An epitaph is a short text honoring a deceased person, strictly speaking that is inscribed on their tombstone or plaque, but also used figuratively. Some are specified by the dead person beforehand, others chosen by those responsible for the burial. An epitaph may be in poem verse; poets have been known to compose their own epitaphs prior to their death, as W.B. Yeats did.

Most epitaphs are brief records of the family, and perhaps the career, of the deceased, often with an expression of love or respect - "beloved father of ..." - but others are more ambitious. From the Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 to the 19th century in Western culture, epitaphs for notable people became increasingly lengthy and pompous descriptions of their family origins, career, virtues and immediate family, often in Latin. However, the Laudatio Turiae
Laudatio Turiae
Laudatio Turiae is a tombstone engraved with a carved epitaph that is a husband's eulogy of his wife. It was made in the late 1st century BC. It portrays the love of a husband for his loyal wife Curia....

, the longest known Ancient Roman epitaph exceeds almost all of these at 180 lines; it celebrates the virtues of a wife, probably of a consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...


Some are quotes from holy texts, or aphorisms. An approach of many epitaphs is to 'speak' to the reader and warn them about their own mortality. A wry trick of others is to request the reader to get off their resting place, as often it would require the reader to stand on the ground above the coffin to read the inscription. Some record achievements, (e.g. past politicians note the years of their terms of office) but nearly all (excepting those where this is impossible, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier refers to a grave in which the unidentifiable remains of a soldier are interred. Such tombs can be found in many nations and are usually high-profile national monuments. Throughout history, many soldiers have died in wars without their remains being identified...

) note name, year or date of birth and date of death. Many list family and their relation to them; such as Father / Mother / Son / Daughter etc. of.

Notable epitaphs

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by

that here, obedient to their law, we lie.
Simonides of Ceos
Simonides of Ceos was a Greek lyric poet, born at Ioulis on Kea. The scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria included him in the canonical list of nine lyric poets, along with Bacchylides and Pindar...

's epigram
An epigram is a brief, interesting, usually memorable and sometimes surprising statement. Derived from the epigramma "inscription" from ἐπιγράφειν epigraphein "to write on inscribe", this literary device has been employed for over two millennia....

 at Thermopylae
Battle of Thermopylae
The Battle of Thermopylae was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I over the course of three days, during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place simultaneously with the naval battle at Artemisium, in August...

I am ready to meet my Maker.

Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal
of meeting me is another matter.
Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

To save your world you asked this man to die:

Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?
— Epitaph for the Unknown Soldier
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier refers to a grave in which the unidentifiable remains of a soldier are interred. Such tombs can be found in many nations and are usually high-profile national monuments. Throughout history, many soldiers have died in wars without their remains being identified...

, written by W. H. Auden
W. H. Auden
Wystan Hugh Auden , who published as W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet,The first definition of "Anglo-American" in the OED is: "Of, belonging to, or involving both England and America." See also the definition "English in origin or birth, American by settlement or citizenship" in See also...

Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!
Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf
Adeline Virginia Woolf was an English author, essayist, publisher, and writer of short stories, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century....

Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare,

To digg þe dust encloased heare.

Blese be þe man þat spares þes stones,

And curst be he þat moves my bones.

In modern English:

Good friend for Jesus sake forbear,

To dig the dust enclosed here.

Blessed be the man that spares these stones,

And curst be he that moves my bones.
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

I told you I was ill.
Spike Milligan
Spike Milligan
Terence Alan Patrick Seán "Spike" Milligan Hon. KBE was a comedian, writer, musician, poet, playwright, soldier and actor. His early life was spent in India, where he was born, but the majority of his working life was spent in the United Kingdom. He became an Irish citizen in 1962 after the...

That's all folks.
Mel Blanc
Mel Blanc
Melvin Jerome "Mel" Blanc was an American voice actor and comedian. Although he began his nearly six-decade-long career performing in radio commercials, Blanc is best remembered for his work with Warner Bros...

If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I'll never speak to him again.
Stan Laurel
Stan Laurel
Arthur Stanley "Stan" Jefferson , better known as Stan Laurel, was an English comic actor, writer and film director, famous as the first half of the comedy team Laurel and Hardy. His film acting career stretched between 1917 and 1951 and included a starring role in the Academy Award winning film...

Consider, friend, as you pass by: As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, you too shall be. Prepare, therefore, to follow me.
— Scottish tombstone epitaph

Epitaphs in music

In a more figurative sense, music in memory of deceased people has been composed. Igor Stravinsky composed in 1958 Epitaphium for flute, clarinet and harp. In 1967 Krzysztof Meyer
Krzysztof Meyer
Krzysztof Meyer is a Polish composer, pianist and music scholar.-Biography:Meyer was born in Cracow. As a boy he played piano and organ. He began his composition study early – in 1954, with Stanisław Wiechowicz...

 called his Symphony No. 2 for choir and orchestra Epitaphium Stanisław Wiechowicz in memoriam. Jeffrey Lewis
Jeffrey Lewis (composer)
Jeffrey Lewis , is a Welsh composer.Lewis studied at the University of Wales, Cardiff; with György Ligeti and Karlheinz Stockhausen at Darmstadt; with Bogusław Schaeffer in Krakow and with Don Banks in London....

 composed Epitaphium — Children of the Sun for narrator, chamber choir, piano, flute, clarinet and percussion. Bronius Kutavičius
Bronius Kutavicius
Bronius Kutavičius is a Lithuanian composer. He has written numerous oratorios and operas, among them The Last Pagan Rites, Lokys the Bear and The Gates of Jerusalem...

 composed in 1998 Epitaphium temporum pereunti. Valentin Silvestrov
Valentin Silvestrov
Valentyn Vasylyovych Sylvestrov is a Ukrainian pianist and composer of contemporary classical music.-Education:Sylvestrov began private music lessons at age 15...

 composed in 1999 Epitaph L.B. (Епітафія Л.Б.) for viola (or cello) and piano. In 2007 Graham Waterhouse
Graham Waterhouse
Graham Waterhouse is an English composer and a cellist. He is known for chamber music and for unusual scoring, such as Piccolo Quintet, Bright Angel for three bassoons and contrabassoon, Chieftain's Salute for Great Highland Bagpipe and string orchestra, and works for speaking voice and cello,...

 composed Epitaphium
Epitaphium is a composition for string trio by Graham Waterhouse. In 2007, after the death of his father William Waterhouse, he composed Epitaphium In Memoriam W.R.W. as a tribute to his memory.- History :...

for string trio as a tribute to the memory of his father William Waterhouse.

See also

  • Chronogram
    A chronogram is a sentence or inscription in which specific letters, interpreted as numerals, stand for a particular date when rearranged. The word, meaning "time writing", derives from the Greek words chronos and gramma . In the pure chronogram each word contains a numeral, the natural chronogram...

  • Epigraph
  • Funeral oration (ancient Greece)
    Funeral oration (ancient Greece)
    A funeral oration or epitaphios logos is a formal speech delivered on the ceremonial occasion of a funeral. Funerary customs comprise the practices used by a culture to remember the dead, from the funeral itself, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honour...

     ("epitaphios logos")
  • Hero stone
    Hero stone
    Hero stone is a memorial commemorating the honorable death of a hero in battle of Tamil People. A hero stone can display a variety of adornments, including bas relief panels, statues, and figures of carved stone...

External links

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