Selibra cineris coacta cani – the last indignity of death

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I'm no great fan of Druids, particularly the Wiltshire set who always seem to be claiming far too much for themselves in terms of their presence in, and influence on,  antiquity, and even pre-history.  Time spent in the museum in English Heritage's rather good Stonehenge visitor centre will dispel all illusions on that score.

But, being wrong about some things doesn't mean that they have to be wrong about everything, and I think I have fallen into this trap on a number of issues which makes me think that a further look at their claims is warranted – well, up to a point.

One such point is certainly their view that the human bones that English Heritage have on display at Stonehenge ought to be re-interred.  Whilst I reject the Druidic claim to kinship with these bones, I have come to the view that they are right about interment.  What changed my mind about this were two lines in a poem which I read recently.  This is by John Meade Falkner with the title: Selibra Cineris Coacta Cani, which translates (I'm told) as 'Reduced to half a pound of white ash'; that being all we all end up as, one way or another.

The poem is the story of an antiquarian dig in Dorset where the bones and funery items of a Celtic-British fighter are found, and dug up for display.  However, the bones proved too fragile to be handled, hence the half a pound of white ash, and ...

Poor chief!  and so his frame was spared
The last indignity of death,
To lie with bones set fair and squared,
With glass above and cloth beneath.

In some museum hall, a prize
Of fallen faiths and people gone,
For rustic loons with open eyes
To gape and gaze and laugh upon.

I read this and immediately questioned my view of English Heritage and 'its' bones.  So,  shame on you, English Heritage, despite your being fully in tune with contemporary museum practice – and well done Druids for reminding us of what's right in simple human terms.


I have edited this post following helpful (as ever) feedback from the splendid World Heritage Trails.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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