Your Life Depicted in a Funerary Monument

Something I noticed when visiting museums like the Louvre in Paris and the Acropolis Museum in Athens is the presence of ancient funerary stelae, i.e., commemorative monuments.

The fourth century stele above is described as follows:

A number of iconographic indicators identify this scene immediately as one of farewell to the deceased. The clasping of hands between Baco and Aristonike, known in Greek as the dexiosis, is a recurrent feature in Greek funerary stelae, representing a conventional gesture symbolizing the deceased bidding farewell to his or her family. The servant putting a hand to her face in sorrow and the gesture of the deceased parting her veil are also common features of funerary steles. This relief depicts a family group surrounded by serving women, whose numbers are an indication of the family’s wealth. Aristonike, slightly more imposing in stature, is probably Baco’s mother. The small boy is almost certainly Baco’s son, reaching for her in a tender sign of farewell. Finally, the presence of the infant, Baco’s second child, tells us that she died in childbirth. The name of Aristonike appears to have been added to the architrave after the other two, indicating that she died after her daughter.

Whenever I would look at these funerary stelae – usually depicting family gatherings and banquet scenes, I thought about what scenes in my own family would be most representative of our life together.

What would it look like if your family had an ancient Greek grave stele?

Who would be depicted and what ordinary and familiar activities would each person be doing?

How might the scene be capable of being expanded so more characters could be added over time?

Would the figures be depicted as engaging with one another or each in his or her own world?

I always find, when I behold such monuments, that they make me contemplate what is essential.

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