Sunday, March 20, 2016


Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb?

R.A. Kaster, "A Schoolboy's Burlesque from Cyrene?" Mnemosyne 37.3-4 (1984) 457-458 (at 458):
    ζήτημα· τῶν Πριάμου παίδων τίς πατήρ;
    ("Question: who was the father of Priam's children?")

Scrawled on the wall, the macaronic riddle is evidently a parody of the litany, τίς ἦν ὁ τοῦ Ἕκτορος πατήρ; ...: a scholastic origin is demonstrated not only by the form and content of the question itself, but by the introductory ζήτημα..., which places it in the tradition of academic ζητήματα and λύσεις. There is, of course, no way of proving that it was the work of a schoolboy's hand. It does, however, bear a remarkable resemblance to the farcical questions that American schoolchildren ask (or, at least, used to ask) each other, when bored by the minutiae of their lessons and in the mood to parody their teachers: "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?"; or, "What was the color of George Washington's white horse?"
I can't find the inscription in the Packard Humanities Institute's Searchable Greek Inscriptions. According to Kaster (p. 398, n. 5), it was first published by G. Pugliese Carratelli, "Supplemento epigrafico cirenaico," Annuario della Scuola archeologica di Atene n.s. 23-24 (1961-1962) 324 no. 192. I must be missing something obvious, but I don't understand why Kaster calls the graffito "macaronic." When I was a schoolboy, asking "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?" and getting the answer "I don't know" was a source of great amusement.

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