CLA204H5 Chapter 12: CLA204- CH 12

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30 Jul 2016
CLA204- Chapter 12: Myths of Death (Encounters with The Underworld)
Some mythical creatures escaped death either by becoming gods or by achieving immortality in a paradise somewhere at the
edge of the world
Reoccurring theme in Greek myth is descent into and return from the world of the dead; myth of Demeter and Persephone
The Greek View of Death
Natural death was uncommon in ancient world
Death was caused by a hostile force from the natural world (storm, animal attack), from human being (an enemy soldier), or
from the invisible and inexplicable realm of gods, ghosts, magician and priests that we call disease
In Homers Iliad, the gods stand beside their favorite heroes and guide their weapons or in other was bring about the death of
their opponents, and sometimes they themselves strike a blow directly
Any god could cause the death of a mortal but Hades played a special role
oReferred to as the “unseen one”
oHe ruled over all the dead in the dark land he received when he and his brothers Zeus and Poseidon partitioned the
world between them at the dawn of the present world- order
oWas also called Pluto, the “enricher” b/c form beneath the earth comes mineral and agriculture wealth
oJust as many people today avoid the words die and death, Greeks often regarded Hades as a god too dangerous to
call by his real name
Most ancient Greeks believes that individual human beings continue to exist after death, although in an attenuated form 
soul survives as a sort of image (eidolon) dwelling thereafter in a separate realm ordinarily unseen by the living
oSoul was associated w. the breath, the invisible, barely tangible natural element that animates the living body
Like many others, for Greeks, breath determines the difference between the living and the dead
oGreeks inferred breath is the basis for all the other activities of a living human being, such as sensing, thinking, and
Need to remove the restless ghosts from this world is dramatized at the end of Homer’s Iliad when the ghost of Achilles’
dead friend Patroclus appears to Achilles in a dream:
oIn this story Patroclus asks Achilles to burn his dead body so he may pass to the underworld, Achilles does so.
When you can get ghosts on your side, they work to protect human interests
Greek Erinyes or furies are mythical portrayals of the ghosts of slain members of one’s own family
oPrecautions had to be taken to ensure the safety of the living without infringing on the rights of the often malevolent
Many rituals to ward off angry ghosts  some were designed to persuade the spirit that the survivors had not benefited from a
person’s death so the persons weapons, jewelry were buried w. the corps or burned on the pyre
oDark clothes showed the survivor’s sadness and loosening of the hair and scratching of the face and breasts by
mouring women showed how they too suffered
oSpecial house was sometimes built for the dead (tomb) where ghosts could live happily
Ghosts were considered stupid and easily confused so its easy for them to lose their way to the other world so Hermes was
prepared to lead the dead to Hades’ house and relieve this world of the burden of their presence  Hermes is called
psychopompos or “soul- guide”
Halloween  day ghosts are allowed to come forth from their tombs and beg for food, if refused they will do harm (Trick or
Odysseus’ Journey To Death’s Realm
Earliest elaborate testimony of death in Homer’s Odyssey
Odysseus tells the strange story of his experience w. the ghosts of the dead, and his journey to the other world, at a banquet
given by the king of the island of Phaeacia, where he was shipwrecked on his way home to Ithaca
oWithc Circe instructed him before returning home, to seek advice from ghost of Tiresias, most famous see in Greek
myth and an important character in Euripedes’ Bacchae
oTireseas saw a pair of serpents mating and killed the female, as punishment he was turned into a woman
oAfter 7 years he saw the same thing and was turned back into a man
oZeus and Hera were battling over who knew the greater pleasure of sex, males or females, Tireseas replied without
hesitation that od ten parts in the enjoyment of sex, females get 9 and males get 1
oHera got pissed and blinded him  Zeus compensated him w. gift of prophecy and a lifetime extending through 7
generations of men
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