Long live whoever loves

A Friday the Thirteenth followed by a Valentine Saturday – a trough before a peak!

A design I made for the roof of a shop called Ocean Bathrooms.

In 2015 there are three Fridays the Thirteenth, which is relatively rare, but with Astronomical Calendar 2015 I stopped mentioning and discussing this calendrical superstition. Because of happening in a 28-day February, it will happen again in March, so we could return to it then. I don’t want it to get in the way of Valentine’s Day.

Tilly had to go a hundred miles away today but will return late tomorrow to be my Valentine. You may think the following does not have to do with this pleasant subject, but it does.

Back on January 14, when we had talked about the Julian calendar, another lady, Joan Peters, asked why the name of Julius Caesar appeared as IVLIVS, and I explained that the Romans wrote in what we now call capital letters (and they had one letter I which became our I and J, and another, V, which became our U and V). I said I might return to this matter of Roman letters.

Ten years ago another dear person, with whom I had once worked in a library, sent me a small book, Libraries in the Ancient World by Lionel Cassidy. Somehow it got put aside and she had to ask months later “Did you get the book?” And it couldn’t have been more useful: it helped me in what I was doing, which was writing my novel about the constellation Berenice’s Hair.

I was struck by something I came to on page 110. It was in a mere footnote, intended by Cassidy to illustrate that ordinary Romans were literate people. Three lines of squiggly marks that I couldn’t have deciphered:


It is a graffito, found on a wall in Pompeii, the city that was buried by the ash of erupting Vesuvius in 79 AD.


This was the first time I had seen an example of Roman handwriting, as opposed to our ordinary “Roman” letters through which we learn Latin, and it was both astonishing and unsurprising to see that this cursive writing was at least as different from the neat block letters that the Romans carved on monuments as our own hasty handwriting is from print. At first glance this Roman handwriting looked to me much like the Hebrew handwriting I had learned in Israel.

The graffito is indeed a scrawl, without spaces between words (though a dot at the end of the first line of verse); it’s broken into lines in the wrong way; the A looks more like a Greek lambda, B like our d, E and T and R are pairs of careless strokes usually disconnected, Q has an exaggerated tail, S is a long snake, other strokes are more slanting than we would expect – and the second syllable of the first word, quisquis, is missing.

It is a lovely piece of verse, finely compact and cross-woven, but apparently not (unless someone corrects me) from the Roman poets we know of, unless it is from some lost poem of Propertius or Tibullus. I don’t think the fellow who scribbled it so carelessly can have made it up on the spot. Perhaps it was from a pop song of the time, and perhaps its last word, “forbids,” had a special meaning for him.

I must try to make you relish it. It is what is called an elegiac couplet and to relish it you have to feel the rhythm if goes to, which is:

DUM-di-di DUM-di-di DUM-di-di DUM-DUM DUM-di-di DUM-di
DUM-DUM DUM-di-di DUM, DUM-di-di DUM-di-di DUM

Here I’m using capitals just to show the “long” syllables, which end in a consonant or have a long vowel.

QUISquis aMAT valeAT, pereAT QUI NEScit aMAre,
BIS TANTO pereAT   QUISquis aMAre veTAT

Or to return at last to the ordinary way we would write it:

Quisquis amat valeat, pereat qui nescit amare.
Bis tanto pereat   quisquis amare vetat.

The meaning word by word is:

Whoever loves may-he-or-she-prosper, may-he-or-she-perish who not-knows to-love.
Twice as-much perish   whoever to-love vetoes.

Valeat is from the same verb valere, “to be strong,” as valid, valor, value, prevalent, equivalent, ambivalent, Valentine.

My verse version:

Long live whoever loves! Perish who knows not how!
Whoever love forbids, twice over perish!





4 thoughts on “Long live whoever loves”

  1. Google the opening words of the inscription and you will find more information about it. I don’t think the graffiti artist (perhaps drunk?) composed the lines. They seem to have been quite well known, and may have been around long enough (at least another two centuries) to have been in the mind of the writer of the ‘Pervigilium Veneris’ (all-night vigil for Venus), with its opening line and refrain: ‘Cras amet qui nunquam amavit quique amavit cras amet’ (Tomorrow may the person who has never loved love, as well as the person who has already loved). This is merely a subjective suggestion.

  2. A loved one of mine’s birthday is on Valentine’s Day, so when I send her a card, it covers both dates.
    In Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, on the mausoleum of Soklatvala, I’ve seen inscriptions in something I’m beginning to think they are Sumerian cuniform writings. I have no idea what it means, perhaps I should get a rock rubbing of them and show them to the proper authorities, but your telling or Roman runes made me think of this.
    The moon was up and way further west when I looked for it this moring from my window, but saw it later when I was out walking the dog.
    Roses are red,, violets are purple
    Sugar is sweet and so is maple surple
    Live, Love long and prosper. Happy VD!

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