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"Til Death Do Us Part:

Marriage and Funeral Rites in

Classical Athens!p.
ana !hop#orn
In the ancient Mediterranean world there was hardly room for choice: not only was
marriage destiny, but so was death. The identity of the Classical Greek world is
established through the traditional sacrifices and rituals that were practiced in these
times of bliss and mourning. The sacred wedding and the dramatic funeral compliment
each other in character and content, for the ceremonies are both interwoven with ritual
meaning and overlapping rites. vidence for these formalities, both literary and artistic,
help to provide a complete account of Greek customs in order to form the general
picture of the wedding, the funeral, the parallels, the writings, and the vase paintings.
very respectable woman in !thens became a wife if she could. There was no real
alternative other than marriage. The bride and the groom prepared for the wedding by
means of offerings, dedications, and sacrifices. !ll of these rites had a purificatory and
propitiatory character."#$ Marriage in Classical !thens is constituted by the acts of
engue , ekdosis , and gamos.
Engue refers to the betrothal arranged by the kurioi , usually the fathers. It may also
refer to the relationship between the guardian of the bride and the groom himself, if the
groom has reached the ma%ority age of eighteen.
This ceremony consists of a private verbal contract where the woman is transferred. The
Greek marriage is composed of both transfer and transformation: a transfer is enacted in
the engue and transformation is the responsibility of the woman. Many actions are
symbolic of a woman&s transfer to a new status. 'y cutting her hair, in removing the
girdle which is worn since puberty, by taking a ritual bath in water drawn from a sacred
spring, in shifting from childhood to adulthood and from virginity to wife hood, the
bride undergoes many significant transformations. The bride is not considered a legal
agent, thus her presence is not necessary at the engue where the arrangement of the
dowry is settled. The dowry is designed to provide the wife with protection if her
husband abandons or divorces her.
The wedding is designated by the terms ekdosis and gamos . Ekdosis is the giving away
of the bride from father to husband in order to create an oikos.
The ekdosis does not render a single moment, but is a process of transfer where a
variety of preliminary sacrifices are performed. The offerings presented before the
wedding consist of dedications to various gods. Many offerings and sacrifices are made
to divinities, especially to !rtemis who is associated with menstruation, virginity and
childbirth."($ The most fre)uent dedication is locks of hair. The recipients of these hair
offerings are representative of virginity. The offering of hair by the bride to virgin
deities might be understood as a substitute for the bride herself who is about to leave the
virginal way of life."*$ The bride&s passage from childhood to maturity is marked by her
dedication of a lock of hair at the shrine. +n the wedding day both the bride and groom
are each given a ritual bath with water brought from the ,allirroe spring."-$ The nuptial
bath is believed to induce fertility.".$ The special vessel used for this purpose is the
loutrophoros which means, /someone who carries the bath water./"0$ !mong these
activities the bride is assisted in adorning herself for the wedding night. !t a ban)uet
given at the family&s home, the bride first appears veiled. The unveiling of the bride,
anakalupteria , possibly took place at this celebratory feast where music and dancing
play a large role in the festivities. 'oth the bride and groom wear a crown or garland to
mark the occasion. The actual transfer of the bride from father to groom takes place at
night after the bridal ban)uet.
The central event of the !thenian wedding is the procession in a chariot from the home
of the bride to the home of the groom. The veiled bride stands in the cart as her husband
mounts it in preparation for their %ourney. The families follow the chariot by foot,
bearing gifts. In the procession the bride&s mother carries torches which stressed her
protective role."1$ Traditionally, this %ourney took place at night, hence the figures
carrying the torches to light the way. The flames of the torches and the sound of the
music function against evil spirits which intend to harm the bride during the procession.
