The Writing on the Wall
August 24, 2012 2:52 PM   Subscribe

The Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum is a massive, 17-volume catalog of 180,000 inscriptions and graffiti found across the Roman Empire in classical times. It's available for free online now, starting with the parts published before 1940. I'm fond of volume 4, which covers Pompeii and Herculaneum. (Pompeii graffiti prev)

It's not easy to navigate yet. I had the best luck clicking the link above each front page that says "Show all pages of this book as search result" and browsing around.
posted by msalt (19 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
aren't they all published before 1940? hyuk hyuk!
posted by slater at 2:57 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wish I new how to say double in Latin.
posted by Jimbob at 3:45 PM on August 24, 2012

Oh you've already noted the previous. My bad.
posted by Jimbob at 3:46 PM on August 24, 2012

For a good time time, call DLV-IIII.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:51 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kilroyus was here
posted by nathancaswell at 4:03 PM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wish I new how to say double in Latin.

posted by Jehan at 4:04 PM on August 24, 2012

This is what I studied in undergrad and planned to study in grad school. CIL 6 forever!

It is a great way to see what people wanted to be remembered for and in the case of CIL 6, what the people paying for the stone wanted people to know. Its a lot different from modern stones where we put 'here lies X: wife and daughter'. The majority of the ones I studied would say 'I put this up for my wife, who was lovely.' It seems to be rare for modern North American stones to say outright who bought the stone, unlike in CIL where you would get inscriptions like 'I bought this for me' and then the death age was put on.

Aw, memories. Thanks for the link!
posted by right_then at 4:36 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Love this! Am I dumb or is none of this translated?

I mean, I took Latin in high school and always had a strong letter grade. I mean, for a scrabble tile.
posted by absalom at 4:42 PM on August 24, 2012

So it's a terrible interface containing lot of scanned pages of a book in Latin with no illustrations. This is no adorable bathing elephant.
posted by bleep at 5:28 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Am I dumb or is none of this translated?

No, it's a catalogue for academics and by academics, and for the most part only contains inscriptions that are interesting to academics. The history of the CIL itself is super interesting, actually-- it's only one of the many instances of deeply flawed but incredibly ambitious scholarly projects to come out of the late 19th century out of pure necessity. Inscriptions are logistically really difficult to study if they're not physically right in front of you, because the ones that survived are pretty much all on hunks of rock (the metal ones got melted down as scrap during the Middle Ages for the most part), which makes them a pain in the ass to move. Combine that with the lack of cheap, high-quality photography (not to mention filesharing), and one of the only ways to have access to a large quantity of inscriptions is huge albatrosses like the CIL. The alternative was building up your own collection through sketching or squeezing, both of which were time-consuming and delicate.

The CIL has some major issues, though: first, new inscriptions come out of the ground frequently (and far more frequently during the publication of the first CIL edition)-- hence all the supplements. Looking up an inscription using only the first edition of the CIL and its supplements is an experience that really drives home what scholarship before computers was like. Second, the CIL only records the bare minimum of information about inscriptions: what the words are and, if you're lucky, a couple of sentences about the findspot and maybe a date. Differences in letter forms, which are the major diagnostic criterion for dating an inscription, could only be rudimentarily shown, so if even if you're a trained epigraphist, you have to rely on the CIL editors' best guess as to when the stone was carved rather. It's organized really weirdly, with instrumenta domestica-- or movable goods-- in their own volume, totally removed from the "real" inscriptions from their cities/areas of origin. And finally, because it's such a behemoth and has been around so long, it basically has a monopoly on Latin inscriptions. Any innovation in epigraphic cataloguing (like EpiDoc) has to always, always take the CIL into account. Because it was here before we were.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:39 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree it's not a great interface (Arachne just eliminated my navigation bar in Firefox) but you have to consider the alternative, which would be to create searchable web page versions (HTML transcriptions) of the inscriptions rather than OCR scans. An example here of an HTML-based site, for a limited number of texts (wood tablets rather than stone inscriptions):

Vindolanda Tablets Online

There isn't enough money to pay people to create this kind of thing for the whole of CIL and there aren't enough scholars or graduate students who will do it for free. People have tried but only a fraction of the inscriptions and papyri get transcribed and there is always the possibility of mistakes in transcribing text that contains original spelling errors and chance lacunae (delineating the lacunae precisely is a major feature of epigraphic publication, to enable accurate reconstruction).

It's the Project Gutenberg vs. Google Books problem over again.

Scanning CIL and making it searchable is clunky, but it serves its purpose which is to make the whole of CIL (eventually) accessible to more scholars (who can read the Latin commentary) and spare the books themselves from too much use. Granted, CIL printed on very good paper (I did a survey of Latin military inscriptions for my Ph.D thesis).
posted by bad grammar at 6:48 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is just raw material, original source stuff for people doing research. I find references to inscriptions in it in Classics articles that just say "CIL IV 2298" or some such. It's cumbersome to look it up, but a lot less cumbersome than finding a strong Classics library, getting privileges, traveling there and looking it up.

Oh you've already noted the previous.

Right, the earlier links were a wikipedia article about this resource, and a small section of naughty bits translated into English. This is the whole enchilada.
posted by msalt at 7:26 PM on August 24, 2012

I really want to do an art project where people write graffiti from Pompeii around a modern city and see if anyone notices.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:52 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Other than the police, I mean.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:52 PM on August 24, 2012

posted by 4ster at 8:34 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

one of the many instances of deeply flawed but incredibly ambitious scholarly projects to come out of the late 19th century out of pure necessity.

I love that impulse, as flawed as the execution was. (The earlier FPP about Notes and Queries is another example I heart.) There's something very human about the flailing, and the flaws reek of personality and character. If they hadn't poured millions of man-hours into such Sisyphean tasks, we may have never thought of better ways to do these things.
posted by msalt at 12:04 AM on August 25, 2012

Sorry, I should say that earlier link was into the Vinolandia reference given earlier above.
posted by newdaddy at 5:39 AM on August 25, 2012

This is great. What a task! It makes me think of the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi which is attempting to record and catalog medieval stained glass. Great Britain's chapter has a great, searchable picture archive.
posted by princelyfox at 8:09 AM on August 25, 2012

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