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Reviews 257 Loring M. Danforth. The Death Rituals of Rural Greece. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982. Pp. ix + .169 + 31 plates, preface, bibliography, index, photographs. "Good work," says folklorist Henry Glassie in his recent book, Passing the Time in Ballymenone: Culture and History of an Ulster Community , "is not the end of our task. Scholars are citizens in debt to their society. Our study must push things to meanings and grope through meanings to values." It is, in part, a similar quest for personal meaning and relevance (" . . . this book is not just about how others die, but about how we die as well' ' [7]) that makes Loring Danforth's book The Death Rituals of Rural Greece both informative and compelling, and creates a clarity of purpose and direction. It is ultimately Danforth's unsentimental but moving examination of death in terms of "its universal significance " (6) that mediates the distance between ethnographer and community, while his clarification of his own theoretical and philosophical position contributes to the sense of intellectual integrity evident throughout the book ("This book is an attempt to communicate both an intellectual and an emotional response to the death rituals of rural Greece" [7]). Loring Danforth's book is a study of rituals, songs, expressive behavior and beliefs related to death in the village of Potamia in Northern Thessaly in Greece. Ethnographic descriptions and a sustained focus on individual participants are coupled with extensive analysis. Complementing the text are 31 beautiful and powerful photographs by photographer Alexander Tsiaras, whose visit to his parents ' village became the catalyst for the creation of this book. It is the combination of visual and textual documentation, analytical and lyrical prose, theoretical and deeply personal perspectives that gives this work its special value and effect. On the whole, I find that this book makes an enormous contribution to the anthropology of death, the field of Modern Greek studies and Greek folksong, as well as to our understanding of ritual in the context of changing folk communities. Complementing Margaret Alexiou's study of Greek ritual laments and Roderick Beaton's work on Greek folk poetry—neither of which considers social context in its analysis—Danforth's book roots the examination of death rituals in the daily reality of a small community. The book opens with the forceful depiction of an exhumation ceremony in which a mother, aided by relatives and friends, faces the remains of her daughter Eleni, dead for five years. It is Danforth's skillful use of such ritual dramas and the moving insights we gain d:Q3081c, f:r-7 258 Reviews into their actors that lend this study narrative focus and concreteness . Moreover, the slowly unfolding details of daily life allow us a fascinating view of the process of change in Potamia, governing alike society and expressive forms, such as laments. Attention to the expressive language of laments, while maintaining a sensitive eye and ear for contextual detail, is another major contribution of Death Rituals in Rural Greece. Lament texts—meticulously transcribed in both Greek and English—are presented in the order they were sung, for instance, in young Eleni's exhumation ceremony (58-65). We are thus able to understand how context and individual performers can combine songs which are apparently disparate and which are frequently sung in other contexts (mainly at weddings), ordering through performance a meaningful totality. One wishes, however, for more consideration of performance elements. The author devotes a good part of the chapter on laments to the symbolic and structural analysis of lament texts (e.g., the relationship between plants and human beings [99]). Such analysis relies almost exclusively on secondary sources, missing the opportunity fully to utilize the performers themselves. How do the lament participants perceive relationships between wedding songs and laments—a recurrent theme in the book? Why do they select certain songs and on what basis? How have they learned laments and to whom are they transmitting them? What are their rules for substitution and embellishment , for appropriateness in song selection during performance, etc.? What are the rules and criteria of the indigenous aesthetic and interpretive systems? Instead of tackling some of these questions, Danforth bases many of his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 257-260
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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