!s a part of the incorporation rites, the bride eats a )uince or an apple, demonstrating
that her livelihood now comes from her husband. This is a way of marking her initiation
into the new oikos . The fruit and nuts which the bride and groom are showered with act
as agents of fertility and prosperity. 3ifferent interpretations of this action suggest that
this consumption e4emplifies a sympathetic guarantee of fertility."5$ The physical union
of bride and groom takes place in the nuptial bed where intercourse marks the goal in
the transferal of the bride to her husband. The gamos is the consummated marriage. +ne
day after the wedding the couple receives gifts in a ceremony called the epaulia , an
outdoor procession of people bringing gifts or an indoor gathering with only women in
attendance. The gifts are carried in procession to the house and are presented to the
couple. 6ome of the gifts include vases filled with greenery, baskets, pots, furniture,
%ewelry, combs and perfume which allude to the domestic role or se4ual identity of the
new wife, and mirrors or wreaths which are attributed to the bride. 7ltimately, the
/!thenian marriage was a relationship between a man and a woman which had the
primary goal of producing children and maintaining the identity of the oikos unit within
the social and political community./"#8$
The kedeia 9funeral: is a three part drama consisting of the prothesis 9laying out of the
body:, the ekphora 9conveyance of body to its place of internment:, and the deposition
of the body. The funeral presents opportunities for a display of wealth, family pride, and
family bonding. !s in weddings, women play the most significant role in mourning
rituals including: washing, anointing, dressing, crowning, and covering the body after
adorning it with flowers. 7pon a person&s decease, the eyes and mouth are shut to secure
the release of the psyche from the body."##$ ! ritual washing of the body is performed
by the women of the household. The funeral ritual consummates with laying out the
corpse at the prothesis on a kline 9bed: where it remains on view for two days. It was a
widespread custom for the deceased to wear a long, ankle;length garment and to be
crowned. <ottier suggests that the crown /allowed a last chance to contemplate the
deceased under a guise of tran)uil and serene beauty./"#($ The crowns and branches
incorporated into the funeral ritual serve at most sacred occasions in order to add dignity
and lustre to the proceedings. =omen generally stand over the corpse at the top end of
the couch where they may beat their head, raise their hands, or tear their hair. Men,
when present, often raise their right hands with their palms out to the Gods. =hen
mourners paid their respects to the deceased they dressed in black. In wearing dark
clothing similar to the deceased, the mourners e4emplify honor and respect by
identifying with the dead. 3uring this principal ceremony, women would sing rituali>ed
laments . !fter the prothesis the corpse is removed for the burial at the ekphora before
the dawn of the third day after death. If it was affordable, the transport of the body was
done by cart. Men led the procession and the women followed. =hether the body is
inhumed or cremated, the dead are buried along with gifts and offerings such as pottery,
stone vases, mirrors, and other personal belongings. !s with the wedding, formal
prayers are e4empt and mourners make offerings of fruit. !fter the burial, when singing
and performing dances would cease, the men and women would leave the burial site
separately. The women probably left first in order to supervise the preparation of the
9ban)uet: that the funeral party attended in honor of the deceased.
General agreement e4ists on the practices of the fifth century wedding and funeral, if
not a significance between the two rituals. =edding rituals of purification, the adorning
of the bride, the shearing of hair, and the procession accompanied by song are paralleled
by rituals which took place at funerals. The funeral, like the wedding, is a special
concern of the women of Classical !thens. 'oth events are family festivals and an
initiation to another realm."#*$ There are numerous overlapping elements in the two
rituals of marriage and death. ! bride in fifth century !thens offers, as a dedication, a
lock of hair before marriage, whereas mourners offer the same when visiting the
deceased. 'oth the bride and groom, like the dead, are ritually bathed in sacred water,
dressed and adorned, and ultimately crowned by women who play critical roles in both
ceremonies. The duality of marriage and death persists with the parallel of covering
both the bride and the corpse with a veil and a sheath respectively. 'oth events involve
a night %ourney to a new home, taken by a cart or chariot in a procession with torch;
bearers where song and dance are ritualistic. ?ust as a wedding culminates in the nuptial
bed, the dead are laid out on a bed as well. ach ritual contains blessings, both over the
married couple and over the deceased. 'oth festivals define an irreversible, physical
change ;; the loss of virginity and the loss of life. This idea of loss, rebirth, and renewal
is present in both marriage and sacrifice."#-$ The overriding continuity between
wedding and funeral rites suggests the significance of these rituals in Classical !thens.
