Henceforth Free

Tomb Monument for Popilius and Calpurnis

Roman Tomb Monument for Popilius and Calpurnia

One of the most touching grave monuments at the Getty Villa in Malibu is of a manumitted couple, Popilius and Calpurnia, who had been slaves before being freed by their master. The design is typical of monuments to freedman. Monuments such as this one lined the roads leading out of Rome. According to the descriptive panel accompanying the monument, “The panels announced the elevated social status of freedmen and their heirs, who were henceforth freeborn.” The monument dates from between A.D. 1 and A.D. 20—right around the time that Christ walked the earth.

I was greatly impressed by this panel, which I felt was made with some feeling for the ex-slaves, as if the artist knew them personally. There is a look of rectitude on their faces, above the hands folded on their breasts.

Works like this make me think that our ancient ancestors were more like us than we think. We would be just as impressed by Marcus Tullius Cicero as his fellow members of the Senate; and we would probably be even more appreciative of him than we are of our own Senators and Congressmen. We didn’t just come into being when personal computers, smart phones, and iPads came into existence. These are all accidentals.

Read yesterday’s post quoting one of Horace’s odes. I wouldn’t change a word of it for our own generation.