From Asianic Elements in Greek Civilisation, The Gifford Lectures in the University of Edinburgh, 1915-1916, by Sir William M. Ramsay, D.C.L., LL.D., New Haven: Yale University Press, 1928; pp. 93-104.

Asianic Elements in Greek Civilisation.



Chapter IX


VEHEMENT mourning in the Oriental style has been an obligatory rite in the Anatolian burial ceremonies throughout all time. The accompaniment varies in musical and linguistic execution, but is fundamentally the same in type to-day and in the Roman period, and doubtless in the early Anatolian period.

I.  At the present day the mourning takes place in the court of the house, within closed outer gates. No one is admitted except mourning women and the family: all others are hustled out (as we have seen). On the plateau I was once admitted in 1884 (when my wife was with me and we were allowed to remain as guests of the village). From this experience I judge, and from what I have heard otherwise. No musical accompaniment nowadays takes place, because the art of music has been lost. The proceedings were brief: not more than two hours elapsed between the death of “Big Hassan” (who was reaping in the fields on a very hot day and fell down — perhaps only in a fainting fit) and his interment in a shallow grave. The bearing of the corpse from the field to the house, and from the house to the grave, was public, and there was loud mourning in a semi-rhythmic fashion during these processions. The men joined in this part of the mourning; and any sound uttered on the march naturally tends to assume a certain rhythmic character: it is like the anapæsts which accompany the entrance of the chorus on the stage in a Greek Tragedy. The mourning of the women in the house 94 was so vehement that it was sometimes interrupted by hysterical fits of laughter on the part of the mourners. The men did not utter any sound in the court: they were occupied in preparing the body for the grave. Everything was done very decorously. The women were in the open gallery of the house, from which steps lead down to the court. The body was laid out in the court. In most places there is a large flat stone near the cemetery, on which the body is laid: it is called (if I recollect rightly) Mushalem-Tash; and I have sometimes been embarrassed when there is found an ancient inscription on this stone. No religious ceremony took place at the house or in the courtyard.

As to the loss of the art of music, there are some exceptions. The music of the Mevlevi Dervishes (dancing Korubantes), when we heard it once in its full splendour at a special performance in Afiom-Kara-Hissar, seemed to be the old music used in the worship of Cybele, with flutes and cymbals: but it has much degenerated in my lifetime.1 Also the shepherd plays little tunes to his sheep to direct their movements. Turkish song-tunes used to be a caterwauling. Recently European music has been introduced, 95 especially in the National Anthem, which the school children sing.

II.  As regards the dirge in the Roman period, we gather the details from inscriptions of the Roman period. Strange to say, the best of these belong to the fourth century, and the age when Christianity was dominant but not yet so powerful as to be tyrannous. Earlier than that time probably the art of writing was little used in the villages, where old customs lasted longest. Flute music accompanied the dirge: the court of the house was the scene. There is evident in some epitaphs the first stage of drama,2 because there is a variation between the first person and the second and the third. Sometimes the dead man speaks, sometimes he is addressed, sometimes the mourners (especially the chief mourner) speak in the first and third persons. Even conversation between mourners and the dead occurs. Dramatic action was developed in Athens out of the dithyramb, or funeral mourning round the altar of Dionysos. Now the dead man is always identified with the god in the old Anatolian funeral rites,3 and the grave is his “house,” his “altar,” his “door,” or his “temple”; and at the grave sepulchral feasts and ceremonies took place annually, so long as memory and money bequeathed for the purpose of the feast lasted.4 All these names for the grave, together with many others, are used in Roman 96 epitaphs. Sometimes the sepulchral monument was large and contained an upper chamber over the grave proper, where the annual feast could be held. Sometimes the single word “door,” engraved on a simple stele or on an altar stone, took the place of a more elaborate monument. The word indicated that here below was the door from the world of life to the world of the dead. Generally the grave-stone had the form of an altar, or of a miniature temple-house (i.e. a sarcophagus curiously carved to represent a small dwelling.)5

