Ashes to Ashes

Last summer we spent a transcendent afternoon at the Yale University  Art Gallery, in New Haven, Connecticut.  One painting there haunted me: Artemisia Prepares to Drink the Ashes of Her Husband Mausolos by Francesco Furini.  

Best Painting Title Ever? 


Image from Wikipedia. Click for source.

Artemisia turned out to be pretty freaky, according to her Wikipedia bio.  She lived until 350 BC in an area (now part of Turkey) that was ruled by her father and then by her brother, Mausolus.  Artemisia married her brother Mausolus and she loved him like crazy.  When Mausolus died, Artemisia was grief-stricken.  The story goes that she mixed some of his ashes into her drink each day.

Artemisia became ruler and she built an enormous tomb for her husband/brother in a town called Halicarnassus.  The tomb was so grand and beautiful that it was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.


Replica of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Image from Wikipedia. Click for source

Today, our word “mausoleum” (a large, stately building holding a tomb or tombs) comes from the tomb Artemisia built for Mausolus.

Ingesting the ashes of one’s brother reminds me of  a ghoulishly compelling exhibit on endocannibalism in  a very dark and spooky diorama at the American Museum of Natural History. The museum describes certain tribes in the Amazonian rainforest who cremate the bones of their kinsmen and drink the ashes in a soup.  


My photograph.

According to Wikipedia, when a member of the Yanomami people dies, “the body is wrapped in leaves and placed in the forest some distance from the shabono, then after insects have consumed the soft tissue (usually about 30 to 45 days), the bones are collected and cremated. The ashes are then mixed with a kind of soup made from bananas which is consumed by the entire community. The ashes may be preserved in a gourd and the ritual repeated annually until the ashes are gone. In daily conversation, no reference may be made to a dead person except on the annual “day of remembrance”, when the ashes of the dead are consumed and people recall the lives of their deceased relatives. This tradition is meant to strengthen the Yanomami people and keep the spirit of that individual alive.”

If you care to view the exhibit at the AMNH,, go to the second floor Hall of South American Peoples and find the glass case of shrunken heads. Curve around to the the area behind the heads and you will find the endocannibalism diorama.

shrunken heads

Shrunken heads at the AMNH. Image from Click for source

Of course, no discussion of cremains would be complete without mentioning Keef!


Image from the New York Times. Click for source.

In 2007, Keith Richards (the brilliant guitarist/songwriter for the Rolling Stones) told a reporter for NME magazine that he had snorted his father’s ashes with  cocaine.  Later, the magazine printed  Keith’s wonderful clarification:

“Athough he did snort his father, he did not mix his ashes with cocaine, as his previous NME.COM quote implied. 

“The cocaine bit was rubbish,” he said. “I said I chopped him up like cocaine, not with.

“I pulled the lid off [my father’s urn] and out comes a bit of dad on the dining room table,” Richards continued. “I’m going, ‘I can’t use the brush and dustpan for this’. 

“What I found out is that ingesting your ancestors is a very respectable way of… y’know, he went down a treat.”


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