! connection between weddings and funerals is e4hibited in young !thenians who died
unmarried. 6uch untimely deaths demand the crowning of the grave site with
loutrophoroi , representing the ritual vessel for nuptial bathing. =hen someone died
unmarried they had to receive a posthumous bridal bath in order to attain the goal of
life."#0$ +ne of the loutrophoroi pots might also have been buried with the young
deceased. 3eath before marriage signifies a marriage with the underworld. The notion
that unmarried girls have made a marriage with @ades invokes the paradigm of
<ersephone in The @omeric @ymn to 3emeter.
Many rituals of marriage and death are e4posed in The @omeric @ymn to 3emeter. The
link between death and marriage is very real in the myth. <ersephone marries 3eath
himself, and in doing so she loses her identity. <ersephone&s abduction by @ades
happens when she is picking flowers in a meadow among the company of virgins.
<ersephone, the young virginal bride, e4emplifies innocence because of her young age.
"#1$ =hile she is gathering a narcissus, the earth gapes and @ades /snatche"s$ the
unwilling maid into his golden chariot and "leads$ her off lamenting./"#2$ !s a parallel
to the Greek wedding procession it is reasonable that @ades should have a chariot when
he carries <ersephone off. Aike the typical !thenian bride&s incorporation rites,
<ersephone&s eating of a pomegranate seed binds her to marriage with @ades in the
underworld. This fruit, as a symbol of both blood and death and marriage and fertility,
signifies the marriage of <ersephone and @ades. =ith this seed, @ades coerces
<ersephone to stay with him.
The myth portrays an intimate relationship between mother and daughter which elicits
two distinct phases in a woman&s life: maidenhood and motherhood. <arallel to this
transformation of virgin to wife in the myth is the transition of the female in a
traditional Greek marriage. 3emeter&s role as mother corresponds to that of the bride&s
mother, since she is the person who is most affected by her daughter&s separation."#5$
@er heart grieves because of this painful disunion, a parallel to what occurs when the
bride is taken away from the family circle in which she has been nurtured. 3emeter,
/holding torches abla>e in her hands,/ imitates the e4perience of the mother of the bride
who carries flaming torches in the bridal procession."(8$ These bla>es of light beared by
3emeter in search of her daughter are a significant emblem utili>ed in the myth. The
torches may be associated with purification, the bringing of fertility, and the emergence
of light from dark."(#$ Aike mourners at a funeral, /revered 3emeter of the dark robe/
still wears her dark garb during, and even after, her reunion with her daughter as a
reminder of mourning."(($ The @omeric @ymn to 3emeter provides a mythological
paradigm for marriage and death rites.
Through literature and art, writers and painters look at the world around them. Base
paintings are one of the main sources of evidence of both the wedding ceremony and the
funeral ritual. The form of the vase on which the painting appeared strongly influenced
the design. Loutrophoroi are linked with weddings and funerals since they are used to
bring water (loutron) for the wedding bath and serve as grave offerings for those who
died unmarried. The loutrophoros had a specific function of carrying sacred water,
whereas the lebes gamikos ,
a nuptial cauldron, had various functions. It has been used as a bowl for mi4ing wine or
preparing food at a wedding ban)uet, as a storage vessel during festivities, as a
container for warming the nuptial bath, as a vase for flowers, or simply as a symbol."(*$
<redominant scenes on the lebetes gamikoi are processions and scenes of gift offerings.
! red;figure lebes gamikos vase, Mississippi $%&&.'.%$,
depicts preliminary wedding preparations and a gift offering. The bride is shown seated
to the left, holding a small casket or chest which has been presented to her as a gift by
the girl facing her. This nuptial vessel sits on a raised pedestal and has been e4clusively
used as part of the wedding ritual. It is probably one of the gifts given to the bride.
Lebetes gamikoi also depict funeral scenes which %u4taposes the two rituals.
The vases with wedding scenes may have been presented as gifts to the bridal couple as
a reminder of the highest moment of their life."(-$ 6ome of the most common marriage
motifs show the gesture of unveiling and chariot processions with the bride and the
groom. (illia"s $%$% C) *+, an !ttic black;figure vase delineates the nuptial chariot.