There was also a different class of epitaph expressed as a registration of property according to law, executed in duplicate; and a copy of the deed was usually deposited in the archives of the city. This semi-legal, or even fully legal, class of epitaph, which has nothing of the character of a dirge, is a sort of will (testamentum); the maker of the tomb states his ownership of the grave-property, specifies those, if any, whose corpses may be admitted and excludes either expressly or by implication all others. A penalty in money is specified for intrusion of a corpse unlawfully, and a reward promised to the successful prosecutor, whether a private individual, or a public body, or the State itself. A good example of this legal class, from the pre-Roman period in South Galatia, is published in J.H.S., 1922, p.  181, where the Thracian part of the Apolloniate population is admitted to the annual festival, and by implication the Lycian part is excluded: there is, however, no penalty for violation or unlawful intrusion. The 97 local custom hardened into law during the Seleucid period, and the Roman law in the country equally recognised such custom as legally binding. Cases, however, occur of unlawful intrusion of a corpse; and the old epitaph was even sometimes erased, and a new epitaph incised; or in other rare cases a new epitaph was engraved alongside of the old. As has been stated, in the Phrygo-Lycaonian plains, especially north of Boz-Dagh, where neither Seleucid law nor Roman law ever acquired much hold,6 the epitaph was very frequently during Roman times, even in Christian times about A.D. 330-360,7 a sort of metrical or semi-metrical expression of the mourning dirge; and there is hardly ever (except in Graeco-Asiatic cities) any reference to ownership and legal right. I add two examples of the dirge-epitaph in illustration: in these I have been helped by Buckler and by Calder, as they are faint, lightly engraved originally, and made fainter by lapse of time; sometimes part is illegible or the stone is broken. Two are selected that are practically complete.

It may be added that the simple lament for the virtues of the deceased, a natural outpouring of deep emotion, is gradually transformed in Rome into the stately and public funeral oration (laudatio funebris). That Anatolian custom in religion, coming through Etruria, exercised much influence on Rome is now well established and accepted. Nothing could better illustrate the difference of racial character than this transformation.


On the other hand, the Greeks modified the old dirge into such poetry as the Lament for Bion. Much bucolic poetry is of the same class. Both hexameters and elegiacs are used in the late Phrygian dirges; also a mixture; and Greek elegiac poetry is a higher development of it. The Attic tragedy has already been mentioned.

It is best to give the original spelling, as this represents a stage in the development of Anatolian Greek: the reader will understand that ἔνος is ρνος (the soft semi-vocalised Ρ of Anatolia disappearing, as often in local and personal Anatolian names, caught by Greek ears or expressed in the Greek alphabet). The representation of vowel sounds in Greek, as spoken on the plateau, varies widely from the spelling of classical Greek. Η for ΑΙ was common chiefly in northern Phrygia and represented a local variety of Greek pronunciation; final Ν of accusative was often omitted, sometimes final sigma of nominative; a final Ν was often added in the accusative of the third declension, e.g. βασιλῆαν and ἐμέν. A single letter often plays the part of two. This is commonly the case where the last letter of a word and the first letter of the next are the same.8

Comparison of similar dirges over Anatolia shows that there were many stock phrases, which were used and modified as convenient. But these stock phrases were not to be taken as mere empty metrical unmeaning verbiage; they express the deep feeling of the survivors. We cannot expect to find a real poem or a real poet in the villages, but we do find real feeling in the mourning. This vehemence of mourning satisfied the mind, and the loss was quickly forgotten.

(1).  At Kolu-Kissa (where Kissa is probably the ancient gissa, tone, the Roman imperial property Giza or Gisza)9 this inscription 99 was copied by me in 1906 during a very hurried drive of a distance reckoned twelve hours to catch a forenoon train. A deep cut runs down through the inscription and destroys one to three letters in every line. There are many stock phrases used in this epitaph; but even stock phrases expressed real deep emotion, and were passed on among village poets, like Homeric and epic phrases in an older time.

