Papiria Tertia: On Her Own Grave (From Latin)

Yet another poem found on a Roman tomb epitaph, this one, dating to the early imperial period, is from Ferrara in north-west Italy, by one Papiria Tertia. Presumably she and her husband reserved tombs for themselves in the same place where they buried their children. There is a limit to what can be reasonably inferred about somebody from remains so meager as a tomb and four lines of hexameter, but there are a few things. Papiria must have been not only extremely wealthy, judging by the description I have read of the tomb where this was found, but also extremely well-educated. Moreover, though this is all that may have survived of her work, it is highly unlikely that this is all she ever wrote. There is much ancient testimony to the effect that, for high-born Roman women in the classical period, the ability to compose verse was seen as very much a desirable trait (even if their verse wasn't usually taken as seriously as men's) quite unlike many more recent European societies. The paucity of surviving women's verse from pre-Christian Rome has more to do with Christian scribes not copying it in late antiquity than with women not producing it. (Only one woman's poetry survives in a manuscript tradition, having been mistaken in the Middle Ages for that of a man. Every other surviving bit of verse written by Roman women has been found, like this one, on inscriptions in stone.)

On Her Own Grave
By Papiria Tertia
Translated by Yours Truly
Click to hear me recite the original Latin

Dear passing stranger: see that I, a woman 
Bereft oall her children, had tombs built. 
Pathetic, sorrowful and far too old,
I want to be with my little ones again.
The lesson of my desolate long life: 
Sterility's a blessing for a wife

The Original:

Cernis, ut orba meīs, hospes, monumenta locāvī
et trīstis senior nātōs miseranda requīrō.
Exemplīs referenda mea est dēserta senectūs
ut sterilēs vērē possint gaudēre marītae.

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