This image celebrates a traditional !thenian procession containing a bridal couple in a
four;horse chariot being led by the light of flaming torches. =edding scenes are by far
most fre)uent on loutrophoroi and lebetes gamikoi , where ritual function is reflected in
the painted scene. The Ta"pa ,-.&, vase reveals a bride wearing a crown with a
woman beside her donning a crown and carrying a torch. The groom is crowned with a
wreath marking fecundity, and between them flies a winged ros who is engaged in
adding to the beauty of the bride since grace and splendor are symboli>ed by his
presence. 'ehind the groom is a winged Cike who seems to indicate divine approval, or
more precisely, approval of a favorable outcome. Cike represents success and
fulfillment in the transition of the wedding. The images on this vase elicit the
significance of symbols that are reflected in a marriage scene.
!s so far as funeral representations, certain traits are shared with marriage rituals."(.$
The processional image, so commonly found on wedding vases, is also distinguishable
in funeral scenes. Philadelphia './*/$ is a loutrophoros which portrays a funeral scene
of men in procession with their right arms e4tended and their palms held out in a
gesture of respect or farewell to the dead."(0$
!s it is understood and as it is depicted, women have a definite place in funeral rituals.
The distinction between male and female roles are clearly delineated. Men and women
not only play distinct roles but adopt different gestures and occupy separate parts of the
vase. 0ou1re CA *2', is a loutrophoros vase which e4poses the duties of female
mourners who lament by striking their heads and tearing at their hair. In another
prothesis i"age of the same vase, women surround the kline , hold the head of the
corpse, and raise their hands in gestures of grief. !ll of these actions are traditional
ritual gestures of women mourners during the prothesis and the ekphora. .
In both funeral and wedding scenes, a popular motif often utili>ed is the image of the
vessel on the vessel. In this type of scene it is typical for there to be images of women
carrying loutrophoroi on the vase itself."(1$ ! funeral scene on the Mali3u ,+.A4.$-
vase reveals the ritual use of the decoration of the painted loutrophoroi on the
loutrophoros vase. ! mourning Ciobe is pictured standing between two loutrophoroi.
The loutrophoroi represent the funeral bath that will be received and point to its final
use as a grave gift. The composition of the vase;type on the vase itself unites
iconography with function."(2$
The !thenians incorporated images of weddings and funerals in order to reveal the most
popular iconography for these family festivals and initiations. 6cenes of ritual gestures,
wedding preparations, nuptial processions, or visits to the deceased&s tomb allude to the
Classical Greek way of ritual. The events practiced in their every day society are
elo)uently e4pressed in the powerful utili>ation of form and function in their imagery.
The significance of marriage and funeral rites are illustrated, not only in vase paintings
which are a vital source of evidence of the ancient Greek world, but also in te4tual
documentation. Through e4amining The @omeric @ymn to 3emeter and its attitude to
the institution of marriage and death, an understanding of the ancient world of wedlock
and sacrifice is developed for the modern world. The idea of marriage to death e4poses
a %u4taposition which proves so forceful that one ritual seems to engender the other.
These two rituals reveal an interrelationship ;; one which penetrates further than a mere
attraction of opposites.
!vagianou, !phrodite. 6acred Marriage in the Dituals of Greek Deligion. <eter Aang:
'ern, #55#.
'lundell, 6ue. =omen in !ncient Greece. @arvard 7niversity <ress: Cambridge, #55..
3uby, Georges and <errot, Michelle. ! @istory of =omen in the =est: Erom !ncient
Goddesses to Christian 6aints. The 'elknap <ress: Cambridge, #55(.
Eoley, @elene <. The @omeric @ymn to 3emeter. <rinceton 7niversity <ress: Cew
?ersey, #55-.
Garland, Dobert. The Greek =ay of 3eath. Cornell 7niversity <ress: Ithaca, #52..
Morris, Ian. ,ey Themes in !ncient @istory: 3eath;Ditual and 6ocial 6tructure in
Classical !nti)uity. Cambridge 7niversity <ress: Aondon, #55(.
Dedfield, ?ames. /Cotes on the Greek =edding,/ in !rethusa 9#52(: Bol.#., #2#; #55.
Dehm, Dush. Marriage to 3eath: The Conflation of =edding and Euneral Dituals in
Greek Tragedy. <rinceton 7niversity <ress: Cew ?ersey, #55-.