Black and white engraving of a cross with an open-ended hook to the right of the top part of the cross.

       ἐξ  ἀγαθῆς  ῥίζης  ἔνος  κλυτὸν  ἐξε[φ]αάνθη.
   Μένανδρος  πανάριστος,  ἐπὶ  με[γά]λ  οὔνο(μαἔσχε,
   Πρεσβ.  γέγονε[νπανυπέρτατο[ςἠδὲ  δίκαιος
44   Οὗ  δὴ  λίψανα  κτ  ὑπὸ  χθόνα  που[λ]υβοτίρην
   Ψυχὴ  δ  αὐτοῖο  ἵν  ἀθάνατος [Θ]εὸς  ἔστιν·
  βραμ  οἰς  κόλποις  ἀναπαύσ[ετ]ε  ὡς  μακάρων  τις·
  ν  πάτρη  ὑμενεῖἐπευφη[με]ῖ  δὲ  ἔλημος.
88   Τῷ  δ  ἄλοχος  Κλέουσα  προγενί[σε]τε  μυρομένη  περ
“ Πῶς  μούνη  μ’  ἔλιπες;  καὶ  [πῶς(?)κακ]ὰ  πήματα  πάσχω,”
   Πιρωθεὶς  αὐτὴν  ἀπαμίβε[τ  ἑ]ὸς  πόσις  ἐσθλός·
“ μοί  ἐμὴ  ἄλοχος,  μὴ  [δά]κρυ̣ε̣μήδ  ὀρόθυνε
1212   Ψυχὰς  κασιγνήτων,  ἐπὶ  πόθεον  με<[>   καὶ  αὐτοί
   Τερπόμενοι  ζίοντι  Θεῶν  ὅτ[ιοἱ  εὔαδεν  οὕτω
   Εὐχωλὰς  δὲ   Θεῷ  ἀποτίνυ[ω  ὥ]ς  κέ  σε  θᾶσσον
1515      ρύσετ  ἐξ  ἀ[θ]έων  καί  μοι  κ[αλὸνοὔνομα  λίποις.”

“From a good stock a famous branch has blossomed. Excellent Menander, because he won great reputation, became a Presbyter, supreme and just, (4) whose remains now lie under earth the nourisher of all; but his soul is where immortal God (dwells). In the bosom of Abram he will rest as one of the blessed. Him his fatherland praises in song, and the flute responds. (8) His spouse 100 Kleousa will stand forth as leading mourner: ‘How hast thou left me solitary? and how do I suffer torments dire?’ Deprived of her, her noble husband responds: ‘In truth, do not weep, my spouse, nor vex (12) the souls of my brothers, since they also desired me, setting their happiness in the living God, that His will and pleasure is thus. And I render prayers to God, that he may rescue thee also quickly from the impious (persecutors), and that thou mayst leave me a fair reputation.’ ”

In line 15 Calder would restore [χ]έων instead of [θ]έων. Then the conversation concludes on the part of the wife, who prays for her husband’s release from the torments of hell or purgatory. This may be right, and may (as he claims) furnish an early example of prayers for the dead:10 but the end is hardly suitable. The wife, as chief mourner, is hardly likely to pray that her husband may be released from Hell and leave her a good reputation. The husband, as still living in his divine form (pagan custom),11 may pray that she may leave to him her good reputation on earth. Moreover, I distrust such an overt example of praying for the dead and for his relief from purgatory at such an early time. A parallel is rare. The passage is of the old pagan type, Christianised slightly.

Line 2.  Calder suggests μέγα  οὔνο[μαἔσχε. This is a common tag; but in the text Λ is clear, suggesting that μεγάλο was the local form, as in modern Anatolian Greek, not μέγα :  μα is omitted by a scribal error.

Line 4.  κτ apparently for κῖτε, i.e. κεῖται : the text seemed to be simply κτ much blurred, but the meaning was clear to me as I copied.

