His obsequies were as much to be envied as his life. The peoples which were in alliance and friendship with Rome assembled at the rites with public offerings and crowns; the senators carried his bier, the priests of the gods served as its escort, and the rest of the people, including women and children, followed with groans and lamentations, not as though they were attending the funeral of an aged king, but as though each one of them was burying some dearest relation taken away in the flower of life.
They did not burn his body, because, as it is said, he forbade it; but they made two stone coffins and buried them under the Janiculum. One of these held his body, and the other the sacred books which he had written out with his own hand, as the Greek lawgivers their tablets. But since, while he was still living, he had taught the priests the written contents of the books, and had inculcated in their hearts the scope and meaning of them all, he commanded that they should be buried with his body, convinced that such mysteries ought not to be entrusted to the care of lifeless documents.
This is the reason, we are told, why the Pythagoreans also do not entrust their precepts to writing, but implant the memory and practice of them in living disciples worthy to receive them. And when their treatment of the abstruse and mysterious processes of geometry had been divulged to a certain unworthy person, they said the gods threatened to punish such lawlessness and impiety with some signal and wide-spread calamity.
Therefore we may well be indulgent with those who are eager to prove, on the basis of so many resemblances between them, that Numa was acquainted with Pythagoras.
Antias, however, writes that it was twelve pontifical books, and twelve others of Greek philosophy, which were placed in the coffin. And about four hundred years afterwards, when Publius Cornelius and Marcus Baebius were consuls, heavy rains fell, and the torrent of water tore away the earth and dislodged the coffins.
When their lids had fallen off, one coffin was seen to be entirely empty, without any trace whatever of the body, but in the other the writings were found. These Petilius, who was then praetor, is said to have read, and then brought to the senate, declaring that, in his opinion, it was not lawful or proper that the writings should be published abroad. The books were therefore carried to the comitium and burned.
It is true, indeed, of all just and good men, that they are praised more after they have left the world than before, since envy does not long survive them, and some even see it die before them; but in Numa's case the misfortunes of the kings who followed him made his fame shine all the brighter. For of the five who came after him, the last was dethroned and grew old in exile, and of the other four, not one died a natural death. Three of them were conspired against and slain;
and Tullus Hostilius, who reigned next after Numa, and who mocked and derided most of his virtues, and above all his devotion to religion, declaring that it made men idle and effeminate, turned the minds of the citizens to war. He himself; however, did not abide by his presumptuous folly, but was converted by a grievous and complicated disease, and gave himself over to a superstition which was far removed from the piety of Numa. His subjects, too, were even more affected with superstition, as we are told, when he died by a stroke of lightning.