27 December, 2009

'Til Death

Just got done watching a show called Ancestors of Ancient Rome, which reminded me of some of my favorite people in the ancient world.

Back when I was a fresh young college student, I took Western Civilization I from the incomparable Roz Ashby and Ken Meier, and they introduced me to worlds I'd never known.  You've heard of the Romans, and you know the Romans filched a lot of their culture from the Greeks, but they also took a lot from the Etruscans.  And I fell in love with the Etruscans because of one piece of art:

This is a sarcophagus for an old couple.  It's always given me a wonderfully warm feeling.  There's something about folks who don't mind being portrayed in their old age.  And their devotion to each other is delightful. 

Funerary art's usually thought of as somber, and people who could afford such luxurious grave goods usually liked to be portrayed as something more than ordinary.  But the Etruscans were different.  Their tombs were homey, depicting more cozy scenes of life and love.  Such as this one:

Isn't that lovely?  They seem to have cared a great deal for each other.  Their tombs are hospitable places, where you feel like wandering in with a glass of wine and a bit of food and curling up for quality time with friends and family, laughing and chatting and generally having a grand time.  They built cities for their dead, complete with streets and houses and couches.  Death doesn't seem to have held any terrors for them.  We talk a lot about celebrating life, but we certainly don't follow through on that lip service with our cemeteries.  The Etruscans, on the other hand, very much did.

Not everybody was a couple, mind you.  Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa apparently chose to go it alone:

And yes, that's what she looked like in life.  Forensic artists reconstructed her face from her bones, and discovered that the Etruscans had a talent for capturing real folks in their art.  Study of her bones also showed that she spent a lot of time on horseback, which is interesting.  Etruscan women didn't live a cloistered life.  They got to go riding and feasting and having all sorts of fun.  Scandalized the Greeks, that did.

They knew how to live, and they knew how to give their dead a proper send-off.  Can't ask for much more than that, now, can we?


Cujo359 said...

I'm more interested in how societies treat the living, but I suspect there's some inkling of that in how they choose to memorialize their dead.

Maria said...

Check out Hungarian writer Antal Szerbsz's novel Traveller and Moonlight for a thrilling story about life, love, death and Etruscans