Our Little Roman Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

The Funeral Procession

"The funeral of the general, Antonius, takes place to-morrow, Marcus," said Tullius, as the two boys were walking home from school. "There will be a great procession; suppose we watch it together."

"Call for me in the morning and I will be ready," said Marcus, as they parted at a corner of the street.

The funeral occurred very early. A public crier first went about the streets of the city calling aloud in these words: "The general, Antonius, has been surrendered to death. For those who find it convenient, it is now time to attend the funeral. He is being brought from his house."

Tullius, followed by Aulus, was quickly joined by Marcus and Glaucon, and they took their places beside the roadway.

"We shall not have long to wait," said Marcus, as they heard the strains of music in the distance, and soon the procession came in sight.

First there was a band of men playing upon musical instruments, and following the band came a company of singers. The songs which the latter sang had been written in praise of the dead general, telling of his brave deeds in battle.

Next, strange as the custom now seems, came a group of men who were hired to laugh and jest, and make merry speeches to those who stood by.

"Now, look," cried Tullius to Marcus; "here begins the fine part of the procession: here come the ancestors of the general."

Now, in order to understand Tullius' remark, we must know that whenever a man who had done his country a public service died, a wax mask of his face was made, and this was very carefully kept by his family. It was placed in a cabinet made especially for it, with a written record of all his public deeds. For hundreds of years this custom had been kept up, so that some families had a very large number of these cabinets of ancestors. The greater number they had, the greater honor was given the family, because it showed that they came of a long line of men who had served their country honorably.

At the funeral of a great man, these wax masks were taken out of the cabinets and each one was worn by a man who dressed just as the one whose mask he wore had been in the habit of dressing on great occasions.

As these strange figures passed before Marcus and Tullius, the boys looked at them with the greatest interest. It was like seeing the great men of Rome for many centuries past, walking by in the order in which they had lived and served their country. As the figures passed, Glaucon and Aulus told the boys many interesting stories about the different men who were thus pictured; of the battles in which they had fought, or of the public cause for which they had stood.

It was like a picture lesson in Roman history. When the last figure passed, Marcus exclaimed, "I know better, now, what Father meant when he said I could learn a great deal from the procession, if I thought of what I saw."

"Now see!" cried Glaucon. "You know the general came home in great triumph from the war, a few years ago. Here we have a picture of his entry into Rome."

The boys looked eagerly. Before them pranced beautiful horses, followed by chariots of war, heaped with the richest treasures.

After the chariots came a long line of slaves to represent the captives that had been taken in battle.

Glaucon and Aulus looked grave as they watched these slaves file past, for in just such fashion they had been brought captive to Rome.

[Illustration] from Our Little Roman Cousin by Julia D. Cowles


After the slaves, came the body of the general, carried upon a high couch, and followed by the family, the slaves of his household, and friends.

Last of all came the torch-bearers, with flaming torches, even though it was day.

When the procession had passed, the boys turned toward the Forum, where a speech in honor of the general was to be given by Quintus, the father of Tullius.