Title: Homeric Thought on
Death and Existence in the
Afterlife
Brandy Stark, PhD
Feb. 25, 2012
Orestes with ghost of Clyte...
Abstract
 Abstract: Topics of the dead have been utilized with such
efficiency by writers of all eras who record their cu...
What happens after death?
 Pre-classical society inherited many inconsistent pictures of
the soul or self.
 Associated w...
What happens after death?
 Why the confusion?
 Disintegration of the Mycenaean civilization in the 12th
century BCE  Gr...
Homer
 Homer
 Ionia, Asia Minor
 Part of trade routes
 “Melting-pot communities” formed with multiple dialects and
com...
Iliad and Odyssey
 It was during this time that the Iliad and the Odyssey were
given their final forms
 Derived from a r...
Influences
 Homer‟s characters are so powerful that they transcend into the
afterlife, making him the first Western autho...
Death
 Death itself is not depicted as a
pleasant event to the Homeric Greeks.
 Thanatos, hard-hearted and a bringer
of ...
Burial
 Immensely important as per
Elpenor (a sailor who died early in
Odysseus‟s voyage of a drunken
fall).
 I beseech ...
Burial
 If a body was lost effigies could be used as a substitute
 In special cases, it was enough to erect a tomb to ho...
Burial
 The Greeks had a strong belief that the dead
continued to exist in the ground.
 Corpse or cremains were buried w...
Aspects of the soul
 Thumos: Not a part of the soul but is an organ of feeling and
intuition
 A man could converse with ...
Psyche
 The aspect of the soul in its more unified form as the well-
developed concept of the psyche belonging to later G...
Homeric expansion on death
 Homer proposed that special souls survived death but that the human
shade was relegated to Ha...
Homeric expansion on death
 Hades
 Known and feared: “And thus she spoke and my very soul was
crushed within me, and sit...
Homeric expansion on death
 Outstanding individuals: Hades did offer vague notions of
rewards
 The hero-hunter Orion spe...
Homeric expansion on death
 Hades: punishment
 Tityus, a man who assaulted Leto, the consort of Zeus and
the mother of A...
Homeric expansion on death
 Achilles, the greatest of mortal
heroes, laments his fate in a
manner reminiscent of Enkidu
o...
Homeric ghosts
 Not only did Homer help to flesh out the underworld, he also worked
with the notion of the liminal state....
Homeric ghosts
 The nature of the ancient Greek :
mindless, bodiless creature.
 Remain relatively
unimportant, forgettin...
Homeric ghosts
 Important when the Homeric poets are using them as a device through
which to advance the story‟s plot:
 ...
Dream ghosts
 Big change: Not bound to underworld at all times
 Able to visit the living in the form of dreams
 As they...
Conclusion
 In their quest for justification of death, the Ancient Greeks
created a variety of beliefs about death and th...
Sources
 Dodds, E.R. The Greeks and the Irrational. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1959.
 Faraone, Christo...
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Homer and deathb

  1. 1. Title: Homeric Thought on Death and Existence in the Afterlife Brandy Stark, PhD Feb. 25, 2012 Orestes with ghost of Clytemnestra
  2. 2. Abstract  Abstract: Topics of the dead have been utilized with such efficiency by writers of all eras who record their cultures‟ encounters with their spectral pasts. The poems of Homer were written from an oral literature handed down over generations and transformed into folklore and legend. From these ideas, Homer created two major epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey.  Though the epics focused on the lives and actions of heroes, they also contained strong elements of death. Emerging ideas on death and the afterlife derived from centuries of storytelling are found throughout the Homeric epics. Through these writings, Homer records the first Grecian concepts of the soul, Hades, and the spectral existence of the unhappy dead.
  3. 3. What happens after death?  Pre-classical society inherited many inconsistent pictures of the soul or self.  Associated with the grave  Shadows in Hades  Breath that perished at death  Reincarnation
  4. 4. What happens after death?  Why the confusion?  Disintegration of the Mycenaean civilization in the 12th century BCE  Greek Dark Ages (substantial changes)  Combination of smaller areas into larger cities  New ideas arrived with the waves of Doric and Northern European immigrants who brought in seers, healers, and religious teachers  Sacred shrines and ancestral tombs were left behind; created the need for new understandings of death and the afterlife.
