January 18, 2019

An actor to the end

 O Death, whom love of jest escapes - you who know nothing
     of indulgence or happiness - what have I to do with you,
 when these are what brought me my prestige, my world-wide renown,
     my income and my roomy house?
 Ever was I full of cheer. If cheer give way
     to mundane vagary and deception, what's the use?
 When I was on the scene, the irate ceased their raging.
     The acutely pained would laugh when I showed up.
 Nagging cares were of no concern, and mischances
      of fortune lost their power to disappoint.
 The grip of every fear was broken by my presence,
     and all times spent with me passed blessedly.
 To see and hear me at work, even in a tragic role,
     was a thrilling and consoling pleasure in more ways than one.
 I put on my characters' faces, their manners and their words,
     such that many seemed to speak out of one mouth.
 Any man whose likeness I replicated for all to see
     would shudder at himself magnified in my face.
 And how many times did a woman behold my mimicry of her
     gestures, and turn bright red, slain by shock!
 However many the appearances my body was seen to take on,
     so many are disappeared with me on an evil day.
 Whereby with somber mien I am stirred to beg you now
     that you read aloud my inscription in pious tones,
 saying through your grief: "Happy as you were, O Vitalis,
     may you be no less happy at this moment."

Epitaph of Vitalis, a mime of the fifth century
San Sebastiano fuori le mura, Rome