The Discovery and Interpretation of the Flavia Sophe Inscription: New Results

in Vigiliae Christianae
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Abstract

New archival material relating to the discovery of the Flavia Sophe inscription is presented and arguments made that the inscription was discovered in situ. Careful attention to the epigraphical, palaeographical, and metrical aspects of the poem, as well as its use of nuptial imagery lead to new proposals for reconstructions. Arguments for a date in the second century are re-examined and strengthened. The language of the inscription is placed within the context of other Greek funeral epigrams to show that the writer of the epigram was well aware of the conventions Hellenistic funeral poetry and that the poem artfully subverts many of these conventions. And finally, I claim that for this group of Christians, the “bridal chamber ritual” should be understood as a mortuary rite.

The Discovery and Interpretation of the Flavia Sophe Inscription: New Results

in Vigiliae Christianae

Sections

References

1

Ismo DunderbergBeyond Gnosticism: Myth Lifestyle and Society in the School of Valentinus (New York: Columbia University Press2008) 115-17; Anne McGuire “Women Gender and Gnosis in Gnostic Texts and Traditions” in Women and Christian Origins edited by Ross Kraemer (New York: Oxford University Press 1999) 266-7; Giovanni Filoramo A History of Gnosticism (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1990) 176.

2

Antonio Ferrua“Questioni di epigrafia heretica romana,” Rivisita di archeologia cristiana 21 (1945) 176-93; M. Guarducci “Valentiniani a Roma: ricerche epigrafiche ed archeologiche” in Mitteilungen des deutschen archäologischen Instituts römische Abteilung 80 (1973) 182-6; Peter Lampe From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries translated by Michael Steinhauser edited by Marshall Johnson (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2003) 308-11; Paul McKechnie “Flavia Sophe in Context” ZPE 135 (2001) 117-24. The inscription has recently been written up by Claudio Noviello for a new catalogue from the National Epigraphic Museum “IX 31: Iscrizione di Flavia Sophe” in Terme di Diocleziano. La collezione epigrafica edited by G.L. Gregori M.G. Granino and R. Friggeri (Milan 2012) 576-8.

6

See M. De Angelis“La via latina; documenti inediti per servire alla storia degli scavi,” in Dagli scavi al museo; come da ritrovamenti archeologici si costruisce il museo (Rome: Marsilio1984) 92-8.

11

Noy“Romans,” in The Encyclopedia of Cremation368.

12

See Rodolfo LancianiThe Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome (Boston: Houghton and Mifflin1897) 331.

19

Ferrua“Questioni epigrafia” 178-80.

20

On March 28 1858Henzen wrote to De Rossi commenting on the syntax of χρεισαµένη; Michelangelo Caetani sent copy of Passaglia’s edition to Annibale Bontadosi whom Caetani describes as his ΣΥΝΕΥΝΕ; Bontadosi wrote a letter to De Rossi on March 30 commenting at length on Passaglia’s mistakes. The correspondence is preserved in Vat. Lat. 14241 in a collection of letters to and from De Rossi. Dr. Marco Buonocore led me to these letters held in the collection “Autografi Ferrajoli.”

27

McKechnie“Flavia Sophe in Context” 117.

29

Ferrua“Questioni di epigrafia” 180. Ferrua is the editor of the New Series of Inscriptiones christianae urbis romae in nine volumes.

32

O. Marucchi“Osservazioni sopra il cimitero anonimo recentemente scoperto sulla via Latina,” in Nuovo bullettino di archeologia cristiana 9 (1903) 311: “Essa stave certamente fuori di posto perchè è cristiana mentre il sepolcro innanzi al quale si rinvenne è senza dubbio pagano. Può credersi adunque che l’epigrafe fosse trasportata cola in epoca tarda e probabilmente da un luogo vicino.” The location of this catacomb is no longer known.

35

See Jochen Griesbach“Villa e mausoleo: trasformazioni nel concetto della memoria nel suburbio romano,” in Roman villas around the Urbs. Interaction with landscape and environment. Proceedings of a conference held at the Swedish Institute in Rome September 17-18edited by B. Santillo Frizell and A. Klynne (The Swedish Institute in Rome; Projects and Seminars 2; Rome 2005) 113-23; Lucrezia Spera Il paesaggio suburbano di Roma dall’antichità al medioevo (Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider 1999) 350ff also comments on the mixing of residential and funerary spaces in this period.

