Living without the dead: finding solace in ancient Rome

Hope, Valerie (2017). Living without the dead: finding solace in ancient Rome. In: Tappenden, Frederick S. and Daniel-Hughes, Carly eds. Coming Back to Life: The Permeability of Past and Present, Mortality and Immortality, Death and Life in the Ancient Mediterranean. Montreal, Quebec: McGill Scholarly Publishing, pp. 39–70.



Devastated by the death of his daughter Tullia, Cicero struggled to assuage his grief. Cicero did all that was expected of an elite man—seeking comfort from friends and philosophy, from reading and writing, from remembering and commemorating—yet to the dismay of his friends he was still unmanly in his grief. This paper looks at the strategies used and available both to express and control grief in the Roman world. How did the bereaved negotiate a new role both for themselves and for the dead? How did they both display and conceal their grief? Grief was both a public performance and a private journey, and, as Cicero discovered, for the bereaved the tensions between public and private could be an emotional and practical minefield. Focusing on evidence from the late Republic and first century CE, the paper explores how individuals, after the public performance of the funeral, lived with their grief. It investigates ideals and counter ideals (including gender stereotypes) for the behaviour of the bereaved, and how bereavements were rationalised and consoled through various mechanisms such as support networks, rituals, beliefs (religious and philosophical), public monuments, personal mementos, art and literature. The dead could not be brought back to life, but for those left behind the dead were often a potent presence which could have a negative or positive impact on the future of the bereaved.

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