  5. 5. Homer  Homer  Ionia, Asia Minor  Part of trade routes  “Melting-pot communities” formed with multiple dialects and complex legends (Porter 17)
  6. 6. Iliad and Odyssey  It was during this time that the Iliad and the Odyssey were given their final forms  Derived from a rich oral tradition  Kept descriptions of objects and values from older traditions  Homer draws from:  Legends: usually derived from true events from a prior time (War)  Folktales, defined as fictional stories derived from the surrounding culture (Hades, ghostly visitations)
  7. 7. Influences  Homer‟s characters are so powerful that they transcend into the afterlife, making him the first Western author to enumerate about the post-life existence of the dead (Felton 1 – 2).  The Iliad is an act of war with men who constantly face immolation or who lose comrades to the ravages of battle; struggle to stay alive in hostile circumstances  Patroclus  Hector  The Odyssey focuses on a man believed dead (Odysseus) who must come back from this status and prove himself.  Often cited as falling into death-like sleeps  Exhausted and lives a half life when imprisoned by goddesses  Travels to the land of the dead
  8. 8. Death  Death itself is not depicted as a pleasant event to the Homeric Greeks.  Thanatos, hard-hearted and a bringer of grief and mourning; duty bound  Unthinking, unstoppable, an end with out reason or remorse  Helpers: Hypnos, god of sleep, and Ker, the personification of doom as found in tragic events (see: Sirens)  Artemis and Apollo: (Iliad) These twin gods have dual aspects and represent both life and death.  Apollo, acting as a god of death, attacks the Grecian camp with plague when one of his priests is offended  Men, mules, horses, and dogs die  Restitution to the priest ends death; Apollo kills with cause  He is reachable, reasonable and intelligent (Thanatos is not)
  9. 9. Burial  Immensely important as per Elpenor (a sailor who died early in Odysseus‟s voyage of a drunken fall).  I beseech you but those you left behind far away, by your wife and father who took care of you as a child, and by Telemachus, your only son whom you left at home in your palace, do not turn away and go back, leaving me unwept and unburied for future time, or I may become the cause of wrathful vengeance from the gods upon you. But burn my body with all the armor that I have and pull up a mound for me on the shore of the gray sea, the grave of an unfortunate man, so that posterity, too, may know me (Odyssey 23. 59 – 70).  Note: Revenge is from the gods, not the ghost
  10. 10. Burial  If a body was lost effigies could be used as a substitute  In special cases, it was enough to erect a tomb to honor the dead and to offer sacrifice to his spirit.  Telemachus is advised by Athena (in the disguise as Mentes) that should he seek his father and learn that Odysseus died, he was to build a tomb in his father‟s honor (Faraone, 183 – 184).
  11. 11. Burial  The Greeks had a strong belief that the dead continued to exist in the ground.  Corpse or cremains were buried with a feeding tube inserted into the tomb  Allowed the living to provide liquid nourishment to the departed.  Regardless of one‟s state as ash or corpse, the body- spirit connection required a level of physical maintenance from the living (Dodds 179).  Irrational action for a rational people  Some scholars believe that this custom was so old that by the Homeric Era it was not questioned  With the circulations of legends and lore supporting that the unhappy dead could become a problem to the living, it was better to appease the spirits by feeding their earthly remains than to leave anything to chance (16).  Important items of daily use were often buried in tombs or burned through elaborate rituals in order to assist the living in the afterlife.  A few early ghost stories circulated of the unhappy dead who returned to complain of a lacking necessity.
