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The Method and Madness of Matteo Della Corte

Holly Sypniewski

Millsaps College

Archival research holds the potential to shed new light on the graffiti of Herculaneum, particularly for many of the nearly 60% of graffiti that are now lost.  The paper will illustrate how careful study of Matteo Della Corte’s archived research papers can 1) improve readings for a number of graffiti which are currently unclear; 2) provide the only line drawings for many graffiti which were only published in type in CIL; and 3) show how Della Corte came to his propose some of his most problematic readings for the graffiti of Herculaneum.

The graffiti of Herculaneum were documented by Della Corte who visited the site intermittently from 1929 to 1941 as he worked at Pompeii.  These graffiti were finally published in an article (Della Corte 1958) that would become the basis of the inscriptions from Herculaneum published in CIL IV.3.4. That second edition, however, was only lightly revised by Pio Ciprotti before publication in 1970: by the time Ciprotti returned to Herculaneum to re-examine the graffiti, many were lost.  As a result, Ciprotti often simply republished Della Corte’s diplomatic transcriptions and quoted Della Corte’s readings in the apparatus of each inscription without further discussion.  This material has been roundly criticized (Solin 1973a, Solin 1973b) for the senseless and untenable readings it offers for a number of graffiti from Herculaneum.

The archived research materials of Della Corte, held in the Vander Poel Campanian collection at the Getty Research Institute, allow us to see the epigrapher at work and to glean new information about the ancient material through his documentation.  Among Della Corte’s many papers, the Vander Poel collection contains the original field notebooks and apographs on lucidi for stamps and labels on amphorae. Unfortunately, the lucidi for the graffiti are missing; the envelopes which once held the lucidi, however, remained part of Della Corte’s collection.  In addition to the field notebooks, these meticulously labeled envelopes provide crucial evidence of the evolution of Della Corte’s proposed readings for each inscription.  Studying this material as a collection allows us to reconstruct many aspects of the graffiti from Herculaneum, including the visual presentation of many texts and drawings now lost, such as the charcoal inscriptions from the women’s section of the Terme Centrali (VI.8).

This archival material also reveals Della Corte’s epigraphic method and madness, as I have called it, when we trace the documentation of a graffito from its initial recording to its final publication.  For example, the notes on CIL IV.10525 show that Della Corte’s published reading does not correspond to the plainly visible letters of the inscription he recorded and drew on multiple occasions (notebook 41).  This graffito exemplifies the way in which Della Corte proposed readings which clearly conflicted with his documented evidence in a simple but consistent effort to publish texts that made sense in accordance with his expectations.  By returning to Della Corte’s primary documentation of the graffiti of Herculaneum, we can see for the first time how some of these inscriptions appeared when originally inscribed, their paleography, and, unfortunately, how some came to be published with inaccurate or fanciful readings.

Session/Panel Title

Writing the History of Epigraphy and Epigraphers

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