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The Roman Goddess of Death



Libitina’s very name has sunk into such obscurity that she is seldom mentioned as a goddess of antiquity. She was portrayed as a black robed, dark winged figure who might, like an enormous bird of prey, hover over her victim until the moment came.

    

She had a sanctuary in a sacred grove where a coin was deposited whenever a death took place. The undertakers (libitinarii), who carried out all funeral arrangements by contract, had their offices there along with everything necessary to hire or buy for a funeral. Likewise, all deaths were registered there. The word libitina then came to be used for the business of undertakers and funerals.


The word libitinarii also refers to the slaves in the gladiatorial arena who carted off the dead between bouts. In “The Bodyguard”, a story in The Deadliest Returns, Miriam’s brother, Binyamin, explains to her their role in his faking his own death:

 

“I was severely injured in the arena.” The harsh vowels of vulgar Latin had crept into his speech. “Some cocky new hire—Wouldn’t you know it?—got lucky.” He shrugged, his hands flapped open, palms up. “Of course, I don’t remember everything, but the libitinarii were right there.” My brother leaned forward. “You know who they are, right?”

 

“The Bodyguard” is the story of Binyamin’s return to Alexandria. The libitinarii were just the beginning in his creating a new life. I can’t promise it will work for you, but at least see how he did it. Just click here.


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