1559: Not Man, Not Woman, Not Androgyne

EPSON scanner image

This mysterious Latin inscription appears to be an epitaph composed in the 16th century by someone named or calling himself Lucio Agatho Priscius; the deceased was named Aelia Laelia Crispis.

Aelia Laelia Crispis
Nec vir nec mulier nec androgyna
Nec puella nec iuvenis nec anus
Nec casta nec meretrix nec pudica
sed omnia
sublate neque fame neque ferro neque ueneno
Sed omnibus
Nec coelo nec aquis nec terris
Sed ubique iacet

Lucius Agatho Priscius
Nec maritus nec amator nec necessarius
Neque moerens neque gaudens neque flens
Hanc nec molem nec pyramidem nec sepulchrum
Sed omnia
Scit et nescit cui posuerit

Hoc est sepulchrum intus cadaver non habens
Hoc est cadaver sepulchrum extra non habens
Sed cadaver idem est et sepulchrum sibi

Aelia Laelia Crispis
Not man, not woman, not androgyne
Not girl, not youth, not woman old
Not pure, not prostitute, not chaste,
But all of these.
Killed not by hunger, not by sword, not by poison,
But by all of these.
Not in heaven, not in water, not on earth,
But scattered everywhere.

Lucio Agatho Priscius
Not husband, not lover, not relative,
Not sad, not joyful, not weeping.
This is not a funeral pile, not a pyramid, not a tomb,
but all of these.
He knows and knows not what he has placed here.

In this tomb no body.
Around this body no tomb.
Yet body and tomb are one and the same.

The text originally appeared on another stone, which was discovered in the priory of the order of Santa Maria di Casaralta, near Bologna; an early reference to it is found in a letter from the Archbishop of Cagliari dated 1559. Over the years, the inscription on that stone became illegible, so the copy above was made in the 17th century at the direction of a senator, Achilles Volta. The last three lines were omitted in the copy, but survive in earlier transcriptions.

Dozens of solutions to the inscription have been proposed over the years; for some it is a riddle, for others it conceals alchemical truths. For others, it is meaningless or a joke meant to confound the ages.

Currently the stone is housed in a museum in Bologna; it was restored in 1988. Below it appears a smaller stone commemorating the reinscription:

Quod peperit gloria
Ne periret inglorium
Ex antiquato marmore
Hic in novo reparavit
Achilles Volta Senator

So that this enigma
Birthed by glorious
Might not die ingloriously,
From ancient marble
It is here restored.
Senator Achilles Volta

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