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The Importance of Burial in Greek Religion
For the most part, the Greeks did not believe in a different afterlife for the good or bad—i.e., no heaven or hell. In their view, the afterlife was almost universally grim; the important detail for the dead was whether they were buried or unburied. Those who did not receive proper funeral rites were doomed to wander by the river Styx, the entrance to the Underworld, for eternity; their souls could never be at rest. Thus, denying burial to a corpse not only insulted the body, but also damned his soul for all time.
The buried were granted access to Hades, the name of both the Underworld and its king (who was also known as Pluto). In order for the dead to gain this access, a complicated ritual had to be performed. There were few ‘professional' undertakers, so a man's funeral fell to his family, especially the women of the family. They prepared the body for cremation, oversaw the collection of the bones and ashes and burial of the urn, provided the tomb with liquid offerings (libations), and led the mourning, a loud and violent process in which women tore their cheeks with their fingernails, ripped out their hair, and poured dirt over the heads and clothing.
Mourning the dead was one of the few things women were allowed to do in ancient Greece, especially Athens. Women of well-born families were expected to stay at home in specially designated women's quarters at all times except during certain religions festivals. Marriages were arranged by a girl's father or guardian. Women were not true citizens of the democracy and could not speak or vote in the assembly. They were not even allowed to speak in court, a basic right for Athenian men.
Burying and mourning their dead relatives gave women an opportunity to do something important for their families. It brought women to the fore and gave them a role to play. When Creon forbids burial of Polynices, he denies Antigone the chance to do one of the few important things society allowed women to do. Thus, he is attacking her identity, and that is a large part of the reason she opposes his orders.
Source: Antigone: Literary Touchstone Classic, ©2005 Prestwick House. All Rights Reserved. Full copyright.
a queen of Thebes who had 14 children—seven sons and seven daughters; she boasted that she had more children than Leto, a goddess, who only had two. Unfortunately for Niobe, these two children were the powerful deities Apollo and Artemis, both of whom were associated with archery. Using their infallible arrows, Apollo and Artemis slew all of Niobe's children (Apollo killing the boys, Artemis the girls), and Niobe herself fled to a mountain, where she turned to stone, although never ceasing to weep (this phenomenon explained the image of a weeping woman formed by a spring in the porous limestone of the mountain).
Niobe is frequently alluded to in Greek literature because she is the perfect symbol for the suffering that comes, justly or not, from opposing or slighting authority. She was also the subject of tragedies in her own right, the most famous being that of the great playwright Aeschylus, whose play showed Niobe sitting on the stage, silently weeping, for over half of the drama before she said her first line.
a Thracian king who denied the godhood of Dionysus as that god made his triumphal entry into Greece from the East. Dionysus responded by driving Lycurgus mad: After Lycurgus committed many crimes, he was arrested by his people and shut up in a cave, where he was killed by wild animals.
In order to understand the will of the gods, the Greeks used many methods of prophecy, which included consulting oracles (holy places in which humans could pose questions and receive answers through the god's chosen interpreter), inspecting the entrails of a sacrificed animal, or watching the motion of birds in the sky. All of this had to be done by a prophet, a specially chosen priest who could interpret such things. tiresias is probably the most famous prophet in Greek myth, and the Athenian audience would know that whatever he said was true.
one of the most important cults in Greece; Dionysus, along with Demeter and Persephone, was worshipped in these mysteries. Unlike normal Greek religion, the cult promised salvation and paradise after death to believers.
Another mortal woman beloved of Zeus; mother of Dionysus. Zeus's jealous wife Hera tricked Semele into asking Zeus to see him in his full glory as a god, which overwhelmed her mortal eyes. She burned to death, but Zeus grabbed the unborn Dionysus as she went up in flames.