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When someone does something after death — such as causing harm by their will — they can be said to act "from beyond the grave". Is there a similar idiom in Latin? Any era will do, although classical is preferred if there is a choice.

It is not hard to say "despite being dead", but I am looking for something more colorful if any such expression exists. It could be something as simple as ex sepulcro — and that would probably be understood — but is any such phrase attested in the literature?

If there are no equivalent idioms, presenting and discussing any such passage where passage someone is speaking from behind the grave would be very welcome.

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    It may be interesting to note that in Spanish this concept can be expressed by the word "ultratumba". According to the Diccionario de la Lengua Española ultratumba in turn is an adaptation from French outre-tombe. Jan 3, 2021 at 13:08
  • I added the comment you made to Mast, which I hope clarifies the purpose of his answer. I would remark that I think things will get tricky with that, though, because you see the dead speaking from beyond the grave all over Classical literature (e.g. Darius in Aeschylus, the shades in the Odyssey, the spirit summoned by Erictho in Lucan).
    – cmw
    Jun 26, 2022 at 23:57
  • Btw, I'll double check Lucan, but I'm pretty sure there's a relevant passage in there for you.
    – cmw
    Jun 27, 2022 at 2:52
  • @cmw Thanks! True, that's common. But in the absence of better hits examples of that trope do bring us closer to an answer.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jun 27, 2022 at 7:24
  • I think that what cmw is thinking of in Lucan is Pharsalia bk. 7, ll. 470 sqq. Di tibi non mortem, quae cunctis poena paratur, Sed sensum post fata tuae dent, Crastine, morti, Cuius torta manu commisit lancea bellum Primaque Thessaliam Romano sanguine tinxit. Heaven punish Crastinus and not with death alone, for that is a punishment in store for all mankind alike; but may his body after death keep the power to feel, because a lance that his hand brandished began the battle and first stained Pharsalia with Roman blood. post fata can be loosely translated as ‘beyond the grave’. Jun 28, 2022 at 9:53

2 Answers 2

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In Elegies by Propertius, book IV, in part 7 the ghost of Cynthia speaks from beyond the grave. It starts with 'Sunt aliquid Manes', translated as 'ghosts do exist' or 'There are Spirits'.

Cynthia's ghost adresses here Propertius from beyond the grave with criticism about here funeral and complains at length. At the end of part 7, it ends with 'inter complexus excidit umbra meos', 'her shade then slipped away from my embrace.' or 'her shadow swiftly slipped from my embrace'.

Part VII, page 1 Part VII, page 2 Part VII, page 3

Transcribed:

Sunt aliquid Manes: letum non omnia finit,
  luridaque euictos effugit umbra rogos.
Cynthia namque meo uisa est incumbere fulcro,
  murmur ad extremae nuper humata uiae,
cum mihi somnus ab exsequiis penderet amoris,
  et quererer lecti frigida regna mei.
eosdem habuit secum quibus est elata capillos,
  eosdem oculos: lateri uestis adusta fuit,
et solitum digito beryllon adederat ignis,
  summaque Lethaeus triuerat ora liquor.
spirantisque animos et uocem misit; at illi
  pollicibus fragiles increpuere manus:
'Perfide nec cuiquam melior sperande puellae,
  in te iam uires somnus habere potest?
iamne tibi exciderant uigilacis furta Suburae
  et mea nocturnis trita fenestra dolis?
per quam demisso quotiens tibi fune pependi,

  alterna ueniens in tua colla manu!
saepe Venus triuio commissa est, pectore mixto
  fecerunt tepidas pallia nostra uias.
foederis heu taciti, cuius fallacia uerba
  non audituri diripuere Noti.
at mihi non oculos quisquam inclamauit eunti:
  unum impetrassem te reuocante diem:
nec crepuit fissa me propter harundine custos,
  laesit et obiectum tegula curta caput.
denique quis nostro curuum te funere uidit,
  atram quis lacrimis incaluisse togam?
si piguit portas ultra procedere, at illuc
  iussisses lectum lentius ire meum.
cur uentos non ipse rogis, ingrate, petisti?
  cur nardo flammae non oluere meae?
hoc etiam graue erat, nulla mercede hyacinthos
  inicere et fracto busta piare cado?
Lygdamus uratur - candescat lamina uernae -
  sensi ego, cum insidiis pallida uina bibi.
aut Nomas - arcanas tollat uersuta saliuas;
  dicet damnatas ignea testa manus.
quae modo per uiles inspecta est publica noctes,
  haec nun aurata cyclade signat humum;
et grauiora rependit iniquis pensa quiasillis,
  garrula de facie si qua locuta mea est;
nostraque quod Petale tulit ad monumenta coronas,
  codicis immundi uincula sentit anus;
caeditur et Lalage tortis suspensa capillis,
  per nomen quoniam est ausa rogare meum.
te patiente meae conflauit imaginis aurum,
  ardente e nostro dotem habitura rogo.
non tamen insector, quamuis mereare, Properti:
  longa mea in libris regna fuere tuis.
iuro ego Fatorum nulli reulobuile carmen,
  tergeminusque canis sic mihi molle sonet,
me seruasse fidem, si fallo, uipera nostris
  sibilet in tumulis et super ossa cubet.
nam gemina est sedes turpem sortita per amnem,
  turbaque diuersa remigat omnis aqua.
una Clytaemestrae stuprum uehit, altera Cressae