  12. 12. Aspects of the soul  Thumos: Not a part of the soul but is an organ of feeling and intuition  A man could converse with his thumos  Sometimes serves as the voice of reason: When to slay an enemy, or offers advice on a course of action  Guides the living into either rational or irrational actions  See: Odysseus and Polyphemus  And I then formed a plan within my daring heart of closing on him, drawing my sharp sword from my thigh and stabbing him in the breast …. Yet second thoughts restrained me, for there we too faced utter ruin; for we could never with our hands have pushed from the lofty door the enormous stone which he had set against it. Thus then with sighs we awaited sacred dawn (Odyssey 9. 295 – 299).
  13. 13. Psyche  The aspect of the soul in its more unified form as the well- developed concept of the psyche belonging to later Greeks did not readily appear in Homer‟s writings.  The psyche was granted at death, and its only function for the living was to leave him  See: Odysseus‟s dead mother, Anticlea:  O, my poor child, ill-fated beyond all men; Persephone, daughter of Zeus, does not trick you at all; but this is the doom of mortals when they die, for no longer do sinews hold bones and flesh together, but the mighty power leaves our white bones and the soul, like a dream, flutters and flies away” (Odyssey 9, 186-190).
  14. 14. Homeric expansion on death  Homer proposed that special souls survived death but that the human shade was relegated to Hades, an actual land populated by ghosts.  See: Hercules  Though a demi-god, Hercules could not fully escape the mortal‟s fate in the underworld  “And next I marked the might of Hercules – his phantom form; for he himself is with the immortal gods reveling at their feasts, wed to fair-ankled Hebe, child of great Zeus and golden-sandaled Hera” [Book XI, Lines 599 - 601 ].  The greatest man from the prior generation of heroes still strolled through death‟s gloomy gates and could only recount his earthly deeds, specifically his own journey to retrieve Cerberus from the Underworld, to Odysseus (Dodds, 179).
  15. 15. Homeric expansion on death  Hades  Known and feared: “And thus she spoke and my very soul was crushed within me, and sitting on the bed I fell to weeping; my heart no longer cared to live and see the sunshine” (Odyssey 10. 499 – 501).  Any status gained in the world of the living was lost (queens in life, handmaidens in death)  Once deceased, the average person was merely a winsome spirit who remembered little of his life and who maintained no true purpose for existence:  “The souls of the dead who had departed then swarmed up from Erebus: young brides, unmarried boys, old men having suffered much, tender maidens whose hearts were new to sorrow, and many men wounded by bronze-tipped spears and wearing armor stained with blood. From one side and another they gathered about the pit in a multitude with frightening cries” (Odyssey 11. 33 – 36).
  16. 16. Homeric expansion on death  Outstanding individuals: Hades did offer vague notions of rewards  The hero-hunter Orion spent his afterlife forever chasing the animals he had killed in life.  Minos “There I saw Minos, the splendid son of Zeus, sitting with a gold scepter in his hand and pronouncing judgments for the dead, and they sitting and standing asked the king for his decisions within the wide gates of Hades‟ house… (Odyssey 11. 563 – 566).
  17. 17. Homeric expansion on death  Hades: punishment  Tityus, a man who assaulted Leto, the consort of Zeus and the mother of Apollo and Artemis, had his liver perpetually eaten  Parched Tantalus stood in a pool of water that splashed to his chin. Cursed with terrible thirst, each time he bent to drink the water it recessed. And also I saw Sisyphus enduring hard sufferings as he pushed a huge stone…he kept shoving it up to the top of the hill. But, just when he was about to thrust it over the crest then its own weight forced it back and once again the pitiless stone rolled down the plain… (Odyssey book 11, lines 581-596).
  18. 18. Homeric expansion on death  Achilles, the greatest of mortal heroes, laments his fate in a manner reminiscent of Enkidu of the Gilgamesh:  “Do not speak to me soothingly about death, glorious Odysseus; I should prefer as a slave to serve another man, even if he had no property and little to live on, than to rule over all these dead who have done with life…” (Odyssey 11, 487- 491).
