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Page 4

Lamenting of the Dead

 

    Around this funeral bed the relatives and friends keep a gloomy vigil. The Athenians after all are southern born, and when excited seem highly emotional people. There are stern laws dating from Solon's day against the worst excesses, but what now occurs seems violent enough. The widow is beating her breast, tearing her hair, gashing her cheeks with her finger nails. Lycophron's elderly sister has ashes sprinkled upon her gray head and ever and anon utters piteous wails. The slave women in the background keep up a hideous moaning. The men present do not think it undignified to utter loud lamentation and to shed frequent tears. Least commendable of all (from a modern standpoint) are the hired dirge singers, who maintain a most melancholy chant, all the time beating their breasts, and giving a perfect imitation of frantic grief. This has probably continued day and night, the mourners perhaps taking turns by relays.

    All in all it is well that Greek custom enjoins the actual funeral, at least, on the second day following the death.[4] The "shade" of the deceased is not supposed to find rest in the nether world until after the proper obsequies.[5] To let a corpse lie several days without final disposition will bring down on any family severe reproach. In fact, on few points are the Greeks more sensitive than on this subject of prompt burial or cremation. After a land battle the victors are bound never to push their vengeance so far as to refuse a "burial truce" to the vanquished; and it is a doubly unlucky admiral who lets his crews get drowned in a sea fight, without due effort to recover the corpses afterward and to give them proper disposition on land.

 

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