Howdy, Stranger . . . !

As the current debate over refugees, migrants, EU-wide quotas, and immigration-vs-national identity strikes increasingly bizarre, shrill, and discordant notes, I recently had the pleasure to contemplate in somewhat greater depth a remarkable funerary inscription from Aquileia in north-east Italy:

CLE 2199. – Image source: http://db.edcs.eu/epigr/bilder.php?bild=$InscrAqu_03_03180.jpg.

CLE 2199. – Image source here.

The inscription’s text, engraved on a medium-sized marble panel (66 x 47 cm) that would appear to date to the fifth century A. D., a text that shows several dactylic runs without ever altogether amounting to a poem written in hexameters, reads as follows (CIL V 1703 = CLE 1878 adn. = CLE 2199 = ILCV 4813a):

Hic iacet Restutus peleger in pace fidelis.
ex Africa venit ut istam urbe(m) videret.
hec invisa tellus istum voluit corpus habe-
re. hic quo natus fuerat optans erat illo
reverti. id magis crudelius ut nullum suo-
rumque videret. invenerat satis amplius
quam suos ipse parentes. nec iam erat exter, si-
cut provenit ut esset ab ipsis. sed quo fata vocant
nullus resistere possit. huic sodalicium Floren-
sium contra votum fecerunt.

Here lies, faithful in peace, Restutus, a foreigner.

He came from Africa, so as to visit that city. This spiteful soil desired to hold on to him as a corpse. He held the desire to return there from where he hailed. The situation was made a lot worse still by the fact that he did not get to see any of his family members again. Yet he had got to meet rather more still than his parents (sc. here): no longer was he an alien, but he was to live as if he was an offspring of ourselves. Yet, no one may resist (sc. going) where fate is calling.

For him the sodalicium Florensium had this made, against their vow.

The inscription honours one Restutus who is described as peleger, which has been (sufficiently credibly) explained as a variant of Classical peregrinus (cf. Ital. ‘pellegrino’, Engl. ‘pilgrim’) – suggesting that he was a foreigner of sorts at least to this part of the Roman Empire (without necessarily implying any specific legal status to the man or even suggesting that he was not a Roman citizen: in fact, the name that he is given in this inscription, Restutus, is perfectly Roman and reasonably well attested).

In addition to that, the opening line also suggests that Restutus was of Christian faith – the phrase in pace fidelis is an unambiguous giveaway for that.

Restutus’ origin was in Africa – not very specific information, of course, though one must wonder if this refers to the province of Africa proconsularis more specifically, where the name Restutus is well attested otherwise as well.

Why did he come to Aquileia? The inscription is not altogether clear about that – all it says is that he desired to see ista urbs, ‘that city’: was that city Aquileia? Or Rome, in fact? (And if the latter, why would he take such a detour from Africa, going via Aquileia? Was this part of his pilgrimage?)

The word used for the pilgrimage-related context of Restutus’ travel is videre, ‘to visit’ – a paradigm that is immediately picked up in the next sentence in the term invisus, literally ‘un-seen’, denoting something that conveys an evil, spiteful gaze: the tellus, the soil of Aquileia, that had its own plans for Restutus – to hang on to him forever … as a corpse (assuming that istum is, in fact, a reference to Restutus, and not an alternative form for istud, which would give a slightly different nuance to the text: ‘to hold on to that body’).

Restutus appears to have dwelled in Aquileia for an extended period of time – a period of time, however, during which he never gave up hope of returning home. The intensity of his desire to return is expressed in the phrase optans erat, ‘he held the desire’, as in ‘he was wishing (all the time)’ – heightening the immediacy of the phrase vis-a-vis the more common way of expressing an action that went on for a longer period of time in Latin: optabat.

Quite apart from Restutus’ inability to return home, what appears to have tormented him in particular (note the hyper-characterisation of his pains in the double comparative magis crudelius!) was the physical separation from his family (expressed in an ut-clause rather than a Classically elegant accusative-cum-infinitive: times for prescriptive grammar rules are a-changin’!).

But what was magis crudelius, more crueller (if you will), was also a blessing in a way (or so the inscription wishes to make us believe): for Restutus found satis amplius (‘sufficiently more’, quite literally – another hyper-characterisation) in terms of a replacement at Aquileia for what he had been forced to leave behind in Africa: his parents!

No longer was he regarded an outsider, an alien: nec iam erat exter – he was treated as if he was an offspring of the community where he was grounded against his plans, as the rather convoluted phrase sicut provenit ut esset ab ipsis, barely rendered as ‘he was to live as if he was an offspring of ourselves’ is trying to explain to its readership.

