This is wildly exciting: when I went there in 2007, it was opened only on special application, and when I went in 2013 there was no electric light, and I had to examine the inscription I was interested in by the light of my own torch and a lamp obligingly held by a member of the Museum’s staff: there was certainly no possibility of looking at any of the other objects, as I had hoped. I’m extremely grateful to the Museum for kindly allowing and facilitating both my previous visits, but it must be said that it is much better now that one can just swan in and revel in all the epigraphy. I’ll post a few things from my latest visit in the coming weeks.
This time, I’ll focus on one inscription in particular, which is the rather nice column supporting a water basin (basin supplied separately) with an Oscan inscription which is published in Imagines Italicae as ma.heíis.de.me.v.ínim. me x.ekak.flit<e>am.emmens (Cumae 3/Cm 5) and translated as ‘Ma(is) Heiis, son of De(kis), meddix of the vereiia, and the X meddix (or the 10 medices) bought this flitea‘. A meddix is a type of magistrate. Apart from the fact that it’s not clear exactly what a me x is, especially as X is not a regular letter of the Oscan alphabet, the main problem is flit<e>am, which clearly has to be the name of the object on which the inscription is written. So far, the only semi-plausible suggestion is that it is somehow a borrowing of the Greek word πλινθεῖον /plintheion/ ‘brickwork’. There are a number of problems with this idea, though: a) it’s unlikely that Greek pl- would be borrowed into Oscan as fl-, which otherwise has no problem with the sequence pl-; b) we would probably expect the Greek sequence -εῖ- to be borrowed as Oscan –ei– or –í-; c) the Greek word is neuter, the Oscan one is feminine.
And, actually, there is a further problem, which is that, according to Imagines, the fifth letter of flit<e>am is actually v on the stone (hence the pointy brackets). Now, as emendations go, e for v is really pretty reasonable: in the Oscan alphabet e is written E, while v is just an E without the middle horizontal stroke. You can see the (other) instance of v, fourth letter from the right, in this inscription below (note that Oscan is written right to left). But, given the many problems we already have in connecting flit<e>am to πλινθεῖον, perhaps we should just give up the connection, and accept that we have a word flitvam whose origin is obscure, and at any rate is nothing like πλινθεῖον.
So, is it really a flitvam? Well, I’m not sure. Rix, in his edition Sabellische Texte, prints an e with a dot under it. Unfortunately, in his edition, this dot means two different things: a damaged letter, or a letter conjectured from a broken or mistakenly written letter on the object. So it is not clear whether he sees a damaged e, or, like Imagines, a mistaken v which he replaces with e. There is definitely some kind of horizontal-ish stroke in the middle of the letter. It’s more or less visible in the photos below; in person, with a raking light, it looks deeper, firmer and more intentional. On the other hand, the object has clearly been damaged, and the stroke is less well-made than the other es in the inscription (you can see one as the second letter from the right in the picture above): it is not precisely parallel to the upper and lower horizontals, beginning rather low on the vertical and straggling diagonally upwards. At the moment I’m leaning towards seeing it as an e, but it just shows how much difficulty can be involved in reading even a clearly-written inscription.