Saturday, January 8, 2022

The Funerary Inscription of Allia Potestas, CIL VI.37965

The following is the epitaph of Allia Potestas, a Roman freedwoman who lived during what is believed to be the 3rd century CE. This funerary inscription is important for numerous reasons. The length of the inscription reveals the wealth and status of her patron, as well as her impact on her community. The compliments written on her behalf reveal gender roles that were in place at the time period. Furthermore, the open admission of her polyamorous relationship reveals social acceptance within her community. 

Note: One and a half lines of this inscription are omitted here [excessive physical description that may not be suitable for the classroom]


Alliae A. L. Potestatis

Hic Perusina sita est, qua non pretiosior ulla

femina de multis vix una aut altera, visa.

Sedula seriola parva tam magna teneris.

Crudelis fati rector duraque Persiphone,

quid bona diripitis exuperantque mala? [5]

Quaeritur a cunctis, iam respondere fatigor:

dant lacrimas animi signa benigna sui.

Fortis sancta, tenax, insons, fidissima custos,

munda domi, sat munda foras, notissima volgo,

sola erat ut posset factis occurrere cunctis [10].

Exiguo sermone inreprehensa manebat.

Prima toro delapsa fuit, eadem ultima lecto

se tulit ad quietem positis ex ordine rebus,

lana cui manibus numquam sine causa recessit,

opsequioque prior nulla moresque salubres. [15]

Haec sibi non placuit, numquam sibi libera visa.

Candida, luminibus pulchris, aurata capillis,

et nitor in facie permansit eburneus illae,

qualem mortalem nullam habuisse ferunt; [19]


Quid crura? Atalantes status illi comicus ipse. [21]

Anxia non mansit, sed corpore pulchra benigno

levia membra tulit

Quod manibus duris fuerit, culpabere forsan;

nil illi placuit nisi quod per se sibi fecerat ipsa. [25]

Nosse fuit nullum studium, sibi se satis esse putabat.

Mansit et infamis, quia nil admiserat umquam.

Haec duo dum vixit iuvenes ita rexit amantes,

exemplo ut fierent similes Pyladisque et Orestae;

una domus capiebat eos unusque et spiritus illis. [30]

Post hanc nunc idem diversi sibi quisq. senescunt;

femina quod struxit talis, nunc puncta lacessunt.

Aspicite ad Troiam, quid femina fecerit olim!

Sit precor hoc iustum, exemplis in parvo grandibus uti.

Hos tibi dat versus lacrimans sine fine patronus [35]

muneris amissae,  cui nuncquam es pectore adempta,

quae putat amissis munera grata dari,

nulla cui post te femina visa proba est:

qui sine te vivit, cernit sua funera vivos.

Auro tuum nomen fert ille refertque lacerto [40]

qua retinere potest: auro conlata potestas.

Quantumcumque tamen praeconia nostra valebunt,

versiculis vives quandiucuque meis.

Effigiem pro te teneo solacia nostri,

qua colimus sancte sertaque ulta datur, [45]

cumque at te veniam, mecum comitata sequetur.

Sed tamen infelix cui tam sollemnia mandem?

Si tamen extiterit, cui tantum credere possim,

hoc unum felix amissa te mihi forsan ero.

Ei Mihi! Vicisti: sors mea facta tua est. [50]

Laedere qui hoc poterit, ausus quoque laedere divos.

Haec titulo insignis credite numen habet. 


--CIL VI.37965

To the Shade of Allia Potestas, freed slave of Allius:

 Here lies the lady of Perusia;

No other woman is as precious as this one;

 Out of the multitude of women, maybe one or two could be better than her.

Such a busy lady held in such a tiny urn!

Persephone, cruel and harsh mistress of fate,

Why do you take away good people and leave the bad ones alone? [5]

Everybody asks about her, and I’m tired of telling them of her death;

Their tears are evidence of her good heart.

She was strong.

She was pious.

She was courageous.

She was faultless.

She was the most faithful housewife,

Efficient at home,

Efficient enough in public,

Well loved by everybody,

She was the only one who could meet any challenge. [10]

She kept her mouth shut & stayed blameless.

She was the first one out of bed,

She was the last one to go to bed, & only when everything was done.

She kept her hands busy with her wool-working, never putting it off with an excuse,

No one surpassed her in character & work ethic. [15]

She never got cocky, never took time for herself to relax.

She was pretty, --pretty to look at—with golden hair,

The ivory-smoothness of her face remained ‘till the end,

The kind that they say doesn’t happen among mortal women…

What about her legs? She looked like an actor playing Atalanta*.[21]

She didn’t worry about her beauty, but Mother Nature was kind to her body…

Perhaps you could criticize her rough hands,

But she wasn’t satisfied unless she did the work herself. [25]

She wasn’t an extrovert, but thought her own company was enough.

 No one really talked about her, because she didn’t do anything to make attention for herself.

As long as she lived, she lived with her two lovers in such a way

That they were like the relationship of Pylades & Orestes**

They shared a single home

And a single heart. [30]

But after her death, they have grown apart, and now they grow old apart;

What one woman has built, was destroyed in a brief moment.

Look at the example of Troy***, to see what a woman can do!

Let this big example showcase a smaller one.

Your patron, who has ever kept you in his heart,

 gives this poem in never-ending tears [35]

As a gift to the deceased woman,

Who will appreciate this gift.

Your patron will never find another woman pleasing now that you’re gone;

He lives without you, and now suffers a living death.

He carries your name, carved in gold, and looks to it often, as much as he can,

Preserving Ability / Potestas  [pun on her name] in gold.

As long as my influence lasts,

You will live on in my words.

I hold your image as a comfort for my grief,

Which I treasure, and adorn it with wreaths, [45]

And whenever I visit your tomb, I will bring it with me.

But, overcome in such misery, can I properly grieve you with the proper ceremony?

If I can find another to entrust this ceremony,

Perhaps I can be happy in this one thing after losing you.

Oh no! You have won! My fate has become yours [50].

If someone is capable of harming this memorial, 

they are also capable of harming holy ground.

Believe that this tomb also contains a god.


* Atalanta: According to Greek myth, Atalanta was the fastest runner of her generation

** Pylades and Orestes  shared a deep and loving bond that some authors saw as friendship and others saw as a romantic relationship

***this is a reference to Helen of Troy as a cause of the Trojan War

<Anonymous> CIL


Name:  Allius

Date:  3rd Century CE

Works:  Funerary Inscription of Allia Potestas



Region 1: Peninsular Italy; Region 2: Western Europe; Region 3: Western Coast of Africa; Region 4: Egypt and Eastern Mediterranean; Region 5: Greece and the Balkans



 Little is known about the author of this poem, but the inscription was found in Perusia, Italy and is thought to be from the 3rd century CE.


Early Roman Lit: through 2nd c BCE: Republican Rome: through 1st c. BCE; Golden Age: 70 BCE to 18 CE; Silver Age: 18 CE to 150 CE; Age of Conflict: 150 CE - 410 CE; Byzantine and Late Latin: after 410 CE

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