Line 7.  ὑμενεῖ(ε) from ὑμεναιόω, thy country sings thy marriage-song : death constitutes marriage to thy country. In pagan thought this would mean “unites thee, merged in the god and living as a 101 god, to thy country, whose god thou now art.” In Christian thought, “thy true country is heaven and thou art now married to it.” Possibly something of both ideas survives in this striking phrase.

Line 6.  οἰς is either error (of engraver?) for εἰς, or more probably οἰς means ὐς, bad spelling for ἰς. I noted the strange form in copying, as βραμ is the invariable name. εἰς and ἐν are interchangeable in Byzantine time. A friend prefers an adjectival form βραμοις, “in the Abramic bosom.”

Line 7.  Death and marriage are different forms of the same ceremony; hence the flute and the procession. This is a very important idea, which runs through much Anatolian and Greek literature.

Line 8.  προγενήσεται, “shall take a front place” (Homeric). The personal name, as usual, is non-metrical. The composer often imitates Homer, showing where his teaching lay at school. See p. 104.

Line 9.  The second πῶς was omitted by engraver: there is no room. μούνη(ν) as often shows loss of Ν in accusative.

Line 8-15.  The dramatic form is marked here: the wife “stands forth.”

Line 1.  This line forms one of a group of scraps (Le Bas, No. 1188) which Waddington numbers as a single inscription. They were obtained from the notebook of a travelling Greek at Konia (to which they are classed). From what I saw of the earlier notebooks of Dr. Diamantides,12 an old man in 1901 (murdered in the winter of 1901-2 by assassins), I think that he was the unremembered and unnamed authority for the weird collection. On his medical rounds of inspection he jotted down the first line of an inscription whole or fragmentary. He had been at Kozlu, as I observed from other inscriptions. The pages of his notebooks often contained many such scraps of different inscriptions. Except Arundell and the 102 elder Mordtmann, he was the worst professed copyist of inscriptions whose work I have known; but he was liberal and generous and interested in archaeology. We hired his house for four months in 1901; and, when he returned to it, he was murdered for the money he was believed to have in the house.13 His many notebooks he showed first to my late friend Professor Sterrett in 1883, and afterwards in 1886 and 1901 to me, when they were much more numerous. Peace be to his memory.

(2)  At a village, Kuyulu-Zebir (Zebir, where the water is derived from wells, distinguished from Tcheshmeli-Zebir, where the water is supplied by fountains), I copied in 1905 a quaint dirge of the Christian period, dating about 340. Professor Calder again copied it in 1908: both of us in company copied it in 1910.14 In the Greek there is every fault of spelling and metre that is possible. The date is fixed by the emphasis laid on the maker of the tomb. It was a pagan custom to give prominence to the maker of the grave: for such was his bounden duty, and h he had in propriety to mention it emphatically. This pagan custom began to fall into disuse in Christian epitaphs about 340 to 350, for the feeling that prompted it was then growing weak. The inscription begins with a simple incised cross.

  1, 2  τιμῆς  εὐστατίης  μνημῖον  αὔτικε  ἦρεν
   2-4  σὸς  πόσισὲν  ποθέων,  σὲ  τίτλῳ  ἐνιγράψατο  τῷδε
   4-6  σὰς  ἀρετὰς  σά  τε  ἔργα  σαοφροσύνην  τε  μεγίστη
   7-8  μηλιανὸς  ποθέων  [μνή]μης  χάρην  ἐξετέλεσε[ν].
 8-10  Μίκ[κητοὔνομ  ἔην  Μητροβίου  ἀνδρὸς  ἀρίστου
10-11  μητρὸς  πιστοτάτης  Λουλιανῆς  διακόνω
11-13  ἔκουσα  κασίγνητον  Μητρόβιον  τὸν  πανάριστον, 103
13-14  ἠνορέῃ  καλλίστη  κὲ  ἡλικίην  ἐρατ̣ινή.
14-16  ἥδε  κὲ  ἐυ  μεγάρυς λίπε τέκνυς  πένθο  [κ]ᾳὶ   λύπ̣η
16-17  (β̣ίον  ἐκτελέσασα  ὐ[κῶπάνχυ  σαόφρων  θανοῦσα.