But no one can escape death – and so the (otherwise unknown) sodalicium Florensium (which could be anything from a burial society to a religious community of some sort) decided to do the decent thing, much against what they had hoped to do: they organised his burial and gave him this monument contra votum (‘against their vow’, a phrase that is a not altogether uncommon expression in contexts in which friends rather than family members took care of a burial).

One may easily overlook this text as one of hundreds of thousands of Latin inscriptions – as one of thousands of poetic and poeticising Latin poems on tombstones.

Doing so, however, means overlooking a text that, more so than most other ancient Latin texts, captures perfectly the worries of staggering numbers of displaced people (back then just as much as nowadays): the fear of dying far away from one’s home, without any hope of seeing one’s native soil and one’s family again; the fear of permanently remaining an alien, without a domicile, without a network of friends, without being part of a community.

The sodalicium Florensium, whoever they were, claim to have made a difference in the life of Restutus – and they have made a difference beyond the time of his life, in the commemoration of his death.

They gave him dignity in a foreign place, and they claim to have given him the same support, and more, that he could have expected from his own parents, so that he no longer had to feel like an alien – he had become one of them (and still he always desired to go home!).

What a beautiful statement to make, and what a beautiful way to be commemorated.

Will our own communities be able to write similarly touching, unquestioningly welcoming statements on the tombstones of those foreigners who die far away from their home and family?

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
This entry was posted in Carmina Epigraphica, Epigraphy, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

65 Responses to Howdy, Stranger . . . !

  1. MQ@Carsulae says:

    Impossible to know, but given the references you identify, I suspect that the mysterious sodalicium Florensium of IAq3180 fame will have been familiar with Matthew 25:40 … So infuriating, then, that our age’s response to human displacement is much more about ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’ as opposed to simple compassion. Thanks for this, Peter. PS. Isn’t the Aquilean epigraphic collection wonderful?

    Liked by 9 people

  2. A migrant can be homesick even when they have chosen to move to another land. Even more so when you are forced to move by circumstances beyond your control. I wonder whether he was a refugee, or perhaps illness prevented him from making the journey back?

    To give dignity to a stranger and treat him as if he was a son or daughter, that is what we need more of. I’m ashamed of our Australian government and it’s treatment of asylum seekers.

    Liked by 8 people

  3. Shikari says:

    Did you mean to make your “foreigner of sorts” link to the Wiki page for the Roman peregrinus? Currently it just points to a disambiguation page, not to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peregrinus_(Roman)

    Liked by 8 people

  4. That’s right – yes, that was on purpose, because I wanted to avoid confusion with peregrinus as a (relatively) clearly defined legal term as described by that other entry.

    Liked by 7 people

  5. Oh wow. I truly enjoyed the history lesson, but enjoyed more the question and connection to the current immigrant/migrant issues… Thought provoking. Well done.

    Liked by 12 people

  6. Why, thank you – really glad you liked it! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  7. chattykerry says:

    This was a fabulous piece – not just for the historical information but for the pathos and joy. Please send it Donald Trump!! In Texas most of us thought that Tejas was the Spanish word for Texas but it was the first greeting to the incoming Spaniards from the natives and it means ‘friend’. That brought tears to my eyes as did your fabulous blog.

    Liked by 10 people

  8. bhavi16 says:

    Cool

    Liked by 8 people

  9. wonderful writing. thought of the story is awesome. keep it on.
    Check out my site. https://domaincombd.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 7 people

  10. smt222 says:

    So they used that way to remember the story happened on the past.. interesting..
    I want to know why he permanatly came from Africa? And why the Italians took care of him?
    Was it an exile?
    It must be politics.
    Please answer..

    Liked by 6 people

  11. amishachawla says:

    Very interestingly written. Extremely thought provoking and at the same time, throws light at the immigration issues.
    Thoroughly enjoyed the piece. 🙂

    Liked by 8 people

  12. This was a nice piece of history. It made me wonder if anyone would put something on my gravestone one day for people to read about me. Thank you for posting!

    Liked by 10 people

  13. lyart says:

    Thanks, this is such a great post. And tombstone…

    Liked by 9 people

  14. writegill says:

    YOu write: “What a beautiful statement to make, and what a beautiful way to be commemorated.” I say: you have made a beautiful statement and commemorated beautifully. A decision-changing piece. Thank you.

