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Otherworldly Words: Necropolis

A necropolis is a final resting place for the bodies of those who have passed. As I discussed in mausoleum and charnel house, where to place the dead changes across time and culture. Such places hold deep meaning, and some become a pilgrimage. Droves of fans visit the graves of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and other icons. The devoted visit the bones of saints. 

Necropolis as a metaphor intrigues me more, however, than the actual house for bones. Here are two uses in regards to the ancient city of London:

“Meanwhile, we have carved out a place for ourselves among the dead; the glittering pinnacles of commerce rise along the skyline, their foundations sunk in a charnel house; and the lost lie forgotten below us as, overhead, we persaude ourselves that we are immortal and carry on the business of life.”
—Catharine Arnold, Necropolis: London and Its Dead

Another take on London as a necropolis:

Houndsditch was … a crumbling and smoke-grimed necropolis in boarded windows, mummified everywhere by old railings, stagnant air , and cobwebs, where draughty hallways reek with the smell of stale cabbage, Blakean children weep soot, and merchants patter with Mammon and make God evanescent.
Alexander Theroux

We have an uneasy relationship with the dead. We give them a proper place of rest that we can visit but that is cloistered. Certainly, hygienic reasons for this intermingle with superstition and a desire not to be reminded of our own mortality and loss.

In my mind, the best advice about the dead was given in the poem Thanatopsis:

So live, that when thy summons comes to join

The innumerable caravan which moves

To that mysterious realm, where we each shall take

His chamber is the silent halls of death.

Death is inevitable, so let’s think of it as an awakening as opposed to a going to sleep. The reality of dying is a reason to breathe life into each day we walk this earth.

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