If you’re not curious about the grave of Vesalius, you may be interested in the resting place of Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman philosopher and politician, in the same Santa Maria della Grazie in Zakynthos.
‘Stumbling upon Cicero whilst hunting for Vesalius is so strange that I have to tell it, even if that story is not relevant here,’ so I quote Georges Sarton.
Sarton was a scientist from Cambridge, USA, born in Ghent, Belgium, in 1884. In : The death and burial of Vesalius, and, incidentally, of Cicero (Isis, 1954), the author talks about Vesalius but cannot ignore the fate of the Roman orator. Cicero was murdered by agents of Mark Antony on December 7, 43 BC. His head and right hand were taken to Rome. But it is said that the rest of his body, or his ashes, were taken to Zakynthos by a slave or by his son.
The tomb of Cicero (or what people thought was his tomb) was discovered in 1544, when the foundations of a monastery were laid and he was reburied in the Santa Maria delle Grazie. In 1556 in Venice or Padua a paper was published describing the discovery of the tomb, and made reference to a drawing of the tombstone, an urn of ashes, a bottle of tears and the epitaph, so Sarton says.
The grave must have existed, but did it really contain the remains of Cicero and his wife Antonia Tertia? Could it have been the remains of his son and his mother?
One of us discovered recently an almost identical reference to the grave in the work of Olfert Dapper (1688), with the following addition: ‘The front part of the tomb was subsequently brought to Venice, to the home of Federico Contarini, an antique lover, who conserved the stone for a very long time.’
Pierre-Augustin Guys was a French merchant from Marseille and philhellene, author of acclaimed travel books about the region. In 1794 he settled in Zakynthos. His last address was the convent of the Santa Maria della Grazie. On 27 September 1799, he was properly buried in its church: “io feci che venisse decentemente sepolto nella chiesa di Santa Maria”. Above his tomb was engraved: “D.O.M. HIC QUIESCIT PETRUS AUGUSTINUS CUSIUS ACADEMICUS MASSILENSIS … MDCCXIX”.
His grave was still intact in August 1953 when a terrible earthquake hit the island.
"Whilst hunting for Vesalius, we may stumble upon Pierre-Augustin Guys”, I paraphrase Sarton.
Published 29 October 2016: