Called to the Grave

It has been almost a year since I last visited Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirkyard. Back to  Edinburgh this week as external examiner, I found a little spare time to take a stroll to this marvellous space, and I came back with a rich harvest of photos of Latin inscriptions that one gets to see here.

One monument that caught my attention in particular, however, is that of James Skene, inserted into the north-facing outside wall of Greyfriars Kirk, leading a miserable, abject existence behind a rubbish bin:

Skene monument, Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh. – Photo (c) PK, June 2016.

Skene monument, Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh. – Photo (c) PK, June 2016.

The reason this piece caught my attention lies in the first line of its text, which in its original Latin reads as follows:

Hic citus est honorabilis vir d(omi)n(u)s
Iacobus Skene de Curri Hill miles et
baroneta et preces Collegii
Iustitiae qui obiit 15 die mensis
Octobris anno d(omi)ni 1633
aetatis suue 54.

Below the epitaph, there is a motto scroll, which reads:

Manet altera mercis.

The main part of the inscription commemorates Sir James Skene, 1st Baronet of Curriehill. For the main part, the text of the inscription is reasonably straightforward and clear. It is supposed to translate as follows:

Here lies the honourable gentleman Sir James Skene of Curriehill, Knight and Baronet and Lord President of the College of Justice, who died on the 15th day of the month of October in the year of the Lord 1633, in the 54th year of his age.

The inscribed Latin text contains, however, a number of distracting spelling oddities, which deserve highlighting.

The most straightforward one is the awkward spelling of (what ought to be) SVAE (suae, ‘his’) as SVVE (with the two Vs intersecting) in the final line: this may be a mere stonecutter’s mistake: there are other ligatures in this text, and perhaps the stonecutter merely mistook a combination of V and A for VV.

What is more remarkable, though, is the spelling of citus and preces in the first and third line, respectively. Citus means something like ‘excited’, ‘set in motion’, ‘called to’. Does that mean that, in a punny variant to the exceedingly well-attested phrase hic situs est (‘here lies’), James Skene was called to his grave . . . ? (Treating hic and huc as virtually interchangeable, as often, even in ancient Latin?)

Unfortunately, the spelling of preces makes that very unlikely.

Preces means something like ‘requests’ – yet the man was hardly ‘the requests of the College of Justice’: much rather, he was its Lord President, or, in Latin: its praeses. Spelling the ancient Latin diphthong -ae- as -e- is a common feature even in ancient Latin texts (that is, arguably, how the diphthong was widely pronounced anyway for most of the time by most of the people). The representation of the sharp Latin -s- sound (or voiceless alveolar sibilant) as -c- is rather more remarkable.

In our inscription, this awkward spelling features twice – not only in preces, but also in citus: Skene was not ‘called to’ the grave, he simply ‘lies here’: hic situs est.

The same peculiar spelling is attested for a monument on Dundee’s Howff graveyard (which I have visited on another occasion), in an inscription dating to the 16th century, which is discussed in greater detail here.

The inscription’s concluding motto, Manet altera mercis, is another oddity. It seems to mean ‘another reward remains’, but not only does it spell mercis where it more appropriately should have said merces – it is also a variant of the actual motto of Clan Skene, Virtutis regia merces, ‘A palace the reward of bravery’), for which I can’t seem to find any further evidence beyond this particular piece.

Fancy some further goodies from the same area of Greyfriars?

Here is the monument for Thomas Robertson, a famous builder immortalised (well, kind of) in an elegy celebrating his life-time achievements, giving its inscription on sculpted drapery (careful when looking at this – the sculptor’s desire to make the text follow the logic of actual drapery may induce a slight sensation of sea-sickness):

2016-05-31 18.46.51.jpg

Monument for Thomas Robertson, Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh. – Photo (c) PK, May 2016.

The text reads as follows:

Ae(ternae) M(emoriae) S(acrum).
Hic situs est
Thomas Robertson
aequissimus vir superis apprime charus
qui clarissimum Robisoniorum nomen
virtute sua plurimum illustravit,
pietate in deum, fide in regem, amore in patriam,
humanitate erga omnes insignis,
prudentia, integritate in rebus agundis solertiE
nemini secundus:
pauperum spes & caput, artificum columen,
Urbis exornator si non conditor,
civium deliciae, gentis desiderium.
Conjugi optimo, patri amantissimo
uxor & liberi haeredes moesti posuere.
Obiit XI Kal(endas) Octob(res) anno dom(ini)
MDCLXXXVI aetatis suae LXIII.
Vivit post funera virtus.

In the translation of James Brown (not the musician!), with my translation of the first line added:

Sacred to eternal memory. Here is interred Thomas Robertson, bailie of Edinburgh, and most just in that office. A man very dear to God, who, by his virtue, greatly illustrated the most famous name of Robison; being notable for his piety towards God, loyalty towards his prince, love to his country, and civility towards all persons. He was inferior to none in prudence, integrity, and dexterity in management of business; he was the hope and life of the poor, the support of tradesmen, the adorner, if not the builder, of the city, the delight of the citizens, and the desire of the whole nation. To him, as the best of husbands and most loving of parents, his most mournful wife and his children, his heirs, erected this monument. He died the 21st day of September, the year of our Lord 1686, of his age the 63<rd> year. Virtue survives the grave.

And then there is the monument for John Carmichael!

Joanni Carmichael Edinburgensi
viro probo, civi optimo
Collegii a Georgio Heriot munifice fundati
curatori fideli
inter rumores de re male administrata
jamdiu pervulgatos
et litem forensem in curatores
acerrime intentam
quaestoris collegii officium
quamvis tantae invidiae tunc obnoxium
suscipere non recusavit,
sed ejus rem pecuniariam
difficultatitbus gravissimis implicatam
per multos annos, dum valetudo sineret,
indefessus administravit, restituit, auxit:
hoc marmor
exile quidem, sed honorificum
publicae existimationis monumentum
reliqui ejusdem collegii curatores.
Obiit die 28o mensis Julii A(nno) D(omini) 1785
aetatis suae 74.o.

Again in the translation of James Brown:

To John Carmichael of Edinburgh, an upright man, a most excellent citizen, a faithful Governor of the Hospital munificently founded by George Heriot, who, amid the reports which had long been current about the mal-administration of its property, and during the lawsuit raised with the greatest acrimony against the Governors, did not decline to undertake the office of Treasurer to the Hospital, although at the time obnoxious to such odium, but for many years, while health permitted, indefatigably administered, put in order, and amplified its funds, involved in the most serious embarrassment. This marble, a slender, indeed, but honourable monument of the esteem in which he was publicly held, was erected by the remaining Governors of the same Hospital. He died on the 28th July A. D. 1785, in the 74th year of his age.

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
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3 Responses to Called to the Grave

  1. Daniel Hadas says:

    All good stuff, as usual. Typo on “difficultatibus” in the last epitaph. I also think “virtutis regia merces” must mean “the reward of virtue is a royal one”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Will fix that, thank you. I agree with your translation, too, but it’s how the clan itself interprets it. Might be a blog in its own right…


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