    Liked by 7 people

  15. amommasview says:

    One would wish they would but I honestly doubt it…

    Liked by 9 people

  16. Niranjan says:

    Its Crazy How Fast Things Can Change .🌟

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    Liked by 8 people

  17. Abby Boid says:

    These little pieces of personal history are so important in implanting seeds of tolerance, love and acceptance now and in the future. I like to collect little nuggets like this to share with the kids as they get older. It’s important. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 8 people

  18. I wish I could answer any of this. He may have been on pilgrimage and then fell ill, for example. Perhaps the Sodalicium was a fraternity of sorts and gave him the support he needed. All I have beyond the text is pure speculation, I am afraid.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. smt222 says:

    Then why don’t you do a little research on it…

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Without further evidence, ‘little research’ is going to fail, I’m afraid. It’s not like I don’t want to know…

    Liked by 2 people

  21. emmx2013 says:

    Beautiful! to make stangers as if one of the familly.
    Evelyn
    Here’s to Your Health!
    evelynmmaxwell.com

    Liked by 5 people

  22. Mandy says:

    Félicitations pour ce post ! 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  23. Karl Drobnic says:

    Nicely done. You’ve made an obscure bit of the past relevant.

    Liked by 4 people

  24. jimmyprime says:

    Big question at the end. Hmm

    Liked by 4 people

  25. reinharderoo says:

    Thank you for this inspiring piece. I have to admit though that I find the

    Liked by 5 people

  26. reinharderoo says:

    Beautiful article. I feel enriched.

    The only reservation I have is the title. The Texas-style greeting does not seem to fit the text. Nothing against Texas! But your deep knowledge of Latin and the diligent, sophisticated approach to the topic do not remind me this great state.

    Liked by 3 people

  27. reinharderoo says:

    “of” this great state. Sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Very nice piece! Nice to see you stay positive !! Keep up the good work! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  29. hiro812 says:

    wonderful writing. thought of the story is awesome. keep it on.

    Liked by 3 people

  30. Thank you for telling this story. May we all be so kind and respectful to each other, regardless of where we come from.

    Liked by 6 people

  31. Thank you for your comment – fair enough! 🙂 I didn’t think of the title quite so much as a Texas-style greeting, but as that catchphrase from thousands of western movies in which locals greet new arrivals to their town, leaving them somewhat in doubt as to whether the greeting is a friendly, welcoming one, or just a means to start altercations and open hostility, if you see what I mean.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Jonathan says:

    Its interesting that we find immigration such a hot topic overall. I understand what boundaries and how each country wants to protect its interest. I feel that in a world of change with technology, we have limited our growth in the acceptance of change such through boundaries and boarders.

    Liked by 5 people

  33. Pingback: Refugees and debate for immigration.  | How to live the American Dream

  34. richardbolger61 says:

    HISTORY I GUESS

    Liked by 3 people

  35. weverettes says:

    Event thou we fail to understand what and for what reason and why it was written, maybe it will help those such as myself begin doing a better job of writing our own pilgrims, whre as my seeds will not have to find our answers (who was he/she/them/whosoever?)

    Liked by 4 people

  36. Beautifully written thank you for sharing your thoughts – I truly hope we are able to deal as well with our current refugee crisis as did apparently the ancient Romans , or at least the writer of that verse

    Liked by 4 people

  37. ranimsyria says:

    Very inspirnig, thank you.
    I know many refugees who are suffering poor treatment in some countries, but to be honest other countries are welcoming and very kind to them.
    As a syrian myself many people I know left to europe only after they lost their homes, work, maybe even a family member, so they had no hope and wanted a better life, if it were’nt for war they would’nt have left every thing they have to go somewhere where they might face humiliation and lose their pride. and to syrians, pride is more important than you think.
    So I hope people in the host countries would look at them more like fellow humans and not a possible threat.

    Liked by 3 people

  38. marymtf says:

    Where I live, every single human being (except for the indigenous population) is either a foreigner or has ancestors that were foreigners. Each new bunch of foreigners took time to adjust to the country and the ways of the old foreigners and their ways. The old foreigners in time adjusted to the new lot and even absorbed some of the delightful cultural and culinary traditions the new foreigners brought with them. They learned from us and we from them and we are all better for it.

    If people are more worried now than they were in the past it could be that the numbers coming are out of control. It wouldn’t be out of place to say that hordes of people are flowing across the borders. The worry is that there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight as the places people are fleeing from are constantly at war. The consideration then is how to supply housing to the hundreds of thousands who will need them, jobs, food, medical care and other needs that were already in finite supply before they arrived.

    Compassion is one thing, but practical considerations are another. Wouldn’t it be a lot more helpful to campaign against the governments of those warring countries?

    Liked by 3 people

  39. Very informative read

    Liked by 2 people

  40. picisanpost says:

    I used to be an immigrant. Nicely written !

