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epitaph plaque

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    1756,0101.1126

  • Description

    Marble epitaph plaque with a verse inscription for a dog called Margarita ('Pearl'), written from the perspective of the deceased dog.

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1stC AD-2ndC AD
  • Materials

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 50 centimetres
    • Width: 61 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

        inscription
      • Inscription Language

        Latin
      • Inscription Content

        [G]ALLIA · ME · GENVIT · NOMEN · MIHI · DIVITIS · VNDAE
        CONCHA · DEDIT · FORMAE · NOMINIS · APTVS · HONOS
        DOCTA · PER · INCERTAS · AUDAX · DISCVRRERE · SILVAS
        COLLIBVS · HIRSVTAS · ATQVE · AGITARE · FERAS
        NON · GR · AVIBVS · VINCLIS · VNQVAM · CONSVETA · TENERI
        VERBERA · NEC · NI · VEO · CORPORE · SAEVA · PATI
        MOLLI · N · AMQVESINV · DOMINI · DOMINAEQUE · IACEBAM
        ET · NORAM · IN · STRATO · LASSA · CVBARE · TORO
        ET · PLVS · QVAM · LICVIT · MVTO · CANIS · ORE · LOQVEBAR
        NVLLI · LATRATVS · PERTIMVEREMEOS
        SED · IAM · FATA · SVBIL · PARTV · IACTA · SINISTRO
        QVAM · NVNC · SVB · PARVO · MARMORE · TERRA · TEG[I]ET
        MARGARITA
      • Inscription Transliteration

        Gallia me genuit nomen mihi divitis undae
        concha dedit formae nominis aptus honos
        docta per incertas audax discurrere silvas
        collibus hirsutas atque agitare feras
        non gravibus vinc(u)lis unquam consueta teneri
        verbera nec niveo corpore saeva pati
        molli namque sinu domini dominaeque iacebam
        et noram in strato lassa cubare toro
        et plus quam licuit muto canis ore loquebar
        nulli latratus pertimuere meos
        sed iam fata subii partu iactata sinistro
        quam nunc sub parvo marmore terra tegit
        Margarita
      • Inscription Translation

        Gaul gave me my birth and the pearl-oyster from the seas full of treasure my name, an honour fitting to my beauty.
        I was trained to run boldly through strange forests
        and to hunt out furry wild beasts in the hills
        never accustomed to be held by heavy chains
        nor endure cruel beatings on my snow-white body.
        I used to lie on the soft lap of my master and mistress
        and knew to go to bed when tired on my spread mattress
        and I did not speak more than allowed as a dog, given a silent mouth
        No-one was scared by my barking
        but now I have been overcome by death from an ill-fated birth
        and earth has covered me beneath this small piece of marble.
        Margarita (‘Pearl’)

        I was trained to run boldly through strange forests
        and to hunt out furry wild beasts in the hills,
        never accustomed to be held by heavy chains
        nor endure cruel beatings on my snow-white body.
        I used to lie on the soft lap of my master and mistress
        and knew to go to bed when tired on my spread mattress
        and I did not speak more than allowed as a dog, given a silent mouth.
        No-one was scared by my barking,
        but now I have been overcome by death from an ill-fated birth
        and earth has covered me beneath this small piece of marble.
        Margarita (‘Pearl’)
      • Inscription Comment

        Epigraphic:
        1. <G>allia 12. tegit: teget (corrected)
        Triangular incisions between words
        Horizontal lines and some vertical lines were drawn across the surface before carving.
        The lettering is of mixed quality; one L (of PLVS, l. 9) resembles an I.

        Literary:
        Gallia me genuit recalls the beginning of Virgil's epitaph, 'Mantua me genuit', which provides a terminus post quem for this inscription.
        The wordplay on the dog's name (ll. 1-2 nomen ... diuitis undae | concha) recalls learned poetry; the mention of Margarita at the end explains the wordplay for anyone who did not understand.
        The first-person perspective is striking, and there are humanizing touches: loquebar (l. 9); partu (l. 11).
        There are some allusions to love-poetry: hirsutas ... feras in the same position in Prop. 1.1.12; ll. 5-6 allude to servitium amoris; in line with the allusions to Virgil's epitaph there may be echoes of the love story of Dido and Aeneas.
  • Curator's comments

    Quite a few tombstones for pet dogs survive from the Roman period, but none as elaborate and detailed as this. The poem is written in verse and as if spoken by Margarita, ‘Pearl’, herself, a dog from Gaul, which in antiquity were especially prized as both hunting dogs and pets – both aspects that are covered in the poem. The poem shows the importance Margarita played in her owner’s life through its quality and intellectual content, as several lines were plays on phrases from the most famous and respected Roman authors: 'Gallia me genuit' reminded readers of Vergil’s funerary epitaph 'Mantua me genuit', while other lines evoked Ovid’s The Art of Love (line 8 – Ovid, AA 2, 370) and The Art of Beauty (line 12 – Ovid, Medic. 8), two books well placed as inspiration to describe Margarita’s qualities and the loss felt at her death.

    Looking closely at the inscription, one can still make out the lines that were faintly carved to indicate the height of each row. We can also perceive vertical lines on the left hand side of the slab, up to about a third into it. While at first sight, these could have been laid out to indicate the horizontal spacing of each individual letter, it is quite clear that none of the letters actually respect them. It is more likely that the mason had started to lay out rows on a slab, realised the slab was not wide enough to contain the lines of the poem in an orderly manner, and thus decided to turn that slab 90 degrees.
    There is a grammatical mistake at the very end; 'teget' instead of 'tegit'. The stone shows clear marks of trying to correct the mistake, possibly because the client spotted the mistake himself when inspecting the finished product. (Booms 2016: 92-93)

    Bibl.:
    - Booms, D. (2016) Latin Inscriptions (London: British Museum Press) pp. 92-93
    - Bücheler, F. (1897), Anthologia Latina II, 1175
    - Courtney, E. (1995) Musa Lapidaria. A selection of Latin verse inscriptions. (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press), pp. 194-195, Nr. 202; p. 408
    - Frings, I. (1998) 'Mantua me genuit – Vergils Grabepigramm auf Stein und Pergament' in: ZPE vol. 123, pp. 93-96
    - Geist, H. (ed.) (1969) Römische Grabinschriften. Gesammelt und ins Deutsche, betreut von Gerhard Pfohl. (München: Heimeran), p. 151 Nr. 400
    - G. Herrlinger, Antike Tier-Epikedien, Stuttgart, 47.
    - Gordon, A.E. (1947) 'More rambles among Latin inscriptions' in The Classical Journal, vol. 42, p. 495
    - Granino Cecere, M.G. (1994) 'Il sepolcro della catella Aeolis' in ZPE vol. 100, pp. 418, Anm. 39; Taf. XXIII b
    - Purdie, A.B. (1935) Some Observations of Latin verse inscriptions (California: Christophers) p. 109

    More 

  • Bibliography

    • CIL VI 29896 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1753

  • Department

    Greek & Roman Antiquities

  • Registration number

    1756,0101.1126

  • Additional IDs

    • SLAntiq.1126
Epitaph in verse for Margarita ('Pearl'), a hound born in Gaul and trained to hunt in the forests and mountains. It escaped a life of hardship and discipline to become a lap-dog in Rome. Although its actual bark could frighten no-one, it 'could almost speak'.

Epitaph in verse for Margarita ('Pearl'), a hound born in Gaul and trained to hunt in the forests and mountains. It escaped a life of hardship and discipline to become a lap-dog in Rome. Although its actual bark could frighten no-one, it 'could almost speak'.

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Object reference number: GAA9326

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