Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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When I behold the wondrous cross, some of my wondering centres on the sign hanging over Jesus's head, which according to the Gospel of John had something like "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum" written on it, but in art is often shortened to acronym "INRI". I wonder when that convenient representation started to be used? It would have meant nothing to the people who were actually there, after all - and with no Urban Dictionary or mobile phones, the cryptic abbreviation must have remained inscrutable.

Still, the Romans were inveterate abbreviators, so I'm guessing it started quite early. So much of Latin is text-speak.

Wondering this just now (when I should have been marking) the obvious fact presented itself to me - having eluded me for half a century - that the Roman numeral C is short for "centum", and M is short for "mille". Okay, I'm sure you all put II and II together long ago - but still it prompts the question, what do I, V, X, L and D stand for? And if for nothing, why those letters and not others?

Answers on a titulus. [ETA Okay, I see Wiki actually has an article all about this, but I'm definitely open to further, ultra-Wiki thoughts.]

There's some evidence that the titulum was used to describe the crimes of those crucified.

John 19:19-20:

"Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, 'Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.' Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek."

I believe the crucifix image bearing the titulum comes in quite early although the exact lettering varies from sect to sect. The Greek Orthodox crucifix uses INBI (Iésous o Nazóraios o Basileus tón Ioudaión).

That's interesting. I suppose it's likely that the Roman army would have put thing in Latin, but the Gospel writer wrote in Greek of course, and it's possible (if the point of the thing was pour encourager les autres) that that would in any case have reached more people.

One thing the Wikipedia article sort of covers, but doesn't really bring out properly, is the fact that during the period of the Roman empire it was normal to use what we think of as the infinity sign to represent 1000, rather than an M.

The infinity sign in this role crops up regularly in inscriptions, but a particular nice place to see it is on the bags of money on the Herald's tray in the middle of the Magerius Mosaic. They represent in handy visual form the amount of money (4000 denarii) which Magerius paid the hunting troupe for the four leopards which they had killed during the show.

This mosaic is from Tunisia, and dates to the third century AD - i.e. lateish within the history of the western empire. The M thing is post-Classical, really.

Thank you - I didn't know any of that!

I find it interesting to think of the Roman's using abbreviations. I wonder if it was because they had so much paperwork to do?

I suppose that it is good for historians.

And how extra horrible for the people there, to have a sense that something had been written, but in a way they could not make sense of.

One thing I was wondering was whether abbreviations were more used in contexts such as stone inscriptions (which is where I've tended to see Roman script, on tombs and such), where writing was hard work and space was at a premium, than on other media.

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Thank you.

I have a book whose contributions to this topic I intend to go read now just as soon as I can make it out to my office; so I may be returning to this, if it gives me anything extra to offer. But you reminded me of it, so thank you.


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