Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/831

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FUNERAL CUSTOMS OF THE WORLD.

which was distinctively the land of embalming was Egypt. This subject is so vast that it is possible to refer to but two or three points. One is the peculiar custom of judging the dead, before a monument might be erected or other honor paid to their memory. A writer on this subject says: "The judges who were to examine into the merits of the deceased met on the opposite sides of a lake. . . . When the judges met, all those who had anything to object against the deceased person were heard; and, if it appeared that he had been a wicked person, then his name was condemned to perpetual infamy, nor could hi-s dearest relatives erect any monument to perpetuate his memory. This made a lasting impression upon the minds of the people, for nothing operates more strongly than the fear of shame and the consideration of our deceased relatives being consigned to infamy hereafter. Kings themselves were not exempted from this inquiry; all their actions were canvassed at large by the judges, and the same impartial decision took place as if it had been upon the meanest of the subjects." This trial, which is described in the Book of the Dead, was a foreshadowing of the trial of the soul by Osiris and his brother judges, before it might be received into the Elysian Fields or the Pools of Perfect Peace. The requirements for passing this latter ordeal were very much the same as those set forth in the Sermon on the Mount: to care for the fatherless and the widow; to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, oil to the wounded, and burial to the dead; to be faithful to the king, and loving to wife and child.

Another point deserving of notice was the strange custom of placing the mummy in the seat of honor in the banquet hall. This had a twofold office: (1) To warn the living of the fate in store for them, like the memento mori of the Romans; (2) to show honor to ancestors. So it came to pass that of all lands in the world, Egypt—so rich in obelisk and pyramid and needle; Egypt, whose air does not destroy, but preserves—is also the richest in these mute memorials of the once-living dead. What a marvelous thing it is that we may to-day gaze upon the very face and form of the Pharaoh who would not let Israel go, of him who built the treasure cities of the plain!

The third method of disposing of the dead is by burning—cremation, as it is now called. Many nations have practiced burning, the best instances being the Greeks and the Romans. Among the Greeks both methods were employed burning and burying; but gradually burning came to be the popular mode, the reason being that fire was supposed to purify the celestial part of man by separating it from the defilements of the body, and thus enabling it to wing its flight to purer realms. More than the Greeks the Romans were devoted to the process of cremation, al-