The two female figures are seated in front of a stylized building façade. It has inscriptions that provide a wealth of information. The horizontal geison just underneath the triangular pediment identifies the deceased as “Mnesarete, daughter of Socrates”.
Her father isn’t the famous philosopher – whose children, incidentally, were all male – but another Socrates, about whom we know nothing. Fortunately, we are better informed about his daughter.
On the epistyle directly beneath the pediment are further inscriptions. The museum translates the text as follows:
She left behind her husband and brothers and sisters, and sorrow for her mother, as well as her child and her unfading reputation for great virtue. Persephone’s chamber surrounds Mnesarete here (in the grave), who achieved the peak of all virtue.
Considering that she is survived by her parents, as well as her brothers and sisters, she was probably fairly young when she died: most Greek girls, after all, married when they were fourteen to sixteen years old. “Persephone’s chamber” is a euphemism for the underworld.
There is the mention of a single child and it’s perhaps not too much of a stretch to imagine that she died, as so many did before the advance of modern medicine, in childbirth. This would also fit with the emphatic statement that she died after achieving “the peak of all virtue”, namely to have produced offspring.
Gravestones like this would have once lined the roads that lead into cities and towns, so that all those who passed by were introduced to those who had once roamed among the living. No doubt some travellers would have paused for a moment and imagined what kind of lives the dead had led.
So let’s pause for a moment, and grieve for Mnesarete.