Friday, May 28, 2004

A proper Roman Eulogy

Menander the Orator (c. ad 300), who is very sound on how to eulogise a harbour, suggests the following for a great man’s funeral. It all sounds quite ghastly. Encomia of the dead person, he tell us, should be based on the following topics: family, birth, nature, nurture, education, accomplishments, actions, Fortune, ending with consolation. Under ‘family’, the eulogist must stress that there is none more brilliant in the city. ‘Birth’ is an important topic if a child has died: mention the rejoicing of the whole family, the splendid hopes, the prospect of a great destiny, all dashed by fate. ‘Nature’ should cover physical beauty and mental endowment; ‘nurture’ should touch on the speed with which the person developed; ‘education’ should stress that he was far ahead of his contemporaries; ‘accomplishments’ should deal with his fairness, humanity, approachability and gentleness. ‘Actions’, what the person achieved in life, is the topic that Menander suggests the eulogist should concentrate on, and he should point out that Fortune followed him all his life so that he was wealthy, loved by his friends, honoured by the great and good, and so on. Throughout, Menander goes on, the dead person must be shown to have been fit to rival any man in distinction.
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