Who Telleth a Tale of Unspeaking Death?

by Wolfgang Marx (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection X, 174 Pages
Series: Carysfort Press Ltd., Volume 777


Death is silent; all the ‘tales’ we hear about it – be they of a religious, philosophical, scientific or artistic nature – are told by other humans. but specific deaths are often utilised to reconfirm or challenge existing societal structures, values and belief systems. the eight ‘tales’ collated here – based on the work of the Research Strand Death, Burial and the Afterlife at University College Dublin’s College of arts and humanities – present numerous interdisciplinary examples of how this process works.
The topics of the essays include the ideological orientations of Irish political funerals; the death rites of Cameroonian immigrants at home and in dublin; the Baroque artist Pietro da Cortona’s success in turning a Roman church into his own funeral monument; the role that Alexis de Tocqueville’s death played in his emergence as an iconic political theorist; the philosopher Josef Pieper’s attempt to approach the mystery of death through idealist thinking, the changing human attitudes towards the death of animals; the use of war maps as marketing devices during the Second World War; and the critique of political and societal structures embedded in Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Berliner Requiem.
This thought-provoking volume of essays, wide-ranging in scope and interdisciplinary in its approach, engages with questions surrounding the many meanings ascribed to death and the memorialisation of the dead. In its eight essays, it traverses whole thought-continents: from those who muse that ‘death has happened since the beginning of time; it is not to upset you today’ to the stark presentation of a reality which erodes the human face and thus a person's individuality. What clearly emerges are the many respects in which death itself has been and, indeed, remains, contested ground (both literally and metaphorically). This collection is an important contribution to the ever-expanding field of studies on Death and Dying.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • 1 | Illustrious Corpses: Burying Irish Nationalist Heroes
  • 2 | Crying by Singing Out: Performing the Cry-die of North West Cameroon in Dublin
  • 3 | The Tomb of Pietro da Cortona in Santi Luca e Martina al Foro
  • 4 | How Tocqueville became ‘Tocqueville’ – Gustave de Beaumont’s Letters from Cannes and the First Edition of Memoir, Letters, and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville
  • 5 | Philosophical Reflections on Reality and Death – from Plato to Novalis, Schopenhauer, and Pieper
  • 6 | Human Attitudes towards the Death of Animals
  • 7 | Ignoring Death – War, Maps and Advertising
  • 8 | Brecht and Weill’s Berliner Requiem as a Necropolitical Statement
  • Contributors
  • Illustrations

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Wolfgang Marx

Who telleth a tale of unspeaking death?

Who lifteth the veil of what is to come?

Who painteth the shadows that are beneath

The wide-winding caves of the peopled tomb?

Or uniteth the hopes of what shall be

With the fears and the love for that which we see?1

Percy Bysshe Shelley, from On Death

‘Who telleth a tale of unspeaking death?’ With these words from his poem On Death Percy Bysshe Shelley expresses the speaker’s dread in the face of death as all his knowledge is based on what we experience in this world while the ‘secret things of the grave’ cannot be anticipated. The line opens the fifth and last stanza in which the poem culminates in a series of rhetorical questions as quoted above. It seems obvious that the speaker does not expect a positive response: Death itself remains silent even once we come to occupy our tombs, and while everybody has knowledge of the things we can ‘see’ in this world (the poem’s last word clings to the only reality the speaker seems to be certain of), there is nothing more than hope regarding what lies beyond it. We may of course rely on the solace offered by religious belief, but since faith cannot be proved through our senses this does not seem helpful to Shelley.

Yet there are other ways in which we can read this stanza’s first line. If death itself really does not speak, how do we get to know all the stories, the legends, and the philosophical concepts related to it? The answer is: through the living. Death has been one of the biggest topics tackled by philosophers, priests, artists, writers and just about everybody else probably since human beings first became aware of their mortality. However, among the important questions posed by the existence of death is not just what may or may not happen to us once we have died, but also what someone else’s death means to us as individuals and as members of communities. All societies have developed rites to provide consolation to those close to a deceased, to honour her / his memory and achievements, and to reaffirm individual and group identities that are challenged each time death strikes. This second volume of the Dublin Death Studies series engages mainly with ways in which death has been utilized – in some cases even instrumentalized – by the living in order to shape their own world (rather than speculate about the afterlife), either in order to confirm ←1 | 2→existing structures, values and belief systems, or to challenge them. How a politician, a writer or an artist dies often significantly influences the way in which we assess her or his work in hindsight, so that the tale of this person or that work keeps evolving.

The Dublin Death Studies series has grown out of the work of the interdisciplinary research project Death, Burial and the Afterlife which is based at University College Dublin’s College of Arts and Humanities. Yet the eight new tales of unspeaking death collated here are not restricted to the disciplines united in that College; alongside essays representing art history, ethnomusicology, German studies, historical musicology and history there are contributions by a geographer, a sociologist and a veterinary scientist. The result is a truly interdisciplinary dialogue that focuses on research undertaken recently at University College Dublin. The essays were written by four current and two retired UCD academics, as well as two recent UCD PhD graduates who now pursue careers elsewhere.


X, 174
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (February)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2017. 10, 174 pp., 39 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Wolfgang Marx (Volume editor)


Title: Who Telleth a Tale of Unspeaking Death?
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185 pages