Ecce! Caecilius (fuscopterus) est in horto.

Bronze bust found in the home of Caecilius and is thought to be of him.

Bronze bust found in the home of Caecilius and is thought to be of him.

So, I have been re-reading through my Cambridge Latin Course books. Now that I’ve had quite a few years of Latin under my belt, I can go back and enjoy all the stories. If truth be told, the reason I took Latin in the first place, (now almost eight years ago), was because of my passionate love of entomology and my desire to become an entomologist. Today, I came across an insect with the name Caecilius fuscopterus and immediately smiled. Although as far as I know it is not named after the illustrious character from the first book in the series, nonetheless I was delighted. The title of today’s post is a nod at the first sentence of the first passage you encounter when taking the Cambridge Latin Course (CLC), Caecilius est in horto, means “Caecilius is in the garden.” For those of you who don’t know who  the Roman named Lucius Caecilius Iucundus was, I shall tell you. He lived in the doomed city of Pompeii. Although records indicate that the real Caecilius died in an earthquake on 5 February 62 CE, seventeen years prior to the 79 CE  eruption of Vesuvius. His altar to the lares, household gods, show scenes from the earthquake. In the text book however, (spoiler alert) “Caecilius in tablino moribundus iacebat. murus semirutus eum paene celebat…Caecilius, postquam Clementi anulum suum tradidit, statim expiravit.”(210)

According to the fourth North American edition of CLC book one, “his house was preserved along with his strong box which kept records of his business dealings, which were salves, cloth , timber, and property. He also ran a cleaning and dying business, graze sheep  and cattle on pastures outside of town, and sometimes won the contract for collecting the local taxes. He may have owned a few shops as well and probably lent money to local shipping companies wishing to trade overseas.”(10)

From Peristyl l - North wall of Caecilius' house. Now in the Museum of Naples

From Peristyl l – North wall of Caecilius’ house. Now in the Museum of Naples

Among the other things discovered were beautiful frescos, one shown on the left, such scenes were quite common place in wealthy Roman homes and even the Suburban baths exhibited similar frescos. Though by modern standards this one is quite tasteful compared to the others. I say this in italics because sexual tastes are a culturally constructed concept, so what may be scandalous for us, is not quite the same for the Romans. There was also two graffiti found, one which discussed the merits of love “quis amat valeat pereat qui nescit amare bis tanti pereat quisquis amare vetat” (C.I.L. IV 4091).

Whoever loves, let him flourish, let him perish who knows not love, let him perish twice over whoever forbids love.

In the stories he is referred to as an argentarius, a banker. Some of the main characters included his wife Metella, their son Quintus and their slaves. The slaves Grumio, Clemens and Melissa play the most active role in the plot. Oh and let us not forget the dog Cerberus! Grumio was always my favorite. Always getting away with all sorts of things such as eating and drinking his master’s food while Caecilius and his guest slept in a drunken stupor in the triclinium.

Caecilius fuscopterus
(Photo: Bob Saville)

But enough about Caecilius, back to his namesake. According to the website for Biological Records Center, the insect in question is a species of Psocoptera from Stenopsocidae family that can be found in Great Britain and Ireland. It also common in countries like Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg. The species are blackish-orange coloured and are similar to Elipsocus abdominalis. They are colloquially referred to as bark lice.

It feeds on trees such as hawthorns, oak, and sallow. It also frequents the rhododendron.

It was first described by the French entomologist, Pierre André Latreille in 1799, but I have learned that there seems to be a battle over the taxonomy between two branches of science. Similarity exists between the names of the family group based on the spelling of the genera, and thus the identity of the stems, for Caeciliidae in current use for the insect under discussion and the other  being an order (Gymnophiona) of similarly named amphibians that superficially resemble earthworms or snakes. The text is quite an interesting read, although I dare not chase that tangent in this post, but you can certainly read this here.

That being said, lets come back to the entomology and look at the etymology of our little friend. Caecilius is the roman family gens which is derived from the word caecus, which means blind. The word fusco is a Latin adjective meaning “dark, swarthy, dusky; husky; and hoarse.” The the noun combining form “-pterus” means “one having (such) wings or winglike structures,” and comes from the Greek word πτερος, πτερους. So, the translation of this name would be “blind, having dark wings.”

I see now after writing this that the path that I have gone has granted me insights that I never would have had if I had strictly becoming an entomologist. Although at times I wish that I had majored in this field, I am quite content with history and its requisite linguistics. Though I shall always know that entomology is placed highest among my many passions.