Coping with Loss

Coping splash
Figure 22: “The Death of Meleager,” Louvre, Paris

The loss of a loved one can be one of the hardest things to overcome in life. Going through the process of mourning and the stages of grief are all part of human nature. The ancient Romans, much like the people of today, liked to think that their deceased have gone on to a better place of bliss and eternal happiness. A popular funerary tradition during the second and third centuries AD were elaborately decorated marbled sarcophagi. Myths and other symbolic images were depicted on the sides of these sarcophagi.

By far the most popular subjects of these mythological sarcophagi are scenes pleasure and bliss. Sarcophagi that depicted scenes of paradise were comforting to the living when visiting the deceased. The most popular themes found on these types of sarcophagi were peaceful and erotic sea sarcophagi, lively celebrations of Bacchus, and the myths of the sleeping Ariadne and Endymion. The reason that these images were the most popular above all other myths on Roman sarcophagi was that they provided comfort to the living and acted as a coping mechanism when dealing with loss. The Romans did not literally believe that their loved ones were forever among the waves or celebrating with the god of wine, but it was the idea of this that helped them mourn. Today we do not literally believe that our dog has “gone to the big park in the sky” or fish to “the giant ocean in the great beyond,” but it is the thought of our loved ones in their happiest state or in paradise that helps us move on.