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Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry by Emily Vermeule

By Emily Vermeule

The traditional Greeks committed a good portion in their poetic and creative power to exploring subject matters of demise. Vermeule examines the proof and fictions of Greek dying, together with burial and mourning, visions of the underworld, souls and ghosts, the worth of heroic loss of life in conflict, the search for immortality, the associated powers of loss of life, sleep, and love, and extra.

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16 The funera1 procession with the bier on a cart: Anic black-figured kantharos, sixth century. Copynghted rT'-:ttenal CREATURES OF THE DAY 21 Fxa. 17 Lowering the coffin into the grave at night: Attic black-figured loutrophoros, fifth century. Painters' several scenes (fig. 1 7) the stages are marked; the carpenters and diggers have their lamp$, and the coffin is lowered down to the grave·diggers by torchlight. , XXIV. 3 ' This sequence of ceremonies was roQ[ed in the Bronze Age and barely changed through Greek history; the quiet scenes have a power of their own still in the time of the Peloponnesian Wars on white ground lekythoi.

C. Copyrighted material DEATH IN THE BRONZE AGE In some early communities, primary earth-burial was not the rule. The living rather dcv<:loped a p artnership with nature, with animals and birds and river torrent$, to strip the flesh off tbc bones first, in the practical step of excarnation. se of the village, or in a separate village of the dead. Under such circumstanc-es it was natural for the conccit to develop that feeLing was more a ttached to the enduring white bones of the dead man thao to his corrupted and vanishing flesh.

Ro Emotions at the prothesis: Attic Geometrjc fragment, eighth century. • There are survivals of extremely archaic practices in Geometric funeral art, but almost nothing of the supernatural Sometimes the dead are fed, apparently; Fta. 11 Mourners wearing dresses ornamented with horse, sphinx, and mourner: Attic funeral vase, seventh century. 3~ The only element of metaphysical belief which presents itself seems to be the occasional representatiorl of the PSJ'che as a bird, the renowned soul-bird whose native habitat is Egypt.

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