I don’t know if these occur much in the ladies’ room, but mens’ rooms can often be a source of a lot of brief inscriptions, although there’s not really much variety to be found. Whenever I find one, I wonder what spirit of creation gripped the heart of its author, prompting him to etch the word “BALLS” into the surface of the divider, mirror, or other surface in the room.

In many ways, the most interesting specimens are those that bear the presumed name of their creator. They’re not often elaborate– usually just the name (or nickname), with a word or two elucidating. Thus, simple constructions like so-and-so “was here”, or so-and-so “is great” tends to be common. As in the days of the telegram, every letter is a resource, so brevity is necessary. But why, I always find myself wondering, do these authors want their monuments to be a bathroom wall?

Still, a graffiti, though of humble origins, can sometimes live on unexpectedly: the Alexamenos Graffito is currently thought to be the oldest known depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s not exactly an eye-witness account or anything: it was made roughly 200 years after the event, and in Rome, quite a ways from Golgotha. Also, it’s disparaging of early Christians, specifically some fellow named Alexamenos. So, someone (or a small group of someones?) managed to accidentally graffito their way into a footnote of art history, albeit anonymously. Who’d have thought that a few centuries later, not only would Christianity be the dominant religion of the Rome, but Alexamenos would live on (at least in name), while his detractor(s) have faded to obscurity. Then again, maybe Caligula himself put it there sometime after he acquired the house, and he’s still fairly well-known. As an emperor, though, he was probably too busy with other stuff to make a crude etching, and Caligula is remembered (whether accurately or not) as having more interest in, uh, “other pastimes”.

Besides, he was the Roman Emperor. If he had something to say, he’d just burn a city to the ground, re-build a new city named after himself, and then put up a flashy column with his message of the day on it. Now that I’ve written that out, that strategy sounds oddly familiar