Hydriotaphia, Urn-Burial "Men Have Lost Their Reason In Nothing So Much As Their Religion"

Sir Thomas Browne

"Men Have Lost Their Reason In Nothing So Much As Their Religion"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This philosophical physician and scientist set out to write a report concerning some forty or fifty Roman funeral urns which were exhumed near Norwich. His speculative nature led him beyond the bounds of a mere scientific report to a disquisition on burial customs in general, ranging, of course, through his vast knowledge of classical literature. In Chapter IV Browne discusses both modern and antique funeral rites and the improper doctrinal implications of undue emphasis on the physical remains and worldly fame:

Christian invention hath chiefly driven at rites, which speak hopes of another life, and hints of a Resurrection. And if the ancient Gentiles held not the immortality of their better part, and some subsistence after death; in several rites, customs, actions and expressions, they contradicted their own opinions: . . . Lucian spoke much truth in jest, when he said, that part of Hercules which proceeded from Alchmena perished, that from Jupiter remained immortal. Thus Socrates was content that his friends should bury his body, so they would not think they buried Socrates, and regarding only his immortal part, was indifferent to be burnt or buried. . . .
Men have lost their reason in nothing so much as their religion, wherein stones and clouts make martyrs; and since the religion of one seems madness unto another, to afford an account or rational of old rites, requires no rigid reader; That they kindled the pyre aversly, or turning their face from it, was an handsome symbol of unwilling ministration; That they washed their bones with wine and milk, that the mother wrapt them in linen, and dryed them in her bosom, the first fostering part, and place of their nourishment; That they opened their eyes towards heaven, before they kindled the fire, as the place of their hopes or original, were no improper ceremonies. . . .