Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Marcus loves Spendusa

How old is the human inclination to write or carve on the things around them? Did homo habilus scratch what passed for their initials on the rock they sat on waiting for something edible to wander by? Did the Sumerian loiterers scrawl "Ubi does it with sheep" on the mud walls of ancient Sumer?Those of us hung out on Tiger Island in Honduras back in the summer of 1986 sure did. The graffiti in the wooden one-hole latrines got so expansive and so crude that the when the company first sergeant visited he required us to paint over the inside of the shitters. Mind you, the only paint we had was black, and the result made it difficult to locate the actual aperture of the one-holer, leading to some...accidents.

Certainly the archaeological record seems to show people have always had a penchant for scribbling on their walls...or other people's walls...or whatever is stationary and handy. The website "AD79" has a section entirely devoted to the graffiti uncovered in the ancient city of Pompeii.It's fascinating.

The Roman sense of humor seems to have been pretty...basic. The fellow who wrote "Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men’s behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!" seems to have been a good example of the 1st Century south Roman wit. Some of his lads contributed gems such as "Restitutus says: 'Restituta, take off your tunic, please, and show us your hairy privates" and "I screwed the barmaid".

Some of the stuff they scrawled seems pretty thoughtful: "No young buck is complete until he has fallen in love.", or "Learn this: while I am alive, you, hateful death, are coming.", or "Love dictates to me as I write and Cupid shows me the way, but may I die if god should wish me to go on without you."And some of it is perfect as an example of what happens when you have nothing but time, boredom and something to write with: "It took 640 paces to walk back and forth between here and there ten times".

For a rather fascinating look into the daily trivia of life twenty centuries ago, stroll on over to "The Writing On The Wall" at 79AD."O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin."

(Oh! Wait! I almost forgot - while you're checking out the Roman words of wit, take a detour over to "SPQR Blues", a "soap opera with swords and sandals" for some of the best webcomic art, Roman adventure and Alphonse Mucha Pompeiian ladies on the Internets. Terrific! Great work, and you can tell the artist I said so.)


Lisa said...

One wonders the root impulse of graffiti. . . tattling? Intimations of brilliance? Papering over the landscape? Myself, I have never had the impulse to do more than write in sand, knowing it would soon be gone.

Ephemerality has a beauty, to me.

FDChief said...

Lisa: that's part of the fun of this little website. The scritti run the range from the "Kilroy was here" sort designed to let the passerby know that "Marcus loves Spendusa" or "Claudio screwed a woman here" to the pass-time sort prompted by boredom and the compulsive need to doodle, to political ads, to lost-and-found announcements. Very human and very much still typical despite being more than nineteen centuries old.

I think that a lot of these WERE ephemera and the fascinating part is that the eruption of 79AD preserved them, dragonflies in amber, to let us see what those ancient Romans wrote in the sand...

Lisa said...

A good point -- they would have been erased by time. I guess we all want to be heard, even if we say it to a stone wall.

Fascinating little site.