Whatever Happened to Caecilius?

Peter Hulse

What is the most famous Latin tag that you can remember? Maybe Vergil’s classic: arma virumque cano (“I sing of arms and the man”)? Horace’s remark about the approach of old age: Postume! Postume! labuntur anni (“Postumus, Postumus! The years slip by” – of special relevance to Old Age pensioners and particularly to the author of this article) even perhaps Caesar’s Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres (“All Gaul is divided into three parts”)? One suspects, however, that even more famous than the Classic tags quoted above is the sequence: Caecilius est in tablino, Metella est in atrio (”Caecilius is in the atrium, Metella is in the hall”)…

Two iconic illustrations from Book I of the Cambridge Latin Course (photograph of the 4th ed., 1998).

… at least to those who began their study of Latin after 1970 with the immortal Cambridge Latin Course (CLC). If you’ve not met Caecilius before, and I speak as one who was brought up on Paterson and Macnaughton’s Approach to Latin (1st ed. 1938: Regina et filia in Britannia erunt, “The Queen and her daughter will be in Britain”) his fuller title is Lucius Caecilius Iucundus. He lived in Pompeii up to AD 79, and has been going strong ever since the Seventies, when the CLC was first published.

Lucius Caecilius Iucundus was a Roman businessman, probably a banker (argentarius in Latin). Here is his imposing front door:

The entrance to the House of Lucius Caecilius Iucundus, Pompeii, Italy.

You can take a step in and explore some more pictures of his house here. We also know what he looked like: when the city of Pompeii was destroyed and everything was buried by the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 (the actual month is a matter of dispute: August, possibly October), a bronze bust of him was preserved under the ash and pumice stone that covered the city. The banker of Pompeii did not see the light of day again until the latter part of the nineteenth century, when serious archaeological excavations started, and his bust came to light.

Bronze bust of Caecilius, mid/late 1st cent. AD, Pompeii (National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy).

He has been in the news recently because the Cambridge Latin Course has just undergone a revision. Since he made his first appearance, he must have introduced millions to the study of Latin. I (and countless other Latin teachers) taught his exploits for a long time, and I was very glad of him and the tales of his familia. The characters are always up to something, and their stories can keep the interest of a whole range of pupils.

Book 1 of the new, 5th edition of the Cambridge Latin Course (Cambridge UP, 2022).

Recently I came across the argentarius in a place where you wouldn’t expect to find him. If you had been watching British television in 2014, you might possibly have caught sight of these clips:

Stills from Salvage Hunters, Season 5, Episode 5 (Quest, first aired 10 Sep., 2014).

They come from a television show called Salvage Hunters, in which the main character, an antiques dealer called Drew Pritchard, tours the country in search of forgotten treasures. During the episode in question, he visited Gawsworth Hall near Macclesfield in Cheshire, and one of the items that he spotted was the Roman style bust pictured here. Quite understandably, nobody involved in the filming of the show, owners or visitors, knew who or what it was. There was talk of “Picasso”, and the fact that it resembled Drew Pritchard might also have been mentioned. However, by chance, a family member (my cousin, Melanie Beatham) happened to be catching up, one lunch time, on the adventures of Mr Pritchard. She had just started learning Latin, using the Cambridge Latin Course, and immediately realised that the mysterious Roman of Gawsworth Hall was the star of the first book of the course, the aforementioned Lucius Caecilius!

How, though, did he make the long journey from Pompeii to a fine Tudor house near Gawsworth? The answer begins in late-19th-century Naples. From the 1860s, the National Archaeological Museum at Naples began allowing the production of copies of their extraordinary collection of sculptures, including their recent finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Several firms in Naples saw the opportunity to capitalize on the flourishing interest in the archaeological sites around Mt Vesuvius and began producing memorabilia for travellers.

One such was the Fonderia Chiurazzi, established in 1870, which quickly assembled a remarkable collection of moulds taken from the Vesuvian originals. For many years they had a shop in the arcade opposite the National Archaeological Museum; the site of their foundry is commemorated here. In its heyday, the premises looked like this:

at Napoli, Via dei Ponti Rossi 271. The foundry became internationally famous and received orders from all over the world for its replicas.

A busy morning at the Fonderia Chiurazzi, as imaginatively portrayed by Mrs Rosemary Hulse.

Perhaps one of its most important customers was the Getty Villa Museum in Malibu, California. There is more about their dealings with the Chiurazzi foundry here. Also, this this Italian article gives a lot of interesting detail about the firm’s history from early times up to the present day:

The ‘Gawsworth’ Caecilius is not the only Chiurazzi product that made it to England. There are, in fact, a couple of other ‘English’ Caecilii, one in Kent at Ightham Mote and a rather ‘anonymous’ one in Birmingham. The latter link leads to another (certainly not the last) twist in the story: it mentions various similar statuettes and busts held in English Museums and elsewhere (see the lower part of the page), one of which is a Cupid and Dolphin held at the Clifton Park Museum in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. These are all attributed not to the Fonderia Chiurazzi but to another Neapolitan firm, Sabatino de Angelis & Son, who were active between 1840 and 1915. They merged with their Neapolitan rival the Fonderia Chiurazzi, first as the Fonderie Artistiche Riunite, for which a joint catalogue was produced in 1910, before finally being submerged in 1915 into Chiurazzi Internazionale, which continued to flourish until 2011. A page from De Angelis’ own catalogue, issued in 1900, gives some interesting details:

All of this raises some fascinating questions.

