I’ve reached that stage in the year. With the exception of 120 lines of Lucretius for Latin class every week, I have only papers standing between me and graduation. No real homework or even class. However, two of these papers are substantial 20-page research papers. The first is for Classics Senior Seminar. We’ve been brainstorming/drafting for several weeks now, so I have a good idea of what my final paper is going to look like. I blogged about Senior Seminar in January, way back before I had any ideas whatsoever for the paper, so you can read that to get the basic gist of the class’ approach.
My paper is about Roman burial practices. The monument that our class revolves around would have been in a Roman cemetery. Like ours, Roman cemeteries often hosted certain gifts and offerings. However, the Romans had a much richer and more complicated breadth of practices to remember the dead, related to the physical tomb. We might leave flowers or notes; the Roman would have entire meals there. They might sacrifice certain animals, pour out wine onto the ground, and leave symbolic food for the dead. The practice of leaving food for the dead was a much more literal and practical deed: tombs weren’t just places for superstition. Spirits of the dead actually lived there and required food to eat.
Though scholars have some basic notions of when Romans visited tombs and had meals there, and what sort of food that might involve, little has been said about how the meals were actually conducted. Were they pleasant and full of conversation, like the regular Roman meal? Were the diners primarily family, who often formed the bulk of other funerary practices? Or were there more associates of the father, who would normally be participants in a Roman dinner? Were these fancy or no-frills? My approach is answering these questions will be philological: I’m going to find instances where such meals are mentioned in Latin literature, and then attempt to draw conclusions about them based on the context of their usage. Then, I’ll relate my findings about the meals to Flavius Agricola. His family would have had these meals around the monument. How might the monument have “overshadowed” or affected the meal? If it was solemn, did his liveliness contrast with it? Or did the meal’s liveliness match his lead?