Beautiful… the epitaph of a polytheist wife to her husband

The splendor of my kinship granted me

no greater gift than this: that I seemed fit

to be your wife. For in my husband’s name,

Agorius, I find my light and grace.

You, created from proud seed, have shone

on fatherland, on senate, and on spouse

with rightness of conduct, of learning, and of mind.

You won the crown of virtue in this way.

Whatever has been penned in either tongue

by sages free to enter heaven’s door

(whether poetry composed in expert lines,

or prose that’s uttered with a looser voice),

you’ve read, and left it better than you found.

Yet these are little things. You piously

in mind’s most secret parts had hid away

the Mysteries you learned of Sacred rites.

The many-faceted numen of the Gods

you knew to worship; and your faithful spouse

you bound to you as colleague in the rites,

now sharing what you knew of Gods and Men.

Why speak of earthly powers, public praise,

and joys men seek with sighs? You called

them fleeting, counted them as small,

while you won glory in the priestly garb.

The goodness of your teaching, husband, freed

me from death’s lot; you took me, pure,

to temples, made me servant to the Gods,

stood by while I was steeped in Mystery.

Devoted consort, you honored me with blood

of bull, baptized me priestess of Cybele

and Attis; readied me for Grecian Ceres’ rites;

and taught me Hecate’s dark secrets three.

On your account, all praise me as devout;

because you spread my name throughout the world,

I, once unknown, am recognized by all.

How could my husband’s spouse not win applause?

Rome’s matrons look to me as paradigm,

and if their sons resemble yours they think

them handsome. Women and men alike

now long to be upon the honor roll

which you, as Master, introduced of old.

Now all these things are gone, and I, your wife,

am wasting in my grief. I had been blest

if Gods had granted me the sooner grave.

But, husband, even so I’m blest: for yours

I am, and was, and after death will be.


Trans. Peter Donnelly



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