Memorials to our beloved

We all know someone who died too young or too soon. Some of us have friends and relatives that were killed in a vehicle accident that we memorialized in a roadside shrine. Some have added a tribute to their own vehicle or inscribed some bit of graffiti on the side of a building to remember their loved one.

In the past it was popular to compose a poem to our dearly departed and this habit goes way back . . . past the Victorians, the Renaissance, the monks of the Dark Ages, all the way back to the Romans.

Sometime after 120 A.D., a grieving Terentia visited Egypt. She was so moved by its beauty and the death of her brother that she inscribed the following poem in the limestone of The Great Pyramid. Open Culture records it:
I saw the pyramids without you, my dearest brother, 
and here I sadly shed tears for you, 
which is all I could do. 

And I inscribe this lament in memory of our grief. 
May thus be clearly visible on the high pyramid the name of Decimus Gentianus….

This bit of graffiti was discovered by another traveler, the German pilgrim, Wilhelm von Boldensele who recorded it in 1335. There are some interesting things to consider here. Who was Terentia? She must have had some means because she could travel to Egypt, which, by the way, was a popular tourist destination for the rich and famous of Rome. But Terentia, while rich, was not famous. On the other hand, her brother was. Terentia's epitaph identifies her brother, as “a pontifex and companion to your triumphs, Trajan, and both censor and consul before his thirtieth year of age.” Those are pretty good bonifides.

It's fascinating to come face-to-face with an ancient person who lives her life in much the same way we do. It's hard to understand how everyday people lived because most (almost all) of history is written through the pen of some conqueror.

Do you think people are pretty much the same now as they were in the past? Do you think our emotional makeup will be the same in the future?


  1. Cindy Orozco (ENGL 304-01)

    I do think people today are very similar to the people in the past. The same, I don't think so since our ideas and beliefs have evolved thus changing who we are. But human nature is very consistent which is why I say we are very similar. Our emotional makeup will be similar even in the future. Although some humans aren't as friendly or just, it is within our human nature to care after one another and remember those who we've lost. We all want to be remembered so it isn't surprising that tributes/memorials will continue.

  2. Grief is an emotion displayed not only by humans but by many animals too. We, however, are the only ones who choose to ornately memorialize our losses. This display proves the deepness of our emotions. The example of Terentia only furthers that point to prove grief is ingrained in our primal nature. It is also common to fear that our memory ends when we do. Which is perhaps why we immortalize the dead. We hope that none of us will truly be forgotten simply because we are gone.

    -Skyler Ramirez

  3. Overall, I believe that we share some similarities with the people of the past especially when it comes to how we grieve for someone. Like Terentia grieved for her brother by writing an inscription on a pyramid, modern people grieve the death of the people close to them by maybe practicing a little tradition that reminds them of the deceased, going to visit their grave and having a conversation, and maybe even writing a song for them many years later. We all grieve differently but the feeling encompassing the act is the same, which is why I believe that our emotional makeup will be the same for many years to come and in the far future.

    Ellen Zavala

  4. I do think that people are much the same then as they are now. Have we not always been moved to the emotion of marking to world with our feelings, Give out feelings physical form they can be stronger. Or just writing it down so it can get out of your head and heart. That sappy stuff being said i thing roadside memorials are an eyesore and at worst generally dangerous. I did do a report on this years and years ago and I remember that a few people die or are injured every year placing things at roadside memorials or get into accidents by gawking at them. Also the cards, pictures, ribbons, and what have you turn into garbage after time in the rain and sun, and who cleans it up? The grieving family? the land owner that likely never wanted it there? the city? the state? its a complicated issue. This particular one in Egypt is only interesting because it is a marker of a historic time as well as one persons grief.

  5. Molly Silveira

    I think we are pretty much the same as ancient people in basic emotional makeup. People have a tendency to think that unfamiliar people or cultures are radically different, but everyone is similar if you get to know them well enough. I think the psychology of ancient and modern people are probably different, because ancient people had more day to day survival struggles that were (probably) simpler to solve. Modern survival struggles are like how to pay student loans, which is usually a complex set of options, that usually require more "hoops to jump through" . So there are definitely psychological differences between ancient and modern humans. But I think our basic emotional makeup is the same. We still want love and acceptance, and most people find rejection and indifference distressing. So it doesn't surprise me that an ancient person would feel the urge to memorialize their dead loved one because it is an impulse that is as old as time.

  6. I would say that it's hard to concretely say that we are the exact same as we were in the past, but it is fair to say that we share similarities from our past. The example of grief and projecting it through writing or public graffiti has been going on for ages. A present example is the tombstones we accessorize the graves of our loved ones with. Some people will add pictures of the deceased, or a poem, and even sometimes a funny quote from them. All of this is a way for one to express their emotions such as Terentia did in the past with writing. Another way we are similar is when people say we still have our "fight or flight" response from in the past. That was a natural human response during the wars in the past and still is a natural response in most people when something frightening or threatening occurs.

    -Trinity Long

  7. I would say that people are still very much same as they were many years ago going back to the ancient Greco-Roman world. Philosophers like Aristotle and Plato have brought up questions about human behavior and what makes us such a unique species that are still in question today. Also, most of the philosophies that were studied by Aristotle and Plato have built the foundation of what we are all studying to this day in western culture. Although many years have passed since these great thinkers were alive, we are still the same species with the same mind that is able to make logical arguments and express grief and sorrow towards the passing of loved ones.

    - Joseph Santos

  8. Do you think people are pretty much the same now as they were in the past? Do you think our emotional makeup will be the same in the future?

    Do I believe people are the same now as they were in the past? That's a difficult question to answer. People are constantly changing. Our ideas, way of thinking and goals are constantly evolving but our emotional makeup will continue to be the same. Pain is pain and that will never change. Emotions are what make us human.
    --Maria Barajas

  9. I believe that regardless of various situational changes that human beings encounter, people are pretty much the same now as they were in the past. Changes in environment and society may cause our morals, norms, and values to change, but humans are basically made up of the same components, and we are morally inclined to do what we view as "good" in our current situations. Our emotional makeup in the past, present, and the future are and will be the same as emotions are biological responses to our situations, both external and internal conditions. We feel joy and excitement when we face things that are beneficial to our existence. On the other hand, we show disgust to things that might be potentially harmful for us. Although the way we response to specific situations might differ, humans will always have a common way in processing stimuli to generate their emotional responses.

  10. I do believe grief and signs of emotions have never changed for humans throughout history but we may see a different way to commemorate them nowadays. There are social medias to pay our condolence like celebrities do. However, we still showcase emotional responses but there is much consequences to our actions that we do online nowadays so for many, it's better to keep it to themselves. Possibly, the future would not see emotions as weakness as fear and pain can usually cause irrational thinking, so I hope for a way to reduce the pain we sense.
    Wayne Toh

  11. It seems to me that human grief has been, at its most basic, universal through time. What changes is how we are told by mother culture to respond. As I see it, the commonality of pain of loss is how how we have ended up with such a wide variety of customs when it comes to death. One or another we need to have some way to say goodbye, or to honor those that have passed.

  12. I would say that people change from time to time when they get a lot older. When a person is dead from an accident someone is passed away. They put a cross signed to remind them that a family member died. Changes can be a lot difficult because people have to move on and forget about the past.


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