Duenos inscription

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The pottery with the inscription
Original drawing of the inscription, taken from the first publication in 1881

The duenos inscription is a Latin text found on a piece of pottery in Rome. The pottery was dated to the sixth century BC. The text is among the oldest known texts of old Latin. It is difficult to read because the words are not separated by spaces.

Text and translations[change | change source]

Since the pottery, or kernos, was found in 1880, many translations have been proposed. By 1983, more than fifty different explanations of the meaning had been put forward.[1] Due to the lack of a large body of archaic Latin, and the method by which Romans abbreviated their inscriptions, scholars have not been able to produce a singular translation that has been accepted by historians as accurate. However thanks to Arthur E. Gordon's work the reading of the text can be now considered certain.[2]

Below is the transcription and one of many possible interpretations:[3]

a. The direct unicase transcription
b. Direct transcription, in lowercase, with possible macrons and word breaks
c. A speculative interpretation and translation into Classical Latin
d. An English gloss (approximate translation/interpretation) of the Classical Latin rendering

Line 1:

b. iouesāt deivos qoi mēd mitāt, nei tēd endō cosmis vircō siēd
c. Iurat deos qui me mittit, ni in te [= erga te] comis virgo sit
d. 'The person who sends me prays to the gods, lest the girl be not kind towards thee'

Line 2:

b. as(t) tēd noisi o(p)petoit esiāi pākā riuois
c. at te [... uncertain ...] paca rivis
d. 'without thee [...] calm with [these] rivers'

Line 3:

b. duenos mēd fēced en mānōm einom duenōi nē mēd malo(s) statōd
c. Bonus me fecit in manum einom bono, ne me malus [tollito, clepito]
d. 'A good man made me in his own[?] hands for a good man, in case an evil man take me.'

An interpretation set out by Warmington and Eichner, renders the complete translation as follows, though not with certainty:

  1. It is sworn with the gods, whence I'm issued:
    If a maiden does not smile at you,
  2. nor is strongly attracted to you,
    then soothe her with this fragrance!
  3. Someone good has filled me for someone good and well-mannered,
    and not shall I be obtained by someone bad.

References[change | change source]

  1. Arthur E. Gordon, Illustrated Introduction to Latin Epigraphy, 1983, p. 77.
  2. Arthur E. Gordon, "Note on the Duenos Vase inscription in Berlin", in California Studies in Classical Antiquity, 8, 1976, pp. 53 ff.
  3. S. Warmington, 54 ff.; and H. Eichner, in: Die Sprache, 34, 1988-1990, 207 ff.