Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

A SURGEON has argued that now that a man has had a hand transplanted it should be possible to transplant faces too, removing one from a dead donor and giving it to someone who has been deeply disfigured. Romans would have loved the idea, and it has many exciting contemporary applications as well.

Whenever a great man died in Rome, his body, usually sitting upright, was carried around the city, and his son or other relative delivered an encomium. When the dead man had been buried, a mask, modelled as closely as possible on his features and complexion, was placed in the most conspicuous position in the house, enclosed in a wooden shrine. These masks were displayed during public sacrifices, and when any other distinguished member of the family passed on they were taken to the funeral and worn by men considered to bear the closest resemblance to the original in height and general appearance and bearing - usually family members, but actors if necessary. They wore the clothes appropriate to the rank of the deceased, rode in chariots with the insignia of his office of state and occupied special seats during the encomium. Indeed, after the recently dead man had been praised, his great ancestors were identified in their seats and their successes and achievements related as well. …

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