ISBN 1 902701 14 X

248 x 170mm


RRP 9.50


View some of the colour pictures from Cambridge Inscriptions Explained

Cambridge Inscriptions Explained

Nancy Gregory



by Patricia Easterling, Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge (1994-2001)


What makes inscriptions so attractive? Perhaps the fact that they are always more than pieces of information, marking out for the people of a locality the significance of something tangible – a building, a headstone, the site of some event. Part of their charm lies in their brevity and sometimes their strangeness: inscriptions are typically brief and often enigmatic, whether playful or solemn, and for all these purposes Latin is a long-time favourite, a 'lapidary' language without the fussiness of definite and indefinite articles. Old university cities make particularly good hunting grounds for the odder or more arcane sorts of inscriptions, and there are intriguing Cambridge examples in the collection assembled and explained here.

The timescale they cover is at least 500 years, and all are more or less centrally located, because Nancy Gregory's original plan was to provide information for fellow city guides walking their groups round Cambridge. The layout in itineraries, along with illustrations of crucial landmarks and details, makes the book a practical aid to any reader's tour. But it is also a sort of history, and on its way round the centre of the city it builds up a picture, impressive, poignant, sometimes comic, of the people who have lived, worked and died here and of the projects they wanted to commemorate.

As a Newnham graduate and former teacher of Classics, now a member of the official team of City of Cambridge tourist guides, Nancy Gregory has the right knowledge and experience to explain these often mysterious texts, but – as in all good detective operations – tracking down and making sense of inscriptions calls for special flair and serendipity. Hints and clues have to be spotted and followed up, college archives and their keepers consulted, solutions to puzzles checked against local knowledge, and urban legend distinguished from fact. Heraldic devices, monograms or puns may hold the key to the stories behind the inscriptions, which are elegantly told in these pages. There are some entertaining examples, with neatly illustrative photographs, in the accounts of the Little Gift Shop on the Corner [p34] or of St Clement's Church [p60], and the decoding of the inscriptions around Pembroke New Court is a tour de force of explanation.

Like the inscriptions themselves, the author's comments condense a great deal of research and observation into a small compass. Her remarks on the 'five dignified words' adorning the Scott Polar Research Institute [p92] or on 'Ring True' on the drainpipes at Wolfson College [p81] or 'The Missing Maidens' on the ceiling of the Gatehouse at Jesus College [p83] will add to the enjoyment of anyone's visit. Even the best informed of long-term Cambridge residents will look with a fresh eye at familiar inscriptions like 'Ne vile velis' above Magdalene gateway [p62].

Pat Easterling


Back to Book blurb