"For Memory": the Evolution of Greek Attitude to Death and Burial in Hellenistic and Roman Times

Sventsitskaya Irina S.

In classical times Greeks had no fear of death. For them death was absence of suffering. Easy death and posthumous public honours were a part of the ideal of happiness. The Greeks believed that the soul of an unburied man would not find peace in Hades. Hence the funeral ritual, e.g. a collective female lament; these rituals were lying outside the individual in the world of common understanding. But the Greeks wanted to keep their individual ties with the deceased. They placed monuments and epitaphs above graves; an inscription, relief or statue were made for memory and (especially from late IV century BC on) expressed grief and love of relatives. The attitude to collective ritual changed: it became formal (false lamentation in Menander's comedy "The Shield"). In Hellenistic and Roman period we may see the private ritual and various family cults of the apotheosized deceased. Some writers disapproved of the common ritual (Plutarch, Lucian). The epitaphs reflected various individual feelings; most of them were addressed to living persons. There were reflections on life after death, with fear or with hope. Many people hoped to find personal salvation through closeness to the divine, so they became mystai. The basic idea of an initiation ritual in all the mysteries was that of death and rebirth of an individual. But mysteries disappeared together with paganism. The new ritual was introduced by Christianity.