36

On which see John Bodel“Monumental Villas,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 10 (1997) 21-23; D.R. Shackleton Bailey Cicero: Letters to Atticus Vol. 5 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2004) 404-13.

38

On the villa D. de Francesco“Demetriae Praedium,” in Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae: Suburbiumvol. 2 pp. 198-9; on the changing nature of the suburbs in this period see Lucrezia Spera Il paesaggio suburbano di Roma 350-82.

39

McKechnie“Flavia Sophe in Context” 119-20. Of this claim a review article in L’Année epigraphique for the year 2001 (published in 2004) observes “Cette fourchette chronologique n’a guère de pertinence: dès le lendemain de sa victoire sur Licinius au plus tard en 326 Constantin publie une letter contre divers ‘hérétiques’ dont les Valentiniens” (p. 87).

41

P.R.C. WeaverFamilia Caesaris (Cambridge: At the University Press1972) 42; see also Beryl Rawson “Roman Concubinage and other de facto Marriages” Transactions of the American Philological Association 104 (1974) 279-305; Benet Salway “What’s in a Name? A Survey of Roman Onomastic Practice from c. 700 B.C. to A.D. 700” The Journal of Roman Studies 84 (1994) 124-145.

43

WeaverFamilia Caesaris131.

44

WeaverFamilia Caesaris35-6.

45

See T.D. Barnes“Legislation against the Christians,” Journal of Roman Studies 58 (1968) 32-50.

49

Ferrua“Questioni di epigrafia” 193.

55

See Claudio Noviello“IX, 24: Stele con simboli cristiani,” in Terme di Diocleziano568-9.

59

M.L. WestGreek Metre (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press1982) 11-12 15 193.

63

See Guido Barbieri“Una nuova epigrafe d’Ostia,” in Quarta miscellanea greca e romana (Rome: 1975) 328-332; he finds seventy-eight acrostic poems in Latin and seventeen examples in Greek. Guarducci describes them as rare (“Valentiniani a Roma” 184) quoting Moretti (IGUR #411) as evidence.

66

Noted by Ferrua“Questioni di epigrafia” 190.

69

Peek 1763. Quite similar is Peek 1903.12a statue base from Megara: “The body of Nikocratos is buried here in the hollows of the earth but his heart has gone taken up to the divine aether” (Νικοκράτους λαγόνεσσιν ὑπὸ χθονίαισι κέκρυπτε (sic) σῶµα κέαρ δ᾿ ἀνόρουσε πρὸς αἰθέρα δῖαν ἀερθέν).

72

See M. Guarducci“Valentiniani a Roma” 169-82; “Ancora sui valentiniani a Roma” Mitteilungen des deutschen archäologischen Instituts römische Abteilung 81 (1974) 341-3; Lampe From Paul to Valentinus 298-307 and most recently H. Gregory Snyder “A Second-Century Christian Inscription from the Via Latina” JECS 19 (2011) 157-95.

76

Many examples e.g.IGUR 1328.1 1379.8 and Peek 33.4 1937.1 1491.2 1678.8 1937.1. According to William Ross Hardie Res Metrica (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1920) 32 the lengthening of the initial alpha in ἀθάνατος has “no justification except metrical convenience.”

88

See Carl ReinsbergDie Sarkophage mit Darstellungen aus dem Menschenleben (Berlin: Gebr. Mann2006) vol. 13 p. 203 closeup of garlanding pl. 87.1.

89

VirgilAen. 6.219: corpusque lavant frigentis et unguent; for crowning Cicero De leg. 2.24.60 (references from Jocelyn Toynbee Death and Burial in the Roman World [Ithaca New York: Cornell University Press 1971] 44); see also E. Courtney Musa Lapidaria: A Selection of Latin Verse Inscriptions (Atlanta Georgia: Scholars Press 1995) # 183 (= CLE 1109): “these gifts . . . are better than perfume and garlands.”

92

See August BaumeisterDenkmäler des klassischen Altertums zur Erläuterung des Leben der Griechen und Römer (Munich: R. Oldenburg1887) vol. 1 p. 239 (easily available online).

