|Yoda Speak. (Source: funny-joke-pictures.com) |
From the Greek word "seplucher," an epitaph usually denotes an inscription on a monument in memory of the dead.
1. The oldest examples are Egyptian, written on sarcophagi, giving the name and rank of the deceased and a prayer to Osiris or Anubis.
Later Egyptian epitaphs show the Greco-Roman influence of Alexander's empire:
Who died here?—Herois.—How and when?—Heavy-wombedIn pained labor she set down her burden,Mother was she for a moment, the child perished also.What was the luckless one's age?—Two times nineYears of flowering youth had Herois. Light mayThe earth be on her, may Osiris bestow cooling water.
2. Greek epitaphs have furnished the germ idea of most of the mortuary inscriptions of modern times.
Epitaphs began in classical Greece as brief statements of "Here lies", then grew into poetic reflections on life and death. Thus, the lines of Leonidas of Tarentum, which, after commemorating Crethon's wealth and power, conclude with the reflection,
Envied of all, now holds all of a span,—
Callimachus wrote an epitaph on Saon which is also well known:
Beneath this stone Acanthian Saon lies,
In holy sleep: the good man never dies.
3. Roman epitaphs sometimes cursed those who violated the sanctity of the tomb:
I give to the Gods below this tomb to keep, to Pluto, and to Demeter, and Persephone, and the Erinnyes, and all the Gods below. If any one shall disfigure this sepulchre, or shall open it, or move anything from it, to him let there be no earth to walk, no sea to sail, but may he be rooted out with all his race. May he feel all diseases, shuddering, and fever, and madness, and whatsoever ills exist for beasts and men, may these light on him who dares move aught from this tomb.
4. By the late Middle Ages epitaphs began to appear in English rather than Latin.
Inscribed on a tomb in Tiverton shurchyard, dated 1419:
Hoe who lyes here'Tis I the goode erle of DevonsheereWith Kate my wyfe to mee full dereWee lyved togeather fyfty-fyve yeareThat wee spent wee hadThat wee left wee lostThat wee gave wee have.
5. In an Essay on Epitaphs written in 1740, Samuel Johnson recommends brevity and simplicity.
The same advice is hinted at in the anonymous epigram,
Friend, in your epitaphs I'm grievedSo very much is said:One-half will never be believed,The other never read.
Simplicity breathes through the following:
Here I lies, and no wonder I'm dead,For the wheel of a wagon went over my head.
And from a New Hampshire churchyard:
To all my friends I bid adieu,A more sudden death you never knew.As I was leading the old mare to drink,She kicked, and killed me quicker'n a wink.
At Augusta, Maine:
—After Life's Scarlet FeverI sleep well.
Found in a churchyard in Grafton, Vermont, an epitaph brief and sweet:
And with this may be paired the awful terseness of an epitaph on a tombstone in Otsego County, New York:
Benjamin Franklin is buried beside his wife in Philadelphia with nothing to mark the graves save this inscription on a plain slab:
6. Epitaphs sometimes do more than remember the dead.
a. Business-like epitaphs may include advertising.
A famous example is said to have been inscribed by a son to his deceased father in Wiltshire, England:
Beneath this stone, in hopes of Zion,Is laid the landlord of the Lion.Resigned unto the Heavenly will,His son keeps on the business still.
An epitaph found in the cemetery of Père-la-Chaise on the tombstone of Pierre Cabochard, a grocer, closes as follows:
His inconsolable widowdedicates this monument to his memory,and continues the same business at theold stand, 167 Rue Mouffetard.
Similarly, the following is attributed to the memory of an Englishman, Jonathan Thompson:
A good Husband, and affectionate Father;whose disconsolate Widow and Orphanscontinue to carry on the Tripe and Trotter businessat the same shop as before their bereavement.
b. Epitaphs may serve as cautionary tales.
The following domestic vent was purportedly inscribed that wives might monitor their own behavior while living on this earth. It is seen on a monument in Horsley Down Church, Cumberland, England:
c. Epitaphs may be facetious or comical.
Intentional drolleries frequently take the forms of puns. An example is the epitaph of Mr. Foote, of Norwich:
Here lies one Foote, whose death may thousands save,
For Death hath now one foot within the grave;
and an epitaph for Mr. Box:
Here lies one Box within another.
The one of wood was very good,
We cannot say so much for t'other;
also a famous epitaph on Sir John Strange:
Here lies an honest lawyer,
That is Strange!
d. Epitaphs may be mean-spirited.
The following is a fling at one member of the medical profession:
Here lies the corpse of Dr. Chard,
Who filled the half of this church-yard.
This epitaph is an allusion to the dead man's unusual obesity:
Reader! whoe'er thou be, oh, tread not hard,
For Tadlow lies all over this church yard.
And finally, the epitaph of a loquacious young lady:
Here rests in silent clay
Miss Arabella Young,
Who on the 21st of May
Began to hold her tongue.
Epi- Cheat sheet:
Ep'igram, n. [Gr. inscription; a writing.] A short poem treating only of one thing, and ending with some lively, ingenious and natural thought. Conciseness and point form the beauty of epigrams. Epigrams were originally inscriptions on tombs, statures, temples, triumphal arches, &c.
Ep'igraph, n. [Gr. to write.] Among antiquaries, an inscription on a building, pointing out the time of its erection, the building, its uses, &c.
Ep'ithet, n. [Gr. a name added; to place.] An adjective expressing some real quality of the thing to which it is applied, or an attributive expressing some quality ascribed to it; as a verdant lawn; a just man; rosy-fingered dawn; wiley Odysseus.
Ep'itaph, n. [Gr. a sepulcher.] 1. An inscription on a monument, in honor or memory of the dead. 2. An eulogy, in prose or verse, composed without any intent to be engraven on a monument.