  19. 19. Homeric ghosts  Not only did Homer help to flesh out the underworld, he also worked with the notion of the liminal state.  The dead could produce ghosts capable of returning to the mortal coil (no longer tied to the grave)  Ghosts were “whining, impotent things of little use except when, occasionally, they were called up to assist the living, usually by giving advice or information…no right thinking Greek was afraid of them…” (Finucane 5).  Both the Iliad and the Odyssey suggest that the poet was both fully conscious of this innovative idea and proud of the achievement. Until that time, the tendency of the dead was to be as part of the corpse (4).
  20. 20. Homeric ghosts  The nature of the ancient Greek : mindless, bodiless creature.  Remain relatively unimportant, forgetting themselves  Non-essential ghosts, weak …I drew my sword from my side and took my post and did not allow the strengthless [sic] spirits of the dead to come near the blood (Odyssey, 11.44 – 46) Living have power over the dead by will or material force Sword: Metal (disrupts supernatural powers in the ancient world), personal strength, death itself (Felton 10).
  21. 21. Homeric ghosts  Important when the Homeric poets are using them as a device through which to advance the story‟s plot:  Anticlea (mother): He discovers that she has died waiting for him to return, but she also fills him in on the state of his country since his departure.  Agamemnon revealed his murder to a stunned Odysseus, who last saw the king leaving to return home, a victor of war.  Tiresias is also unusual among shades because even post-mortem he retains his intelligence as a gift from the gods. It is his advice that leads Odysseus to learn of his future and the course that he is destined to take.
  22. 22. Dream ghosts  Big change: Not bound to underworld at all times  Able to visit the living in the form of dreams  As they retained a bodiless and boneless state, these dream-ghosts entered the room through keyholes, particularly helpful as homes during the Homeric times often had neither chimneys nor windows.  Settled near the head of the sleeper to deliver its message  Once done, it simply left.  Living did not question this exchange (Miller 24).  In sleep came to him the soul of unhappy Patroclus, his very image in stature and wearing clothes like his, with his voice and those lovely eyes. The vision stood by his head and spoke” (Iliad 23. 85).  Achilles was unafraid of the shade and even tried to embrace him, though the result was that “the soul was gone like smoke into the earth, twittering” (Iliad 23. 124) (Similar to the Gilgamesh)
  23. 23. Conclusion  In their quest for justification of death, the Ancient Greeks created a variety of beliefs about death and the afterlife  Introduced through the Homeric epics.  The writings demonstrate a belief in the afterlife and in the idea that the individual maintains an afterlife existence  These ideas later developed into core values that were utilized by later cultures who also sought to explore the otherworld  These would be carried forth through the ideologies of the Classical Greek cultures, the direct inheritors of the Homeric tradition.
  24. 24. Sources  Dodds, E.R. The Greeks and the Irrational. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1959.  Faraone, Christopher A. “Binding and Burning the Forces of Evil: The Defensive Use of „VooDoo Dolls‟ in Ancient Greece.” Classical Antiquity v. 10 (1991) 165 – 218.  Finucane, R.C. Ghosts: Appearances of the Dead and Cultural Transformation. New York: Prometheus Books, 1996.  Lenardon, Robert J. and Mark P.O. Morford.Classical Mythology.4thed. New York: Longman Press, 1971.  Miller, David D. “Angels, Ghosts and Dreams: The Dreams of Religion and the Religion of Dreams.” The Journal of Pastoral Counseling.26 (1991) 21 – 28.  Palmer, George H. (trans). The Odyssey of Homer. New York: Bantam Books, 1962.  Porter, Howard N. “Introduction.” The Odyssey of Homer. New York: Bantam Books, 1962. 1 – 17.  Rouse, W.H.D. (Trans). Homer: The Iliad. New York: Penguin Group, date unknown.  Russell, W.M.S. “Greek and Roman Ghosts.” The Folklore of Ghosts.Ed. Hilda R. Ellis Davidson. Great Britain: Cambridge, 1981. 192-213.  Sourcinou-Inwood, Christiane. “To Die and Enter the House of Hades: Homer, Before and After.” Mirrors of Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death. Ed. Joachime Whaley. New York: St. Martin‟s Press, 1981. 15 – 29.

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