The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 51 pages of information about The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction.

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ROMAN TOMBS.

“Tombs,” observes the clever author of Rome in the Nineteenth Century, “formed a far more prominent feature in ancient communities than in ours.  They were not crowded into obscure churchyards, or hidden in invisible vaults, but were sedulously spread abroad in the most conspicuous places, and by the sides of the public ways.”  Hence we may add, the “Siste Viator” (traveller, stop!) so common upon tombs to this day.  But why are not tombs placed by the roadside in our times?  “It would seem,” says the writer just quoted, “as if these mementos of mortality were not so painful or so saddening to Pagans as to Christians; and, that death, when believed to be final dissolution, was not so awful or revolting as when known to be the passage to immortality.  I pretend not to explain the paradox, I only state it; and, certain it is, that every image connected with human dissolution, seems now more fearful to the imagination, and is far more sedulously shunned, than it ever was in times when the light of Christianity had not dawned upon the world."[13]

    [13] Rome in the Nineteenth Century, vol. ii. letter 36.

The high-ways do not, however, appear to have been the earliest sites of tombs.  According to Fosbroke, “the veneration with which the ancients viewed their places of sepulture, seems to have formed the foundation upon which they raised their boundless mythology; and, as is supposed, with some probability, introduced the belief in national and tutelary gods, as well as the practice of worshipping them through the medium of statues; for the places where their heroes were interred, when ascertained, were held especially sacred, and frequently a temple erected over their body, hallowed the spot.  It was thus that the bodies of their fathers, buried at the entrance of the house, consecrated the vestibule to their memory, and gave birth to a host of local deities, who were supposed to hold that part of the dwelling under their peculiar protection.  Removed from the dwelling-houses to the highways, the tombs of the departed were still viewed as objects of the highest veneration."[14]

    [14] Encyclopaedia of Antiquities, p. 64.

Our readers may remember that the ancient Romans never permitted the dead to be buried within the city,[15] a practice well worthy the imitation of its modern inhabitants.  One of the Laws of the Twelve Tables was

Hominem mortuum in urbe ne sepelito, neve urito,

(neither bury nor burn a dead body in the city.) But this law must be understood with this limitation, that the Senate occasionally granted exemption from it, to distinguished individuals, though so rarely, that a tomb within the walls of Rome seems to have been considered a reward of the most pre-eminent virtue.

[15] See an Interesting Inquiry on Burying in Vaults, by an
esteemed Correspondent, since deceased—­in vol. xv. of
The Mirror.

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The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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