Another of my favourite Roman inscriptions, which I have mentioned before and talked about at Bard, is what may be the tombstone of a couple, known for business purposes (one presumes) as Calidius Eroticus and Fannia Voluptas. All those names are individually well attested at Rome, but together they roughly equal Mr Hot Sex and Mrs Gorgeous (though Fannia in Latin does not mean what you might imagine). So it seems highly unlikely that they were the names the couple were born with, but the one’s they took to brand their bar or cheap lodging house.
And that’s rather confirmed by the little scene played out underneath the names. It’s a dialogue between an inn-keeper (Calidius?) and a customer who is asking to settle up his bill. The inn-keeper goes through everything his client has had… bread, dips etc. Then he comes to the 8 asses for ‘the girl’ (an as was pretty much the ancient equivalent of a penny), and hay for the mule at 2 asses. ‘Blimey’, says the customer, ‘that mule will be the ruin of me’.
I say it MAY have been an epitaph. Because although it has one or two of the formulae you might expect in a Roman epitaph (such as the abbreviation ‘v f’ – vivi fecerunt, ‘they put this up for themselves while still alive’), it is hard to quash the sneaking suspicion that this might be a pub sign, masquerading as an epitaph. Mr Hot Sex and Mrs Gorgeous knew enough about the way non elite Roman epitaphs played on the occupation of the deceased, to reverse the equation and make an occupational advert pretend to be an epitaph.
But it was only in doing the work for Bard that I discovered more about the surprising afterlife of this stone.
It was found around 1600 in Isernia in south central Italy, where it remained (with some celebrity), even though changing hands several times, until it was acquired by the Louvre in 1901 – and where it is still residing, sadly not on display.
But the local celebrity remains. By some avid googling I have discovered a local winery, Campi Valerio, that has taken over the name Fannia for a very good Falanghina, and use the name Calidius for their matching rosso (it’s the picture above). And on the label you will see the inscription itself, still doing its job as a logo.
There is something wonderfully touching that 2000 years later this pair of rogues (as I imagine they were) should have given their names and their image to they local vintage. Recommended!