|Memory and Mourning: Death in Ancient Rome
Saturday November 10, 2007 at the Open University, Harborne, BIRMINGHAM
‘Goodbye Livia’, Dying in the Roman Home
Scenes of death in Roman art always show the dying or recently deceased person lying peacefully on a bed with mourners nearby, sometimes with a dog curled up or a pair of slippers. Literary ‘good deaths’ such as that of Augustus also assume the same surroundings: a familiar room, family and friends at the bedside. This paper will look at some of the reasons why dying at home was so important, both emotionally and practically. Apart from the psychological comfort, death in the home substantially increased the chances of the dying person being able to have his or her wishes attended to, and of the funerary rituals being carried out correctly after death – hence the horror of dying abroad, alone.
Department of Classics
University of Wales Lampeter
Death Ritual and Burial Practice in the Latin Love Elegists
The descriptions of and allusions to death ritual and burial practice in the poetry of the Augustan elegists (primarily Propertius, Tibullus and Ovid) have traditionally been analysed by historians - as a glance at the footnotes in Daremberg-Saglio will readily reveal - as evidence for customs and attitudes prevalent in first-century Rome. This paper will argue that such confidence is largely misplaced, and that this material cannot be taken as an objective reflection of Roman conventions relating to death, burial and commemoration; rather, we shall see how the elegists distort and manipulate what can be reconstructed of contemporary funeral practices in order to define their own literary, social and political personae. Such distortion has already been partly recognised in poems such as Propertius 2.13 and 3.16, but this paper - drawing on interpretations first advanced in my doctoral thesis (‘Death and the Elegist: Latin love poetry and the culture of the grave’, Cambridge 2005) - will demonstrate that this technique in fact forms a deeper and more persistent current in the elegists' dealings with death than has previously been acknowledged. My paper will also challenge traditional characterisations of Propertius' preoccupation with death as ‘morbid’ - elegiac explorations of funerary ritual and burial practice are considerably more sophisticated and self-conscious than this crude psychological stereotyping would suggest.
Department of Classics,
University of Glasgow.
Bits and Pieces: the search for ‘secondary treatment’ in Roman mortuary practices
Anthropologists, such as Robert Hertz (1907), and later Huntington and Metcalf (1979), have explored the significance of the secondary manipulation of the remains of the dead within a range of cultures for a variety of social, political and religious ends. More recently these theories have been used to explain the burial habits of certain prehistoric and historic communities of Europe (for example Liston 2007; Weiss-Krejci 2001). However, during the Roman period the laws of the Twelve Tables (X, 5) stipulated that the collection of bone for the purposes of holding a second funeral was strictly forbidden. As a consequence, widely influential theories concerning the importance of the secondary treatment of human remains, derived from these anthropological and archaeological studies, have rarely been applied to Roman material. Drawing on a range of culturally diverse examples, this paper will assess these theories and discuss the role that different forms of secondary treatment can play within both ritual and commemorative activities. Taking the example of the rite of os resectum as a case study, the paper will ask whether this obscure Roman custom in fact represents a form of ‘secondary burial’. It will demonstrate how the application of these concepts to the mortuary evidence from Rome can help us to recognise possible instances of secondary treatment and how these might differ from secondary burial rites reported for other cultures. The discussion will also elucidate the major role of such activities for defining the period of mourning and facilitating the remembrance process which, in turn, can shed new light on broader disposal and commemorative traditions within the city.
University of Wales, Cardiff.
‘The mourning was very good.’ Liberation and Liberality in Roman Funerary Commemoration
Individual slaves and groups of slaves were often freed on the death of their owner, the last will and testament of the master specifying the names of the fortunate ones singled out for this distinction. Works of contemporary literature and art reveal that it was prestigious for the dominus and patronus to have a large number of manumitted slaves in his funeral procession who, out of gratitude and obligation, guaranteed ‘good mourning’. The emancipation of slaves was a gesture that also reflected the master’s magnanimity and liberality, and this quality was worth publicly documenting on the tomb. This paper assesses the significance of manumissio testamento in the context of social competition and funerary display. It examines texts and images on relevant funerary monuments that illuminate the relationship between the liberated and the liberator, with death as a significant threshold to the transformation of status, and it explores the role of freedmen in preserving the memory of their patrons.
Department of Archaeology,
University of Sheffield.
Poetic Monuments: grief and consolation in Statius Silvae 3.3
Silvae 3.3 is a poem of consolation written by Statius for his patron Claudius Etruscus following the death of his father. The poem is articulated as a poetic monument both to the father’s life and his son’s grief. Yet this is a troubling kind of memorialisation since the poem complicates the topic of consolation by portraying Etruscus’ grief as excessive. Reference to the tradition of grief and consolation, especially in Cicero and Seneca, indicates that the manner and extent of Etruscus’ grief was potentially problematic. Statius dissolves relationships in Etruscus’ family and reduces family life in his poem to a single connection between father and son. Brief mentions of mother and brother create more interpretive issues than they solve. Close reading of Statius’ allusions to family life strongly suggests deeper family tensions. The poem also exploits connections and comparisons between Etruscus’ father and Roman emperors, in particular Domitian. Statius plays on tensions between family values and imperial values surrounding concepts such as pietas and clementia. The father earns praise for his career as an imperial administrator, Statius even accords him quasi-imperial status, but his position as family man is problematic, and the poem plays up troubling questions about what survives after death. Statius’ poem is a tour de force of emotional manipulation, but leaves us asking what kind of ‘consolation’ this really is.