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July 17, 1987

Announcing The Journal's Expanded Obituary Column

JAMA. 1987;258(3):381. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03400030097041

As long as we have had a language we have been using our words to recall and to praise those who are our mentors. In the earliest form of tribute, the ancient Egyptians inscribed in the place of burial the name, the dates of birth and death, and the profession of the deceased. Often, this inscription included some pious motto.1 Although brief, these early epitaphs gave birth to the more extended Greek and Latin sepulchral inscriptions, which were usually in verse. As our versatility with the written language increased, a whole genre of celebratory writing evolved.

Much of the celebrated work in English and American literature has been written in recognition or memory of the dead. Shakespeare wrote entire plays capturing the life of some of history's greatest men—Julius Caesar, and Henry V, and Richard II. Antony's speech of Caesar in Act III of Julius Caesar endures as one