Death Rituals in the Odyssey

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Deeds for the Dead Humans are said to be the only animals capable of contemplating their own death. We know that we are born and, every day ensuing, death surrounds us. We have given to death an emotion—sadness, sorrow, grief, mourning, and perhaps even anger, frustration, confusion, helplessness. We know that it is at the end—it is our only end—and it is the only thing more powerful than life. Death is something that humans, from every culture and from every part of the world, have a mutual understanding of and it has a way of bringing us together. In the epic poem, The Odyssey by Homer, rituals of death are of utmost importance to the gods, the afterlife, and even the unborn. And the reader becomes witness to this as the journey of Odysseus unfolds. The death of Elpenor in The Odyssey is probably the most illustrious example of the significance of death rituals in Greek society and, more specifically, mythology. At the palace of Circe, where Odysseus and his men stopped along their journey, there a death occurred. Elpenor, who was among Odysseus’ men, became intoxicated and fell off of Circe’s roof, breaking his neck and therefor killing him. Odysseus spoke out in honor of him, “‘So I spoke, and the inward heart in them was broken. They sat down on the ground and lamented and tore their hair out, but there came no advantage to them for all their sorrowing. When we came down to our fast ship and the sand of the seashore, we sat down, sorrowful, and weeping big tears’” (book 10, 566-570). The association of sadness with death is a death ritual in itself. However, when one thinks of a death ritual one usually pictures a burial or an honoring of the deceased, which, in this case, did not immediately take place after Elpenor’s death as Odysseus and his men initially left his body at the Circe’s Palace. In mythology, an act such as leaving a fellow companion’s
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