What is an Epitaph and Where Did They Originate
How Are they Used?
Epitaphs are often gravestone inscriptions - the word comes from the Greek and means upon or over a tomb - but they can also be expressed in spoken word, such as a speech, or in text, or can be figurative.
Musicians may compose an epitaph for a deceased player or composer, or they may wish to make a final statement at the end of their own lives - David Bowie's last album Blackstar, for instance, is regarded as his epitaph.
However, tombstone inscriptions can be the most useful to researchers, supplying a little insight into social customs of the time, or into the lives and opinions of ancestors.
Where Did Epitaphs Originate?
Throughout history, epitaphs have been used in various forms to mark the passing of loved ones or significant citizens. The Ancient Egyptians offered a prayer to a god and added details of the deceased, but no opinions.
The Romans opted for strictly factual content, too. In contrast, Ancient Greek epitaphs added literary value, and expressed personal feelings, or praised soldiers killed in wars.
During the Renaissance, those who could afford it produced lengthy explanations of lives and achievements, with some even translating them into Latin, and others quoting from holy works. In the time of Elizabeth I, epitaphs in English began to match Latin offerings for quality, and became more common.
Sometimes, the tombstone is decorated to emphasise or frame the inscription. Irish gravestones are particularly attractive, using distinctive Celtic imagery, which in some cases is quite intricate.
This has the advantage of adding to the story of the person being commemorated. Nowadays, the bereaved are able to choose messages with the help of inspirational websites, or through suggestions from professionals, providing a helpful and perhaps tactful solution when relatives may be quite lost for words.