“Docta loqui doctus quique loqui docuit.”
A great variety of verses is used in the epitaphs, but the dactylic hexameter and the elegiac are the favorites. The stately character of the hexameter makes it a suitable medium in which to express a serious sentiment, while the sudden break in the second verse of the elegiac couplet suggests the emotion of the writer. The verses are constructed with considerable regard for technique. Now and then there is a false quantity, an unpleasant sequence, or a heavy effect, but such blemishes are comparatively infrequent. There is much that is trivial, commonplace, and prosaic in these productions of the common people, but now and then one comes upon a phrase, a verse, or a whole poem which shows strength or grace or pathos. An orator of the late period, not without vigor, writes upon his tombstone: “I have lived blessed by the gods, by friends, by letters.”
(Vixi beatus dis, amicis, literis.)
A rather pretty, though not unusual, sentiment occurs in an elegiac couplet to a young girl, in which the word amoena is the adjective, meaning “pleasant to see,” in the first, while in the second verse it is the girl’s name: “As a rose is amoena when it blooms in the early spring time, so was I Amoena to those who saw me.”
(Ut rosa amoena homini est
quom primo tempore floret.
Quei me viderunt, seic Amoena fui.)
There is a touch of pathos in the inscription which a mother put on the stone of her son: “A sorrowing mother has set up this monument to a son who has never caused her any sorrow, except that he is no more,” and in this tribute of a husband: “Out of my slender means now that the end has come, my wife, all that I could do, this gift, a small small one for thy deserts, have I made.” The epitaph of a little girl, named Felicia, or Kitty, has this sentiment in graceful verse: “Rest lightly upon thee the earth, and over thy grave the fragrant balsam grow, and roses sweet entwine thy buried bones.” Upon the stone of a little girl who bore the name of Xanthippe, and the nickname Iaia, is an inscription with one of two pretty conceits and phrases. With it we may properly bring to an end our brief survey of these verses of the common people of Rome. In a somewhat free rendering it reads in part: “Whether the thought of death distress thee or of life, read to the end. Xanthippe by name, yclept also Iaia by way of jest, escapes from sorrow since her soul from the body flies. She rests here in the soft cradle of the earth,... comely, charming, keen of mind, gay in discourse. If there be aught of compassion in the gods above, bear her to the sun and light.”