Anyone who has been to Pompeii knows that the ancient Romans were accomplished graffiti writers. So were many other ancient humans, from the cave-dwellers forward. More and more, bits of ancient graffiti are being translated, and the results are classic — and often hysterical. The writings tell us something meaningful about our ancestors.
For example, how can you not smile about the unknown Greek guy who wrote, 1,500 years ago, “Sydromachos has an ass as big as a cistern.” Who today hasn’t felt a similar urgent need to point out the reality of an acquaintance’s enormous rump? It reminds me of a co-worker who, years ago, saw a newly hired employee who formerly had been an intern and who, in the intervening period, has put on a few pounds in the posterior. With perfect timing, the co-worker scrutinized the colossal keister, turned to a friend, and said in an awed voice: “That’s not the ass we hired.”
The ancient graffiti writings confirm that there is something basic and immutable about the human condition that remains lurking below — temporarily hidden, perhaps, by the trappings of civilization and technology, but always ready to appear at an opportune moment. It’s reasonable to conclude that, for so long as human beings survive as a species, a big butt is always going to be worthy of a wry comment.