An ancient Latin inscription on the pyramids of Giza

The pyramids of Giza still retained their outer casing into the middle ages, and only lost it when the Arabs started to use it as a source of stone.  But in 1332 a German noble, Wilhelm von Boldensele, while on pilgrimage in the orient, visited the site.  In his Itinerarius Guelielmi de Boldensele in terram sanctam [1] he writes:

Beyond Babylonia (Cairo) and the river of paradise, in the direction of the desert that lies between Egypt and Africa, there are several monuments of the ancients, shaped like pyramids; two of them are amazingly large and high, with very large, polished stones, and on these I found characters inscribed in different languages. In one monument I came across the following Latin verses, chiselled in stone:

Vidi pyramidas sine te, dulcissime frater,
Et tibi, quod potui, lacrimas hie moesta profudi,
Et nostri memorem luctus hanc sculpo querelam.
Sit nomen Decimi Cetianni pyramide alta
Pontificis comitisque tuis, Trajane, triumphis
Lustra sex intra censoris consulis esse.

I have seen the pyramids in stone without you, beloved brother,
and for you I have grieved here as much as I could, and shed my tears;
And mindful of our grief I chisel this lament:
May the high pyramid know the name of Decimus Cetiannus,
The pontifex and companion of your triumphs, O Trajan,
(Who within six lustra was both censor and consul??).

The inscription and the stone on which it was inscribed have long since vanished from the world.  But the name of D. Cetiannus, priest and companion of the emperor Trajan is preserved; because a German traveller twelve centuries later happened to write down the graffito.

I wonder what remains of antiquity might be mouldering in Arabic texts, unknown because Arabic literature is pretty much unknown and inaccessible, untranslated because unknown?

  1. [1]No modern edition seems to exist: I accessed a translation of extracts in J.P.A. Van der Vin, Travellers to Greece and Constantinople. Ancient Monuments and Old Traditions  in Medieval Travellers’ Tales (PIHANS 49), 1980. [27 cm, softcover; X, 751 (2 vols.)].  ISBN: 90-6258-049-1. p.574 f, esp. p.577-8.  Downloadable here.

7 thoughts on “An ancient Latin inscription on the pyramids of Giza

  1. To find basic bibliographic information on editions of and commentary on medieval historical writings (incl. travel accounts) from areas then under German rule, use the Bavarian Academy of Sciences’ online _Repertorium “Geschichtsquellen des deutschen Mittelalters”_. The latter’s entry for Guilielmus de Boldensele is here:
    and its entry for Ludolfus de Sudheim is here:

    The _Repertorium_’s entry on Boldensele includes a listing for C. L. Grotefend’s edition of this work in _Zeitschrift des Historischen Vereins für Niedersachsen_, Jahrgang 1852 (publ. 1855). Quick Googling of that journal title will show that the volume in question is available on the Web in a digitization by the BSB in Munich at:
    This edition forms item no. 2 in Grotefend’s “Die Edelherren von Boldensele oder Boldensen” and begins on p. 226 [image/scan no. 234]; the edited text begins on p. 236 [image/scan no. 244]. Happy reading!

    Buecheler edited the poem in fasc. 1 of his BT _Carmina latina epigraphica_, where it is no. 270 on pp. 130-131. A digitization of that volume is here (I found it by Googling “boldenseli”):
    Note his solution to the problem of _esse_ in the poem’s final line.

  2. Also see the poem on Diotima, where the author is called Terentia
    Lots of info by googling “Vidi pyramidas sine te”, including this helpful page, which notes it is in CIL 3.21
    Also written up on p. 56 of Jane Stevenson, Women Latin Poets: Language, Gender, and Authority, from Antiquity to the Eighteenth Century, Oxford University Press, 2005

  3. Thank you so much for the Diotima page on Terentia: clearly the author has done some of the legwork for us already! The other material is a good idea: I was too much on the run to look!

    The name, then, he reckons is “Decimus Terentius Gentianus”. That makes sense.

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