  • Who made the ‘Gawsworth’ Caecilius? De Angelis or Chiurazzi? As often the maker’s label might supply the answer. If Caecilius’ base looked something like this, reading “Fonderia Artistica, Sabatino de Angelis & Fils, Napoli”, the matter would be decided:
  • Was Caecilius still surviving and flourishing at Gawsworth Hall? How did he get there?
  • What was his state of repair? Did his present guardians appreciate what a celebrity they had under their roof?

The only way to find the answers was to pick up the telephone, dial the number of Gawsworth Hall and make an appointment to meet the great man himself. The present owners of the hall[1] were very welcoming, Yes, one of the most famous Romans of them all (!) was in residence. They were very interested to find out the identity of this mysterious character from a bygone age, having been in some doubt as to who he might be, and asked us whether we wouldlike to take tea and cake with him. Afternoon tea with the banker from Pompeii was an opportunity not to be missed. We could not wait to set off to Macclesfield![2]

We arrived on a sunny Sunday. A Queen tribute band were due to perform in the evening; the beautiful setting was entirely fitting for such a momentous encounter:

Gawsworth Hall: Caecilius’ new front door.

We were soon introduced to the man himself through the kind offices of his present hosts and, as can be seen from the photos below, he seemed totally unfazed by his new surroundings – he had of course had some time to get used to them and his unexpected visitors. My cousin tried out her newly acquired Latin conversational skills on him: “Sedetne Metella in atrio?” (“Is Metella sitting in the atrium?”), “Ubi est canis ferocissimus?” (“Where is that most savage of dogs?”) and the like without eliciting any discernible response. I congratulated him on the acquisition of a new daughter: Cur Lucia non Caecilia? Nihil respondet. Ne unum quidem verbum (“Why is Lucia not ‘Caecilia’? He gave no answer, not even one word.”[3] Not a dickey-bird in reply, though we did notice a slight twitch when I asked him whether he had read Virgil’s Aeneid.[4] We didn’t ask what he felt when the Mons (Vesuvius) got angry (iratus),[5] believing that rather to be the domain of BBC News, if they ever came to interview him.

Caecilius looking unperturbed even during the pandemic!
What a fine Roman profile!

We did discover, however, that this example of the Neapolitan iron-master’s art had probably been purchased by the grandfather of the present owners of the Hall,[6] nor was it the only selection that he made from the De Angelis/Chiurazzi catalogue. I’m sure we spotted Seneca lurking in the Long Gallery of the Hall!

This imposing trio elicited many questions from visitors to the Hall.

For me perhaps the greatest delight of this encounter, especially after having taught his life story to several generations of school children, was to turn Caecilius on his head and look for his maker’s label! Alas, there was nothing to be seen that was decipherable.

Which foundry made the banker’s bust is still a mystery.

Detailed provenance must remain a mystery; though, perhaps not… one of the admirable revisers of the new Cambridge Course recently remarked on social media that, in spite of the latest changes – and perhaps to propitiate old reactionaries such as the present author – “Caecilius is still in his garden”:

A playful tweet from the Cambridge School Classics Project (11 July, 2022).

Caecilius etiamnunc est in horto.” Possibly a more accurate version of this might be “Caecilius etiamnunc est in horto Macclesfieldiensi” – Caecilius is still in a Macclesfield garden!

Peter Hulse is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham. He has made a special study of Apollonius of Rhodes but has a wide-ranging interest in all aspects of the Classical world. He has written previously for Antigone about a medieval Latin poem about chess, which is the first discussion of the game in Europe and also the tale of some American Argonauts. He used to teach Latin, Greek and IT, but, even now, with a lot more leisure, he has not forgotten about his old friend Lucius Caecilius Iucundus!


1 Rupert and Jonathan Richards (who read Classics at university) were welcoming and knowledgeable hosts, when we asked permission to visit Caecilius.
2 That is to say, me, my wife Rosemary Hulse, my cousin Melanie Beatham and her husband (who knows a lot of Latin) Dr Andrew Davidson.
3 There’s a degree of poetic licence here. The new arrival had not been announced when we first visited the Hall.
4 Caecilius might have read the Aeneid. It appears to have been sufficiently well-known (at least the first line) for people to make jokes about it: fullones ululamque cano, non arma virumque (“I sign of dry-cleaners and the owl, not of arms and the man”, CIL IV 9131), which is a decent enough hexameter based on the opening line of Virgil’s Aeneid. There are many other examples of how well read the ancient Pompeians were!
5 For further context, see here, which marks the banker’s very dramatic end (finis).
6 Raymond Richards was a very well-regarded local historian. His archive is presently at the University of Keele.