Notes to Aelia Sabina Inscription

Di Manes, m. pl.
the spirits of the dead, the divine spirits; the abbreviation DM or the full phrase in the dative is regularly found at the head of tombstone inscriptions.
Aelia: freeborn women were generally named with the feminine form of their father's nomen; Aelia was also given a second name in honor of her mother.
Publi filiae: insertion of “son of” or “daughter of” between a person's two names in an inscription is a clear indication of freeborn status, since a person born in slavery had no legal father.
dulcis, -e
sweet, dear; superlative form in the dative.
Aelius: freedmen took the praenomen and nomen of the patron who freed them, so all of the freedmen of the emperor Publius Aelius Trajanus Hadrianus had Publius Aelius before the name they had been given as a slave.
Trophimus, -i, m. (a Greek term)
nursling, foster-child; his slave name suggests Greek origins.
parens, -entis, m/f.
parent; father; mother (in apposition with Trophimus and Longinia Sabina).
facio, -ere, feci, factum
make, do; cause to be made; hoc monumentum is understood as the object; this is the conventional phrase for the dedicators of a tomb, altar, or similar structure.
quisquis, quaequae, quodquod/quidquid pronoun
whoever, whatever. The poem begins here in the voice of Aelia. Since the words on the stone are run together with no consideration of the poetic lines, the traveler whom she addresses would have to read the words aloud to pick up the poetic rhythm and move to the side of the altar for the ending.
adsum, adesse, adfui
be present; tombstone inscriptions often address themselves to the passerby.
celer, -is
quick, swift, fast.
gressus, -us, m.
step, pace.
precor, -ari, -atum
pray, beg, entreat.
ito: future imperative singular of eo, ire, ivi, itum. The future imperative adds solemnity to the command, indicating a maxim intended to be true for all time. There is a near rhyme at the end of lines 1 and 2: ito viator and dico viator.
viator, -oris, m.
traveler; the addressee of the poem is a nameless traveler. Since burials were not permitted within the walls of a city, tombs frequently lined the roads leading away from a city, so travelers were thought of as the most likely people to read tombstone inscriptions.
linquo, -ere, liqui
leave, go away from, quit.
nefas, n. indeclinable
an unnatural event, horror; wrong, wickedness. This word connotes religious prohibition; it adds an air of mystery—was there something unnatural or wicked about Aelia's death?
parco, -ere, peperci, parsum
spare, be economical with; refrain from (+ dative).
noster, -tra, -trum
our, ours; my. This adjective frequently replaces meus in poetry because of the meter; the fata are clearly Aelia's.
volo, velle, volui
wish, want; be willing; vellis = velis, present active subjunctive with an indefinite second-person subject to express a general prohibition (nec = et ne). The misspelling of this verb may be explained by confusion with the imperfect subjunctive, but it is odd here because the double l lengthens the proceeding syllable and thus destroys the meter of the line. Hence this error may have been made by the stonecutter.
cognosco, -oscere, -ovi, -itum
get to know, learn, understand; know.
sanguineus, -a, -um
bloody; blood-stained; blood-red. This adjective is in the ablative, as shown by the meter, and thus modifies palla.
palla, -ae, f.
a rectangular mantle worn by women, especially outdoors (ablative of means with the verb texit). This mantle is metaphorical, concealing the full story of Aelia's fate.
qui, quae, quod relative pronoun
who; what, accusative plural neuter, direct object of texit. Thus the antecedent must be fata, not palla.
tego, -ere, texi, tectum
cover, conceal; bury; clothe.
prodigus, -a, -um
wasteful, prodigal; unrestrained. Clotho was not careful of this young life.
Clotho, -o (accusative), f. (Greek name): Clotho was one of the three Fates (Parcae in Latin, Moirai in Greek) who presided over the life spans of individuals. She is always shown with a distaff and spindle, since she spun out the person's thread of life.
faveo, -ere, favi, fautum
be favorable to, approve of; be propitious to (perfect tense). This verb, when followed by an accusative and infinitive as it is here, apparently means “look favorably on/approve of (the fact that someone did something).” Since it is commonly applied to a benevolent deity, its use in this poem is heavily ironic.
rumpo -ere, rupi, ruptum
break, tear (perfect active infinitive with sorores as subject). The perfect tense indicates an action that occurred before the action of the main verb (“had broken”).
quoque, adverb
also, too.
filum, -i, n.
