There is an offbeat monument in the Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, VA. It commemorates Thalia Vassilatos Warnement (August 3, 1967 – January 13, 2009). From a distance it looks quite conventional, one of those little be-columned pediments you see all the time. Find a Grave relates that, unhappily, she died far too young, of leukemia.
Let’s take a closer look, for Thalia (or her commemorators) had a sense of fun. To be sure, the inscription (figure 2) on the principal façade (figure 1) is purely conventional Christianity:
But the pediment of the principal façade (figure 3) is immediately arresting once you get close enough:
That might be Thalia in profile in the left-hand portrait. You can see what you think: there is a nice photo of her here. One imagines, but does not know, that the male face on the right is Mr. Warnement. Those portraits could conceivably be her children Sophia and Nicholas, but they don’t look young enough to me. The 32 other faces, mostly looking directly out at us, or nearly so, have the conventional nimbs of depictions of saints. Surrounding them all are clouds of glory, and hidden here and there among the clouds are crosses: I see five of them. Perhaps Thalia is envisioned as entering the communion of the saints.
The secondary façade (figure 4) is immediately more interesting, however. The architrave bears the Latin inscription vivat felicitas (“long live happiness!”, or, a little more loosely, “may your happiness be long-lived”), and the following image (figure 5):
Yes, those are dancing elephants! Sixteen, I believe. One, just to the right of the vertex of the pediment, appears to be wearing a bowler hat. It could be that the central figure is wearing a crown and is meant to be Babar. It’s just possible that some of the others are wearing crowns, too, and are meant to be taken as Babar’s children. Perhaps a favorite book to read with her children?
Below the dancing elephants is another inscribed panel (figure 6):
The English sentiment refers to propagating our memory in family and friends, and the dancing elephants could be taken to exemplify such a large retinue. I was perplexed by the cursive sentence below, however. It’s modern Greek, of course; Thalia, Vassilatos, Sophia, and Nicholas are all Greek names, and the architectural form of the monument has Greek roots.
Since I do not know Modern Greek, which is very different from Ancient Greek, I asked a learned scholar of Greek, Ancient and Modern, for help. It turns out, when cleaned up a little, to be a standard phrase of condolence:
Ζωή σε εσάς και να θυμόσαστε. May you live long and remember (the deceased).