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In the necropolis, outside Pompeii's Nocera gate, there are a number of elaborate tombs, which include full-sized statues of the dead and the bereaved. One of these, now fenced-off, belongs to a certain Publius Vesonius Phileros. It bears an inscription of the following cautionary tale:

"HOSPES PAULLISPER MORARE,

SI NON EST MOLESTUM ET QUID EVITES

COGNOSCE AMICUM HUNC QUEM

SPEVAVERAM MI ESSE AB EO MIHI ACCUSATO,

RES SUBIECTI ET IUDICIA INSTAURATA DEIS,

GRATIAS AGO ET MEAE INNOCENTIAE OMNI,

MOLESTIA LIBERATUS SUM QUI NOSTRUM MENTITUR EUM,

NEC DI PENATES NEC INFERI RECIPIANT."

This, translated by Andrew Wallace-Hadrill (AWH):

"Stranger, stay for a while if it's not a nuisance, and hear my sad tale. It is a cautionary tale (AWH's interpretation of, "quid evitas cognosce".) This man whom I had hoped to be my friend I got accused by of documentary fraud [or I got accused fraudulently] and proceedings were started. I thank the gods and my own innocence I was absolved of all nuisance. He who falsely denies he is ours, him may neither the gods of the house nor the gods below receive."

In Alison Cooley's (AC), "Pompeii: A Sourcebook" 1st. Ed., p.153, the translation begins:

"Stranger, delay a brief while if it is not troublesome, and learn what to avoid. This man whom I had hoped was my friend, I am forsaking: a case was maliciously brought against me... ".

It looks like AC has translated line 4, "esse ab eo mihi" (literally; "for me to be from him") as, "I am forsaking (him)". With "esse" = "to be" used here, she said, "This man whom I had hoped was my friend," not, "whom I had hoped to be my friend". Whereas in AWH's effort there is no mention of Phileros attempting to distance himself from his former friend; though, this could be inferred by implication. Apart from using the "esse" in, "had hoped to be my friend", it is not clear to me what AWH did with, "mi esse ab eo mihi".

How, exactly, is this expression to be translated?

1 Answer 1

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In my opinion, the only way to make sense of this inscription is not to read: accusato, res but: accusatores! Then we get:

… amicum hunc, quem speraveram mi esse; ab eo mihi accusatores subiecti et iudicia instaurata [sunt]; deis …

It's still a little jumbled syntax, and why is amicum in the accusative? (Assuming that cognosce belongs to quid evites, which I do.) Acc. of exclamation? Anyway, I would translate this as:

… him, who I had hoped would be a friend to me; by him were plaintiffs suborned and lawsuits started against me …

So mihi would be read as a dative of disadvantage (dative of reference).

A Google search reveals that many translators of this apparently rather famous inscription interpret it that way. I did however only find one translation that I completely agreed with, this one by one Craig A. Williams. Unlike many others (for example this one or this one), he interprets qui nostrum as a partitive genetive, which is the only option that makes sense to me. I do not understand why I read so many translations along the lines of “He who lies about us” – is there a secret construction of mentiri with the genetive that I know nothing about? He also picked up on the specialised courtroom meaning “suborn, instigate” of subicere, which others have overlooked, so that accusers are only “brought forth” or some such, but that is a detail.

Wallace-Hadrill's translation “He who falsely denies he is ours” is not only completely inexplicable to me from the Latin, but also makes very little sense in context (or in general), as far as I can see. I have also no idea where he gets his “documentary fraud” or what that is even supposed to be.

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  • I wonder if amicum could be fronted out of the relative clause (quem speraveram amicum mi esse), and hunc then attracted to it and/or to quem.
    – TKR
    Oct 23, 2022 at 19:00
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: Thank you. I first looked at this in 2009, long before LSE., and I sought help from Nicholas Oulton, author of "So You Really Want to Learn Latin?". He sent me the AWH-effort; and, like yourself, he commented on the bizarre syntax. I thought that "hunc" = "that man" & "amicum" were accusative for the same reason that "quem" is accusative--the relative clause? Obviously not? How do you understand, "mi"? I've seen three things: (i) a contraction of "mihi" (poetic) e.g. "da mi(hi) basia mille, deinde centum." (Catallus 5); but "mihi" is already there.
    – tony
    Oct 24, 2022 at 8:32
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: (ii) The vocative singular of "meus", which cannot apply, here; and (iii) an adjective, "my", "mine" (WordHippo). The latter source may lack credibility but this meaning ("my") appears to fit. Please confirm. Thanks again.
    – tony
    Oct 24, 2022 at 8:37
  • @tony Aren't (ii) and (iii) the same thing (which I would agree cannot apply here)? In my opinion, it is clearly mihi, i.e., mi est = belongs to me, or indeed amicus mi est = is a friend to me, if amicum is part of the relative clause. Oct 25, 2022 at 0:25
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: Yes, but if it is "mi" = "mihi", then "mihi" is used twice in line 4! Wouldn't just one have been deployed with a dual purpose? There are examples, in Latin, of a single word having a dual role in a sentence. Naturally, I cannot remember an example now that I need one. A question I've often asked, on the site: what if "mi" had been omitted--wouldn't "my" (friend) have been understood--as, "I am forsaking", may be understood?
    – tony
    Oct 25, 2022 at 8:00

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