'A True Portrait in Fatal Umbra': The Female Character in Polish Funeral Orations (17th -18th C.)
A whole range of funeral orations (including sermons, occasional speeches, eulogies, and epitaphs) was an indispensable element of the Polish funeral ceremonial in Age of the Baroque. The orations contain a wealth of information about contemporary funeral customs and conventions, genealogy and heraldry, and the mindsets and mentalities of the Polish society of that period. It can be assumed that they played an important role in communicating socially approved character roles and stereotypes. They also exemplify an oral culture, though assisted by the pen and the printing press. The paranethical oration, ie. containing instructions about the principles of good life, was of special importance in inculcating the approved model of character and conduct. This function is usually indicated by certain typical titles, with words like mirror, picture, or portrait. These works offer a guide of right conduct, adjusted to a person's rank and position in society. The text is usually a patchwork of references to the Bible, saints' lives and mythological characters kept on course by a chain of moral exhortations and didactic tales. The orations were concerned with formulating both the exemplary and negative role models of a just ruler, a nobleman as a knight and country gentleman, a soldier. Many orations developed the portrait of an exemplary woman, combining the roles of mother and wife. The latter category of orations are without exception eulogistic. They focus on those features of the female character which represent both the traditional canon and the catalogue of Christian virtues. Even then the portrait of the ideal woman in the homiletic literature is not identical with that found in contemporary epistolography or legal records.
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