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Tablet 118

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Vindolanda Inventory No. 85.137


              The tablet survives in two joining fragments; it is incomplete at the top and the bottom, but appears to be complete at both sides. On one side is a draft of a letter (331) and on the other a line of Virgil. We have assumed that the letter was never sent and, once discarded, was used for writing the line of Virgil. Hence we have designated the letter the front, and the Virgil the back; but it is not impossible that the sides were used in the reverse order. Another example of a letter on the other side of a literary text is to be found in a Hamburg papyrus which, since it is a Latin papyrus from Egypt, is no doubt also from a military milieu. On one side, probably the recto, is a piece of mime written in capitals (P.Hamb.II 167 = PLP II.1 6); on the other is the beginning of a letter of recommendation (ChLA XI 493). However, the writer has apparently attempted to begin the letter more than once and writes for the most part in an elegant cursive; therefore we agree with Marichal that this is not a real letter but a writing exercise.

              It is quite certain that the first hand was attempting to write the verse Aeneid 9.473: interea pauidam uolitans pinnata per urbem. It is well known that Virgil was extensively used for elementary instruction and it may well be that the present tablet was likewise used in instruction, perhaps in the family of the commanding officer. While it is not possible to establish that this tablet belongs to the papers of Flavius Cerialis, it was certainly found in the same context and there is good evidence for the presence of children in the praetorium at Vindolanda (see VRR III, 45). It may have been written out simply as a writing exercise, even though such exercises normally contain more letters of the Latin alphabet than are to be found in the present line of Virgil. It is difficult in fact to see what other purpose it can have served - the line itself does not seem capable of conveying any coherent message and is not even a complete sentence.

              Among other examples of lines of Virgil found in documents from a military context we have noted the following.  (1) P.Tebt. II 686 = ChLA V 304 = PLP II.1 11: the first two lines of Georgic 4 written six times on a discarded account; assigned to the second century. (2) Doc.Masada 721: Aeneid 4.9 with a portion of an unidentified hexameter on the other side; of necessity not later than AD 75. (3) O.Claud. 190: Aeneid 1.1-3; early second century. The first of these texts is clearly a writing exercise and the second may be. Further examples of Virgil used for this purpose in the early Roman period are: (4) P.Hawara 24 = PLP II.1 7: on one side Aeneid 2.601 and on the other part of Aeneid 4.174, both copied several times (on this text see also our comments on 120); it is usually assigned to the later first century AD. (5) P.Oxy.L 3554 = Cockle (1979): Aeneid 11.371-2 copied out several times on the back of a Greek document; this is also assigned to the later first century.  We should also compare PSI XIII 1307 (= ChLA XXV 786 verso), a first-century writing exercise, on the back of a military document, with the two words AENEAS DARDANIAE, words which are undoubtedly Virgilian even though they do not form part of any known line of Virgil; and RIB I 1954, an altar with the inscription AVREA PER CAELUM VOLITAT VICTORIA PENNIS; again, this is not a known piece of Virgil, but it is reminiscent of Aeneid 4.700 (as the editors point out), as well as bearing some similarity to our Vindolanda text. In addition it is worth comparing several inscriptions painted in red on a cave-wall in south-east Spain, datable to the imperial period (1st-3rd centuries AD), see González Blanco (1987). Several of these are in verse and are clearly Virgilian, even though they do not exactly reproduce known lines of Virgil; see especially Panel III which the editors describe (p.223) as an "adaptación de la Eneida de Virgilio" (lines 1.139, 166-7, 310-11, 3.229-30).

              It is of considerable interest to find evidence for such knowledge of Virgil in northern Britain at this date. We know that Virgil's work was widely known during the first century from various pieces of evidence; e.g., in addition to the above, the fragment of the Eclogues from Egypt, P.Narm.inv.66.362 (Gallazzi (1982), not a writing exercise); and the numerous Virgilian graffiti from Pompeii (Della Corte (1940) lists over fifty examples). The standard work on the diffusion of Virgil in the Roman world is Hoogma (1959). For a more recent study see Horsfall (1981), esp. 48-51; in view of the evidence of the present text it is noteworthy that Horsfall should stress the rarity of quotations from the later books of the Aeneid. See also the discussion by the editors of Doc.Masada 721.

              The text is equally interesting from a palaeographical point of view. The first line is written in a bilinear capital script.  The letters I, N, R, A, V, D, M, O and L are in the so-called Capitalis Rustica, with much use of serifs and a noticeable attempt to differentiate thick and thin strokes. T is also capital in form though less carefully made, and the last six letters of the line are all somewhat less elegantly written. S of VOLITANS is particularly crude and is closer to the form sometimes found in Old Roman Cursive than to the capital form; it may be followed by interpunct, but this is uncertain and does not occur elsewhere in this tablet. P, however, is not in the normal capital form since it lacks the loop at the top; this form is normal in ORC, but it is sometimes found in more literary scripts, e.g. the famous Gallus papyrus (Anderson, Parsons and Nisbet (1979)). The most remarkable letter is E: it occurs twice in this line and at least once in the second line and always in a form which resembles \\. It is often written thus in stilus tablets and in graffiti (for a Pompeian example see the alphabet shown in Plate V, no.2, in Mallon, Marichal and Perrat (1939)). We know of no example of this form of E in Latin written on papyrus or parchment or in any other of the leaf tablets from Vindolanda. Apparently, however, it does occur in an ostracon from Mons Claudianus written in ink (unpublished; we are grateful for this information to Hélène Cuvigny). It is also found in the painted inscriptions from Spain mentioned above, see, e.g. II/5 (p.204), along with the normal capital E.

              The writing in line 1 continues up to the edge of the tablet, but since this edge corresponds to the left-hand edge of the front, and since there there is a blank space before the first word, we may be confident that nothing has been lost after PINNA. It is likely therefore that the writer continued the word on the next line and there is indeed no difficulty in reading the first two letters in this line TA, written in the same capital form as in the first line. Thereafter serious difficulties begin. What we require to follow is per urbem and BEM has certainly been written; E is in exactly the same form as in line 1, but M is much more cursively written, and B is not in the capital form but in the usual cursive form of ORC; it noticeably does not conform to the bilinearity of the other letters. What is between TA and BEM is a problem, since only two letters can have been written, not the five we require. The letter before BEM is most like V, though it is made differently from the way this letter is written in line 1 and is much more like a modern U (for a capital script with V made in two different forms cf. O.Claud. 190, Plate XXXIII, VIRUMQVE; cf. also the Gallus papyrus, Anderson, Parsons and Nisbet, (1979)). We could therefore read VBEM and suppose that the writer had blundered by omitting R; such blunders are naturally very common in writing exercises and most of the texts cited above contain similar errors. Before this, after TA, what is written most resembles B, for which no explanation occurs to us. Tentatively we suggest that it is to be read P (made as in line 1) with a diagonal stroke above it placed there to indicate the abbreviation p(er). This would at any rate enable us to complete the line of the Aeneid, but we cannot quote a parallel for such an abbreviation of per. The only alternative we have thought of is to read this line TAPEBEM, taking PEBEM as a blunder for PE<R VR>BEM; but this leaves the mark over the supposed P unexplained and the letter following appears to have a connecting stroke joining the two verticals. It is of course possible that the line of Virgil was left uncompleted.  (On the palaeography of this text see also above, p.48).               After this we have three or four letters written by a different pen and in a very different, much more cursive, hand.  The first two letters are certainly se. This is therefore not an attempt to start the next line of Aeneid 9. The next letter is either g or c, and there seem to be traces of at least one more letter. In VRR II, 38 it is suggested that we should read this segn(iter) or the like and interpret it as the teacher's comment on a pupil's exercise ("slack"). seg is the most obvious reading but we think sec also possible, perhaps followed by u; secuntur (= sequuntur) might make sense in the context, but there is no clear trace of any writing after secu.

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2 TA .VBEM m2 seg. uacat
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