Andrew Lang, Death
Of all Gods Death alone
No man hath found or shown
The gift that Death would prize.
In vain are songs or sighs,
Paean, or praise, or moan,
Alone beneath the skies
Hath Death no altar-stone!
There is no head so dear
That men would grudge to Death;
Let Death but ask, we give
All gifts that we may live;
But though Death dwells so near,
We know not what he saith.
Lang's poem is inspired by Aeschylus, fragment 161 (from the play Niobe
For alone of gods Death does not love gifts, nor by sacrificing or by pouring libations could you accomplish anything. He has no altar and the paean is not sung to him; of the gods, from him alone Persuasion stands apart.
Here are some other ancient expressions of the same sentiment:
- Euripides, Alcestis 953-975 (ode to Necessity): It is impossible to come to the altars and statues of that goddess alone, and she does not heed sacrifices.
- Sophocles, Electra 137-139 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones): But you will never raise up your father from the lake of Hades, to which all must come, by weeping or by prayers.
- Vergil, Georgics 2.491: Fate which cannot be moved by entreaty (inexorabile fatum).
- Propertius 4.11.1-8 (supposedly spoken by Cornelia, who died in 16 B.C. leaving her husband Lucius Aemilius Paullus a widower): Paullus, stop bothering my tomb with your tears: the black gate is not opened in response to any prayers; as soon as the dead have entered hell's dominions, the ways are fixed with adamantine which cannot be moved by entreaty. Although the god of the dark halls hears your voice as you pray, deaf shores will surely absorb your tears. Prayers impress the gods who live above: but when the ferryman has pocketed the fare, the pale gate bars the grassy funeral pyres. (desine, Paulle, meum lacrimis urgere sepulchrum: / panditur ad nullas ianua nigra preces; / cum semel infernas intrarunt funera leges, / non exorato stant adamante viae. / te licet orantem fuscae deus audiat aulae: / nempe tuas lacrimas litora surda bibent. / vota movent superos: ubi portitor aera recepit, / obserat herbosos lurida porta rogos.).
According to Pausanias (6.25.2-3), the Eleans were the only Greeks who worshipped Hades and had a temple dedicated to him. But even they opened the temple only once a year, and only the priest was allowed to enter.