Sit tibi terra levis
Sit tibi terra levis (commonly abbreviated as S·T·T·L or S.T.T.L. or STTL) is a Latin inscription used on funerary items from ancient Roman times onwards. The English language translation is approximately "May the earth rest lightly on you" or "May the ground be light to you"; the more literal, word by word, translation, is sit "may be", tibi "to you", terra "ground, soil", levis "light" (in the sense of the opposite of "heavy").
The origin of the phrase can be found in Euripides' Alcestis; the phrase in Greek is κούφα σοι χθὼν ἐπάνωθε πέσοι, koupha soi chthon epanothe pesoi. Euripides' phrase "underwent all kinds of variations",[n 1] especially in Latin poets like Propertius, Ovid, Martial and Persius; although some minor variants like Sit Ei Terra Levis – abbreviated to SETL – are attested, and excluding Roman Africa which developed its own stock formula (Ossa Tibi Bene Quiescant – OTBQ – or similar), in Latin epitaphs the phrase became formulaic, acquiring the aforementioned abbreviation. On the contrary, in Greek epitaphs, it never became such a fixed formula; it is found in various forms, e.g. γαῖαν ἔχοις ἐλαφράν, κούφη σοι κόνις ἥδε πέλοι, κούφη σεῖο γαῖ' ὀστέα κεύθοι.
The Latin formula was usually located at the end of the inscription; at the beginning, another formulaic phrase was often used: Dis Manibus, i.e. "To the spirits of the dead"; first thus, then shortened to Dis Man and finally to DM. The latter, along with STTL, had replaced in about mid-first century CE, the older model, common during the first century BCE and first century CE, of ending the inscription with Hic situs est or Hic sita est ("he or she lies here"; abbreviated to HSE), and the name of the dead person.[n 2]
Notes and references
- A later satirical example of this in Greek, is the following epigram (cf. Martial's Epigrammata 9.29.11-12) by Ammianus Epigrammaticus (1st and/or 2nd century CE):
Εἴη σοι κατὰ γῆς κούφη κόνις, οἰκτρὲ Νέαρχε, ὄφρα σε ῥηϊδίως ἐξερύσωσι κύνες. May the dust lie light on thee when under earth, wretched Nearchus, so that the dogs may easily drag thee out.
- A very common, through space and time, phrase in Greek and the analogue of the Latin one is Ἐνθάδε κεῖται, Enthade keitai, "Here lies".
- Tolman, Judson Allen (1910). Dissertation: A study of the sepulchral inscriptions in Buecheler's Carmina epigraphica latina. University of Chicago press. pp. 3, 6.
- Euripides. "Verses: 463-4". Alcestis (in Greek). "Verses: 463-4". Alcestis.; cf. "Verses: 852-3". Helen (in Greek). "Verses: 852-3". Helen. At the Perseus Project.
- Horst, Pieter Willem van der (1991). Ancient Jewish Epitaphs: An Introductory Survey of a Millennium of Jewish Funerary Epigraphy (300 BCE-700 CE). Kampen: Kok Pharos Publishing House. p. 54. ISBN 90-242-3307-0.
- cf. Menander (1961). "Fragment 538, Verse 3". In John Maxwell, Edmonds (ed.). The Fragments of Attic Comedy (in Greek and English). IIIB. Leyden: E. J. Brill. pp. 778–9. At Google Books.
- Martial. "Book 9, Epigram 29, Verse 11". Epigrammata (in Latin). cf. "Book 5, Epigram 34, Verses 9-10". Epigrammata. "Book 6, Epigram 68, Verse 12". Epigrammata. At the Perseus Project.
- "Book XI, Epigram 226". The Greek anthology. Loeb Classical Library. VI. With an English translation by W. R. Paton. 1918. pp. 178–9.CS1 maint: others (link) At the Internet Archive.
- Henriksén, Christer (2012). A Commentary on Martial, Epigrams, Book 9. Oxford University Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-019-960631-3.
- Smith, William, ed. (1873). "Ammianus". A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. At the Perseus Project.
- Persius, Saturae, I, 37.
- Ovid. "Book 3, Poem 9, Verse 68". Amores (in Latin). "Book 3, Poem 9, Verse 68". Amores. At the Perseus Project.
- Propertius. "Book 1, Poem 17, Verse 24". Elegiae (in Latin). "Book 1, Poem 17, Verse 24". Elegiae. At the Perseus Project.
- cf. Seneca. "Verse 602". Troades (in Latin). At the Perseus Project.
- Eschenburg, Johann Joachim (1836). Manual of Classical Literature. Translated from German by N.W. Fiske. Philadelphia: Key and Biddle. p. 85.
- Wilmanns, Gustav; et al. (1959). Inscriptiones Africae Latinae: Indicum. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum. Voluminis octavi supplementi partis quintae fasciculus tertius. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter and Co. p. 300. At Google Books.
- s.v. κούφη, ἐλαφρά. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
- Scodel, Joshua (1991). The English poetic epitaph: commemoration and conflict from Jonson to Wordsworth. Cornell University Press. p. 82. ISBN 0-8014-2482-8.
- Keppie, Lawrence (1991). "Gravestones and tomb monuments". Understanding Roman Inscriptions. p. 107.
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