Those who truly grasp philosophy pursue the study of nothing else but dying and being dead. Socrates (Dillon 525).
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Ancient times are known to be the beginning of modern European thought. Every witty notion, phrase, or statement is rooted in Ancient Greece or Rome. Since those times the mankind learns the lessons of outstanding philosophers and social figures who made great pains in order to make out the sense of different spheres of people’s activities as well as a more universal understanding of various issues. This paper is dedicated to work out and put emphasis on the problem of laws that supported or limited the funeral costs along with the traditional ceremonies. The point is that at that time there were many orators and politics who felt personal responsibility in maintaining such a significant and moral part of the society as burials and funeral ceremonies.
The burial in ancient times was a significant cause of people’s optional duty in life. The ceremony was a part of Greek and Roman cultures. Those who denied burying their relatives were equal to criminals and could fairly be punished. The point is that the mythological extent in ancient society mattered much in terms of gods’ condescension to the kings and people subordinate to them.
If all the constituent parts of the society, aristocrats, middle and lower classes, obey the will of gods with various details prescribed in the codes and rules as of the ceremony carrying out, then the powers that were could rely on the successful flow of economic, political, and social affairs. In order to support this rite and prevent contradiction views as for the issue throughout the society, the most eminent orators of that time tended to adopt some treatises or guidelines incorporated in the law. One of such ones was Demetrius Phalereus (c. 350-c. 280 BC) who was well known in the ancient world for his brave and grave orations regarding the most exciting and problematic points of society.
The expenses on burials varied in the facts of an individual’s stratum possession and the way of death. That is why many scholars still have many pieces of evidence and concrete examples of funeral ceremonies depicting the colorful appliance of various attributes in terms of their probable use in post existence while providing archeological excavation. According to Ian Morris the funeral rites in Sparta were rather distinct in their provision:
In Sparta, ordinary citizens were not allowed any very elaborate funerary treatment; according to the stories in our sources, only those who died in battle or childbirth were so honored(Plutarch, Lycurgus 27), although the kings, with their ascribed status, also had elaborate funerals(Herodotus 6.58; Xenophon, Hellenica 3.3.3; Constitution of the Spartans 15.9). (Morris 50)
In fact, the law-givers of, for example, Ancient Rome developed some restrictions on the funeral ceremony. These concerned exactly the psychological and gender aspects of human beings. Thus, ostentation and expression of some meretricious despondency along with sorrow in their length were strictly prohibited. (Morris 59) Moreover, women were prohibited to cry loud, so that not to attract much attention to the fact of someone’s death.
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The politics of the ancient world thought it to be the advertisement and somehow could reach some groups of people to lose themself in sorrow. The law presupposed the costs of tombs and cerecloths along with the clothes of people being involved in the ceremony. It is so, because analyzing some ancient scriptures people tried to relieve the lead of responsibility within their younger relatives, and that was the reason why they were inclined to build tombs for themselves during their lifetime.
It was the severest aggravation of the penalty of execution for a crime that the body of the criminal was denied interment. Such corpses, both at Athens and Sparta, were cast with the halter and their garments into a pit in an allotted quarter of the city, where the flesh might decay or be eaten by carrion birds. (The Burial Customs 2005)
Because of such factors, the funerals should be stated in the law for further protection of people’s health and society’s soundness in decision-making designs of funeral ceremonies. Much money was spent on monuments’ erection. Nevertheless, society listened to those who encouraged the processing of burials. One of them was Perikles who was greatly intended to focus people’s attention on the value of funerals. His eminent oration according to the above-mentioned point states:
They gave their lives. For that public gift, they received a praise
which never ages and a tomb most glorious–not so much the tomb in
which they lie, but that in which their fame survives, to be
remembered forever when the occasion comes for word or deed….. (Londey 2007)
While planning the funeral in detail many factors should be taken into account: the tomb, the place of burial, number of people, meals for them, etc. A lot of people could not allow themselves to build or order large stones being traditionally popular in Ancient Greece, they were anxious about the problem. Only by means of Plato accompanied with Demetrius Phalerus did the law base emphasized the regulations the size of the stones and the limits in the provision of funerals.
