Dublin Death Studies
Edited By Philip Cottrell and Wolfgang Marx
The essays incorporated into this volume share an ambitious interest in investigating death
as an individual, social and metaphorical phenomenon that may be exemplified by themes
involving burial rituals, identity, and commemoration. The disciplines represented are as
diverse as art history, classics, history, music, languages and literatures, and the approaches
taken reflect various aspects of contemporary death studies. These include the fear of death,
the role of death in shaping human identity, the ‘taming’ of death through ritual or aesthetic
sublimation, and the utilization of death – particularly dead bodies – to manipulate social
and political ends.
The topics covered include the exhumation and reburial of Cardinal John Henry Newman;
the funerary monument of John Donne in his shroud; the funeral of Joseph Stalin;
the theme of mutilation and non-burial of the corpse in Homer’s Iliad; the individual’s
encounter with death in the work of the German Philosopher Josef Pieper; the Requiem
by the Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford; the imagery of death in Giovanni Verga’s
novel Mastro-don Gesualdo, and the changing attitudes toward death in the writings of
4 | The Mutilation and Non-Burial of the Dead in Homer’s Iliad
4 | The Mutilation and Non-Burial of the Dead in Homer’s Iliad1
Homer’s Iliad recounts the ten-year, mythical war which was fought between the Greeks and Trojans following Trojan Paris’s abduction of the beautiful Helen. During the ten years of fighting hundreds of warriors die on the Trojan plain. The lucky among these are taken from the battlefield and given burial rites. In Homer these rites are referred to as the geras thanonton (Il. 16.457; 16.675), the honour or privilege of the dead. Various actions are described as a geras for the dead, ranging from the simplistic closing of the eyes (Od. 24.292-296), the cutting of hair and weeping (Od. 4.197-198) to the practical washing and laying-out of the corpse (Od. 24.188-190) and finally to the mourning of the dead (Il. 23.6-9) and the burial and the erection of a tomb (Il. 16.456-457; 16.674-675).2 Such is the importance of these rites that both sides readily agree to a ceasefire in Iliad 7 so that the dead may be collected for burial. As Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks, states: ‘There can be no grudging the bodies of the dead their swift appeasement by the fire, once they have died’ (Il. 7.409-410). Unfortunately, Agamemnon’s axiom is not a guiding principle in the Iliad as the dead, more specifically the common – as opposed to the heroic – dead, are often left unburied and mutilated, either as a direct consequence of non-burial or as a separate act of aggression performed by their victorious opponents.3 This is a fate which the Homeric...
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