If the noisy funeral customs permitted to the Athenians may repel a later day observer, there can be only praise for the Athenian tombs, or rather the funeral monuments (stëlæ) which might be set over the urns or ashes or the actual coffins. Nearly every Athenian family has a private field which it uses for sepulchral purposes: but running outside of the city, near the Itonian Gate along the road to the Peiraeus, the space to either side of the highway has been especially appropriated for this purpose. Waling hither along this "Street of the Tombs" we can make a careful survey of some of the most touching memorials of Athenian life.
The period of hot, violent grief seems now over; the mourners have settled down in their dumb sense of loss. This spirit of calm, noble resignation is what is expressed upon these monuments. All is chaste, dignified, simple. There are no labored eulogies of the deceased; no frantic expressions of sorrow; no hint (let it be also said) of any hope of reunions in the Hereafter. Sometimes there is simply a plain marble slab or pillar marked with the name of the deceased; and with even the more elaborate monuments the effort often is to concentrate, into one simple scene, the best and worthiest that was connected with the dear departed. Here is the noble mother seated in quiet dignity extending her hand in farewell to her sad but steadfast husband, while her children linger wonderingly by; here is the athlete, the young man in his pride, depicted not in the moment of weakness and death, but scraping his glorious form with his strigil, after some victorious contest in the games; here is the mounted warrior, slain before Corinth whilst battling for his country, represented in the moment of overthrowing beneath his flying charger some despairing foe. We are made to feel that these Athenians were fair and beautiful in their lives, and that in their deaths they were not unworthy. And we marvel, and admire these monuments the more when we realize that they are not the work of master sculptors but of ordinary paid craftsmen. We turn away praising the city that could produce such noble sculpture and call it mere handicraft, and praising also the calm poise of soul, uncomforted by revealed religion, which could make these monuments common expressions of the bitterest, deepest, most vital emotions which can ever come to men.
Next Chapter : Trade, Manufactures, and Banking
Back to A Day in Old Athens Contents
The Greek Word Library
Reference address : https://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/ancient-Greece/old-athens-funerals.asp?pg=8