6eaford, D. /The Tragic =edding,/ in Journal of Hellenistic Studies cvii 9#521: #80;
Base Images:
0ou1re CA *2',
i"age $
i"age +
Mali3u ,+.A4.$-,
Mississippi $%&&.'.%$,
Philadelphia './*/$,
Ta"pa ,-.&,,
(illia"s $%$% C) *+,
Burial Rituals
and the Afterlife of Ancient Greece
by Kristina Bagwell
As seen in the literature of ancient Greece, tombs and rituals of the wealthy
were extravagant. Gold and jewels were essential grave offerings of respectable
and honored tombs, perhaps used as a way to display wealth and status. It
seems the wealthier you were the more elaborate your final resting place. The
ancient Greeks had distinct methods of burial, and it was often believed if you
were not provided a proper burial along with the appropriate rituals, you were
destined to suffer between worlds until your rites of passage into the
underworld were completed. In this essay we will see how exactly a tomb of
Greece looked, the rituals followed at the time of death and also what was
believed to happen if these elements were not fulfilled. xamining the tombs
and rituals from the archaic period through classical Greece shows the
continuity of the traditions throughout the years.
!hile early aristocratic Greeks built pit"like single graves in the ground or out
of rock, the archaic period #$%%"&'( )*+ marks the time when tombs became
more sophisticated. ,ow we see multiple graves in underground chambers,
raised mounds, or masonry"built tombs. Archaeologists have found tombs such
as these at -indos adorned in riches of gold and jewelry #)urnstein et al. .'/+.
The findings at the archaic cemetery are also linked to the 0ellenistic period,
during which the novels were written. !hile the si1es of the tombs of this
period are larger, decorations of gold are still found throughout the tombs of
the wealthy vidence of this extravagance is seen
in a passage from Chareas and Callirhoe, 2*allirhoe, as she lay there dressed in
her bridal clothes, on a bier decorated with gold34 #*hariton /5+.
The possessions and grave goods placed with the body did not change much6
but the amounts of treasures did. The tombs of early 7ycenaeans from about
8$%% to 8&%% )* held bron1e weapons such as swords, daggers, and knives and
also pottery made locally and small amounts of gold and jewelry #)urnstein et
al. /8+. As the years went by the grave gifts became more beautiful and
plentiful. A later 7ycenaean cemetery held an arsenal of weapons, and gold,
silver, bron1e, ivory, and alabaster gifts imported from places like *rete,
*yprus, gypt and -yria, just among a few. This shows how much wealthier
the ruling class of Greece had become #)urnstein et al. //+. In -parta, this
wealth became evident around the (
and 5
centuries )*. )efore, one could
hardly see a difference between the social classes #)urnstein et al. 98+. ,ow the
wealthy Greeks chose to conduct heroic"style burials in order to connect with
their ancestry. Their funerals closely resemble the funeral of heroes such as
:atroclus in the Iliad. The corpse was cremated and placed in a bron1e urn
inside a tomb that held weapons and sometimes the remains of sacrificed
horses. ;ases depicting heroic events reveal how the wealthy claimed descent
from the heroes #)urnstein et al. 5%+.
!hile tomb designs and grave gifts may have evolved and changed over the
years, the Greeks firmly believed in a set of burial rituals. The death of Anthia
in An Ephesian Tale provides evidence for these customs. 20e laid her out in all
her finery and surrounded her with a great <uantity of gold3And there he laid
her in a vault, after slaughtering a great number of victims and burning a great
deal of clothing and other finery.4 The family then carried out the accustomed
rites #=enophon 898+. In *lassical Greece the burial rituals actually consisted of
three parts. >irst there is a prothesis, or laying out of the body. The women
wash, anoint, dress, crown, cover the body and adorn it with flowers. The
mouth and eyes are shut to prevent the psyche #phantom or soul+ from leaving
the body and the corpse is dressed in a long"ankle length garment. The body is
presented so it can be viewed for two days. At the viewings, the mourners
dress in black in honor of the deceased and the women stand at the head of the
couch to grieve and sing while the men would stand with their palms out to the
gods. !hen it came time for the burial, before the dawn of the third day, the
body was taken to the tomb by cart. The men would lead the procession and
the women would follow. At the internment the corpse or ashes would be
placed in the tomb along with the grave goods of pottery, jewels, vases, or other
personal property
!hite"ground lekythoi were used for funeral
rites and as a gift to the deceased between &'%
and &%% )*. These vases were covered with a
white slip after being fired. >igures on the
vase were outlined in red or black matte. The
clothing of the figures pictured was colored in
purple, brown, red yellow, rose, vermilion,
and sky blue
Along with these gifts, offerings of fruit were
made and the mourners would sing and
dance. The women would leave the site first
to prepare for the perideiprion or funeral
party that would follow
0omeric belief shows that the Greeks saw death as a time when the psyche left
the body to enter 0ades. This psyche could be seen, but was untouchable.
