Monday, March 10, 2003

Impersonating the Dead: Mimes at Roman Funerals by Geoffrey S. Sumi

"ROMAN ARISTOCRATIC AND IMPERIAL FUNERALS often had a theatrical quality to them. We are told of the presence of musicians and dancing satyrs as part of the procession (pompa) and the excessive, even feigned grief, on the part of mourners, some of whom were professionals. Most striking of all was the performance of an actor, a funerary mime, who donned a mask that portrayed the likeness of the deceased and wore clothing that represented the highest offices and honors that the deceased had achieved. While dressed in this manner, the actor impersonated the deceased, imitating, and sometimes mocking, his well-known physical characteristics and movements and his words. To our modern sensibilities such a custom might seem odd, but a recent commentator on Roman aristocratic funerals has pointed out how the tone of a single funeral celebration ranged from the patriotic and somber, to sad, to joyous and festive. The performance of this funerary mime, in which the dead momentarily came back to life in vivid form, apparently could resurrect the full range of emotions on display at a Roman funeral."
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