pliny the elder
The Natural History, c. 77
In the days of our ancestors, it was these
that were to be seen in their halls, and not
statues made by foreign artists, or works in
bronze or marble: portraits modelled in wax
were arranged, each in its separate niche, to
be always in readiness to accompany the funeral processions of the family; occasions on
which every member of the family that had
ever existed was always present. The pedigree,
too, of the individual was traced in lines upon
each of these colored portraits. Their muniment rooms, too, were filled with archives and
memoirs, stating what each had done when
holding the magistracy. on the outside, again,
of their houses, and around the thresholds of
their doors, were placed other statues of those
mighty spirits, in the spoils of the enemy
there affixed, memorials which a purchaser
even was not allowed to displace—so that the
very house continued to triumph even after it
had changed its master. A powerful stimulus
to emulation this, when the walls each day reproached an unwarlike owner for having thus
intruded upon the triumphs of another!
This family portrait
Is somewhat dusty now.
You can no longer see in father’s face
how much money he earned.
In the uncles’ hands you can’t make out
All the journeys they made.
grandmother is smooth and yellow,
Without her memories of the monarchy.
The boys, how mute they are.
Peter’s face is placid.
he wore his finest dreams.
And John is not a liar anymore.
The garden has gone whimsical.
The flowers are ashen plaques.
And the sand, under deceased feet,
Is just an ocean of mist.
In the semicircle of chairs
You can sense a certain movement.
The children change places,
But without a noise: it is a portrait.
Twenty years is a long time,
It will alter any image.
If a figure starts to wilt,
Another, smiling, offers itself.