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Essay Review: Objects at Birth, Subjects at Death Neni Panourgia Each time I discuss Greek anthropology witii a colleague, I am almost always asked die following question: "Why is there such a production of ethnographic literature on deadi—is it because Greek culture is really so morbid?" I must admit diat the question always caught me off guard at first, not because it lacks merit or is in any way inappropriate, but because I do not think that cultures possess overarching attributes such as morbidity, or perhaps because I have never considered the Greek attitude toward deadi—whether manifested as daily discourse or as analytical production—to be obsessive. Moreover, the study of deadi (primarily its ritual practices), has everywhere been the bread-andbutter of anthropological endeavor along with die study of nationalism and warfare, and Greece conforms to diis general pattern. Indeed, if we look at the studies of deadi in Greece we see that diey are not excessive when compared to studies of deadi in odier regions, especially the rest of the southeastern Mediterranean area. Prior to recent publications, the only analyses of the issue in Greece were written by Greek folklorists at die end of the nineteendi century, the work of Nikolaos Politis concerning the ritual processes surrounding death being die primary example. During the first half of this century, very few ethnographic studies of deadi appeared eitiier in Greece or elsewhere. This lack was sufficiendy noticed by scholars in the United States to make David Sudnow complain about it in 1967 in his Passing On: The Social Organization of Dying, in which he urged the production of etiinographies of deadi— which is precisely what we did. In 1980, Michel Vovelle examined the "rediscovery of deadi since 1960" in various thanatological publications, finding in bodi France and die United States a seventy-five percent increase in publications on the issue between 1960 and 1980. It is not coincidental, dien, diat die first of the studies to deal witii deadi in Greece, Margaret Alexiou's The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition, was published during diis surge in 1974. Publications dealing witii deadi in Greece can be divided into Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 12, 1994. 261 262 Neni Panourgia those issued in diat country and diose issued abroad. The cluster of books published in Greece starts with Fr. Philotheos Pharos's To Ï€Î-νθος. Οϕθόδοξη, λαογϕαφική, και ψυχολογική θεώϕηση (1981), which is a successful attempt by a member of the Greek clergy to assess and evaluate the different cultural and individual responses to deadi in Greece, to look at these responses' points of reference, to provide a connecting thread between contemporary responses and folklore, and to place die result within the structure of Orthodox faith. Although the analysis is limited by die religious nature of the autiior's analytical framework, its problematic being resolved widiin the parameters of God's love for his children, it is nevertheless a genuine attempt to grasp the complexity that faces contemporary individuals when die time of deadi comes (be it their own deadi or someone else's), a complexity that cannot be disentangled by cultural or religious mandates. Pharos obviously understands this deeply and is willing to address it even though it troubles him. Kostis Papagiorgis's Ζώντες και τεθνεώτες (1991) follows the same path but widi die significant difference that his secular orientation places humanity, not religion, at the crux of his analytical conclusions. Sensitive to the agony of everyone involved in die event of deadi, Papagiorgis provides us widi die dying person's perspective as well as that of the bereaved. In his account, no one is reconciled to deadi. Everyone is angry; yet it is through this anger that the deepest human feelings (bodi good and not so good) surface in the individual—pain, anger, greed, compassion, love, and hatred: everything diat constitutes ανθϕωπιά. Ilias Petropoulos's Πτώματα, πτώματα, πτώματα. . . . (1988) is similar. A diin book that deals widi die autiior's memories of death as he experienced it during the Second World War, the civil war, and two dictatorships, it focuses primarily on the period 1941-1949. Petropoulos is chiefly concerned widi the aesthetics of deadi (the imagery of the cemeteries and die graves, the corpses of the executed and famished...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 261-269
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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