Views On Death In Ancient Greece

1584 words - 6 pages

The war between the Athenians and the Spartans as written by Thucydides was a great one that no other that had ever occurred could be compared to, so says Thucydides. Thucydides views the preparations on both sides to have been perfect and that the Hellenic race was joining the war as well. He considers it the greatest faction yet recognized in history, of the barbaric world rather than to the Hellenes alone. From the second chapter of his book, it is clear that the war between these two groups was not to the advantage of the Athenians. They lost in the war and most of their people were killed. An ancestral funeral ceremony is performed to bury those who had died in the war.
The major theme that comes out clearly in the text is the theme of warfare and glorious death. Right from the beginning of his book, Thucydides, writes the story of the war between the Athenians and the Spartans. The theme of warfare is therefore evidenced by the Athenians preparation, the author says, ‘…beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war and more worthy of relation than any other that had preceded.’ This shows that the war that was to start was a unique one that had never happened before in history, in Thucydides opinion. This to me shows a bit of an exaggeration but more importantly this dramatic portrayal of the Peloponnesian war shows that war was seen as a part of life in Athens. In the text, we don’t find Thucydides describing war as being dark, catastrophic, or destructive which is how we would depict war nowadays. Instead we find him describing the war as this huge event that will go down in history as the greatest war to be fought.
In addition, the loss of the Athenians is seen when a funeral is performed. In book 2.34 the author says, ‘in the same winter the Athenians gave a funeral at the public cost to those who had first fallen in the war.’ This is evidence that it was glorious for an Athenian to die at war. This was a funeral ceremony that was performed in honor of those who died in war especially when they were fighting for the good of the state. It was a custom, which had been passed down the lineage by their ancestors. This shows that glory in dying in war was engraved in the Athenian society and that it had been there for a long time.
Secondly, the theme of warfare and death comes out clearly, when the author says ‘...any citizen or stranger who pleases, joins in the procession: and the female relatives are there to wail at the burial. The dead are laid in the public sepulcher in the beautiful suburb of the city, in which those who fall in war are always buried; with the exception of those slain at marathon, who for their singular and extraordinary valor were interred…’. This funeral was carried out and gifts were brought for their families. Wailing by women was also mandatory in the ceremony. From these bits and pieces, we can learn about the customs of war burials and the way the Athenians honored...

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