93

Guarducci“Valentiniani a Roma” 184-6; Lampe Paul to Valentinus 308-10. Most subsequent studies have been content to quote Guarducci and Lampe; apart from these articles very little new work at all has been done on the inscription since its discovery.

94

See R. LattimoreThemes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (Urbana: University of Illinois Press1962) and E. Courtney Musa Lapidaria.

99

Two exceptions: Peek 1169.8where Rufinus being dead sees again the light of his own country by the Nile and IGUR 1409 a fragment of an inscription that seems to mention “eternal light” (ἀ]έναον φῶς); Moretti suspects it may be Christian.

109

Peek 2015.7-8 (Tibur i.e. Tivoli); also Peek 1942.1-2 (Tomis): “among the slain no desire no friendship among the dead” (ἐν φθιµένοις δέ οὐ πόθος οὐ φιλότης ἐστὶ κατοιχοµένοις).

114

Peek 1111.2 (Ostia).

118

EpictetusDisc. 3.13.14-15 tr. Valerie Hope Death in Ancient Rome 227.

126

Peek 1773.1-3; see also IGUR 1228.3 1235.3 1332.2

136

According to IrenaeusAdv. Haer. 3.4.3 “Valentinus came to Rome under Hyginus (136-40) rose to prominence under Pius (Antoninus Pius 138-61) remaining until Anicetus (155-60)” a tenure of at least fifteen years perhaps as many as twenty-four.

139

Largely the translation of R.P. CaseyExcerpta ex Theodoto (London: Christophers1934) 83 with slight alterations.

140

As Eric Segelberg put it fifty years ago“the bride-chamber, finally, is the fulfillment which perhaps forms, as it were, the conclusion of the rites of death” (“The Coptic-Gnostic Gospel of Philip and its Sacramental System,” Numen 7 [1960] 198); similarly Hans-Georg Gaffron Studien zum koptischen Philippusevangelium unter besondere Berücksichtigung der Sakramente (PhD. Diss. Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität 1969) 222: “ein Sterbesakrament.”

144

Peek 1975.30 (Hermopolis).

145

Peek 1105.2 (Sunion).

146

Peek 1185.7 (Gophna near Jerusalem).

147

Peek 1327.7-8 (Caria).

157

Ismo DunderbergBeyond Gnosticism (New York: Columbia University Press2008) 117.

Figures

  • View in gallery
    Letter from Fortunati to Cardinal Milesi, describing the discovery of the Flavia Sophe inscription. Photo by author; used courtesy of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Property and Activities; further reproduction of this image is prohibited
  • View in gallery
    Fortunati’s drawing of the area around the structure where the inscription was discovered, from the end pages of Relazione generale
  • View in gallery
    Two inscriptions from Inscriptiones Graecae Urbis Romae, with samples of second and third-century letter styles. Photo by author, used by permission of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali—Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma
  • View in gallery
    The Flavia Sophe inscription, front side. Photo courtesy of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali—Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma
  • View in gallery
    The Flavia Sophe inscription, back side. Photo courtesy of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali—Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma
  • View in gallery
    Funeral cippi similar to the Flavia Sophe stone, in the cortile of the Museo Nazionale Romano. Photo by author, used by permission of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali—Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma
  • View in gallery
    Funeral cippus of Caerellius Asprinus, in the cortile of the Museo Nazionale Romano. Photo by author, used by permission of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali—Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma
  • View in gallery
    Funeral stele of Tineia Hygeia, with the biographical details at the bottom. Used by permission of the Vatican Museum
  • View in gallery
    The Licinia Amias stone. Photo by author, used by permission of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali—Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma
  • View in gallery
    Midline dot in line 9 of the Flavia Sophe inscription. Photo by author, used by permission of the Ministry per i Beni e le Attività Culturali—Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma
  • View in gallery
    Letter traces on the Flavia Sophe stone. Photo by author, used by permission of the Ministry per i Beni e le Attività Culturali—Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma
  • View in gallery
    The Marriage of Philonoe and Bellerophon. Photo courtesy of Barbara McManus and the VRoma Project; used with permission of the Nabeul Museum, Tunisia

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