  portat mentitae lignea monstra bouis.
ecce coronato pars altera rapta phaselo,
  mulcet ubi Elysias aura beata rosas,
qua numerosa fides, quaqua aera rotunda Cybeles
  mitratisque sonant Lydia plectra choris.
Andromedeque et Hypermestre sine fraude maritae
  narrant historiae pectora nota suae:
haec sua maternis queritur liuere catenis
  bracchia nec meritas frigida saxa manus;
narrat Hypermestre magnum ausas esse sorores,
  in scelus hoc animum non ualuisse suum.
sic mortis lacrimins uitae sanamus amores:
  celo ego perfidiae crimina multa tuae.
sed tibi nun mandata damus, si forte moueris,
  si te non totum Chloridos herba tenet:
nutrix in tremulis ne quid desideret annis
  Parthenie: potuit, nec tibi auara fuit.
deliciaeque meae Latris, cui nomen ab usu est,
  ne speculum dominae porrigat illa nouae.
et quoscumque meo fecisti nomine uerus,
  ure mihi: laudes desine habere meas.
pelle hederam tumulo, mihi quae peragrante corymbo
  mollis contortis alligat ossa comis.
ramosis Anio qua pomifer incubat aruis,
  et numquam Herculeo numine pallet ebur,
hic carmen media dignum me scribe columna,
  sed breue, quod currens uector ab urbe legat:
HIC TIBVRTINA IACET AVREA CYNTHIA TERRA:
  ACCESSIT RIPAE LAVS, ANIENE, TVAE.
nec tu sperne piis uenientia somnia portis:
  cum pia uenerunt somnia, pondus habent.
nocte uagae ferimur, nox clausas liberat umbras,
  errat et abiecta Cerberus ipse sera.
luce iubent leges Lethaea ad stagna reuerti:
  nos uehimur, uectum nauta recenset onus.
nunc te possideant aliae: mox sola tenebo:
  mecum eris, et mixtis ossibus ossa teram.'
haec postquam querula mecum sub lite peregit,
  inter complexus excidit umbra meos.

In part 11, Cornelia speaks to Paullus from beyond the grave. This part may be relevant too.

A translation of Propertius' Elegies can be found on Poetry in Translation, by A. S. Kline. The Latin text has been retrieved from Propertius Elegies I-IV, edited, with introduction and commentary, by L. Richardson, Jr. (University of Oklahoma Press), available per Library of Congress. Further discussion on the text can be found there. The transcription was done by me.

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    The original poster wasn't asking for examples of utterances from beyond the grave, but wanted to know how to render the phrase 'from beyond the grave' in Latin. Therefore, I don't see how this answers the question. Or can you point to any specific phrases in the poem that you quoted to provide this information?
    – cnread
    Jun 26, 2022 at 0:40
  • @cnread I had my doubts about it at first, so I left a comment whether this would fit their requirements. They said they would be interested in having it fleshed out as an answer, so I did. I wouldn't have written it otherwise.
    – Mast
    Jun 26, 2022 at 7:05
  • I've had a glimpse at all the comments made from your profile, and I can't seem to find the comment you're referring to. Regardless, unfortunately like cnread I also think that your answer doesn't attempt to answer the question, which is the main requirement for answers on this website. —On a different note, sunt aliquid mānēs doesn't talk about the existence of ghosts or spirits, but states that they have some substance (they aren't nothing), and since they aren't nothing, something remains of a dead person after death, so death isn't the ultimate end - lētum nōn omnia fīnit. Jun 26, 2022 at 14:19
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    @cnread and Unbrutal_Russian: I commented under my question here that any example of speaking from beyond the grave even without that specific phrase is a welcome answer, given how long the question has been unanswered. In the absence of a head-on hit, pointers to similar things are useful. I will not mark this answer accepted but I did vote it up. Maybe this answer can stimulate someone to find a better hit.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jun 26, 2022 at 17:48
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    @JoonasIlmavirta I sincerely hope this will spawn a more complete answer as well.
    – Mast
    Jun 26, 2022 at 18:10
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I think that ex sepulchro is too literal because the sepulchrum is the actual place of sepulture and ex sepulchro would mean ‘out of the grave’ not ‘from beyond the grave’. The Romans would think of the ‘inferi’, the inhabitants of the infernal regions, and I would humbly submit therefore a phrase like ‘e regione inferorum’. An academic friend of mine suggested that the ‘inferi’ is the best word here.

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  • Thanks! Now that you mention it, I agree that inferi is a great starting point. I'm not sure what to best do with it. Ex inferis? I would imagine such a phrase is used somewhere in the literature.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jun 29, 2022 at 9:45
  • I have found the phrase ab inferis but not yet ex inferis. In the Pro Milone Cicero uses the words Etiam si propter amicitiam vellet illum ab inferis evocare. I added e regione to inferorum to give the phrase a nuance of solemnity, as in the English ‘from beyond the grave’ rather than ‘from the Underworld’. It is also possible to use the phrase e regno Orci/ Plutonis/ Ditis. Jun 29, 2022 at 14:18
  • I have seen also e regno mortuorum, which is also a possible translation of ‘from beyond the grave’. Jul 2, 2022 at 9:34
  • That e regno mortuorum sounds like a very good fit! If you can locate a passage using it, it would make a fine answer! You can well post several answers, especially if they are independent ideas.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jul 2, 2022 at 14:16

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