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Death in Ancient and Modern Greece

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Alyssa Enny

on 4 December 2014

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Transcript of Death in Ancient and Modern Greece

Death in Ancient and Modern Greece
Ancient Greece views Death
Pathetic and undignified
Souls were said to be "haunting" to the living
Lost everything that once made them human i.e. intelligence.

- Trisagion Prayer: services performed after death
- 40 Day mourning period: Do's and Dont's for the Family
1. Wearing black for 40 days
2. Cannot attend social events
- 40 Day mourning period: Do's and Dont's for Friends
1. Bring brandy, wine, coffee, dry biscuits (Paximathis) to family
2. Any kind of food is found to be comforting
- Bread, fish, olives, cheese, salads, savory parties and more wine is offered at the funeral service
Modern Greek Orthodox Customs After Death
- Have a strong sense of Christian values and traditions
- They believe our bodies hold our souls
- Positive outlook on death...
- Relate their own deaths to the
transcendence into Heaven
- Priests are present to help the deceased
and their families
Modern Greek Traditions After Death
- Greek Orthodox religion reflects strongly on symbolism
example: Iron Crosses, Lit Candles, Anointing of the body
- Throw flowers and soil onto the grave as its being lowered
- Bury the coffin facing east
- Oil and Wine on coffin
- The amount of prayer done for the
deceased determining the
blessedness or damnation of the soul
Death is a release of breath or a "puff" of the soul out of the body
"psyche" - spirit
Hermes lead the soul down to the entrance of the Underworld
A soul must pass across the river Styx
Charon requires a payment for the ferry to take the soul across the river
The afterlife in Ancient Greece is the Underworld
Ruled by the God Hades, brother to Zeus and Poseidon
Hades is cruel and unforgiving

Time Honored rituals in preparing to body for The Underworld
Ancient Greek's believed those who did not have the coin to pay Charon, they were caught between the living world and the underworld
Bodies were often buried with coins placed over lips to prevent a soul from being trapped
Honey cakes to feed to Cerberus who guarded the underworld
Souls upon entering the underworld are judged by three judges
Sentenced to either the Elysian Fields, Tartarus or just "the underworld".
Only the worst of the worst ended up in the depths of Tartarus and likewise only the best of the best were sent to Elysian fields.

*No one could enter or leave The Underworld (Orpheus)
The Underworld was not feared
Only the most terrible sinners should fear death
Overall Death was not so much feared but unwanted

The Gods were feared
Death was not wanted because life was so much better
Life offered many pleasures
Did not want to be a dead soul, useless, undignified
But there was an afterlife
Achilles said "I'd rather be a day-laborer on earth working for a man of little property than lord of all the hosts of the dead." -The Iliad, Homer
The soul lived on but not as it was in human form
Afterlife where the soul started new (i.e. the rivers)
Big part of why death was not wanted
The deceased remained immortal by being remembered by the living (i.e. offerings)
the Acheron (river of woe), the Cocytus (river of lamentation), the Phlegethon (river of fire), the Styx (river of unbreakable oath), and the Lethe (river of forgetfulness).
Modern Day Greece
views on death

A large portion of the Greeks beliefs, rituals, and traditions about death and mourning are founded in the Greek Orthodox religion.
The Greeks believe that at the moment of death, the spirit of the dead leaves the body and passes to an afterlife, the "World to Come."
• From this point, the body is then prepared for burial or cremation according to the customs and traditions of the subculture.
The issue of cremation is very controversial in the Greek culture
Cremation has been outlawed in Greece for decades.
, the Greek government finally passed a law legalizing cremation.
Why are Greeks so against cremation?
"The Church considers cremation to be the deliberate desecration and destruction of what God has made and ordained for us. The Church instead insists that the body be buried so that the natural physical process of decomposition may take place. "
Ultimately, the religious belief is that the body is God's creation, therefore should not be burned.
The Greek Orthodox religion has made many connections in the bible which support a burial death oppose to cremation. For example:
God selected a burial ceremony for Moses' death
St. Paul was in favor of burial
Most of the references in the Bible referring to burning a body are negative such as;
punishment for criminal acts
punishment for improper behavior
killings by Pagans
burning Witches
Death Denying
The Greeks are a very death-denying society.
In the Greek culture, death is very much associated with suffering. The word "death" is often associated with words such as "pain," "suffering," and "emotional and psychological disaster."
Greeks often avoid discussions about death, unless the death is about someone whom no one in the house knows personally.
Dying in ones own house is even seen as an omen that evil will soon enter the doors of the house.
The Greeks are so death-denying that the fear of death, thanatophobia, is dominant in their culture.
The most frightening part about death for them is the grieving process.
It is common in Greek culture to not tell the dying person their diagnosis and prognosis; they believe that will only burden the dying person further.
Usually, the Greek family will be told the diagnosis, and then decide if they will tell the ill person.
Greeks also have such a great fear of cancer that the word is often not used, but replaced with "the growth"

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Death in Modern Greek Culture. (2013) Hawaii Pacific Journal of
Social Work Practice (HPJSWP) : n. pag. Hawaii Pacific University Press. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.

Department of Greek and Roman Art. (October 2003) Death, burial,
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November 23, 2014.

