XX. THE ROMAN REPUBLICANS SERIOUS AND GAY.
When the fire had accomplished its work, and the whole was burned down, wine was thrown over the ashes to extinguish the expiring embers, and the remains were sympathetically gathered up and placed in an urn of marble or less costly material. A priest then sprinkled the ashes with pure water, using a branch of olive or laurel, the urn was placed in a niche of the family tomb, and the mourning relatives and friends withdrew, saying as they went Vale, vale! When they reached their homes they underwent a process of purification, the houses themselves were swept with a broom of prescribed pattern, and for nine days the mourning exercises, which included a funeral feast, were continued. In the case of a great man this feast was a public banquet, and gladiatorial shows and games were added in some instances, and they were also repeated on anniversaries of the funeral.
The public buried the illustrious citizens of the nation, and those whose estates were too poor to pay such expenses; the former being for a long time laid away in the Campus Martius, until the site became unhealthy, when it was given to Mæcenas, who built a costly house on it. The rich often erected expensive vaults and tombs during their own lives, and some of the streets for a long distance from the city gate were bordered with ornamental but funereal structures, which must have made the traveller feel that he was passing through unending burial-places. If a tomb was fitted up to contain many funeral ash-urns, it was known as a columbarium, or dove-cote (columba, a dove), the ashes of the freedmen and even slaves being placed in niches covered by lids and bearing inscriptions. The Romans ornamented their tombs in a variety of ways, but did not care to represent death in a direct manner. The place of burial of a person, even a slave, was sacred, and one who desecrated it was liable to grave punishment - even to death, - if the bodies or bones were removed. Oblations of flowers, wine, and milk were often brought to the tombs by relatives, and sometimes they were illuminated.
Almost every country lying under a southern sun is accustomed to rejoice at the annual return of flowers, and ancient Rome was not without its May-day. Festivals of the sort are apt to degenerate morally, and that, also, was true of the Floralia, as these feasts were called at Rome. It is said that in the early age of the republic there was found in the Sibylline books a precept commanding the institution of a celebration in honor of the goddess Flora, who presided over flowers and spring-time, in order to obtain protection for the blossoms. The last three days of April and the first two of May were set apart for this purpose, and then, under the direction of the ædiles, the people gave themselves up to all the delights and, it must be confessed, to many of the dissipations of the opening spring. The amusements were of a varied character, including scenic and other theatrical shows, great merriment, feasting, and drinking. Dance and song added to the gay pleasures, and flowers adorned the scenes that met the eye on every hand. Probably no particular deity was honored at these festivals at first. They were simply the unbending of the rustics after the cold of winter, the rejoicings natural to man in spring; but finally the personal genius of the flowers was developed and her name given to the gay festival.
The rustic simplicity represented well the primal homeliness of the nation during the heroic ages; the orgies of the crowded city may be put for the growing decay of the later period when, enriched and intoxicated by foreign conquest and maddened by civil war, the republic fell, and the way was made plain for the great material growth of the empire, as well as for the final fall of the vast power that had for so many centuries been invincible among the nations of the earth; - a power which still stands forth in monumental grandeur, and is to-day studied for the lessons it teaches and the warnings its history utters to mankind.