XX. THE ROMAN REPUBLICANS SERIOUS AND GAY.
For the purposes of these combats the circus was found not to be the best, and the amphitheatre was invented by Curio for the celebration of his father's funeral games. It differed from a theatre in permitting the audience to see on both sides (Greek amphi, both), but the distinctive name was first applied to a structure built by Cæsar, B.C. 46. The Flavian Amphitheatre, better known as the Colosseum, of which the ruins now stand in Rome, was the culmination of this sort of building, and affords a good idea of the general arrangement of those that were not so grand. That of Cæsar was, however, of wood, which material was used in constructing theatres also; the first one of stone was not erected until 30 B.C., when Augustus was consul. [Footnote: History gives an account of one edifice of this kind made of wood that fell down owing to imperfect construction, killing many thousand spectators, and of another that was destroyed by fire. Pompey's theatre of stone, built B.C. 55, has already been mentioned (page 231).]
Variety was given to the exhibitions of the amphitheatre by introducing sufficient water to float ships, and by causing the same wretched class that fought the wild beasts to represent two rival nations, and to fight until one party was actually killed, unless preserved by the clemency of the ruler.
It must not be supposed that all these exhibitions were known in early times, for, in reality, they were mostly the fruit of the increased love of pleasure that characterized the close of the period of the republic, and reached their greatest extravagance only under the emperors.
The departure of a Roman from this world was considered an event of great importance, and was attended by peculiar ceremonies, some of which have been imitated in later times. At the solemn moment the nearest relative present tried to catch in his mouth the last expiring breath, and as soon as life had passed away, he called out the name of the departed and exclaimed "Vale!" (farewell). The ring had been previously taken from the finger, and now the body was washed and anointed by undertakers, who had been called from a place near the temple of Venus Libitina, where the names of all who died were registered, and where articles needed for funerals were hired and sold. [Footnote: Libitina was an ancient Italian divinity about whom little is known. She has been identified with both Proserpina (the infernal goddess of death and queen of the domain of Pluto her husband) and with Venus.]
A small coin was placed in the mouth of the deceased to pay Charon the ferryman who was to take it across the rivers of the lower world, the body was laid out in the vestibule, with its feet toward the door, wearing the simple toga, in the case of an ordinary citizen, or the toga prætexta in case of a magistrate, and flowers and leaves were used for decorations as they are at present. If the deceased had received a crown for any act of heroism in life, it was placed upon his head at death. We have already seen that cypress was put at the door to express to the passer-by the bereavement of the dwellers in the house. If the person had been of importance, the funeral was public, and probably it would be found that he had left money for the purpose; but if he had omitted to do that, the expenses of burial would devolve on those who were to inherit his property. These charges in case of a poor person would be but slight, the funeral being celebrated; as in the olden times of the republic, at night and in a very modest style.
The master of the funeral, as he was called, attended by lictors dressed in black, directed the ceremonies in the case of a person of importance. On the eighth day the body would be taken to its cremation or burial, accompanied by persons wearing masks, representing the ancestors of the deceased and dressed in the official costumes that had been theirs, while before it would be borne the military and civic rewards that the deceased had won.
Musicians playing doleful strains headed the procession, followed by hired mourners who united lamentations with songs in praise of the virtue of the departed. Players, buffoons, and liberated slaves followed, and of the actors one represented the deceased, imitating his words and actions. The couch on which the body rested as it was carried was often of ivory adorned with gold, and was borne by the near relatives or freedmen, though Julius Cæsar was carried by magistrates and Augustus by senators.
Behind the body the relatives walked in mourning, which was black or dark blue, the sons having their heads veiled, and the daughters wearing their hair dishevelled, and both uttering loud lamentations, the women frantically tearing their cheeks and beating their breasts. As the procession passed through the forum it stopped, and an oration was delivered celebrating the praises of the deceased, after which it went on through the city to some place beyond the walls where the body was burned or buried. We have seen that burial was the early mode of disposing of the dead, and that Sulla was the first of his gens to be burned. [Footnote: See page 197.] In case of burning, the body was placed on a square, altar-like pile of wood, still resting on the couch, and the nearest relative, with averted face, applied the torch. As the flames rose, perfumes, oil, articles of apparel, and dishes of food were cast into them. Sometimes animals, captives, or slaves were slaughtered on the occasion, and, as we have seen, gladiators were hired to fight around the flaming pile. [Footnote: See pages 158 and 210]