Today I saw an inscription on Twitter (posted by Gareth Harney), and part of it left me baffled. Here it is:
This funerary altar was erected to the memory of T. Flavius Athenaeus, by his freedman Nicostratus, and records that he lived for 22 years, 3 months, 5 days and 3 hours:
Memoriae T. Flavi. T. F. Fab. Athenaei vixit annis XXII menses III dies V horas III Nicostratus. lib.
To the memory of T. Flavius Athenaeus, he lived for 22 years, 3 months, 5 days, 3 hours. Nicostratus (his) freedman (libertus) (set this up).
But one bit gave me pause: “T.F.Fab.”? Obviously it is a genetive, positioned before the noun “Athenaei” as is normal.
Latin inscriptions are full of abbreviations, and I never know most of them. But Google can surprise you sometimes, and I tried googling T. F. Fab.
What I got back did indeed surprise me. My first result was to a “Collection of pamphlets on the Latin language, volume 10”, page 84 (link). This seems to be some university library’s collection, and the item is actually an article by C. F. Liebtreu, “Onomastici Romani Specimen”, Neue Jahrbücher für Philologie und Pädagogik, Berlin (1843), p.20.
This showed that in T.F.Fab, we should understand “Fabia tribu”, “from the Fabian tribe”. This was one of the thirty-five voting tribes into which the Roman people was divided.
My next result was more interesting still: to Robert Ainsworth, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae Compendiarus. At the back of this volume is a series of unnumbered pages containing… Latin inscription abbreviations! (Link)
“Fab” was confirmed. Naturally I scrolled down. And … there was T.F. –
In this context, obviously “Titi filius”, “son of Titus”. So T. Flavii T.F.Fab. Athenaeii was in fact “of Titus Flavius Athenaeus, son of Titus, from the Fabian voting tribe”.
These few pages must be very useful. In fact I was rather surprised, on doing a quick Google search, to draw blank for any modern web page. This does not mean that one does not exist; only that I did not see it. (Please add any suggestions in the comments) I was not surprised.
Google is really becoming rather poor as a search engine, rather than a commercial portal. This was driven home to me last night when I did a vanity search on my own name. Over the last 23 years I have uploaded thousands of pages to the web which contain my name on them somewhere. All Google gave me was 8 pages of results, and then finished! Bing was somewhat better. But the casual searcher will gain no real idea of the activity I have undertaken. This is ridiculous.
But at least these older volumes are becoming searchable on Google. That is indeed a blessing!