This was made also to point out the urge of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers to make people socially equal in vital matters of everyday life; in fact, it was the spark of democracy being so widely discussed at that time. (Higgins 210) Though, the law provided by Demetrius has the main idea which fell into the fact of limitation policy of private funeral processing. His laws bore a regulation character implemented in finding out of the manners, although it persuaded the mass abuse of customs.
Demetrius ordered the ceremonials of funerals to be performed by night, and none were permitted to place any other ornament on tombs, then a column three cubits high, or a plain tablet, mensam; and appointed a particular magistrate to enforce the observation of this law. (Rollin 15)
The prospects of orderliness and patience were raised by Demetrius to facilitate the controversial ideas in society. He asked the younger part o the population to present their parents with entire respect and love so that to be more rational and consequent when confronting the future fact of parents’ death. The cycle of life Demetrius is supposed to be more significant when being alive than in the afterlife. That is why he presumed the points embodied in the law for better regulation and surveillance of its promotion. Furthermore, Demetrius could not but grab attention on those who were poor and unprotected in the communities of Greek people.
Poor habitats of Athens particularly were the additional object of his political activity. He took care of the descendants and made up his mind “to assign a daily sum of money for the subsistence of poor people” (Rollin 15) This person seems to have been of noble and fair nature.
Actually, he was a fascinating example of love and prevalence to people. The historians tend to think that due to the clear, fair, and rational policy of Demetrius people’s love and respect for this leader only arose and was carved in the emergence of “360 statues erected in his honor” (Classic Encyclopedia) This fact gave birth to the envy within his colleagues and potential foes which was so obvious for the people of Ancient Greece and Rome. Such negative intentions caused the removal of Demetrius Phalereus, who had the only way back in Egypt, in the Kingdom of Ptolemy.
Thus, the extent of funeral processing was too vital, strange though it might sound, for the ancient people in terms of their deep beliefs and traditional coloring accordingly. The flow of culture development as of funeral ceremonies within the predecessors of contemporary Europeans was under influence of many factors. The following aspects of individuals were considered: personal status, stratum in the society, the way of life and achievements provided, and the way of death.
Many philosophers strived to work out the main principles in order to lessen the financial and social burden as of burial and cemetery provision. The ancient society was inclined to follow the traditional way of maintaining funeral customs dealing with some contradictions in economic and social parameters. Demetrius Phalereus was the person who due his original thinking and conscientious way of promoting reforms elaborated the law base for the funeral ceremonies so that to strengthen some current points on it and facilitate those points which were appropriate for the versatile audience of people living particularly in Athens.
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Of course, such well-bred and brilliant-minded leaders perpetually have problems with their opponents. This was resulted in the case of Demetrius when he had to quit from envious politics of Athens. Summing up, this paper teaches that living in the society and carrying oneself in a certain way of traditional coloring people have to apply rather to rational decisions than to emotion-based ones.
“Demetrius Phalereus.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. (2008).
Dillon, Matthew. “Dialogues with Death: the Last Days of Socrates and the Buddha.” Philosophy East & West 50.4 (2000).
Higgins, Godfrey. The Celtic Druids. Cosimo, Inc., (2007).
Londey, Peter. “A Possession for Ever: Charles Bean, the Ancient Greeks, and Military Commemoration in Australia.” The Australian Journal of Politics and History 53.3 (2007).
Milton, John, Hughes, Merritt Yerkes. Complete poems and major prose. Hackett Publishing, (2003).
Morris, Ian. American Council of Learned Societies. Burial and ancient society: the rise of the Greek city-state. Cambridge University Press, (1989).
Rollin, Charles, Bell, James. The ancient history of the Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Grecians, and Macedonians: including a history of the arts and sciences of the ancients. G. Dearborn, (1836).