The 400-year-old love letter and the mummy

A neat story from Archaeology magazine of a Korean mummy that was found with a 427 year old love letter, from the dead man’s wife, writing about their unborn son.

Here’s a small portion of the letter/eulogy:

You always said, “Dear, let’s live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day. How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live? How could you go ahead of me?

When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father?

I know it shouldn’t surprise us that people from 427 years ago loved the same way we do.  But I think sometimes we practice a bit of historical “out of sight, out of mind.”  Almost the reverse of anthropomorphising, where we think of history in less human, and more grand, terms.

I got a book a few years back, which I’ve started but still have to finish, about a day in the life of Ancient Rome.  It pieces together tons of arcane details from the archaeologic record and walks you through a real, typical day in Ancient Rome, going so far as to describe the typical home (and then the typical wealthy home), the colors they used on the walls and the furniture, what the streets looked like, and more.

They don’t just give life to history, they give mundacity to it (and I mean that in a good way).  We tend to think of history as a series of important, defining, grand (there’s that word again) moments.  But they didn’t necessarily feel well-defined (with a clear beginning and end end) or grand to the people who there at the time.

Anyway, I like this kind of stuff.  I have a historical document from England that I posted on the blog a few years back, that a lot of you helped to crowd-source translate from abbreviated business-Latin of the late 1600s.  I like old things.  Touching them, and feeling for a moment the connection through the time, and the real-ness of the past.

You can get more details from Archaeology, but here’s the note, and below is the translation.

A 427 year old love letter, found on a Korean mummy. (Photo: Courtesy Andong National University)

A 427 year old love letter, found on a Korean mummy belonging to a man named Eung-tae. (Photo: Courtesy Andong National University)

Here’s the text of the letter:

To Won’s Father
June 1, 1586

You always said, “Dear, let’s live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day. How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live? How could you go ahead of me?

How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, “Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?” How could you leave all that behind and go ahead of me?

I just cannot live without you. I just want to go to you. Please take me to where you are. My feelings toward you I cannot forget in this world and my sorrow knows no limit. Where would I put my heart in now and how can I live with the child missing you?

Please look at this letter and tell me in detail in my dreams. Because I want to listen to your saying in detail in my dreams I write this letter and put it in. Look closely and talk to me.

When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky.

You are just in another place, and not in such a deep grief as I am. There is no limit and end [to my sorrows] that I write roughly. Please look closely at this letter and come to me in my dreams and show yourself in detail and tell me. I believe I can see you in my dreams. Come to me secretly and show yourself. There is no limit to what I want to say and I stop here.


(I’m told that in order to actually see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me – so say the experts.)

Made me think of this Indigo Girl’s song, “Virginia Wolf,” too.  Similar theme in a sense.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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