Men never change

I suppose a woman could have carved this stone found along Hadrian’s wall, and from the 2nd century CE, but somehow I doubt it.

The stone is fairly small, measuring 40 cm wide by 15 cm tall (15 inches by 6 inches). Experts in Roman epigraphy recognized the lettering as a mangled version of Secundinus cacator, which translates into (ahem) “Secundinus, the shitter.” The penis image merely added insult to injury—a clever subversion of the traditional interpretation of a phallus as a positive symbol of fertility. The Vindolanda site now has 13 phallic carvings, more than have been discovered at any other dig site along Hadrian’s Wall.

The last laugh is on whoever carved it, because we remember Secundinus’s name and not his.


  1. Louis says

    Secundinus carved it, he was a proud shitter, and he thinks the life size willy image is a boast.

    It’s so much worse than we think.


  2. andersk3 says

    Laugh’s on the “experts”, if zoom way in and blur it it becomes obvious that it’s confirmed evidence of an alien spacecraft.

  3. cartomancer says

    Oh, that’s tame by Roman epigraphy standards.

    The earliest recorded use of the Latin word for clitoris (landica) is, charmingly enough, on a lead slingstone found at the site of the Siege of Perusia (41-40BC). The full inscription reads “landicam Fulviae peto” – I seek the clitoris of Fulvia, referring to the prominent wife of Mark Antony who was a source of significant ill will among Antony’s enemies in Octavian’s camp. Women in politics didn’t go down terribly well with a Roman crowd, especially not in the late Republic.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    I dunno nuttin about interpreting arkeology stuff*, but doesn’t that show ${whoever}’s scrotum as above his phallus (or his whole position as upside-down)? The, ah, semiotics of this call for, uh, lengthier analysis.

    *Originally typed as “archaeology stiff”, perhaps a bit too apropos in this context…

  5. blf says

    The mildly deranged penguin asserts @2 is just about correct, it’s actually the navigation unit for the lander. The archeologists’ mistake, she asserts, is to presume what looks like Latin letters are Latin letters; in reality, they say (in translation), Batteries Not Included. The groves are where the batteries go. There is a control panel which fits over what was found, proving even alien engineers can be eejits: With the panel installed, one cannot see the warning (nor that no batteries are installed), and hence the unit “doesn’t work”. This is believed to be the reason that model of lander kept crashing, albeit that lander model was not the one which killed off the dinosaurs.

  6. drew says

    I suppose a woman who was a Roman soldier could have carved that. But there weren’t any

    And this clearly isn’t about whatever gender issues you’re experiencing. Everything is not about that.

    Our lowly Roman soldier wanted to leave an anonymous insult. Anonymous because penalties were brutal. And calling someone a pooper and carving other inappropriate things shows disrespect.

    And the last laugh is with the anonymous carver, who is still triggering poopers today, many of them Ars readers. This was wildly successful trolling!

  7. cartomancer says

    As for the possibility that our anonymous graffiti artist was a woman… well, it’s not impossible, given the context. Vindolanda was a garrison community. We know that plenty of women – the families and slaves of the soldiers – lived on the site. Many were literate too – we have some of the letters they sent one another. We even have what appears to be Latin homework from children living on the base, with comments from their teacher about poor penmanship.

    We also have, from other contexts, plenty of examples of curse tablets written by women, wishing divinely inspired unpleasantness on both men and other women. Incontinence and painful bowel movements are very much in the usual vein of things wished on enemies in these defixiones (though usually such things were thrown into sacred fountains, not carved on walls). The idea of women expressing such sentiments was not shocking in most Roman cultures. Perhaps our Secundinus was an unfaithful partner, or a crooked businessman? Two words and a phallus is hardly definitive proof of anything. Particularly as the phallus was a very common good luck charm indeed in the Roman world. You even found them in jewellery intended for young children (crepundia).

  8. flex says

    Pierce R. Butler noticed @4,

    doesn’t that show ${whoever}’s scrotum as above his phallus (or his whole position as upside-down)?

    Which makes it clearly the penis of a kangaroo, proving my conspiracy theory that the Roman’s were originally Australian, abducted to Italy by aliens, and used kangaroos as shock troops to conquer the world!

  9. nomdeplume says

    Well, Secundinus, if you could only by remembered for one thing, what would it be…?

  10. gijoel says

    “Men never change”

    I’ll believe that when they find an inscription how the author was offended by the someone declaring over-weight women were beautiful.

  11. Tethys says

    I wish the link had more information on how it was decided that reads cacor. The first c is barred, which I thought is pronounced ts the mid to late Roman period. That would yield succor, which means to go under. (AFAICT, I’m not all that fluent in Latin, but two different etymology dictionaries gave that definition) Segundinus goes down could also work as a far more clever insult. I can see a guy with a shield laying on his back just as easily as I can see an oddly shaped penis. Too bad that the lower right quadrant is damaged. It looks like there could have been more letters at one point.

  12. leerudolph says

    cartomancer@3: You have solved a small puzzle for me! I am preparing an annotated (and newly translated) version of Albert Giraud’s Pierrot Lunaire (in French, not Hartleben’s very bad translation into German, 21 of the 50 rondels of which Schoenberg set to music). In the process (thanks to Hathitrust and the Dictionnaire de l’Academie francaise, free on line!) I have (not to my surprise: when Giraud published the collection he was 22) discovered a great amount of frequently sophomoric obscenity. In particular, “La Lanterne” (rondel 44) is full of it. It was easy to discover in several contemporary dictionaries of French erotic slang that “lanterne” was one of the extremely numerous words for the vulva (though the image remains obscure to me), but that’s unsurprising (as PZ has noted, men never change). However, the word “lanterne” can also be a verb, as in Giraud’s second stanza:

    A tout coin de rue il lanterne
    Et sur le sol dépose un peu
    La claire et joyeuse lanterne
    Où vibre une langue de feu.

    That is,

    At every street-corner he loiters
    and sets down on the ground awhile
    the bright and joyous lantern
    where a tongue of fire vibrates.

    Here is my soon-to-be-updated annotation on “il lanterne”:

    Third person present of lanterner, « Être irrésolu en affaires, perdre le temps à des riens », ‘To be irresolute in one’s affairs, to waste time on unimportant things’ (DAf 1878), which Picoche traces to a 14th century expression « envoyer à la lanterne sa mère (où lanterne est un euphémisme pour le mot obscène landie) », ‘send one’s mother to the lantern (where lantern is a euphemism for the obscenity landie)’, that is, for the labia minora (P. Boissière, Dictionnaire analogique [etc.], Paris, Larousse et Boyer, 1862) […]

    (“Picoche” is the etymological French dictionary compiled by Jacqueline Picoche, published by Robert in 1979; P. Boissière was Jean-Baptiste-Prudence Boissière). Evidently Boissière was wrong; how could “landie” not be derived from landica? (Of course I will do what I can to track that down.) The vibrating “tongue of fire” takes on a new overtone…