+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

never near their own residences] adorned at a
very great expense, and had the pleasure to
see their forefathers, who had been dead many
years before they were born, and to observe
all their features as well as if they were living.'
The painter's art has in modern times superseded
these curious picture galleries.

Another peculiarity could not have been due
to superstition, but to a more rational care of
the living than we at present evince, namely,
the distance of their great burial places from
their chief cities. The Nile intervened; the
Necropoli, including the range of stupendous
pyramids, were formed on the western, while
the most considerable towns were on the
eastern bank of that river. Diodorus gives
an interesting account of the ceremonies arising
out of this wise arrangement.

'Those who prepare to bury a relative, give
notice of the day intended for the ceremony,
to the Judges and all the friends of the
deceased, informing them that the body will
pass over the lake of that district, or that part
of the Nile, to which the dead belonged;
when, on the Judges assembling to the number
of more than forty, and ranging themselves
in a semicircle on the further side of
the lake, the vessel provided for this purpose
is set afloat. It is guided by a pilot called in
the Egyptian language, Charon; and hence
they say that Orpheus, travelling in old times
into Egypt, and seeing this ceremony, formed
the fable of the infernal regions, partly from
what he saw, and partly from invention. The
vessel being launched on the lake, before the
coffin which contains the body is put on board,
the law permits all who are so inclined, to
bring forward an accusation against it. If any
one steps forth, and proves that the deceased
had led an evil life, the Judges pronounce
sentence, and the body is precluded from
burial; but if the accuser is convicted of
injustice in his charge, he himself incurs a
considerable penalty. When no accuser
appears, or when the accusation is proved to be
false, the relations present change their
expressions of sorrow into praises of the dead.'
The author adds, that many kings had been
judicially deprived of the honours of burial
by the indignation of their people; and that
the dread of such a fate had the most
salutary influence on the lives of the Egyptian

Two singular coincidences will occur to the
reader on perusing this passage:—A
post-mortem trial, precisely similar to that
described above, forms part of the Roman
Catholic ritual of Canonising a Saint. Before
the defunct can be inscribed in the Calendar,
a person appears to set forth all the involuntary
candidate's sins and backslidings during
life; and if these be of a venal character he
is rejected. This officer is called 'The Devil's
advocate.' Secondly, the ancient Egyptian and
excellent system of funereal water conveyance
is, it would appear, to be revived. In the
Report of the Board of Health, dated two
thousand years later than that of Diodorus
Siculus, the most extensive new burial-place
recommended, is to be on the borders of the
Thames; and one of the Board's propositions
runs thus:—

'That, considering the river as a highway
passing through the largest extent of
densely-peopled districts, the facilities for establishing
houses of reception on its banks, the
conveniences arising from the shorter distances
within the larger portion of the same area for
the removal of the bodies to such houses of
reception, the advantages of steam boat
conveyance over that by railway in respect to
tranquillity, and the avoidance of any large
number of funerals at any one point, at any
one time, and of any interference with
common traffic and with the throng of streets;
and, lastly, taking into account its great
comparative cheapness, it is desirable that the
chief metropolitan cemetery should be in some
eligible situation accessible by water carriage.'

The case of the Jews is stronger than that
of the Egyptians, as showing saner modes of
burial than we have so long persisted in.
They had no especial regard for the mere
body, except as the temple of the soul; hence,
a burial-place was, with them, the house of
the living; an expression finely implying that
death is the parent of immortal life. Their
cemeteries were always in sequestered spots.
In the 23rd chap. of Genesis we find that
Abraham, when his wife Sarah died, desired
a family burying-ground from the tribe among
whom he lived:—

'And Abraham stood up from before his dead,
and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying,

'I am a stranger and a sojourner with you; give
me possession of a burying-place with you, that I
may bury my dead out of my sight.'

A ready consent was given, and he was
offered the choice of their sepulchres. But
this did not satisfy him: he wished to obtain
the Cave of Machpelah, and the field in which
it lay, from Ephron, the son of Zohar. The
generous proprietor offered it as a gift, but
the Patriarch purchased it. Thus the first
transference on record of real property was
the acquisition, in perpetuity, by the patriarch
Abraham, of a family burying-ground
especially selected for its seclusion.

Nor was the classic heathen of a more
western clime less mindful of public health
in his modes of disposing of the dead.
The Romans, being largely indebted to the
Greeks for their science, literature, arts, and
habits of life, of course adopted their funeral
ceremonies; and one general description may
suffice for those of both. By law of the
Twelve Tables, burial was prohibited within
the city of Rome, and therefore cemeteries
were provided without the walls.*

*'Hominem Mortuum in urbe ne sepelite neve urito.'

Immediately after the death, the body was
washed, anointed with aromatic unguents,
and sometimes embalmed. It was shrouded