GreekMythology.com. (n.d.). The Underworld. Retrieved November
26, 2014, from http://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Places/The_Underworld/the_underworld.html

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and the cultural response. In C. D. Bryant (Ed.), Handbook of Death & Dying (Vol. 1, pp. 3-13). http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412914291.n1

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Rituals. (n.d.). Retrieved December 3, 2014, from http://www.morbidoutlook.com/nonfiction/articles/2002_11_greekfuneral.html

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Sisyphus- Rolling a rock up a hill indefinitely
Tantalos- Never quench his thirst
Ixion- Tied to an ever spinning wheel
Elysian Fields
Dunked in the river of Lethe to forget all the bad things
Land where the heroes ended up
Death is undignified
Dying with dignity
Something to be ashamed of...
Parallel to how our society views death
Traditions in Modern Greek
Is Ancient Greece death accepting or death denying?
When someone dies in the household it is believed the "evil spirit" has entered the house.
The windows are opened so the evil is "washed out" with fresh air.
The deceased body is dressed in new clothes that have not been washed in order for them to be buried in grace.
All of the mirrors or shiny surfaces in the house are covered with white towels or sheets.
That way the bereaved are not sharing their interest with anything else but the reality of the deceased.
The wakes are held in the house of the deceased among relatives and friends.
Candles are found burning by the head of the body located in a coffin.
Candlelight is a way of saying "goodbye" to the deceased.
The wake lasts a full day, twenty-four hours, where family and friends can be found wailing, mourning and expressing their feelings in a very intense and demonstrating way.
After the wake has finished, the body is transferred by walking from the house to the nearest church.
Friends but NOT relatives carry the coffin.
The priest leads the way; following is the relatives as well as friends and others who had attended the wake.
Immediately after the coffin has left the house, a woman or two stay behind to clean and prepare for the after funeral gathering.
These women pour out water from a glass and then proceed to break the glass at the front porch or entrance of the house.
This was done to rid the "evil" that the death has brought to the family.
Funeral Layout
The coffin is most of the time left open, unless the body has deteriorated too much due to illness or an accident.
The coffin is found at the center front of the chancel, the first-degree relatives are found on the left side of the coffin and the remaining people can be found sitting or standing.
Everyone holds a burning candle and the ceremony begins.
When everyone has shown their condolences and sympathy the group heads back to the deceased's house.
Once they have returned, the "coffee for comfort" is offered to everyone.
During this time, relatives and friends share with one another the memories and experiences they had with the deceased.
The duration of this gathering last between three to four hours.
Post Funeral
Traditions Throughout Greece
Not all traditions are followed by subcultures in the rural or urban areas of Greece.
Mani (South part of Greece):
The relatives will start to walk towards the house of the deceased shouting their names loudly as they approach the entrance of the house.
Rural areas on the island Crete:
If it is a man in the family who has passed, the wife (if there is one) and the daughters (if any) cut their hair as a symbol of strength.
They then lay the cut hair on the body of the deceased.
Skafia (small village):
If a father loses a son her will never shave again and the mother will never wear clothes with any other color than black.
Traditions in Crete

• Ancient Greeks were strong believers in the afterlife.

• Everything was a celebration for the Greeks, such as birth, life,
death and after life.

• Every death ceremony was directed towards the afterlife.

• The Greeks had death rituals right from the 6th century B.C.

• Ancient Greeks believed there was a right time and place when
someone died, no questions asked, just had to be accepted.

• They believed when one departed from life, one gained a
“higher level of consciousness. "

• Whatever the last words of the person dying were very important and
to be taking very seriously. The words the person said could be
“words of wisdom” for loved ones.

Ancient Greece Death Rituals
Three Stages of a Funeral
 The woman of the deceased were the ones in charge of the funeral rituals

 The body was prepared for a wake

 The body was moved to a place where it would be buried

 The body would be set in a tomb, and If the person was cremated their remains were set in a tomb or grave also.
Ancient Greece-How the body was prepared
First thing done to prepare a body for the burial was closing the eyes and mouth

 The main house hold woman was in charge of washing the body with sea salt

water and smeared with oil

 When one had battle wounds, they were to be cleaned and properly dressed.

 The body was covered in a white or grey ankle length shroud

 If the deceases was in the military, then the body was dressed in a military cloak

 If one was married they were dressed in their wedding outfit.

 Woman were to wear jewelry, which had to be modest

 Hair was done just like ones hair would be when they were living.

 The body was put on a high bed so loved ones could say their final goodbyes.
Day of Funeral
Vases were decorated with scenes portraying the deceased surrounded by


 Before dawn was when funerals were usually taking place

 Loved ones were able to leave very few objects in the grave.

 Classical Athens visited the graves and left small cakes and drinks.

 Usually only family members were able to leave things to the deceased

 The family member would leave a lock of their hair and left drinks of honey, milk,

water, perfumes and oiled all mixed together

 After leaving the offerings, a prayer was followed.

 The enagismata followed after prayer which was “offerings to the dead” such as

milk, water, wine, celery, pelanon (a mixture of meal, honey and oil) and fresh

fruits and dried fresh fruits known as kollyba.

 Once the funeral was over, everything in the house was to be fully cleaned with

seawater and hyssop- usually the whatever women that were close to the

deceased were the ones who took part in cleaning

 Perideipnon which was the feast took place after everything, the host was the

person who passed away, and this was to thank whoever buried them.
Agioupoli (small village):
When a man who is engaged passes, the fiancee has to cut her hair and marry the next son in order, the brother of the deceased (if any).
Overall, if the deceased comes from a high social class the whole community grieves with the family and no celebrations take place for, at least, the next six months.
Traditions in Crete
After Death Timeline
Rituals for the after-death period take place on specific times:
3rd day
9th day
20th day
40th day
6 months
9 months
1 year
3 years
5 years
Greek Orthodox Beliefs
Followers of the Greek Orthodox religion believe in eternal life.
The church strongly emphasizes a positive outcome in death; the deceased is alive with God.
While death is the separation of the soul from the body, the physical body will be reunited with the soul at the Last Judgement.
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