Busts On Plinths

I took this photograph because it seems to me that the people depicted have not been afforded the dignity they deserve, even though they are dead and not aware of how they are being treated. They are to the right of a door leading to a gallery, at the top of a wide staircase. They were dignitaries in their day, and now they are shunted off to a corridor. It doesn’t seem too far a stretch to ‘heads on pikes’. Well, that is too melodramatic, but still.

You might not see it that way, of course.

Because I am interested in etymology, I looked up plinth and bust.

Plinth: a heavy base supporting a statue or vase, from the Greek plinthos, squared brick or stone.

Bust: a sculpture of the upper torso and head, from Latin bustum “funeral monument, tomb,” originally “funeral pyre, place where corpses are burned.

I didn’t expect the derivation from funeral pyre to the upper torso and head.. How did that come about? And who burned corpses? Was it a Greek habit? I thought the Greeks buried their dead.

The Metropolitan Museum says as follows:

The Greeks believed that at the moment of death, the psyche, or spirit of the dead, left the body as a little breath or puff of wind. The deceased was then prepared for burial according to the time-honored rituals. Ancient literary sources emphasize the necessity of a proper burial and refer to the omission of burial rites as an insult to human dignity (Iliad 23: 71). Relatives of the deceased, primarily women, conducted the elaborate burial rituals that were customarily of three parts: the prothesis (laying out of the body, the ekphora (funeral procession), and the interment of the body or cremated remains of the deceased. 

So when would the body be cremated? Plainly the text envisages that they were cremated, and not ‘burned’ as in an accident, in a fire, but the bodies burned.

9 thoughts on “Busts On Plinths

    1. Yes, the use of the word ‘also ‘ in ( “..is also used for the sacred fires at altars, on which parts of the animal sacrifice were burnt as an offering to the deity..”) implies they were used by the Greeks for cremations.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. You have probably seen the scene in films where a Nordic chieftain is sent off onto the water with his boat up in flames, to the afterlife. The article doesn’t suggest that happened, and I wonder whether that was an alternative means of sending off the dead?

          Liked by 1 person

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