Francesco Filelfo, Letter to Lorenzo Medici (Part 12)
“We read in Cicero’s first book of Tusculan Disputations something like this: ‘Since bodies fell into the earth and were then covered by the ground [humus], from which we get the phrase ‘to bury’ [humari], they used to think that the rest of the life of the dead was led underground. Great errors have followed this opinion, and poets have increased them. A great crowd in the theater, in which crowd some women are to be found, is moved by hearing such a grand song: I am here and I have scarcely arrived from Acheron by a deep and arduous road, a cave strewn with the greatest suspended crags, where the thick smoke of the dead stands firm. So strong has the error grown, which seems to me to have been dispelled, that even though they knew that bodies were burned, they pretended that things happened in the underworld which could not occur nor be understood without physical bodies. Indeed, spirits living entirely of themselves could not be comprehended by the mind – they were seeking some kind of form and figure.’
And how came it that the women were so moved by those verses, nay even terrified, if they did not understand what was being recited?
Another tragedy was put on at the Ludi Apollinares, and Gnaeus Pompey was there with the rest of the people. In his presence, the tragedian Diphilus, as he came in the performance to the verse with the meaning, ‘He has grown great from your misery,’ did not fear to hold out his hands toward Pompey the Great and to pronounce the verse with great pity, and as he was called back by the people somewhat, again without any hesitation he did not cease to demonstrate that he was in the conduct of things a man of excessive and intolerable power, and he came to this verse employing the same perseverance, ‘There will come a time when you will greatly bewail that very virtue.’ Could Diphilus have been so frequently recalled by the people as though applauding if it had only poorly heard and understood what he was singing?”
Legimus apud M. Tullium Ciceronem, libro primo Quaestionum Tusculanarum, huiusmodi verba: “In terram enim cadentibus corporibus iisque humo tectis, e quo dictum est humari, sub terra censebant reliquam vitam agi mortuorum. Quam eorum opinionem consecuti magni errores sunt, quos auxerunt poetae. Frequens enim consessus theatri in quo sunt mulierculae movetur audiens tam grande carmen: ‘Adsum atque advenio Acheronte vix via alta atque ardua, spelunca saxis structa asperis pendentibus maximis, ubi rigida constat crassa caligo inferum’. Tantumque invaluit error, qui mihi quidem iam sublatus videtur, ut corpora cremata cum scirent, tamen ea fieri apud inferos fingerent, quae sine corporibus neque fieri possent neque intelligi. Animos enim per se ipsos viventis non poterant mente complecti, formam aliquam figuramque quaerebant”.
Et quo pacto mulierculae versibus illis commotae essent, perinde atque perterritae, ni quae recitabantur intellexissent?
Agebatur alia tragoedia ludis Apollinaribus, intereratque una cum universo populo G. Pompeius Magnus. Quo quidem praesente non est veritus Diphilus tragoedus, cum inter agendum ad illum venisset versum quo sententia haec continebatur: “Miseria vestra magnus est”, directis in Pompeium Magnum manibus, miserabiliter eum pronunciare, ut aliquotiens revocatus a populo, sine ulla rursus cunctatione nimiae illum et intolerabilis potentiae rerum gestu perseveranter demonstrare non destitit, ad eum usque locum eadem usus perseverantia: “Virtutem istam, Veniet tempus cum graviter gemas”. Num Diphilus fuisset totiens a populo tanquam applaudenti revocatus, si minus quae canebantur et audisset et cognovisset?