The objective of this paper is to illustrate the relationship between ancient Greek burial or death rites, and ancient Greek literature. It has 6 sources.
Ever since the existence of man as a relatively advanced and developed life form capable of understanding the essentiality of employing the naturally inherent mental potential, humans have extensively focused upon producing large bodies of literary reproductions, tailoring and polishing their original themes and ideologies in order to illustrate the particular theme, motif or symbol that they perceived to be of instrumental, philosophical or abstract relevance, this depending upon the societies they lived within in addition to their psychological profiles.
From Shakespeare to Plato, from Socrates to Machiavelli, all of the literarily relevant figures focused, more often than not, upon integrating into their stories and volumes of abstract literatures themes that were relevant to a particular norm or parameter within their societies, eras or prevalent psychological perspectives. Literature has long been a relevant source that historians as well as other scholars can turn to so as to glean at least a marginal understanding regarding the societal norms of the era or culture in particular. In fact, an analysis of any particularly ancient literature is usually relevant in so much as bringing forth and making apparent not only societal norms and parameters, but also certain religious, scientific, fashion-related and hygiene related trends as well, particularly in so much as contemplating the degree of general references and subtle indications that the particular ancient scholar has made. The rest of this paper will primarily focus upon illustrating the relevance of the obvious emphasis and taboo regarding Greek burial or death rites as it is portrayed in a significant amount of ancient Greek literature.
Generalities regarding ancient Greek burial rites
One of the first things that essentially needs to be taken into consideration is that, as a result of their significantly un-advanced and superstitiously primitive preconceptions and beliefs, that nearly all kinds of ancient literature is tinged, to some degree or another, with elements of the super natural or paranormal. The occult, witches, curses and ghosts, all are things that are mentioned, with varying degree of figurativeness and realism, within ancient British as well as Greek literature. Moreover, there appears to be a particular degree of emphasis upon the relevance and effectuality of such things as oaths and curses, especially in regard to the likes of such being implemented in concern to a particular person's death or burial.
This something that is quite strongly portrayed when Euripides' Hippolytus, the protagonist within the play, reasserts his confidence to his father in so much as taking an oath that in death may neither sea nor earth receive my flesh, if I have proved false (Lawson, 1964).
Relevance of literary illustrations regarding ancient Greek perspectives on death
The concept of death was one that was viewed with significantly monumental superstition and taboo, preconceptions about the life after being rather prevalent as a result of the rich body of literary materials regarding the world after death, the underworld, and the various entities, good and evil, who played to role of the keepers and supervisors of this world after death. This is something that becomes quite apparent when taking into consideration the various references the essentiality of the implementation of proper burial or death rites within an exceptional number of literary works by renowned scholars and philosophers within the ancient Greek world. One such example is An Ephesian Tale by Xenophon, where the dead Anthia is laid in her vault dressed in all her grandeur and with a great quantity of gold and clothing, the latter to be burnt. It is quite apparent that the prime reason for all of the finery was the belief that they would be needed in the life after (Bagwell, 2003).
Burial Rites within Ancient Greek literature
This relevance of the proper burial rites is also rather effectually illustrated within Antigone, a famous Greek tragedy by Sophocles, a well-known and acclaimed philosopher of Ancient Greece. In this story, the protagonist's obstinacy and exceptionally ethical values induces her to go against the will of the king in order to pursue the burial of her brother, whose body is left to rot in the open as a punishment to his ostensible discrepancies.
The story is about two brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, who were supposed to reign jointly as kings of Thebes after their father, Oedipus the King, dies. However, complications inevitably arise, particularly as a result of the power lust inherent to Eteocles, leading and influencing to exile Polyneices in order to acquire exclusive sole power over the kingdom. Antigone, the daughter of the dead king, sides with Polyneices, who returns to fight for the kingdom rightly his as well. The subsequently ensuing battle however, leaves both of them dead, thus incepting circumstances that lead to Creon, uncle to the killed brothers, being crowned king. Creon, as a result of his adverse and incorrect view that Polyneices was wrong, is enraged at him for attacking Thebes and killing Eteocles and this leads him order that Polyneices' body be left in the open to rot and be fed upon by birds and animals of carrion (Anouilh, 2003).
Antigone, who had initially sided with Polyneices, is adamant that she will bury his corpse so as to ensure his proper transition in to the underworld, something that the ancient Greeks believed in as strongly as orthodox Christians or Muslims within the contemporary world believe in heaven or hell. Moreover, the rites of the burial, as is illustrated within Antigone, were considered extremely relevant to the transition of the soul. Indeed, ancient Greece was so given to the belief that they even had a map of the underworld.
Another such example is from The Golden Ass, by Apuleius, a supernaturally tinged story that is rather complex in regard to the pattern of the story. The story involves the killing of a man by a ghost as a result of the ghost being summoned by his wife in retaliation for his request for divorce. In this story, the soul of the murdered man is restless in spite of his being given a proper burial; the reason being the circumstances of his untimely death. Thus, his spirit constantly visits his daughters in her dreams, where relates to his/her killing and how he himself was haunted by a spirit off the earth. Furthermore, another reference to the significantly superstitious Greek conceptualization regarding death and burial rites is found within the writings of Theophrastus, a fourth century Greek scholar. He related how Greek superstition decreed that stepping upon a tombstone was likely to be followed by a pollution of the perpetrators soul by the spirit of the buried dead; another similarly relevant superstition, according to this scholar, was the reluctance to enter a home where a corpse lay for the same reason (Felton, 1999).
Exceptionally and diversely supernatural beliefs and ritual observances of the ancient Greeks were practically conventional norms of the particular societies primarily due to the fact that they needed psychologically societal as well as general securitization in order to diffuse the harsh abruptness of death. The ancient Greeks were the basically the ones responsible for the introduction of mythological recognition within Europe; around 400 BC the Athenian philosopher Plato coined the word mythologia in order to distinguish between imaginative accounts of divine actions and factual descriptions of events, supernatural or otherwise. Moreover, the wealth as well as knowledge related characteristics of ancient Greece were far more advanced than most countries of the time; they were practically a people beyond their era (Burnstein, 1999).
The significant degree of the prevalence of rituals and beliefs of ancient Greece certainly point to the fact that Greeks were fascinated by the thought of the afterlife,…