“A memorial of firmly fixed honour immediately (after thy death) was raised by thy husband : longing for thee he inscribed thee in this epitaph : Aemilianus, longing for thy virtues and thy household works and thy excellent prudence, wrought (the memorial) in memory. She was named Mikke, daughter of Metrobios best of men and of a mother most faithful Louliane a deacon, and she had a brother Metrobios most excellent, being (herself) most lovely in human beauty and charming of age. She, too, left in (our) mansion mourning and pain to her children, completing her life and dying chaste and true to the household.”

In the dirges the beauty of the lost wife15 and her excellence as a housekeeper are always emphasised. ἔργα are the works of the household.16 Mikke was apparently more highly born than Aemilianus: her father, mother, a deaconess, and brother are lauded, but the husband’s father is not named. Frequently, and almost regularly, the husband’s father is mentioned, but the wife’s father is not given: often in a family the sons are named, but not the daughters.

1.  εὐστατίης for εὐσταθίης, firmly fixed. The personal name Eustathios shows that there must have existed this variant as an adjective beside εὐσταθής. Calder detected the adjective here.

2.  μνημῖον to the detriment of metre; -μίïον could not be used in Greek writing. αὔτικε for αὔτικα, forthwith, immediately after death: the haste of the burial is invariable, and the tombstone was placed immediately.


2.  ΠΟCΙC,   3.   : the lapicida omitted one of the successive letters CCΕΝ : σεν for σε like ἐμέν for ἐμέ, and many other cases.

3.  τε for σε would perhaps make better construction, and is perhaps an error of the scribe. A friend would correct to ΟC, but I cannot follow this bold path of alteration.

6.  Ν at the end of the line may be lost by wearing, or by the common omission in accusative of first declension.

13.  ἠνορέν is used of a woman, like Nerienis wife of Mars: yet Nero is Umbrian, ner, vir.

16.  Double Η is written once only, as often: λύπην has lost final Ν, and the next Η is at the beginning of the following hexameter, though written in the same line on the stone.

It is only in the Roman period that examples of the natural human expression of rustic feeling can be quoted. A series of them might be added, and would be useful; but these must suffice at present. These afford specimens of simple rustic emotion, hardly educated except by a smattering of bad Greek. The schoolmaster’s hand can be detected and the influence of Epic poetry. Out of such simple unpromising material Greek order and genius elicited real poetry.

III.  The natives of the plateau of Anatolia in primitive time wrote nothing, but they wailed for the dead in terms like these examples taken from the fourth century after Christ; and they wail still, but less articulately.

The Old-English epic of Beowulf, which enshrines a tale far more ancient than the solitary MS. (about A.D. 1000), illustrates our argument that the dirges of the Roman period and of modern custom among Anatolian tribes go back to very primitive ways of life. This epic ends with the funeral rites of the old warrior, and the lamentation is led by the “aged lady” (probably his wife). This is an exact parallel to the ceremonial on p. 93 f. The leader of the mourning is the lady closest to the deceased, his wife or his mother.



 1  The Dervish Sheikh, an old man, quite blind, entertained us on the estate that belongs hereditarily to his family; the estate is called Kara Arslan, the black or terrible lion of the Seljuks, under whom the Mevlevi were organised and made a part of the Moslem establishment, though alien to Islam. He offered to arrange on Friday a special performance in our honour, if we would promise to be present. It was far finer than any performance that I have heard at Konia, which is the chief seat of the Mevlevi. The Mevlevi estate at Konia is also called Kara Arslan: it was very rich and well cultivated. The Sheikhs drink wine, a sure proof that they are non-Moslem. The chief Sheikh at Konia, named the Tchelebi Effendi, had the right to gird on the sword of the Ottoman Sultans while the Sultanate lasted. Those Sheikhs whom I have seen read and enjoyed with keen pleasure a Persian book of poetry (by Reynold Nicholson), which we presented to Tchelebi Effendi in 1901. His successor was brought to Constantinople to inaugurate the reign of the last Sultan. The ceremony of girding on the sword, symbolising the legitimate succession of Ottoman (Osmanli) to Seljuk, took place in the Mosque of Eyub (Job of the Old Testament) outside of Stamboul to the north.

