Tuesday, October 14, 2014

We grieve to our gods

During my recent European travels, I visited the Narodni muzej Slovenije in Ljubljana.  The ancient Roman artifacts there just whetted my strange fascination with old tombstones and graveyards.

About the time that Jesus was said to have been born in Bethlehem, the region now known as Slovenia was annexed by Roman Empire.  Recently, I was fortunate enough to visit the beautiful country of Slovenia, and I made a point to visit several of the national museums in the short time I was there.

Although all remnants of the Roman Empire are now buried, underwater, or scattered in ruins, traces of it can still be found in various places.  The original castle foundation in the town of Škofja Loka dates back to Roman times.  I wanted to see more Roman artifacts from the region of Emona, as the capitol city of Ljubljana was known at the time.  So I was amazed when I saw the Roman tombstones housed in the Narodni muzej Slovenije (National Museum of Slovenia).  Dozens of tombstones from the Roman era were dredged out from the bottom of the Ljubljanica River and placed on display in the museum.  I was fascinated by these tombstones, because these were the records of ancient common people as they grieved to the pagan gods who carted the dead into the afterlife.  Not a single tombstone appealed to the Christian Deity, which for some reason only increased my fascination.  All the tombstones were inscribed in Latin, but placards gave translations into several European languages including English.  Photographs were not allowed, but I did have a pencil and an old Wal Mart receipt in my wallet.  It was enough for me to scribble the beautiful, sad, and poetic lines written by Atimetus, an otherwise unknown common individual who lived in ancient Emona.  He died two millennia ago, and the only trace he left of himself, was his inconsolable appeal before his gods.  Here is all I had room for on the back of that old Wal Mart receipt:

Urbana, the slave of Iulius Salvine, lies here.  Atimetus, her companion in servitude, had this monument erected.

You have stolen me from my husband, from my children, cruel gods, why have you taken me so soon?  I had only lived for three decades and already a mound of earth conceals my bones and ashes.

Now carry quickly on, traveler, forward where the road leads you!  All will subsequently meet their fate after me.

There were dozens of tombstones in the museum with equally tragic but beautiful inscriptions.  I only bothered to copy one.  I have said many times on this blog that our gods are always there for us to express our profoundest and deepest emotions.  It is true now, and it was true 2000 years ago.  Perhaps my fascination with tombstones is due to this constant reminder that people are drawn to their deities when they have no other way to express their overwhelming grief. 

Is there a point to this article?  Nope.  Just writing this down and putting my thoughts online before I clean out my wallet and lose that Wal Mart receipt forever.