28 Who Wrote Grafitti in Pompeii? And Other Questions | Matt Panciera

One of my strengths as a scholar, especially one who teaches in a liberal arts college, is that I have many interests and have worked on a wide range of ancient writers: the Roman historian Livy, the comic playwright Plautus, the Republican lyric poet Horace, two imperial poets including the epigrammatist Martial and satirist Juvenal, and the anonymous writers of graffiti in Pompeii. In addition, the problems I have explored have been quite varied and they tend to involve the sort of analysis that requires the consideration of multiple types of evidence.

My interest in historiography, especially the way in which an historian weaves together information to create a compelling narrative, led me to examine closely how Livy made sense of the important political office of tribune of the plebs in the wider context of early Roman history. My interest in linguistics, which flows out of the emphasis on philology in my discipline, led me to investigate the ways in which Plautus uses a very feminine formula for the word ‘please’ to mark some male characters as excessively effeminate and open to ridicule. I also looked closely at the evidence for meaning of the word alicaria and discovered that the prevailing scholarly opinion that the word did not mean ‘prostitute’ was incorrect, in part because the full context of a graffito from Pompeii had not been fully or adequately explored.

My greatest scholarly joy and expertise lies in the study of Pompeian graffiti and society. My article that starts with a question about the character Hamillus from poems of Martial and Juvenal is most significant when it moves to the consideration of the same name, spelled backwards, in several graffiti. My finding that the backwards spelling of a name in Pompeii is not sexual, but rather a virtuoso display of literacy, suggests that much more needs to be done on the question of who wrote graffiti in Pompeii and for what purposes. This will be the focus of my future work.

And although I tend towards the historical in my research, I also have literary interests. I have completed a long article length study which proposes a new interpretation of Horace’s famous ‘Cleopatra Ode.’ In this work I show that there are many philosophical elements in the poem, especially the phrase combiberet venenum (she drinks down the poison) to describe Cleopatra’s suicide by snake-bite, which allude to Socrates’ death as depicted in Plato’s Apology and Phaedo. Horace does this not in praise of Cleopatra so much as to remind his audience of Cato, the celebrated defender of the Republic, who styled himself after Socrates in many ways and committed suicide rather than be defeated and pardoned by his enemy Caesar. This interpretation is further bolstered by my discovery of the acrostic CATO in the opening lines of the poem.