 2  That the Drama had any influence on these epitaphs is impossible: they are the simple natural expression of peasants’ emotion.

 3  “Sepulchral Rites in Ancient Phrygia” (J.H.S., 1884, p. 241 ff.) contains the detailed proof that the grave was the “door” (θύρα) : the “Tomb of Midas,” greatest of the early Phrygian monuments, is at once a shrine and a grave. No sanctity can attach to a spot in Anatolia unless there is a grave there; this custom is deep-rooted in mediaeval and modern Turkish Anatolia. See also Stud. in East. Rom. Provinces, p. 270, and Callander, ibid, p. 171 (where read προγονικόν : the full restoration throughout is certain). The door is the entrance to the presence of the god; and the ceremony is in a sense a mysterion : compare Annual B.S.A., 1912-13, on the “Mysteries at Pisidian Antioch.”

 4  The Ionians in European Greece came from Anatolia, and brought much Anatolian custom with them (Chap. XVII.).

 5  See the inscription just quoted, which is very instructive as regards the construction of a grave-monument. Aponius made the grave for himself and his wife, Visellia (the first duty of a husband after marriage); the grave is to continue to be the home and sanctuary of the ancestors of the future family; no other corpse shall be introduced into it. In the chamber (οἶκος) underneath the grave proper, Aponius retains the right to allow the remains of others to rest, whom he shall designate by will. As no money is bequeathed in the epitaph, the celebration of the grave of the deceased and his wife, the progonoi, would not last long. See also the elucidating epitaph in the writer’s article, J.H.S., 1922, p. 181.

 6  Pergamenian possession of Lycaonia was granted at the peace of 189 B.C., but it is highly improbable that this possession ever became real. The distance was too great for the weakening Pergamenian power to establish itself over “all on this side of Taurus.” This is in itself a very loose geographical expression, which might be interpreted in various ways according to Roman choice or Pergamenian power. The Romans had no great desire to establish a really strong Attalid successor to the Seleucid power in Asia Minor, and probably preferred a vague expression to a definite recognition.

 7  About A.D. 400 a definitely Christian type of epitaph was established. Previously in Christian epitaphs old pagan forms were employed, though only rarely was anything really pagan allowed.

 8  See J.H.S., 1918, p. 125 ff.

 9  On the imperial estates old customs were longest preserved, and paganism was retained late. On Gissa, Gisza, see H.G.A.M., p. 412; Stud. in Eastern Roman Provinces, p. 365.

10  That is too completely isolated to be probable at this date, about 300.

11  Pagan custom and pagan ideas, such as the Erinyes, survived in early Christian epitaphs, and were use as late as A.D. 390-400.

12  Diamantides was the medical inspector of the Vilayet, a vast province which extended then from Adalia to the Haimane and to Nigde.

13  The Vali Pasha, Ferid, hunted down the assassins, reported to be two, a Turk and an Armenian. So we learned when we returned to Konia in the following year, 1902.

14  My notebook of 1910 was lost during some journey in England about 1912 to 1918.

15  In l. 13 the word ἠνορέη is in good Greek used of men; but the rest of the verse shows that it is employed more generally here of human beauty.

16  They are often expressed on the grave-stone by a distaff and spindle and a cooking-pot, incised above or below the epitaph. See many examples in Studies in East Roman Provinces, pp. 30-90. So in the Iliad, see p. 114.