Just And Odd Day--From Hydriotaphia


from the Introduction to Hydriotaphia
Sir Thomas Browne

WHEN the general pyre was out, and the last valediction over, men took a lasting adieu of their interred friends, little expecting the curiosity of future ages should comment upon their ashes; and, having no old experience of the duration of their relicks, held no opinion of such after-considerations.
But who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the oracle of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered? The relicks of many lie like the ruins of Pompey's,* in all parts of the earth; and when they arrive at your hands these may seem to who, in a direct and meridian travel, have but few miles of known earth between yourself and the pole.

Harvested from Renascence Editions

The full text is a curious and early study of the burial practices of various nations as understood by informed people of the era. I recall reading parts of this during my undergraduate career and being absolutely mystified as to why we were reading any of it at all and why it every managed to be preserved, much less read in all these years.

But I return to those texts of long ago and find in them charms that eluded me in youth--a felicity of language, a piquancy of tone, a vibrant and lively curiousity that encompasses a wide range of interests. These texts are well worth reading if only to discover how understandings have changed through the years and how investigative techniques have developed. Hydriotaphia is one of those works of extreme interest to set alongside The Anatomy of Melancholy. If isn't for everyone, nor is it even for a very large audience. Nevertheless, for those few to whom it speaks, it has much to say and is, in its own curious way, wonderful.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 21, 2005 8:23 AM.

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