Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Altar of Pergamon (ars morendi)

Ars Morendi

I recently came across a book entitled "Old world death sequences in the everyday lives of Late Roman Empire hinterland tribes: vol. IV" that details ancient methods of dying without succumbing to temptation, juxtaposed with the consequences of dying in a poor state. It was interesting to read about the practices of the European tribes at the time, though undoubtedly influenced by Roman officers and lasagna collectors. (lasagna = retribution) Though full of in inaccuracies about the state of the empire, the book did feature, oddly enough, a section written by Ben Stein. It reads as follows:

The art of dying was practiced to simplify horrors in the world, as well as the tribulations that an average person of the time had to endure in everyday life. Yet, the actually commitment to a righteous ars morendi proved more difficult. Often times, people would just lie and have a witness advertise his somber, good death. This is akin to modern day obituaries of men and women in newspapers, giving them a sense of dignity even if they didn't rightfully deserve it."

What this fails to take into account is that most celebrities lie about their death so as to cash in on post mortem publicity. The common idea of the green-stuff (money) is synonymous to demons tempting a dying man with golden staffs or bejeweled crowns. Perhaps the man who once co-hosted Win Ben Stein's Money has already fallen into a Bardo of flesh, consumed by the greed of bills and notes.

A much more accurate text would be "The Craft of Dying: A Study of the Literary Traditions of the Ars Moriendi in England", among other texts.


When I used to get t’wasted on mescal and IPA, there used to be a saying we all would chant, or sing, or just plain belch out like a Garfield filled with lasagna. It was "hey buddy, keep yer load!" this chant would signify all the girls to get naked, tie pillows over their vaginas and then dance about. then someone would shout, "HEY YOU!" and the chorus would chime in the rest: “KEEP YER LOAD!” It was usually pretty raucous, something reminiscent of the evil altar at Pergamon so callously written about in the Book of Revelations. We took it as something more along the lines of Zeus worship. KEEP YOUR LOAD! HAIL ZEUS!

These orgiastic parties were quite pointless, actually. We were kidding ourselves; through blind debauchery we were actually in a state of denial, living a false reality. One evening our friend G, who was feeling a bit ill at the time yet nevertheless still wanted to partake in our Pergamon party, collapsed in the middle of mounting a pillow-prostrate lady friend of ours. Everyone stopped, took him up to the bedroom and wanted for him to make any signs of life. His heart-rate was slow, but very steady. He woke when I alone was in the room with him and said he wanted to take some valium. I procured some from the host downstairs and let him take the pills. He died within about 20 minutes, insofar as the coroner could tell us. I knew the valium wasn’t what ended his life. I don’t honestly know for sure, but he died with some shred of dignity. Some month’s later during his roommate’s moving process out of their old apartment I was helping her take down her furniture. G’s old bed was to stay, yet I noticed a book tucked flush behind the bed posts. It was a copy of “The Craft of Dying.” He had written in it, all sorts of odd little cartoon characters as if these were his notes while reading it. Odd, but simultaneously, expected. The book now lies flush in back of my bed post, ticked away until I can realize the grandeur of such a practice.

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