    Liked by 1 person

  41. danixkamau says:

    Howdy writer! I love your work. A nice read.
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    Feel free to comment your thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

  42. Rivka David says:

    Thought provoking, thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  43. poeticdiarye says:

    Yeah, it actually thought provoking. Esp the poem

    Liked by 2 people

  44. poeticdiarye says:

    I love the poem so much. I guess, i’ll be making use of it pretty soon

    Liked by 2 people

  45. hiro812 says:

    Very informative read

    Liked by 1 person

  46. Wow what a great post. We forget that human feelings are universal. Teflgermany.com

    Liked by 1 person

  47. mely282 says:

    Great post! Really enjoyed reading this

    Liked by 2 people

  48. What a beautiful illudtration!

    Liked by 1 person

  49. Thank you for the lovely, scholarly blog. Truly, when we don’t learn from our past, we are doomed to repeat it.

    Liked by 2 people

  50. Does it risk Europe economy?

    Liked by 1 person

  51. Your approach is a bit too academical according my understanding as in my direct neighbourhood here in Berlin there are 2 buildings where now approx. 1,000 migrants are living. Any available free space (often normally used for other purposes such for example in-door sports) is used as each and every day thousands of migrants are reaching Germany. Most of the European countries do nothing in this regard or even refuse to host any migrant who mostly fleed the Middle East war zone in Syria and Iraq. This completely unacceptable situation is simply a great shame for the European idea.

    Liked by 2 people

  52. Thank you so much for taking the time and responding! I agree with you that the European idea, unless it is already dead, has taken a horrendous beating – fuelled by its focus on economic matters over humaneness. What became of ‘das gemeinsame Haus Europa’? The flip side of Germany’s impressive intake of refugees is, of course, the way in which they are treated by some, and met by even more, of our fellow citizens – not even to mention the undignified way in which politicians are trying to gain political profile from their misery. But all that to one side, what are we doing as individuals to provide them with a sense of unquestioning welcome, with a home away from home? Is it enough to provide storage space and to wait for the problem to solve itself? What’s the perspective? I don’t think that these issues are very academic, but I may not have expressed them well enough for you to take them away from my text – fair enough! After all, I am an academic… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  53. We don’t seem to have collapsed quite yet…

    Like

  54. Pura Ilusión by Adelina says:

    I think we are all human beings…if we don’t help each other who will? The place were you born it’s just about luck…why discriminate a human being just as you, only because he/she didn’t have the same luck as you…we can’t act with superiority and believe we are more than another human just because we were born in a different place. People are not objects…they have feelings, they need each other

    Liked by 2 people

  55. thingsthathappenaroundme says:

    This is very well written. I wish this type of stories would be more salient in the current debate.

    On a side note: In Italian ‘pregrinus’ is ‘pellegrino’ (and not *pelegrino)

    Liked by 1 person

  56. Thanks, I’ll fix that! 🙂

    Like

  57. That was then but now what you get out of being generous is what you are watching on your T V screens today.
    What I can’t understand is why the countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, and Kuwait with their vast resources of land and oil money, don’t offer asylum to these refugees. They also have the advantage of having the same culture, the food, and the same language.

    Liked by 1 person

  58. While I agree that there are countries that aren’t doing anywhere near enough, or in fact anything, to help the refugees, we are yet to see who was responsible for those horrendous attacks. Innocent until proven guilty, no? What if it turns out that the terrorists were French citizens, not displaced foreigners or refugees? Does that mean the French government should stop paying social benefits to its own people, because that’s what you get for being generous? What should happen when an American citizen (typically white and male) goes on a school killing spree? Should there be consequences for that segment of society specifically? I think not. The fact that some people are criminal fuckheads doesn’t mean that the vast majority must be punished for the actions of the former. Let’s not stigmatise the innocent for crimes they didn’t commit. Should it turn out to be related to ISIS and we respond by closing our borders as well as our hearts and minds, well then they could hardly have come up with a more devilish, fiendish plan to ensure that muslims can’t escape them, could they?

    Liked by 1 person

  59. I understand your point of view. We suffered the same kind of violence in Mumbai 26/11 but people of all communities still live with each other in peace and I’m not a great fan of our current PM whose party members repeatedly try to incite communal strife. I sometimes feel that it is easy for us to give opinions because we didn’t lose a family member in these incidents.

    Liked by 2 people

  60. I must agree with you there, and I truly and sincerely hope that we will be able to continue to enjoy this privilege. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on my blog, I really appreciate that.

    Liked by 1 person

  61. Pingback: Howdy, Stranger . . . ! | Unchain the tree

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    Liked by 1 person

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