Yesterday news broke about houses that were defaced with graffiti (or, strictly speaking, dipinti – after all, the text was painted onto, not scratched into, the surface) in Cambridge – in Latin:
Locus in domos … loci populum is a meaningless phrase – until one enters it into Google Translate, which, according to some mystery algorithm, renders it as ‘local homes for local people’.
Admiror o parìens te non cedidisse ruinis qui tot | scriptorum taedia sustineas, ‘I am amazed, oh wall, that you have not collapsed, for you bear so many writers’ tedious items’, one may be tempted to respond, quoting a famous graffito from Pompeii (CIL IV 1904 (cf. p. 213. 465); CLE 957) – whether one agrees with the actual stance taken by the aspiring Cambridge Latinists or not.
In case the rightful owners wish to respond in rather better Latin (though probably lost on the original writers), here are some actual examples of how people in the Roman world requested their property be spared from such unwelcome decoration:
- C(aius) Iulius Anicetus | ex imperio Solis | rogat ne quis uelit | parietes aut triclias | inscribere aut | scariphare. || P(ublius) Scantius Suru[s] | sibi et cognatis s[uis]. | D(ecimus) Folius Succe[ssus].
Gaius Iulius Anicetus, at the behest of Sol, requests that you refrain from writing onto, or scratching into, the walls or gazebos (?). || Publius Scantius Surus for himself and his relatives. Decimus Folius Successus.
(CIL VI 52 (cf. p 831. 3003. 3755) cf. VI 25990 (cf. p. 3532); ILS 4335; Rome)
- In fr(onte) p(edes) XXII, in ag(ro) p(edes) XXVI. M(arcus) Camurius P(ubli) f(ilius) Rom(ilia tribu) Soranus. Hoc monumentum heredem non sequitur. Se[i] hoc monumento ullius candidati nomen inscripsero ne ualeam.
Twenty-two feet long, twenty-six feet wide. Marcus Camurius Soranus, son of Publius, of the Romilian tribe. This monument does not pass to an heir. If I ever inscribe the name of any candidate on this monument, may I perish!
(CIL VI 14313 (cf. p. 3912); ILS 8205; Rome)
- Quis [h]eic [ulla? s]cr[ipser]it [t]abe[scat] n[eque] nominetur.
Whoever shall write (have written?) something here, may he rot and fail to get elected.
(CIL IV 7521; Pompeii being Pompeii, someone responded: quis scripsit?, ‘Wrote who?’)
- Ita ualeas scriptor, hoc monimentum | praeteri.
Farewell indeed, writer, just make your way past this monument.
(CIL V 1490; CLE 196; ILS 8207a; Aquileia)
Or, for the lover of a somewhat more straight-forward discourse, …
- Πάντες δια|γράφουσι, ἐγὼ μό|νος οὐδὲν ἔγραψα. | Πυγίζω πάντες τούτ[ους οἳ] | ἐπὶ τοίχο γράφουσι.
Everybody writes here, I alone refrained from doing so. I sodomise whoever writes on this wall.
(M. Della Corte – P. Ciprotti, Inscriptiones Parietales Ostienses (Studia et Documenta Historiae et Iuris 27), 1961, 324–341, no. 61; Ostia).