)eginning in *lassical times there came to be the concepts of punishment after
death or a state of blessedness. The soul responsible for a person?s personality
and moral decisions received the eternal punishment or bliss for the choices of
the human form. The burial rituals perhaps spawned from this belief that the
soul must be guided into the afterlife. If the body was not given a proper burial
according to Greek ritual, the soul would remain trapped between the worlds
of the living and the underworld
@emanding proper burial was one of the major reasons why ghosts would
show themselves to the people of ancient Greece. rwin Aohde, the author of
Psyche: The Cult of Souls and Belief in Immortality Among the Greeks, states, 2The
first duty that the survivors owe to their dead is to bury the body in the
customary manner3Aeligious re<uirements, however, go beyond the law4
#>elton 8%+. !hile most Greeks were skeptical of the belief in ghosts, there were
a few who believed these suffering beings existed. >ew accounts of haunting
are found in Greek literature, although stories by :lautus, :liny, and Bucian
have been recovered indicating an interest in the afterlife #>elton xii+.
Apuleius also provides an example of haunting by a dead spirit through
dreams. In The Golden Ass, a baker is murdered, ironically, by a ghost that his
wife summoned to kill him in retaliation for his re<uest for divorce. The man is
given a proper burial, yet his spirit visits his daughter through a dream to tell
her what brought upon his death. 2The pitiable form of her father had obtruded
upon her sleep with his neck still haltered6 and the dead man had disclosed to
her the wicked work of her stepmother3 and told her how he himself had been
haunted by a spirit off the earth4 #Apuleius /%.+. @esecrating the tombs
themselves could also lead to being tormented by a spirit. Theophrastus, a &
century author describes in 2*haracters4 the belief that a superstitious man,
2will not tread upon tombstone, for fear that association with the dead will
pollute him.4 Cne would not enter a house where a corpse laid awaiting burial
either #>elton 9+.
These beliefs in spirits led to great yearly festivals in Greece and Aome. The
feast of Anthesteria occurred sometime in >ebruary and 7arch in Athens. The
society believed the ghosts would not leave until they were chased out. Cn
these days everything stopped6 the businesses were closed along with the
temples. The doors of their houses were covered with pitch and hawthorn
leaves and each family member made an offering to the dead. A meal of
cooked grain was also offered to 0ermes. At sunset of the last day, the master
of the house would say, 2Away, -pirits6 Anthesteria is over4 #>elton 8/+.
All of these rituals and beliefs of ancient Greece certainly point to the fact that
Greeks were fascinated by the thought of the afterlife. !hat they wanted most
for the dead was for their spirits to survive and be comfortable in their eternity,
as seen in the grave gifts of jewels and personal property. @eath was also a
time for the family to show off their wealth6 however, if the rituals were not
followed to exactness the family might suffer the haunting of their loved one.
Works Cited
Apuleius. The Golden Ass. Trans. Dack Bindsey. Indiana E:F )loomington, 8($%.
)urnstein, et al. Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural istory! Cxford
E:F ,ew Gork, 8(((.
*hariton, Chareas and Callirhoe. Trans ).:. Aeardon. Collected Ancient Greek
"o#els. E of *alifornia :ressF )erkeley, 8(5(.
>elton, @. aunted Greece and $ome: Ghost Stories from Classical Anti%uity! E of
Austin :ressF Austin, 8(((.
-hopkorn, Dana. 2?Til @eath @o Es :artF 7arriage and >uneral Aites in *lassical
Athens.4 Cnline. %&H%(H%8.
Eniversity of :ennsylvania 7useum. 2Ancient Greek !orld.4 Cnline. %&H%(H%8.