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9. At Home with the Dead: Roman Funeral Traditions and Trimalchio's Tomb

Valerie M. Hope

Subject Classical Literature » Latin Literature

People Petronius

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405156875.2009.00014.x


Man's life alas! Is but a span, So let us live it while we can (§34.10, trans. Sullivan 1965 , used throughout this chapter) Trimalchio wants his guests to seize the day, to eat, drink, and be merry. Ever eager to present himself as a generous and gregarious host, Trimalchio serves the best wine, stressing that it is a superior brew to that consumed by the previous day's guests. For Trimalchio wine is one of life's delights, something that makes human existence, short as it is, bearable; and, since death marks the end of such pleasures, life must be lived to the full. To add visual emphasis to his words Trimalchio plays with a silver skeleton, twisting its joints into various lifeless poses. Petronius, through Trimalchio, may well be reflecting and parodying the musings of serious philosophers on the meaning of life and death, but Trimalchio's light-hearted perspective also finds ready parallels in Latin inscriptions and Roman art. Epitaphs could talk to the living, noting how the deceased had enjoyed life and urging the reader to do the same for soon they too will be no more: “While I lived I drank freely. You who live drink!” urges one old soldier in his epitaph ( CIL 3.293). Dinner parties and banquets with their over-indulgent characteristics were also a favored venue for memento mori (reminders of mortality), with images of death, such as the skeleton, adorning cups and ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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