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LACTANTIUS BEFORE LACTANTIUS? A HEXAMETER FROM THE CARMINA XII SAPIENTVM IN AN INSCRIPTION ON SAMIAN WARE FROM BELSINON (HISPANIA TARRACONENSIS)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 July 2022

Isidro Aguilera Aragón*
Affiliation:
Zaragoza Museum
Borja Díaz Ariño*
Affiliation:
University of Zaragoza
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Abstract

This paper presents a graffito written after firing on a Samian-ware bowl dated to the turn of the first and second centuries c.e., which seems to contain part of a hexameter included in the well-known anthology Carmina XII sapientum, the composition of which has recently been attributed to the Christian author Lactantius.

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Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association

The review of an interesting group of inscriptions on Samian wareFootnote 1 from the ancient mansio of Belsinon (Mallén, Zaragoza), situated in the Middle Ebro Valley, in the interior of Hispania Tarraconensis,Footnote 2 has made it possible to document a sequence that seems to belong to one of the monostichs included in the Carmina XII sapientum, a collection of ludic poems perhaps assembled during the fourth century c.e. or a little earlier and included in modern times in the so-called Anthologia Latina.Footnote 3 It has recently been identified by A. Friedrich as the first work by the Christian author Lactantius (c.240‒320 c.e.) mentioned in Jerome's catalogue.Footnote 4

The inscription was produced post cocturam on a bowl of Spanish Samian ware, form Ritterling 8. Only a fragment is preserved, which measures 6.3 x 11 cm. It was recovered around 1920. It is currently deposited in Zaragoza Museum (NIG 34644). It can be dated to the turn of the first and second centuries c.e.

Fig. 1: Bowl of Spanish Samian ware, with inscription.

The inscription runs around the base, on the exterior of the vase. The letters show actuarial features and serifs. The A has been written with two diagonal strokes, as is typical in Old Roman Cursive.Footnote 5 They measure c.1 cm. Its reading does not present problems, despite the first letter being incomplete:

[---]RASCIV[---]

The sequence, in scriptio continua, but with a slightly larger space between the fifth and the sixth letters, seems to belong to the hexameter:

[I]rasci u[ictos minime placet, optime frater.] (Anth. Lat. 498)

It is not possible to confirm whether the original text corresponded with the whole hexameter or perhaps only with the first part, owing to the limited space available.

The verse, composed of six words of six letters, is associated with the popular game of chance, duodecim scripta, considered an antecedent of modern backgammon, of which we know many tabulae lusoriae.Footnote 6 Some of these include short poems such as the one studied here.Footnote 7 It was recorded in the first section of the above-mentioned Carmina alongside other hexameters also related to this game (Anth. Lat. 495–506).Footnote 8

The authorship of each of the poetic compositions included in the Carmina is attributed to each of the ‘twelve sages’ that lend their name to the book. In this case, the hexameter is assigned by the compiler to an undiscovered author called Pompilianus, Pompelianus, or Pompeianus, according to the different variations in the manuscripts.Footnote 9 The inscription from Belsinon, however, earlier in date than the monostichs, reinforces the suspicion that this is a fictitious author. It is more appropriate, perhaps, to consider it an anonymous creation that may already have spread widely across the western Mediterranean more than a century and a half before the compilation of the Carmina. It is interesting to note, moreover, that this is the first evidence that confirms the popularity of the duodecim scripta in Spain, where no tabulae lusoriae have yet been discovered that are unequivocally associated with this game.Footnote 10

References

1 I. Aguilera Aragón and B. Díaz Ariño, ‘Escritura cotidiana en el ámbito rural de la Hispania tarraconense. Grafitos sobre cerámica de época alto-imperial procedentes del Campo de Borja (Zaragoza)’ (forthcoming). This study is part of the Project ‘Everyday Writing. Literacy, Cultural Contact and Social Change in Hispania Citerior between the Roman Conquest and Late Antiquity’, financed by the Ministry of Science and Innovation of Spain.

2 Ptol. Geog. 2.6.57; cf. Lloris, F. Beltrán, ‘An irrigation decree from Roman Spain: the lex riui Hiberiensis’, JRS 96 (2006), 147‒97Google Scholar, especially 161‒2.

3 Cf. Tarrant, R.J., ‘Anthologia Latina’, in Reynolds, L.D. (ed.), Texts and Transmission. A Survey of the Latin Classics (Oxford, 1986), 9‒13Google Scholar.

4 Friedrich, A., Das Symposium der XII Sapientes: Kommentar und Verfasserfrage (Berlin and New York, 2002), 479‒508CrossRefGoogle Scholar; contra: Rosellini, M., ‘Di nuovo sui Carmina XII sapientum’, RFIC 30 (2002), 105‒25Google Scholar, especially 115‒25.

5 Cf. e.g. Tomlin, R.S.O., Roman London's First Voices. Writing Tablets from the Bloomberg Excavations, 2010–14 (London, 2016), 19 and 21Google Scholar, fig. 13.

6 U. Schädler, ‘XII scripta, alea, tabula. New evidence for the Roman history of backgammon’, in A.J. de Voogt (ed.), New Approaches to Board Games Research. Asian Origins and Future Perspectives (Leiden, 1995), 73‒98.

7 Purcell, N., ‘Literate games: Roman urban society and the game of alea’, P&P 147 (1995), 3‒37Google Scholar, especially 17‒28; A. Ferrua, Tavole lusorie epigrafiche. Catalogo delle schede manoscritte (Introduzione e indici a cura di M. Busia) (Vatican City, 2001).

8 Friedrich (n. 4), 82‒99.

9 Friedrich (n. 4), 426‒9.

10 There is only one fragment of tabula lusoria, found in Conimbriga (Lusitania), that could very doubtfully be associated with this game: see Ponte, S. da, ‘Jogos romanos de Conimbriga’, Conimbriga 25 (1986), 131‒41CrossRefGoogle Scholar; cf. Cano, C. Jiménez, ‘Estudio preliminar sobre los juegos de mesa en Hispania’, Antesteria 3 (2014), 125‒38Google Scholar.

Figure 0

Fig. 1: Bowl of Spanish Samian ware, with inscription.

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LACTANTIUS BEFORE LACTANTIUS? A HEXAMETER FROM THE CARMINA XII SAPIENTVM IN AN INSCRIPTION ON SAMIAN WARE FROM BELSINON (HISPANIA TARRACONENSIS)
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LACTANTIUS BEFORE LACTANTIUS? A HEXAMETER FROM THE CARMINA XII SAPIENTVM IN AN INSCRIPTION ON SAMIAN WARE FROM BELSINON (HISPANIA TARRACONENSIS)
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LACTANTIUS BEFORE LACTANTIUS? A HEXAMETER FROM THE CARMINA XII SAPIENTVM IN AN INSCRIPTION ON SAMIAN WARE FROM BELSINON (HISPANIA TARRACONENSIS)
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