thread, band of wool. In the mythology of the Fates, the thread represented an individual life, which was ended when the thread was cut or broken.
soror, -oris, f.
sister. The three Fates were sisters: Clotho spun the thread of life; Lachesis measured or weighed it; and Atropos cut or broke it.
luctificus, -a, -um
causing sorrow, dire, calamitous; as the meter shows, this adjective is ablative, modifying manu.
propero, -are, -avi, -atum
hurry; cause to occur prematurely; the present active participle may indicate that this phrase is an ablative absolute, especially since the ablative ending is -e instead of -i. However, the phrase makes more sense here if treated as an ablative of means after rupisse.
manus, -us, f.
hand; band, group; handiwork.
sisto, -ere, stiti, statum
stop, stand still. This verb appears to contradict the repeated ito above, but here it seems to mean “stop trying to find out about my fate,” which would of course only encourage the traveler to read more.
ne, conjunction
not; lest; this introduces a negative purpose clause with the present subjunctive verb sim.
penitus, adverb
deeply, thoroughly, utterly (modifies quaerenti). Interestingly, the poem twice tells the traveler not to inquire into Aelia's death, arousing a great deal of curiosity about how she died but never satisfying this curiosity.
quaero, -rere, -sivi/-sii, -situm
seek, search for; ask, inquire. This present active participle is broken into two parts on the stone; it is dative, modifying tibi, and might best be translated by a conditional clause (“if you . . .”).
dolor, -oris, m.
sorrow; pain, trouble. One commentator, Otto Hense, has pointed out that this line echoes Vergil, Aeneid 9.216: neu matri miserae tanti sim causa doloris, where Nisus exhorts Euryalus not to risk his life because of the pain his loss would bring to his mother (thus the allusion parallels Aelia Sabina's death with that of a Vergilian hero).
sedes, -is, f.
seat; abode; resting-place of the dead, tomb.
parvus, -a, -um
small, little.
titulus, -i, m.
inscription. Although the tombstone is indeed small, this inscription is not.
teneo, -ere, -ui
hold, keep, contain. This verb has multiple subjects: dolor, funus, parens, spes, and sors.
anima, -ae, f.
life; soul, spirit. As the meter shows, this is ablative; it is ablative of association—together with its tiny occupant, the tomb contains all the emotions listed in lines 9-11. The lost letters in this section of the inscription were caused by a rectangular cut in the stone, but the restorations are obvious.
inmensus = immensus, -a, -um
immeasurable, vast; unending. This adjective modifies dolor, movingly contrasting the small monument and its inhabitant (parvus appears three times) with the impact of her death.
crudelis, -e
cruel, merciless. This word is broken into two parts on the stone and also misspelled (crudileque = crudeleque). Given the sophistication of the writer of this poem, this is probably also a stonecutter's error.
funus, -eris, n.
funeral; death.
orbo, -are, -avi, -atum
bereave; orphan; make childless. This perfect passive participle, modifying parens, suggests that Trophimus and Longinia Sabina had no other children at the time of Aelia's death.
geminus, -a, -um
twin; double; twofold. Modifying the singular parens with this adjective suggests the closeness of Trophimus and Sabina; identical in their grief, they are like one person.
spes, spei, f.
hope, expectation. All children represent hope for the future, but the freeborn child of parents who were former slaves represents a special kind of hope, a new start without the legal disabilities carried by all freedpeople until their deaths.
durus, -a, -um
hard; harsh; cruel. This hope was cruel because so soon shattered; the word also foreshadows dira in line 11.
triennium, -i/-ii, n.
three years (descriptive genitive with spes). This is the first hint of Aelia's age and the only piece of information about her besides her parentage that the poem offers.
dirus, -a, -um
fearful, dreadful, terrible.
sors, sortis, f.
one's portion, lot, destiny. This word continues the emphasis on fate introduced by the Parcae in line 4.
letum, -i, n.
placeo, -ere, -ui, -itum
please, satisfy (+ dative, tibi is understood). Though Latin did not use punctuation, the structure of this sentence suggests a question.
Fortuna: goddess of chance and luck, both good and bad. Her attributes were the cornucopia (good fortune, abundance), a ship's rudder (since she steered one's life course), and sometimes a wheel (the ever spinning wheel of fortune). The poem closes with a bitterly ironic question to this ambiguous goddess.
sepulchrum/sepulcrum, -i, n.
tomb, grave.