Harmful Interaction between the Living and the Dead in Greek Tragedy

BookHarmful Interaction between the Living and the Dead in Greek Tragedy

Harmful Interaction between the Living and the Dead in Greek Tragedy


April 18th, 2020



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Fifth-century Greek tragedy contains some of the most fascinating and important stage-ghosts in Western literature, whether the talkative Persian king Darius, who is evoked from the Underworld in Aeschylus’ Persians, or the murdered Trojan prince Polydorus, who seeks burial for his exposed corpse in Euripides’ Hecuba. These manifest figures can tell us a vast amount about the abilities of the tragic dead, particularly in relation to the nature, extent and limitations of their interaction with the living through, for example, ghost-raising ceremonies and dreams. Beyond these manifest dead, tragedy presents a wealth of invisible dead whose anger and desire for revenge bubble up from the Underworld, and whose honour and dishonour occupy the minds and influence the actions of the living. Combining both these manifest and invisible dead, this book examines harmful interaction between the living and the dead, i.e. how the living can harm the dead, and how the dead can harm the living. This includes discussions on the extent to which the dead are aware of and can react to honourable or dishonourable treatment by the living, the social stratification of the Underworld, the consequences of corpse exposure and mutilation for both the living and the dead, and how the dead can use and collaborate with avenging agents, such as the gods, the living and the Erinyes.

'Martin has produced an attractive and useful book on a topic of considerable interest.  It is well written... Perhaps the book’s greatest strength is that, while exploring the beliefs and customs concerning the dead, she consistently foregrounds the interests and dynamics of the dramatic works in which they appear.'
Michael R. Halleran, Bryn Mawr Classical Review


Author Information

Bridget Martin is an Occasional Lecturer in Classics at University College Dublin, Ireland. She has written several articles on funerary topics and Greek tragedy; this is her first monograph.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Table of Contents5
1. A framework: The Homeric and contemporary dead22
1.1 Introduction22
1.2 The Homeric dead23
1.3 The contemporary fifth-century dead31
1.4 Conclusion42
2. The tragic dead: The witless and/or the aware43
2.1 Introduction43
2.2 The scale of awareness47
2.2.1 Death is οὐδέν47
2.2.2 Egocentric awareness56
2.2.3 Family reunion58
2.2.4 A (hierarchical) society of the dead60
2.2.5 Postmortem rewards and punishments65
2.2.6 Prophetic knowledge69
2.2.7 The manifest dead71
2.3 Conclusion72
3. The how and the why of interaction: The manifest evidence73
3.1 Introduction73
3.2 The living interacting with the dead: Necromancy74
3.2.1 Darius in Aeschylus’ Persians77
3.2.2 Teiresias in Aeschylus’ Psychagōgoi86
3.2.3 Agamemnon in Aeschylus’ Choephori90
3.3 The dead interacting with the living: Dreams95
3.3.1 Clytemnestra in Aeschylus’ Eumenides97
3.3.2 Polydorus in Euripides’ Hecuba108
3.4 Spontaneous interaction: Achilles in Euripides’ Hecuba117
3.5 Conclusion119
4. The living harming the dead: Exposure, mutilation and exclusion121
4.1 Introduction121
4.2 A concern for the living123
4.3 Burial and exposure: Extent and limitations127
4.3.1 Burial127
4.3.2 Exposure and mutilation132
4.4 Physical harm in the Underworld138
4.5 Exposure before enemies: Remembering and dismembering143
4.6 Exclusion from/within the Underworld145
4.7 Conclusion152
5. The dead harming the living: Autonomy and agents153
5.1 Introduction153
5.2 Autonomous revenge from the dead156
5.3 Olympian agents160
5.4 The Erinyes165
5.5 Living agents172
5.5.1 Agamemnon in Aeschylus’ Choephori173
5.5.2 Achilles in Euripides’ Hecuba185
5.6 Conclusion194
Conclusion: The Alcestis effect195
Table 1: Burial rites in tragedy201