Epitaph

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For other uses, see Epitaph (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with epigraph.
Epitaph on the base of the Haymarket Riot Memorial Chicago.
THE DAY WILL COME WHEN OUR SILENCE WILL BE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE VOICES YOU ARE THROTTLING TODAY

An epitaph (from Greek ἐπιτάφιος epitaphios "a funeral oration" from ἐπί epi "at, over" and τάφος taphos "tomb")[1][2] is a short text honoring a deceased person, strictly speaking that is inscribed on their tombstone or plaque, but also used figuratively. Some are specified by the dead person beforehand, others chosen by those responsible for the burial. An epitaph may be in poem verse; poets have been known to compose their own epitaphs prior to their death, as William Shakespeare did.[3]

Most epitaphs are brief records of the family, and perhaps the career, of the deceased, often with an expression of love or respect - "beloved father of ..." - but others are more ambitious. From the Renaissance to the 19th century in Western culture, epitaphs for notable people became increasingly lengthy and pompous descriptions of their family origins, career, virtues and immediate family, often in Latin. However, the Laudatio Turiae, the longest known Ancient Roman epitaph, exceeds almost all of these at 180 lines; it celebrates the virtues of a wife, probably of a consul.[citation needed]

Some are quotes from holy texts, or aphorisms. One approach of many epitaphs is to 'speak' to the reader and warn them about their own mortality. A wry trick of others is to request the reader to get off their resting place, inasmuch as the reader would have to be standing on the ground above the coffin to read the inscription. Some record achievements (e.g., past politicians note the years of their terms of office). Nearly all (excepting those where this is impossible by definition, such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) note name, year or date of birth, and date of death. Many list family members and the relationship of the deceased to them (for example, "Father / Mother / Son / Daughter of").[citation needed]

Notable epitaphs[edit]

Heroes and Kings your distance keep;
In peace let one poor poet sleep,
Who never flattered folks like you;
Let Horace blush and Virgil too.

Alexander Pope[4]

Wir müssen wissen. Wir werden wissen.
In English: We must know. We will know.

David Hilbert

Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water

John Keats tombstone epitaph in John Keats

Sleep after toyle, port after stormie seas,
Ease after warre, death after life, does greatly please.

Joseph Conrad tombstone epitaph. (epigraph taken from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene

That's all folks.

Mel Blanc

I've finally stopped getting dumber.

Paul Erdős

Consider, friend, as you pass by: As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, you too shall be. Prepare, therefore, to follow me.

— Scottish tombstone epitaph

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by
that here, obedient to their law, we lie.

Simonides's epigram at Thermopylae

I told you I was ill.

Spike Milligan

If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I'll never speak to him again.

Stan Laurel

Here sleeps at peace a Hampshire Grenadier
Who caught his early death by drinking cold small beer.
Soldiers, be wise at his untimely fall,
And when you're hot, drink strong or none at all.

Thomas Thetcher tombstone epitaph in Winchester Cathedral

To save your world you asked this man to die:
Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?

— Epitaph for the Unknown Soldier, written by W. H. Auden[5]

There is borne an empty hearse
covered over for such as appear not.
Heroes have the whole earth for their tomb.

Unknown Soldier's epitaph, Athens; passages taken from Pericles' Funeral Oration[6][7]

Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!

Virginia Woolf[8]

Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare,
To digg þe dust encloased heare.
Blese be þe man þat spares þes stones,
And curst be he þat moves my bones.

In modern spelling:
Good friend for Jesus sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

William Shakespeare[3]

I am ready to meet my Maker.
Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.

Winston Churchill[9]

Epitaphs in music[edit]

In a more figurative sense, music in memory of deceased people has been composed. Igor Stravinsky composed in 1958 Epitaphium for flute, clarinet and harp. In 1967 Krzysztof Meyer called his Symphony No. 2 for choir and orchestra Epitaphium Stanisław Wiechowicz in memoriam. Jeffrey Lewis composed Epitaphium — Children of the Sun for narrator, chamber choir, piano, flute, clarinet and percussion. Bronius Kutavičius composed in 1998 Epitaphium temporum pereunti. Valentin Silvestrov composed in 1999 Epitaph L.B. (Епітафія Л.Б.) for viola (or cello) and piano. In 2007 Graham Waterhouse composed Epitaphium for string trio as a tribute to the memory of his father William Waterhouse. The South African poet Gert Vlok Nel wrote an (originally) untitled song, which appeared on his first music album 'Beaufort-Wes se Beautiful Woorde' as 'Epitaph', because his producer Eckard Potgieter told him that the song sounded like an epitaph.

Epitaph in space[edit]

In the late 1990s, a unique epitaph was flown to the moon along with the cremains of geologist/planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker.[10] At the suggestion of colleague Carolyn Porco, Shoemaker's ashes were launched aboard the Lunar Prospector spacecraft on January 6, 1998.[11] The ashes were accompanied by a laser-engraved epitaph on a small piece of foil.[10] The spacecraft, along with the ashes and epitaph, crashed on command into the south polar region of the moon on July 31, 1999.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ ἐπιτάφιος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  2. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary: Epitaph". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  3. ^ a b Photograph of William Shakespear's grave, 3 June 2007
  4. ^ Charles Dickens (1893). Dickens' Dictionary Of The Thames. p. 269. 
  5. ^ "Famous Epitaph on Unknown Soldier tomb stone". Famousquotes.me.uk. Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  6. ^ Thucydides (1843). "History of the Peloponnesian War 2.34.3". In Molesworth, William. The English works of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury VIII. Thomas Hobbes (translator). London: John Bohn. p. 188.  Available online at the Perseus Project.
  7. ^ Thucydides (1910). "2.43.3". The Peloponnesian War. Translated by Richard Crawley. London, New York: J. M. Dent; E. P. Dutton.  Available online at the Perseus Project.
  8. ^ Woolf, Virginia (1931), The Waves, Berlin: Harcourt 
  9. ^ "Famous Epitaph on Winston Churchill tomb stone". Famousquotes.me.uk. Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  10. ^ a b Porco, Carolyn. "The Eugene M. Shoemaker Tribute". Diamond Sky Productions. Retrieved 8 June 2013. 
  11. ^ Porco, Carolyn C. (February 2000). "Destination Moon". Astronomy. Retrieved 8 June 2013. 

External links[edit]