Ancient Greek Beliefs of Afterlife Research Paper

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Life After Death: Afterlife Within the Realm of Ancient Greek Beliefs

The question as to what happens after death is not fathomable within human reason. As such, it remains one of the biggest mysteries of life. The belief in life after death is what keeps the hopes of the human race intact even in the face of the tragedy of death. The concept 'afterlife' appears absurd in light of rational thought yet strangely familiar. Since time immemorial, numerous theories and beliefs have emerged in bid to work out this disarray. As for Christians, there is a mainstream belief that revolves around Heaven and Hell for rewarding righteousness and punishing evil respectively. In Hinduism, the belief is that upon death, the human soul deserts the body and reincarnates in a different form based on 'actions and consequences.' In Ancient Greek religion, there was a wide range of beliefs. As it appertains to this study, Ancient Greeks believed in life after death where the soul departed the body and moved into the Underworld. One of these beliefs was in life after death in an alternate universe where souls went for the afterlife. They held on to the faith that death merely marked the end of human life or human and not the existence of the soul. While the Ancient Greeks believed in the existence of the soul after death, they saw the afterlife as one that lacked purpose; according to them, life after death was meaningless.


Some of the earliest references to Ancient Greek beliefs emerge from Homers accounts as documented in The Iliad and The Odyssey. In other historical accounts, the conception of the Afterlife had taken form in Ancient Greek beliefs dating back to the 6th Century BC

. There were no hints of progress in the Greek Underworld. The most attributable factor about the Greek Underworld is that it existed independent of the concept of time. Existence in the underworld took the form of infinity and continuity. For instance, Oedipus' destiny to kill his father and marry his mother was among the prophecies made, and in as much as he tried to alter his destiny, it became exceeding hard to alter the course of history. The most attributable factor about the Greek Underworld is that it existed independent of the concept of time but within the space continuum. Since existence in the afterlife beats the time continuum, the dead were always aware of the future making them able to predict and prophesy certain outcomes.

The first underworld identified as the Gates of Hades was a cold and dark real. Guarded by a deity going by the same name, Hades was the universal destination of the dead. Another underworld going by the title Tartarus emerges as the deepest region of the Greek Underworld. The Elysian Fields closely resembles Hesiod's Isles of the Blessed located in the western ocean as depicted in Works and Days. Elysium, otherwise referred to as Elysian Plain or Elysian Fields, was the Greek Underworld's equivalent to the Biblical 'heaven

.' According to Homeric references, the Elysian Fields was a paradise where only the righteous got to go; only the good souls and the pure hearts inhabited this Underworld. As it first appears in The Odyssey, the Elysian Fields, characterized by gentle breezes and located on the western ends of the earth, is the home of Menelaus


Afterlife refers to the concept of a realm -- or the realm itself -- where a person's essence / soul continue to reside after death. As a concept, -- whether in its transcendental or physical state -- the afterlife is also referred to as Hereafter or life after death. In some accounts, life after death may take place in the form of reincarnation, which refers to rebirth of the soul in a different form most likely without any memory of what transpired in their previous life form. In other accounts, existence in the afterlife takes a spiritual form.

As envisioned in numerous theories about Ancient Greek religion, afterlife connotes life after death in a parallel universe often identified as the underworld. The idea of life after death has sparked intense debate over the years since the dawn of science. Scientists believe that claims of life after death beat the logic of scientific method; there is no quantitative / empirical means of determining such claims and as such, they just do not make sense

. Echoing similar sentiments, top scientists from the University of Stanford have denounced the existence of the underworld arguing that such claims are not quantifiable and as such, the conjecture of there being life after death is uncorroborated. A section of scientists believe that there is nothing outside the realm of material existence in the physical world. In this view, such concepts such as heaven, hell, underworld, afterlife and intuition are non-existent. The scientific conjecture is that there is no parallel universe -- underworld -- where souls go upon departure from the body. In fact, the existence of the 'soul,' as a separate entity from the physical body, is in itself questionable within scientific logic. In view of this argument, life ends at death after which nothing else happens; there are no souls, underworlds or spirits that exist outside of the material world.

The dawn of science brought about an intellectual revolution in Europe. Scholars began to question some of the hitherto beliefs especially those about religion. For instance, Charles Darwin shocked the religious world by endorsing the evolution theory subsequently trashing erstwhile Biblical creation myths. The belief in life after death was one of the pillars of religion since time immemorial. For instance, Christians believed then -- as they still do -- that once a person dies, their soul either goes to heaven or hell depending on their actions during their physical existence on earth. Likewise, in Greek religion, as in other world religions, the belief in life after death is deeply entrenched in the religious dispensation. Even as the accounts of what exactly happens after death vary, the concept 'afterlife' remains constant throughout the religious divide. Even in the wake of the breakthrough in science, religious conservatives remained resolute in their belief in life after death. Looking at Ancient Greek religion, scholars have found that the belief in the afterlife was one of the most fundamental aspects of this religion. Ancient Greek belief in the underworld has become very popular in the contemporary media with the release of various movies such as Legend of Troy, Underworld, and Spartacus.

The Concept 'Afterlife' in Ancient Greek Beliefs

Spreading as it did over the centuries, Ancient Greek religion incorporated a great deal of diversity in terms of variety in belief. In most cultures, human life ends in death but the soul continues with the journey in the Underworld. After death comes the afterlife. Though there is no empirical evidence as to the existence of the Underworld or the afterlife, this consideration deeply reinforces itself in modern religious beliefs as it did in Ancient Greece. As Socrates once said, "Look death in the face with joyful hope, and consider this a lasting truth: the righteous man has nothing to fear, neither in life, nor in death, and the gods will not forsake him."

The fascination with the concept of life after death is one of the most distinct features of Ancient Greek beliefs.

Scholars and historians have described Ancient Greece as a notoriously mythological society. As it emerges in various literary pieces, -- i.e. Homeric epics, poems, journals, books and depictions in the mainstream media - the Ancient Greek society was quite a complex one

. The complexity of the Ancient Greek society has captured the interest of many learners and scholars alike as they seek to unravel the intricacy behind some of its mythological persuasions. As a result, accounts depicting Ancient Greek mythology often differ significantly given the varying interpretations by different scholars. Though interpretations vary, there are certain issues that scholars and historians have built consensus. Some of the agreements include Ancient Greek understanding of the afterlife; life in the underworld in which souls previously detached from the body through death reside. As a concept, afterlife often beats the logic of science; though logically unfathomable within the realm of science, the concept 'afterlife' appears strangely familiar within the contemplation of human beings not only in the ancient times but also in the present-day. Christians, Hindus, Muslims and even some non-believers often lean heavily towards the logic of there being some form of life after death.

Belief in the afterlife has kept the hopes of the human race intact even in the face of the tragedy of death. As for Christians, there is Heaven and Hell for rewarding the righteous and punishing the evil respectively. Along with the tragedy of death, the knowledge of the mortality of the soul helps human beings develop complex visions of life after death i.e. The afterlife. The tale of human dealings with death and life after death is the tale…

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