Since I am a pilgrim in this world, today I walked up Pilgrim Street, Via del Pellegrino, for to seek some good old fashioned Roman street fare. At the end of the Via del Pellegrino you find an ancient stone and inscription in the side of a building housing a hardware store. Across the way on the next corner was my destination, but I had to admire the inscription for the thousandth time.
Here you see the very stone and a supplì, which might surprise you.
First, the food. I picked up a couple supplì – rice balls filled with something and deep fried to crunchiness. The classic supplì “al telefono” has cheese inside, which makes each bite sort of stretchy, like telephone wires. The little shop, nearby, where I bought these surprisingly good little balls of joy, is called Supplizio, which is from Latin supplicium, which means “death sentence”. Perhaps they think their supplì are to die for? That wouldn’t be a surprise, because they are really good. Supplicium by the way, comes from supplex, which we see in our Latin prayers, as in “Supplices TE rogamus…” the beginning of the canon, and in many orations. Supplex is complicated, since it involves an etymological tension between plico and plecto. But, supplicanti parce, Lector. Oro supplex. I digress. The Italian word for the little, friendly rice ball, supplì, comes from French, surprise, because, like these posts, you never know what you are going to find inside. Hence, the Romans had the gumption to be way ahead of Forrest. And speaking of Surprise, “Which its a fried rice ball!”, Killick would shout to the Captain after they exercised the great guns.
What’s going on here on this chiseled rock?
This is an ancient pomerium marker for Rome’s sacred city limits. Tradition has it that Romulus defined the first sacred perimeter with oxen and a plough. The furrow was sacred as all furrows tend to be when there is a sense of the sacred. The pomerium was pushed outward by various Emperors. By law, no one holding imperium, the command of troops, could pass that boundary without losing his command, which was a way to prevent generals with pietas from marching on Rome. If they passed the boundary, everything they did would be illegal and sacrilegious.
Pompey the Great, for example, stayed outside when he returned to Rome and built the great stone theater (the first in stone in Rome) which had his residence and a meeting place for the Senate. He made the Senators come to him. Where I sit, writing, I can nearly peer out the window to see a place where some of the remains of Pompey’s buildings are found. I ate at a place where you can see part of the foundation. My seminary, on the other side of the buildings, including Sant’Andrea, is where the colonnade was where Julius Caesar was killed. Not the sort of supplicium he would have wanted.
Here’s the stone. Doesn’t that look like… “I, CLAUDIUS”?
[d]RVSI FILIVS CAISAR
[po]NT MAX TRIB POT
[v]IIII IMP XVI COS IIII
CENSOR P P
[au]CTIS POPVLI ROMANI
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, son of Drusus, Supreme Pontiff, having Tribunician power for the ninth time, having imperium for the sixteenth time and being Consul for the fourth time, Censor, Father of the Fatherland, once the border of the Roman people grew, enlarged and defined the pomerium.
There are a few of these stones still around. One is at Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, my original stomping ground in Rome in whose streets I began to drink in all my bad words in my adopted language.
What is interesting here, on this stone, is an example of poor stuttering Claudius’ interest in linguistics. First, speaking of Caesar, Claudius used an archaic spelling in “CAISAR” which proves to us how it was pronounced at the time. Also, you see here one of the three letters he invented for the Roman alphabet. This is for your super nerdy Just Too Cool file.
Keeping in mind that at the time the “v” was not the voiced labiodental fricative “v” but more like its mysterious bilabial approximant “w”, so that vinum was “weenum”, “v” filled the function of both “v/w” and the vowel “u”, thus VINVM for vinum. Claudius created a letter for the “v/w” consonant: Ⅎ which is in this inscription in the last line [a]MPLIAℲIT TERMINAℲITQ (i.e., ampliavit terminavitq[ue]). That is so cool. (This was one of my foci in grad school.)
It never really caught on. BUT! … There it is! Is that not COOL?!?
If you haven’t seen I, Claudius… ohhhh are you in for a treat. This is an old series, but one of the best things ever done, IMHO. The book(s) by Robert Graves are good, but the TV series is amazing. US HERE – UK HERE Even now the theme runs in my mind. And a hilariously terrifying moment with Caligula comes to mind… because the Synod is going on and I imagine this to be happening in the Sala Nervi… or perhaps somewhere in the Casa Santa Marta, given some of the characters around that place these days. The video, if you don’t remember: HERE It’s … ludicrously ghastly. Performed, surely, by certain Jesuits. They’ve been summoned to Caligula and they think they are going to die … another analogy for the mercy of the moment.
#Synod2018 = “Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.”
And, since it is October, here is another inscription, but from 1775. This is not one of the famous “no littering” signs from His Excellency the Monsignor of the Streets. This one says that Pius VI graciously gives (he is at the moment happily reigning) permission to carts that hauled eggs and chicken to vendors at the P.za Pollarola and P.za Paradiso not to pay taxes.