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From Rome with Love: A Gift and a Joke from Ancient Rome

Read the text and listen to the audio. Pay special attention to the pronunciation and to the expressions in bold.

Archaeologists in London found an ancient Roman stylus – rare because it carries a humorous inscription.

It sounds just like the standard joke you might find on a souvenir today: “I went to Rome and all I got you was this lousy [=cheap] pen.”

But the tongue-in-cheek [=humorous] inscription on a cheap stylus recently found during excavations in the City of London is in fact* about 2,000 years old. It reads:

I have come from the city [of Rome]. I bring you a welcome gift with a sharp point that you may remember me. I ask, if fortune allowed, that I might be able [to give] as generously as the way is long, [and] as my purse is empty,

Photo of the stylus found in London: © MOLA

Or, in the original:

ab urbe v[e]n[i] munus tibi gratum adf(e)ro
acul[eat]um ut habe[a]s memor[ia]m nostra(m)
rogo si fortuna dar[e]t quo possem
largius ut longa via ceu sacculus est (v)acuus

Girl with stylus and tablets –
Naples National Archaeological Museum

The message was inscribed on an iron stylus, the kind that the Romans used in order to write on wax [=the material we use to make candles].

Inscribed styluses are exceptionally rare. Archaeologists have found only a handful [=so few that you can hold them in one hand] of examples from across the whole Roman Empire to date [=so far, until today], and this one is the finest [=best, most beautiful] thanks to the length and beauty of the humorous poetry of its inscription.

Michael Marshall, a senior Roman finds specialist [=specialist on Roman objects that archaeologists find], said it was an “absolutely spectacular” and “exceptionally personal” object. “one of the most human objects from Roman London. [..]” adding that “It gives you a real sense of the person who wrote it,” and of “the amount of affection and good humour” they had.

* NOTE: In English, “in fact” often means “contrary to what you might think”.


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