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October 12, 2012     Post-Gazette
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October 12, 2012
 

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Page 2 POST-GAZETTE, OCTOBER 12, 2012 byPro,.Edm00dT00ie00o" St irp_e " Nostra Aweeklycolumnhighlightingsome of the more interesting aspects of our ancestry.., our lineage.., our roots. EVEN FUNERALS HAVE ROOTS "Funus" is the Latin name for rope, cable or cord. It is also the name that was given to the funeral rites in an- cient Rome. Their Latin word funus and in turn, our English word funeral, are both derived from the burial procession during those ancient times which em- ployed twisted ropes that had been smeared with pitch and used as torches to light the way. Torches were nec- essary because all Roman funerals took place during the hours of darkness. The funeral rites in ancient Greece predated those of the Romans and probably set the pattern by which later civilizations conducted themselves dur- ing those moments of grief. There is no cynicism at- tached to the following state- ments and please remember that I'm calling attention to popular beliefs and customs that go back more than five centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ. Those persons who are truly interested in the roots of many Christian beliefs are requested to com- pare these ancient customs with those of today. "Elysium" or the "Elysian Plains," in Greek mythology, was the place where chaste, moral, righteous or virtuous people went after death and where there was com- plete happiness, paradise and ideal bliss (not to be confused with Washington, D.C.). The ancient Greeks attached great importance to the burial of their dead. They believed that a soul could not enter the Elysian Fields until the body had been prop- erly buried. Apparently this feeling was so strong that it was considered a religious duty to throw earth upon an unburied body if one hap- pened to be found. Among the Athenians, children who might have been released from all other obligations toward unworthy parents were still consid- ered morally and religiously bound to bury them. Neglect in providing a proper burial for one's relative was consid- ered to be a serious charge against the character of any man. The belief was also quite common that the dead had a moral and legal right to a proper burial. At the moment of death the eyes were closed by one of those present, an "obolus" (small coin) was placed in the mouth and then the mouth was also closed. This coin was intended, symboli- cally, to be used as payment for Charon's fare (to be explained later). The body was then washed, anointed with perfumes and clothed in rich white garments that were burned in the crema- tion. Laws were passed lim- AARON MICHLEWITZ Orlappg Coeumbus Dag Congressman MIKE CAPUANO iting the number of gar- ments that could be burned. A wreath of flowers was also placed upon the head of the deceased. The body was laid out on an ordinary bed with a pillow that sup- ported the head and back and the feet were turned toward the door. Special vases that contained per- fumes were placed beside the body and were usually buried with the coffin or ashes. These vases were very beautiful and were manufactured specifically for funeral purposes. A honey cake was also placed near the corpse. This cake was intended, also sym- bolically, to be used as a reward for "Cerberus," the three headed dog that guarded the gates of Hades, a kind of middle world which seems to have been the fore- runner of our purgatory. Family members and near relatives gathered around the corpse and wailed or uttered loud expressions of grief. Many of the mourners even went so far as to beat their breasts, pull their hair, scratch their cheeks, tear their clothes and sprinkle ashes on their heads. Some families even hired profes- sional singers to lead the mourning chant. The last item to be noted as a part of the death vigil was a vessel of water that was placed near the exit door to the house. This was available so that persons who had been inside could purify them- selves from the pollution of death by sprinkling water on themselves. NEXT ISSUE: The Greek Procession DIAMONDS I ROLEX ESTATE JEWELRY [ Bought & Sold Jim (617) 263-7766 i, L fl_ewelers Exchange Building Jtappy Columbus ay from Salon International (617) 567-7386 85 Lubec Street East Boston, MA 02128 Res Publica by David Trumbull Fly Me to Fifteen years ago, on Oc- tober 16, 1997, the Jupiter 2 spacecraft left earth carry- ing the Robinson family and two other men (one of whom was an unintended traveler) to colonize a planet of the nearby star Alpha Centauri. Well, at least in the Colum- bia Broadcasting System's television series, Lost in Space, that is what hap- pened[ In September of 2015, just three years from now, Lost in Space itself will be 50 years old! Wow, was my childhood that long ago? As a boy, I watched every space travel television show and movie I could find. We lived, for several months, in Coco, Florida (near Coco Beach where another space- age TV show, I Dream of Jeannie, was set) and watched the rocket launches from our backyard. In my lifetime I saw America put a man on the moon, just as President Kennedy had committed us to do. In fact, we put a total of twelve men on the moon and got each one safely back. As a boy in the late 1960s I would have been dismayed to learn that as a man, in my 50s, I should live on in an America that has not put a man on the moon since Apollo 17, forty years ago the Moon this December -- we don't even try anymore. Over 500 years later, Chris- topher Columbus' 1492 voy- age of discovery still stands as the beginning of man- kind's last colonization of a new world. What of my boy- hood expectations of routine space travel and folks living on other worlds? Over lun- cheon this week with some pretty bright people, includ- ing the son of a mechanical engineer who built equip- ment for National Aeronau- tics and Space Administra- tion ("NASA") missions of the 1960s, I asked, "Did we sim- ply lose the resolve to colo- nized space? Or was the sci- ence fiction of the 1960s un- realistic as to the prospects for colonization?" The opinion at the table was that space colonization will be much, much harder than popularly imagined in my youth. In other words, Columbus' feat of opening of a new world for colonization will not be matched any time soon. Today, if Americans fly to the moon and learn what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars it will be merely in flights of fancy, inspired by Bart Howard's 1954 song -- probably as sung and swung by Italian-American crooner, Frank Sinatra. Sal LaMattina BOSTON CITY COUNCILOR DISTRICT 1 Happy Columbus Day! & Celebrate Italian Heritage Month! CARLO BASILE STATE REPRESENTATIVE 1 = Suffolk District J