigies of the gods with fire, so that you get to sell all my possessions, then burn the documents and steal everything in headlong escape, then attempt, boldly, hostile forays, so that even the state would get to know that you are a criminal – albeit a safe one, if you remained unknown to anyone (we hope that this is what you believe), ambitious, with your enticements.
On the left:
– – – – – –
servat [- – -]
ad (!) te perfi[diae fueras qui saevior auctor],
piratam et mi[nus hoc qui pietatis habes],
perfida tum me[rito spernet nec perdere parcet],
me super audaci sed [feriente cades].
[dit]em non vestra [superabilis arte rapacem]
[au]fer[et a]et[a]tem [morbus et atra lues].
[The beginning is lost; the first word to be made out is servat … s/he saves …]
… but you, who were an immensely cruel purveyor of perfidiousness and a buccaneer (with a below-average sense of responsibility), the Perfidious one [i. e. one of the Fates?], will deservedly refuse and not spare from doom, …
[The remainder of the text is damaged beyond recognition.]
Despite the text’s fragmentary nature one gets a clear sense of the speaker’s immense outrage and anger over the ways in which he felt mistreated by a lady whom he describes as a vicious bandit, an extortionist, and a whore – a lady who had taken him to the proverbial cleaners, only to move on and eventually to become a public enemy (or so the poem implies).
One is reminded, mutatis mutandis, of the closing lines of Charles Dickens’s Sketches by Boz:
We naturally fell into a train of reflection as we walked homewards, upon the curious old records of likings and dislikings; of jealousies and revenges; of affection defying the power of death, and hatred pursued beyond the grave, which these depositaries contain; silent but striking tokens, some of them, of excellence of heart, and nobleness of soul; melancholy examples , others, of the worst passions of human nature. How many men as they lay speechless and helpless on the bed of death, would have given worlds but for the strength and power to blot out the silent evidence of animosity and bitterness (…).