Tedious Graffiti and Idle Scribbles

Before the city of Pompeii was entombed with ash for 1,500 years, it was covered with something else entirely:


The eruption that destroyed the city ironically preserved the Latin scribblings of the Romans who lived there—and if that graffiti goes to show anything, it’s that not much has changed in the past few millennia.

Some people left their mark:

  • Gaius Pumidius Dipilus was here on October 3rd 78 BC. (That date was, of course, converted in the translation process—I doubt Gaius knew how many years away the birth of Jesus Christ was.)
  • Aufidius was here. Goodbye.
  • Staphylus was here with Quieta.
  • Romula hung out here with Staphylus.
  • Publius Comicius Restitutus stood right here with his brother.

Some declared their love:

  • Caesius faithfully loves M.
  • Figulus loves Idaia.
  • Marcus loves Spendusa.
  • Rufus loves Cornelia Hele.
  • Hectice, baby, Mercator says hello to you.

Some left wisdom:

  • Traveler, you eat bread in Pompeii but you go to Nuceria to drink. At Nuceria, the drinking is better.
  • Once you are dead, you are nothing.
  • A small problem gets larger if you ignore it.
  • Remove lustful expressions and flirtatious tender eyes from another man’s wife; may there be modesty in your expression.

Some left insults:

  • Samius to Cornelius: go hang yourself!
  • Epaphra, you are bald!
  • Virgula to her friend Tertius: you are disgusting!

Some left warnings:

  • This is not a place to idle. Shove off, loiterer.
  • The finances officer of the emperor Nero says this food is poison.
  • Postpone your tiresome quarrels if you can, or leave and take them home with you.

Of course, many left incredibly lewd and disgusting comments that I won’t bother to reproduce here—not unlike your average bathroom stall at a rest station.

And some people… uh, made bread:

  • On April 19th, I made bread.

But my favorite piece of vandalism by far is scrawled on the Basilica, which functioned as Pompeii’s court and town hall. There are a ton of remarks here, but one stands out:

O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin.

There’s a certain sense of irony that this inscription managed to survive the calamity wreaked by Mt. Vesuvius—but irony aside, it’s a phrase that’s stayed with me since I first came across it two decades ago. (The translation I heard back then was, I wonder, O wall, that you have held up under the weight of so many idle scribblings.)

Tedious graffiti. Idle scribblings.

Do you have a wall you like to write on?

There’s the obvious analogy of social media—everyone on Facebook has a “wall” you can write on—but I want to go a little broader than that.

Where are you focusing your creative energies? Where are you investing your time?

Is there a wall in your life that you’re filling up with tedious graffiti?

Is it worth it?

At the end of the day, there’s really only one wall worth focusing on—the wall whose “foundation … is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Nothing wrong with hobbies. Nothing wrong with creative outlets. Nothing wrong with having fun. But not every wall in our lives deserves equal attention—and if we’re not taking the time to add to the right foundation with the right materials, we may find that the only thing we’ve really accomplished is a portfolio of idle scribblings.

Against all odds, the “tedious graffiti” of Pompei’s Basilica was preserved for centuries. We know where Gaius Pumidius Dipilus was on October 3rd, 78 BC. We know someone baked some bread on April 19th. We know Marcus loved Spendusa, and we have reason to believe Epaphra was bald.

…So what?

In the end, even those walls won’t last. When the Day of the Lord comes and “the heavens … pass away with a great noise, and the elements … melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10)—and 6,000 years of tedious human graffiti along with it.

You, on the other hand, have the opportunity to contribute to something lasting, meaningful, and precious.

Better get building.

Until next time,

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