Urne Buriall: Hydriotaphia, Urne-Buriall, or, A Discourse of the Sepulchrall Urnes lately found in Norfolk


by Sir Thomas Browne (1605 - 1682)

Prompted by 40-50 Roman burial urns unearthed in Norfolk, this five-part essay is mainly a survey of historical burial customs, ending with a moving, baroque meditation on mortality.

The first part considers how much of history is hidden (‘in the Urne’) from us. The next two parts consider the specific archaeological discovery, emphasising all we can never know. The fourth part suggests relativistic understanding of religious customs and how beliefs about an afterlife influence men’s actions. The final part mourns, in prose with the elegant cadences of blank verse, the ultimate futility of all monuments but the ‘Register of God’.

Related recommendation: Wordsworth’s ‘Essay on Epitaphs’ (1810); Thomas Lynch’s ‘Funerals-R-Us’ (Bodies in Motion, 2000)

Origin: England

Themes: How to Age and/or Die, History, Superstition

Genres: Scientific or Medical, Spiritual or Philosophical Meditation, Sermon or Jeremiad

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