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Restless Dead

Restless Dead: Encounters between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece

Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Restless Dead
    Book Description:

    During the archaic and classical periods, Greek ideas about the dead evolved in response to changing social and cultural conditions-most notably changes associated with the development of the polis, such as funerary legislation, and changes due to increased contacts with cultures of the ancient Near East. In Restless Dead, Sarah Iles Johnston presents and interprets these changes, using them to build a complex picture of the way in which the society of the dead reflected that of the living, expressing and defusing its tensions, reiterating its values and eventually becoming a source of significant power for those who knew how to control it. She draws on both well-known sources, such as Athenian tragedies, and newer texts, such as the Derveni Papyrus and a recently published lex sacra from Selinous. Topics of focus include the origin of the goes (the ritual practitioner who made interaction with the dead his specialty), the threat to the living presented by the ghosts of those who died dishonorably or prematurely, the development of Hecate into a mistress of ghosts and its connection to female rites of transition, and the complex nature of the Erinyes. Restless Dead culminates with a new reading of Aeschylus' Oresteia that emphasizes how Athenian myth and cult manipulated ideas about the dead to serve political and social ends.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92231-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. vii-xiv)

    The Corinthian tyrant Periander sent his henchmen to the oracle of the dead to ask where he had lost something. The ghost of Periander’s dead wife, Melissa, was conjured up but she refused to tell them where the object was because she was cold and naked—she said that the clothes buried with her were useless because they had not been burnt properly. To prove who she was, she told the men to tell Periander that he had put his bread into a cold oven. This convinced Periander, who knew that he had made love to Melissa’s corpse after she...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Frequently Used Terms
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxii)

    • CHAPTER 1 Elpenor and Others: Narrative Descriptions of the Dead
      (pp. 3-35)

      So begins one of the most effective ghost stories of the twentieth century. It is an appropriate overture for a tale that explores how human beings cope not only with incursions by the restless dead but also with the uncertainty of whether what they are experiencing is really the work of ghosts or only the creation of their own imaginations. When the main character, Eleanor, is challenged by the other members of a group investigating a haunted house as to whether she has really seen a ghost, she responds, “I could say ‘all three of you are in my imagination;...

    • CHAPTER 2 To Honor and Avert: Rituals Addressed to the Dead
      (pp. 36-81)

      In chapter 1, I used evidence from narrative sources to examine ancient Greek beliefs concerning the dead and how they changed over the course of three centuries or so. Now I turn to other types of evidence, both to test the accuracy of the conclusions reached earlier and to try to extend them. We cannot proceed chronologically here, as we did in chapter 1. Although the dates of individual pieces of evidence remain important, the pieces cannot be sorted neatly into packets according to date, or even genre. My approach, instead, will be a topical one.

      In deciding which topics...

    • CHAPTER 3 Magical Solutions to Deadly Problems: The Origin and Roles of the Goēs
      (pp. 82-124)

      Masquerading as a wizard in order to rescue a woman held captive in the Basque region of Spain, Lord Peter Wimsey constructs himself to match what his audience would expect of such a man. A book of spells, a wand, and, most important, obscure incantations spoken in a foreign tongue. In the popular imagination of many cultures, the wizard is someone who comes from without to work his magic in a language inaccessible to other people.

      In this chapter, I construct my own portrait of one type of Greek wizard who had a special attachment to the world of the...


    • CHAPTER 4 The Unavenged: Dealing with Those Who Die Violently
      (pp. 127-160)

      Mr. Tregennis’s conclusion reflects a belief that was exceedingly common in many cultures until recently—indeed, a belief that still underlies many contemporary ghost stories. Disasters for which no other cause can be found, and especially madness, are presumed to have been inflicted by creatures “not of this world.” Most often, it is specifically the restless dead who are blamed.

      In many cultures, both ancient and modern, three types of dead are almost always presumed to be dangerously restless: those who have not received funeral rites (ataphoi), the untimely or prematurely dead (aōroi), and those who have died violently (biaiothanatoi)....

    • CHAPTER 5 Childless Mothers and Blighted Virgins: Female Ghosts and Their Victims
      (pp. 161-200)

      Students of folklore will recognize the manananggal as the Filipino version of a very common supernatural creature, the ghost or demon who specializes in killing babies.¹ This type is represented in ancient Mediterranean cultures by such creatures as the Semitic Lilith and her antecedents, the Mesopotamian lilitu and the Babylonian Lamashtu. She is alive and well even today, as the Associated Press story and reports of folklorists throughout the world attest. The prevalence of belief in such a creature does not seem hard to explain: all over the world, particularly in cultures where modern medical techniques are unavailable, infants and...


    • CHAPTER 6 Hecate and the Dying Maiden: How the Mistress of Ghosts Earned Her Title
      (pp. 203-249)

      No figure is more closely associated with the returning souls of the dead than Hecate. Her role as their leader was well enough established by the fifth century for the tragedians to allude to it without further explanation. In an unassigned tragic fragment, one person asks another, “Do you fear that you will see a phantom in your sleep? Do you expect to be attacked by the band of chthonic Hecate?” and in Euripides’ Helen, Hecate is credited with the ability to send phantoms against the living even when they are awake.¹ As time went on, leadership of the ghosts...

    • CHAPTER 7 Purging the Polis: Erinyes, Eumenides, and Semnai Theai
      (pp. 250-288)

      In two linear B tablets found in Knossos, the name Erinu—an early form of Erinys—appears along with early forms of the names Zeus, Athena, Enyalios, Paion, and Poseidon.¹ That Erinu is a divinity of approximately equal stature to these others is hard to deny: not only is her name included alongside theirs without any apparent distinction, but on one tablet she is to receive an offering of oil, just like them. Cretan Erinu is, in a word, a goddess, a thea. The poet of the Odyssey still knew this centuries later, when he actually called Erinys a thea,...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-308)
  11. General Index
    (pp. 309-314)
  12. Index Locorum
    (pp. 315-329)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 330-330)