I don't know about you, but I have often been frustrated by the fact that I cannot translate many of the Latin epitaphs on ancient tombstones.
I expressed my frustration once to the young lady who was serving me at the bookshop in the British Museum, and she not only said she knew of a book which might help, but she would order it for me!
I have found this little book very useful, & would like to share it with you.
The book was written by John Parker, published in Cornwall in 1999, and is entitled
' Reading Latin Epitaphs: a Handbook for Beginners'
I think it a very useful aid when on holiday and in a foreign church: after all, Latin was truly a universal language, so whether in Poland or Penzance the translation will be the same.
1 STOCK PHRASES
The majority of epitaphs contain a number of stock phrases,and it is a good idea to learn to recognise them first. Here are some examples:
H.S.E means 'Hic Sepultus Est' = Here is Buried
in spe resurrectionis = in hope of resurrection
Quicquid mortale fuit = whatever was mortal (of)....
Filii natu maximi = eldest son (of).....
In comitatu = in the county of
Qui diem supremum obiit = who died
Aetatis suae = aged
Uxor carissima = dearly beloved wife
Filia natu secunda = second daughter
In agro = in the county of
Requiescat in pace = may he rest in peace
Moerens = in his grief
Hoc monumentum = this monument
Poni curavit = caused to be placed
2 ROMAN NUMERALS
These are much easier than you think.
The Romans used letters of the alphabet : a letter to the right is added on, a letter to the left is subtracted.
I = one
V = five
X = ten
C= a hundred
L = fifty
D = five hundred
M = a thousand
We count I, II, III and IV(five minus one).
Thus,VI is five plus one. VII is five plus two, VIII is five plus three.
IX is ten minus one.
XI is ten plus one. XII, XIII and XIV are 12,13 and 14.
XVI is 10 plus five plus one. XVII, XVIII and XIX are 17, I8 and 19.
Twenty is two tens, XX.
And so on. Easy!
I am soon to be LXXXV years old.
Now we can look at our first epitaph, a simple one to start with.
This is a famous one, in Westminster Abbey:
Obiit XIII die Decembris,
AEtatis suae LXXV
died on the 13th day of December
in the year of our Lord
LL.D = Legum Doctor,'Doctor of Laws'
Obiit can be read as 'died'
Anno Domini,in the year of Our Lord
AEtatis suae,in the year of his age...
The year is simple: M+DCC+ LXXX+IV
Perhaps that's enough for the first lesson!
I hope you found it interesting?
Some of the later epitaphs are quite touching....