Latin 1 Works with Inscriptions

The intrepid students of Latin 1 braved late-October rain and cold to learn more about the use of funerary inscriptions as a historical source. Roman funerary inscriptions, although they are often heavily abbreviated and sometimes damaged, are very formulaic and thus relatively easy for even beginning students to read. And they are particularly valuable for learning about the lives of people whose stories are often overlooked in other sources, including women, the poor, slaves, and freed people.

Professor Charles Hedrick of the University of California, Santa Cruz, accompanied each Latin 1 class into the Dartmouth Cemetery to learn how the epigraphers who study ancient inscriptions make paper copies of them called “squeezes.” In the squeeze process, wet filter paper is beaten into the inscription with a special horsehair squeeze brush so that the paper is pulped and all the air bubbles are removed. The squeeze is then allowed to dry in place, and removed from the stone. (This took longer in rainy October Hanover than on a sunny day in the Mediterranean!) Making an epigraphic squeeze is the safest way to make a detailed, three-dimensional copy of an inscription. A good squeeze can not only preserve the details of the original inscription, but even make visible those details which are no longer readable on the inscription itself; for this reason, even in an age where it is possible to make high-resolution photographic images of inscriptions, epigraphers continue to make squeezes and research institutions continue to hold collections of squeezes.

In their next class, students stayed indoors to examine the squeezes, now dry, that they had made the day before, and to work with digital images of a variety of Roman funerary inscriptions. After a brief introduction to some of the conventions of Roman inscriptions, students worked in groups to decipher high-quality images of funerary inscriptions now in the collections of the Metropolitan, British, and Ashmolean Museums, and then interpreted the inscriptions they had worked on for the rest of the class.

In the winter quarter, elementary Latin students will continue to practice using non-literary Latin sources by learning to interpret the images and inscriptions on Roman coins in the Hood Museum collection.