Wednesday, July 02, 2014
The Grotto of the Vipers
The remarkable monument of the early imperial age, now called La Grotta delle Vipere, was erected by a Roman exile, M. Cassius Philippus, and completed by his sons, in memory of his wife, Atilia Pomptilla, who after a marriage lasting forty-two years gave up her life, as the epitaph says, for her husband's sake. Probably she offered to some deity to die on behalf of Philippus when the latter was seriously ill, and actually did die. The epitaphs added by their sons suggest that he did not long survive her. Popular legend describes the cave as one where Hercules, before starting on one of his journeys, left treasures under the care of a demon. A small temple was hewn out of the rock, and provided with an external façade. This rests on two columns and two pilasters, and consists of a frieze and architrave, with a border of dentels. The architrave is inscribed, and above the inscription, in place of triglyphs, two serpents are carved between altars. From these the grotto derives its name, and, coupled with the epithet Benedicta here applied to Pomptilla, they have given rise to the theory that the family were devotees of Isis.A vivid, though perhaps somewhat out-of-date, description. In the last line of the first epigram, "willed for my spouse to die" of course means "willed in place of my spouse to die," like Alcestis for Admetus. For bibliography, see Enrico Magnelli, "Notes on Four Greek Verse Inscriptions," Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 160 (2007) 37-40 (at 37-28, notes 6-7), who cites the most recent edition as Paolo Cugusi, Carmina Latina Epigraphica Provinciae Sardiniae (Bologna: Pàtron, 2003), pp. 63-67 (text and apparatus) and 105-138 (commentary), unavailable to me. Here are the two epigrams translated by Bouchier.
Within is a vestibule, the walls bearing inscriptions separated by acanthus leaves; and a passage from this leads to the actual sepulchral chamber, the walls of which were encrusted with stucco-work, displaying acanthus leaves, a gorgon's head, snakes, etc. Recesses may have been designed for sarcophagi, and in the wall at the end are two slabs, no doubt for the coffins of Philippus and Pomptilla. The Latin and Greek inscriptions, both in prose and verse, are numerous, being variations on a single theme, probably contributed by a number of persons. The following may be taken as examples of the matter-of-fact Latin and the more imaginative Greek:
'A temple, traveller, thou deemest this.
And seekest oft to pay thy vows; yet know,
Pomptilla's ashes and her bones are hid
Beneath this rocky vault. Sardinia's earth
Doth press me down, who, true in banishment,
(So Fame reports) willed for my spouse to die.'
'I would, Pomptilla, that the violet's bloom
Or tender lily from thy bones might rise;
May rose leaves o'er thee wave, and may this tomb
Be gay with amaranth that never dies.
May fragrant saffron or fair snowdrop shine,
That, as Narcissus hath his flower, and he,
The much-wept Hyacinthus, so may thine
Be named Pomptilla by posterity.'
Franz Buecheler, Carmina Latina Epigraphica (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1895), p. 741, no. 1551 B (punctuation etc. modified by me):
quod credis templum, quod saepe, viator, adoras,Georg Kaibel, Epigrammata Graeca ex Lapidibus Conlecta (Berlin: Reimer, 1878), pp. 220-221, no. 547 (brackets indicating supplements omitted by me; Bouchier translated the first six lines only):
Pomptillae cineres ossaque parva tegit.
Sardoa tellure premor, comitata maritum,
proque viro fama est me voluisse mori.
Εἰς ἴα σου, Πώμπτιλλα, καὶ εἰς κρίνα βλαστήσειενRaimondo Zucca, "Il Complesso epigrafico rupestre della 'Grotta delle Vipere'," in Rupes Loquentes: Atti del Convegno internazionale di studio sulle iscrizioni rupestri di età romana in Italia, 13-15 ottobre 1989, Roma-Bomarzo, Italia (Rome: Istituto italiano per la storia antica, 1992 = Studi pubblicati dall'Istituto italiano per la storia antica, 53), pp. 503-540, is available here.
ὀστέα, καὶ θάλλοις ἐν πετάλοισι ῥόδων
ἡδυπνόου τε κρόκου καὶ ἀγηράτου ἀμαράντου
κεἰς καλὰ βλαστήσαις ἄνθεα λευκοίου,
ὡς ἴσα ναρκίσσωι τε πολυκλαύτωι θ' ὑακίνθωι
καὶ σὸν ἐν ὀψιγόνοις ἄνθος ἔχοι τι χρόνος.
ἥδε γάρ, ἡνίκα πνεῦμα μελῶν ἀπέλυε Φίλιππος
λοίσθιον ἀκροτάτοις χείλεσι προσπελάσας,
στᾶσα λιποψυχοῦντος ὑπὲρ γαμέτου Πώμπτιλλα
τὴν κείνου ζωὴν ἀντέλαβεν θανάτου.
τοίην συζυγίην ἔτεμεν θεός, ὥστε θανεῖν μὲν
Πώμπτιλλαν, γλυκεροῦ λύτρον ὑπὲρ γαμέτου,
ζῆν δ' ἀέκοντα Φίλιππον, ἐπευχόμενον διὰ παντός,
συνκεράσαι ψυχῆι πνεῦμα φιλανδροτάτηι.