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Restless Dead

Encounters between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece

Sarah Iles Johnston

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ii-iii


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xiii

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 ...

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pp. xv-xvi

Good colleagues are a scholar's greatest resource, and I am fortunate in having had many who were willing to discuss ideas with me at various stages of this book's completion. First of all, I thank Philippe Borgeaud and David Frankfurter, both of whom critiqued early versions of my theories during a shared semester of fellowship at the Institute for Advanced ...

Frequently Used Terms

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pp. xvii-xix


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p. xxi-xxi

PART I. A Short History of the Dead in Ancient Greece

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CHAPTER I. Elpenor and Others

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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 ...

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CHAPTER 2. To Honor and Avert

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pp. 36-81

In chapter I, 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 I. ...

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CHAPTER 3. Magical Solutions to Deadly Problems

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pp. 82-123

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 ...

PART II. Restless Dead

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CHAPTER 4. The Unavenged

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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 ...

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CHAPTER 5. Childless Mothers and Blighted Virgins

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pp. 161-199

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 ...

PART III. Divinities and the Dead

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CHAPTER 6. Hecate and the Dying Maiden

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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 ...

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CHAPTER 7. Purging the Polls

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pp. 250-287

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 ...


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pp. 289-307

General Index

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pp. 309-314

Index Locorum

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pp. 315-329

E-ISBN-13: 9780520922310
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520217072

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2013