Brant: The Cremation of the Dead

Aeneas, Tarchon, and Ascanius stand with other soldiers to the right of a pyre for the cremation of the Trojan and Etruscan dead. According to Vergil, multiple pyres would have been built, so that the various clans could cremate their dead separately (184-7), but for the sake of illustration, just one pyre is shown. In the upper right are the horses that ceremonially circle the pyre (188-90). In the upper left, a man on horseback sounds a horn in mourning. Below him, a man throws a breastplate, Latin spoils, onto the fire (193-4). Another throws into the fire a sword, and what seems to be a spur, war equipment of the dead (195-6). At the bottom of the image, pigs and cattle have been sacrificed, disemboweled, as offerings to Death and to the gods (197-9).

Woodcut illustration from the “Strasbourg Vergil,” edited by Sebastian Brant: Publii Virgilii Maronis Opera cum quinque vulgatis commentariis expolitissimisque figuris atque imaginibus nuper per Sebastianum Brant superadditis (Strasbourg: Johannis Grieninger, 1502), fol. 374v, executed by an anonymous engraver under the direction of Brant.


Sebastian Brant (1458-1521) was a humanist scholar of many competencies. Trained in classics and law at the University of Basel, Brant later lectured in jurisprudence there and practiced law in his native city of Strasbourg. While his satirical poem Das Narrenschiff won him considerable standing as a writer, his role in the transmission of Virgil to the Renaissance was at least as important. In 1502 he and Strasbourg printer Johannes Grüninger produced a major edition of Virgil’s works, along with Donatus’ Life and the commentaries of Servius, Landino, and Calderini, with more than two hundred woodcut illustrations. (Annabel Patterson)

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