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have been known utterly to forsake their dead; for, even with the most degraded hordes, some ceremony is observed, more or less respectful in its mode, or solemn in its character. Perhaps no ruder savages have yet been discovered (with whose habits we are acquainted) than the Aborigines of New Holland; but even by them some memento of the dead has been erectedrude, perhaps, in style, but significant in application. Travellers have found skeletons placed upright in the hollow stumps of trees, and other places adapted for their preservation, besmeared with various colours, carrying some meaning perhaps to the initiated survivors.
One of the most simple modes of preserving the dead, is that described by Captain Tucker, as practised by the tribes inhabiting the district of Congo, viz.: by enveloping the corpse in the home-spun cloth of the country, or in European cottons; the effect of putrefaction being subdued by the quantity of wrappers, which are successively applied, according to the rank of the party, and the means of procuring them; and in the case of a great, or rich man, the ceremental bulk is only limited by the power of
* The inhabitants of the Carribee Islands practised a singular mode in the disposition of the bodies of their dead. It was customary with them, upon death occurring, to weep over the body, to wash it carefully, and to paint it of a red colour. They anointed the head with oil, and dressed the hair. These ceremonies being accomplished, they by force and contortion of the limbs, arranged the body, as nearly as possible, after the fashion and in the posture of an infant in the womb, and then it was enveloped in linen cloths.
conveyance to the grave; so that the first hut in which the body is deposited, becoming too small to contain it, a second, third, fourth, fifth, and even a sixth, of increased dimensions, are successively formed.
Amongst the inhabitants of the Andes, the dead were placed in towers, uncovered with earth ; which were used as sepulchres for families or clans.
The Mohammedans assert, that, if a true Mussulman dies amongst Infidels, “ the Angel of the Grave ” will not suffer his body to remain in such unworthy company, but will transport it through the earth to the country of the Believers.
Amongst the Jews, an opinion has been entertained, that it is only in the Promised Land the resurrection of the body can occur ; and whether as the result of this unfounded notion, or of that love and veneration for their fatherland, so closely interwoven with their faith and hopes, it has been no uncommon circumstance for the wealthy of that interesting, but despised people, dying in other lands, to leave testamentary directions, (not omitting pecuniary provision, that their remains should be transported to the Holy City.
Classic story abounds with instances tending to illustrate and establish the position, that burial has at all times been considered no less a matter of right than of honour. Dramatists, historians, and poets, assert it to be one of the chief and most indispensable duties charged upon mankind, and of which none can be
deprived without a manifest breach of the law of nature : and even conquerors were not accustomed to deny this boon to their vanquished foes. Indeed, the mythology of the Greeks embodied this duty amongst its most sacred obligations.
Euripides represents the women of Argos assailing Creon as an ungodly and atheistical prince, because he refused the rights of burial to their sons, whom he had slain in battle ; for, they said, “ if he had acknowledged and believed in the Gods, he would have respected their laws."
And Sophocles introduces his Antigone, in the beautiful garb of sisterly love, and with genuine female heroism, fearlessly meeting the threats with which Creon had visited her, because she had buried her brother, Polynices, contrary to his commands : " When I interred” (she replied) “the body of my dear brother, I did nothing but discharge a duty to which the celestial and infernal powers have indispensably obliged me. It is a law which those immortal sovereigns have given to men, and I do not see that thou, who, though a king, art mortal and their vassal, as I also am, canst oppose or hinder the performance of this pious obligation. Wherefore I prefer to do what the sacred law enjoins me than obey thy commands ; there being far more reason for me to apprehend the displeasure and punishment of the Gods, than thy threats."
Æneas also, conferring with the Sybil, respecting his proposed journey to the Infernal
Regions, was oracularly advised not to set forth, before that he had buried the body of Misenus, which lay exposed on the sea-shore; “ for as, in such a daring enterprise, he needed the special protection of the Gods : so, by his piety he was to endeavour to deserve it.'
The Oracles, indeed, all concurred in recommending this duty to the attention of their suppliants. Diodorus would have us believe, that the whole country of Phrygia being visited with sickness and famine, the Oracles were consulted and entreated to suggest some mode of relief; and the Phrygians received for answer, that the dead body of Atys, who had been slain for an intimacy with the Sybil, must be interred.
Nor were their Philosophers behind the Poets or Oracles, in inculcating the sacred duties to be observed by the living, towards the dead; and Plato, in his Commonwealth, has not omitted to rank amongst the different forms and models of justice, that particular application of it which is due to their memory.
Aristotle, in his Essay on Virtue, affirms that one portion of distributive justice, is that which appertains to the dead, and that to their portion they are more entitled than the living.
“When I inter a dead body," says Seneca,
though I never saw or knew the party when living, I deserve no merit for so doing, since I do but discharge an obligation which I owe to human nature.”
One of the most sacred oaths amongst the
ancients, and generally used by them on solemn occasions, was that of swearing by the ashes of their parents. Repeated instances of this will be found in the writings of the poets; and Claudian asserts, that there is nothing so decent and becoming a man, nor so commendable in itself, as to swear by the ashes of his parents. Seneca also, in introducing a young man, whom his uncle had disinherited because he had provided for his father's wants, makes him return this filial rebuke : “ How could I see him starve with hunger, by whose ashes I must one day swear ?"
Without multiplying instances in support of the argument, that funeral rites and ceremonies have been observed with almost invariable respect and religious honour, it is pleasing to cull from amongst the numerous profanities, and disgusting tendencies of ancient paganism, however “elegant” its mythology may have been considered, some amiable traits of human nature; and there is surely comfort in recollecting, that humanity has seldom sunk so low, or so far forgotten its heavenly origin and sublime destinies, as publicly to avow, by indignity towards the dead, a disbelief in their future existence.
The eloquence of their Orators, the scenes of their Dramatists, the oracles of Sybils, the enactments of their Lawgivers, the precepts of their Philosophers; and more than these, the examples of all, in enforcing these sacred duties,-easily satisfy the inquirer, that the moving conscientious principle of action must have been (however slightly in some instances)