Today is the ancient Roman festival of Feralia, when the spirits of the dead hover above their graves. To propitiate them, food and drink and little gifts were left nearby.
And the grave must be honoured. Appease your fathers’
Spirits, and bring little gifts to the tombs you built.
Their shades ask little, piety they prefer to costly
Offerings: no greedy deities haunt the Stygian depths.
A tile wreathed round with garlands offered is enough,
A scattering of meal, and a few grains of salt,
And bread soaked in wine, and loose violets:
Set them on a brick left in the middle of the path.
Not that I veto larger gifts, but these please the shades:
Add prayers and proper words to the fixed fires.
[I am told in strictest confidence by certain cemetery groundskeepers that the spirits are very fond of a bottle of good whiskey. Like calling to like, I daresay.]
But while these rites are enacted, girls, don’t marry:
Let the marriage torches wait for purer days.
And virgin, who to your mother seem ripe for love,
Don’t let the curved spear comb your tresses.
Hymen, hide your torches, and carry them far
From these dark fires! The gloomy tomb owns other torches.
And hide the gods, closing those revealing temple doors,
Let the altars be free of incense, the hearths without fire.