Public Event

Death, Burial and Ritual in Latin Literature

Antonios Augustakis

CAS Associate 2014-15

 Death, Burial and Ritual in Latin Literature

Death and dying occupy a prominent role in Latin literature: from gladiators dying a (dis)honorable death on the arena to soldiers fighting for their country to members of the élite committing suicide as a means of resistance against the increasing autocracy of the emperor. As such, ritual and literary descriptions of ritual are crucial for our understanding of Roman culture in general.

In this presentation, Professor Augustakis will present a part of the monograph on Death and Ritual in Flavian Epic where he will look at several scenes of death and burial from the three epic poems of the Flavian period (Silius Italicus’ Punica, Statius’ Thebaid, and Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica). As he looks at the relationship between literature and religion in the Greco-Roman world, he ask questions about the role of death, lament, funeral, and burial as represented in the poetry of the Flavian age, seeking to offer a broad understanding of the socio-political and cultural background of the poems and their period.

In particular, in this talk, Professor Augustakis examines the episodes in the three poems that describe a “fake” funeral to investigate the strong ties between burial, lament and civil war: in Silius, the Saguntines burn their belongings on a fake funeral pyre, just before they are found by Hannibal as he enters the city victorious; in Statius and Valerius, the Lemnian women kill their husbands in a frenzy, and only their queen Hypsipyle spares her father by preparing a fake funeral pyre for him in Statius and a funereal cortege in Valerius, to help him escape. In the context of civil war (brought about externally by the intervention of a goddess/divine madness), the semantics of burial also change. To these fake funerals, he contrasts the real funerals taking place in Flavian epic: in Statius, the baby Opheltes is buried with great honors, and a monument is erected to commemorate the event; the overtones of civil strife abound, however, as the pyre of the sixth book of the poem mirrors the central funeral pyre of the twelfth book: the two brothers Eteocles and Polynices are burned in one fire which then splits into two, because of the continuing hatred of the siblings even beyond death. And in Silius, Scipio’s funeral for his father and uncle in Spain is followed by funereal games, in which civil war topoi feature prominently.