The truth is that before I really get down to the Leverhulme project on images of emperors, I am doing a three lecture gig at Bard near New York for the Anthony Hecht Lectures; the subject is Roman Epitaphs. In some ways I guess it is an obvious theme. But that is why I chose it I suppose.
There are well over 180,000 epitaphs surviving from the Roman world, and they have been well studied from all kinds of angles (age at death, family relations etc..). And I hope I will touch on some of those angles in my lectures, but I am also interested in how people have been interested in these texts, grand and humble, in the centuries that have followed.
One of the things that has struck me is the impact, from the late eighteenth century on, of the Tomb of the Scipios, discovered just off the Appian Way. This tomb plays quite a big part in my book, partly because -- as Peter Wiseman has already pointed out --the epitaph of Scipio Barbatus (who died around 280 BCE) must count as the first surviving bit of Roman history writing to survive.
CORNELIVS·LVCIVS·SCIPIO·BARBATVS·GNAIVOD·PATRE PROGNATVS·FORTIS·VIR·SAPIENSQVE—QVOIVS·FORMA·VIRTVTEI·PARISVMA.FVIT—CONSOL CENSOR·AIDILIS·QVEI·FVIT·APVD·VOS—TAVRASIA·CISAVNA SAMNIO·CEPIT—SVBIGIT·OMNE·LOVCANA·OPSIDESQVE·ABDOVCIT
'Cornelius Lucius Scipio Barbatus, sprung from Gnaeus his father, a man strong and wise, whose appearance was a match for his virtue, who was consul, censor and aedile among you - He captured Taurasia, Cisauna, Samnium - he subdued all Lucania and led off hostages.'
I have had quite a lot to say about this in the book (I like the idea about Roman bigwigs looking the part: the 'appearance was a match for his virtue' line). But now I am interested in the whole early modern fame of the tomb. It was rediscovered in the late eighteenth century and there are an extraordinary array of tall stories about what happened to the bones of Scipio Barbatus among others.
What I had not realised until recently is how many modern graves copied the sarcophagus of Scipio Barbatus, and how weirdly. The tomb from Highgate cemetry at the top of this post is that of the novelist, Mrs Henry Wood, the Victorian chick-lit novelist... so why on earth was she buried in a look alike copy of Scipio Barbatus' tomb?