Alcestis History

Deciphering history

Today, two interesting news articles about the difficulty of deciphering historical symbols, particularly those associated with death.

The first focuses on a mysterious heart-shaped symbol found on a coffin in a colonial-era African-American burial in Manhattan — it may or may not be a sankofa, a sigil printed on funereal clothing in Africa.

The second article describes rare bamboo-strip books found in a grave in Hubei province, in China:

Archaeologists will have to wait until excavation of the tomb is completed next week to attempt to read the strips, he said. “Sorting out those bamboo strips is like sorting out well-cooked noodles, you have to be really careful so as not to damage them.

“There is a possibility the strips contain an introduction written by the owner of the tomb, “like a letter of recommendation the deceased would carry with them to the underworld to give Yanluo, the god of death”, Shen said.

Such an evocative idea — a letter of introduction to the god of death. I wonder what Alcestis’s might have said? She was illiterate; I don’t mention that much in the book, as it’s simply a fact of her life. But even if she had been given a scroll to take with her to the underworld, she’d have had no idea what it contained.

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