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Ancient Greeks: Everyday Life, Beliefs and Myths

Death in Ancient Greece

Ancient burials give us information about how people lived and what they believed would happen to them after they died. 

Journey to the Underworld:
The Greeks believed that after death, a soul went on a journey to a place called the Underworld (which they called Hades). This is what they thought would happen:

  1. First, Thanatos, the God of Death, would reach down and cut a lock of hair from your head, as you died.

  2. Then, Hermes, the messenger of the gods, would lead you to the River Styx.

  3. If your body has been buried, then Charon, the ferryman, who would transport you across the river.

  4. On the bank of the river, you would encounter Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guarded the Underworld. His job was to stop people from leaving and returning to the world of the living.

  5. After crossing the river, you would leave the ferry and walk on to a place called the Asphodel Fields, where you would forget who  who they were and drifted aimlessly until they were called to the next part of their journey.

  6. At a fork in the road, you would meet three judges. They would send you onward to Elysium (a comfortable place where the sun always shone), if they thought you were good, but if they decided that you needed to be punished, then you would be sent to Tartarus. If they couldn't decide, then you would be sent back to the Asphodel Fields.

In Tartarus, people who had upset the Gods would receive terrible punishments. This was a dark place, imagined to be as far below the Earth as the Earth is from the sky. Greek mythology tells the stories of people who ended up in Tartarus:

- Sisyphus had to push a heavy rock up a hill again and again, only for it to roll back down on him every time. 

- Hungry Tantalus stands near a table covered with delicious food but he cannot reach it.


Burial rituals in Ancient Greece:
When someone died in Ancient Greece, they would be washed. A coin would be placed in their mouth, to pay the ferrymen who took the dead across the rivers in the different parts of the Underworld. When the Greeks conquered Egypt, they adopted the Egyptian tradition of mummification. They used simple boxes for burying their dead or the deceased would be burned, and their ashes buried in a special pot. 

 

Tombs and gravestones:

Entrances to tombs, where the dead were laid to rest, were make of marble. Heads of Gorgons were carved onto the tomb doors to ward off evil. The tombs were made to stop the dead being forgotten and sometimes they were carved with pictures, showing the deceased with people that they knew in life. 


Inside the tomb the family of the deceased person placed valuable objects with their body, like pottery, jewellery and coins. It was believed that they would be able to use these objects in the Underworld. Every year families visited the tombs of their dead relatives, making offerings and decorating the tomb.


Glossary

Adopt - to take on something that is not already yours
Conquer - take something by force
Deceased - someone who has died
Gorgon - a mythical Greek woman with snakes instead of hair
Offering - something given away
Soul - the part of someone that is not physical
Underworld - a place where the Ancient Greeks believed people went after they died
Ward off - frighten away, stop something bad from getting in 


Activity idea:

  • Re-read the journey Ancient Greek people believed the dead made to the Underworld. Write or draw your own journey to the Underworld and make up different steps along the way. Will you have a monster, like  Cerberus or someone to transport the dead person, like  Charon?

Scroll down for a list of related links on this topic and see the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas.




 
Document icon Learning article provided by: Leeds City Museum | 

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  • Posted by cindy on 13/01/2014

    this website did help me a lot with my research paper that I have to do and finish!

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