literary landscapes

A Love Poem - CIL 04, 5296



O, would that it be permitted to hold your delicate arms, 

fastened around my neck, and to offer kisses to your tender lips.

Go now, darling, and trust your joys to the winds;

trust me, the nature of men is fickle.

Often while I lie awake in the middle of the night, lost in love,

I reflect on these things with myself: many are they whom Fortune has lifted up high;

and in the same way these, suddenly thrown down headlong, she now oppresses:

just as when Venus has unexpectedly joined the bodies of lovers,

daylight divides them, and (they?)…


Milnor, Kristina. “Gender and Genre: The Case of CIL 4. 5296.” In Graffiti and the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

(The picture and transcription are taken from this source, p 198 and 209. There is obviously MUCH more scholarship on this, but Milnor is a good starting place.)

I’d recommend looking up Rebecca Benefiel if you want more information specifically about graffiti in domestic spaces.


A beautiful love poem from one woman to another, neatly inscribed on the wall inside a house in Pompeii. There’s much to say about this poem, but I’ll keep it brief! There’s a lot of debate as to whether this was actually written by a woman, to a woman, and scholars sometimes bend over backwards to try to justify another explanation. But I (and many others) argue that it rejects the involvement of men both thematically and grammatically. The speaker does not seem interested in men’s “fickle nature.” The gender of the speaker can be determined by the perdita in line 4: a nominative, feminine perfect passive participle. The gender of the addressee is shown by pupula, a vocative, feminine noun (a diminutive term of endearment, literally meaning “little girl,” but probably more like “darling,” or maybe even “baby”?)

Please add your own translations, comments, and bibliography if you like!

Thanks to @ciceronian for the great request!

Perseus and the Origin of Coral by Claude Lorrain. French, c. 1671 Metropolitan Museum of Art.

From the Met:

The rarely depicted subject of “Perseus and the Origin of Coral” is derived from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This drawing is one of seven known preparatory studies for one of Claude’s most important late paintings: Coast View with Perseus and the Origin of Coral (Coke Collection, Holkham Hall, Norfolk), four of which depict the entire composition. The painting was commissioned by his patron, Cardinal Camillo Massimi, and executed in 1674.

Fairytales, with their flatness of language and simplicity of structure, can give writers access to storytelling modes often ignored by mainstream literature. In the English-speaking world at least, the literary landscape is largely divided into literary realism and ‘world-building’ genre fiction. In the former, even slight deviation from our culture’s narrow conception of reality is frowned upon. In the latter, all sorts of impossible things can happen, but only if there’re clear and consistent rules. Fairytales and fables offer a third way: a mysterious overgrown path into the unknown forest where stories can operate outside of real or invented rules. We don’t worry about the realistic motivations of the evil dwarf’s curse nor the backstory of the talking fox. It happened once upon a time, and that’s enough to know.
—  Kate Bernheimer (The Guardian, 2016)
I read only non-white authors for 12 months. What I learned surprised me | Sunili Govinnage

Reading science fiction, chick lit and fantasy novels by writers of colour for a year brought home to me just how white my reading world.

A challenge to read diverse authors opens Sunili Govinnage’s literary landscape. And that’s a good thing.


Congratulations to Gene Luen Yang on being named the Library of Congress’s new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature! Comics critic (and Pop Culture Happy Hour panelist) Glen Weldon has Thoughts about his, and they are Weighty and Fascinating:

Yang’s selection signals an important shift in a decades-old war over the role of comics in education in general and literacy in particular.

Every since the 1930s, when they first burst onto the American literary landscape in all their gleefully garish four-color glory, the battle lines over comics were clearly defined.

Kids loved ‘em; teachers and parents hated 'em. (See also: television, rock and roll, rap, video games, emojis.)

Gonna go re-read American Born Chinese, because it is SO GOOD.

– Petra