Ancient Egyptian and Greco-Romanpractices of preparing the dead for the next cradle ofhumanity are very intriguing. These two cultures differ in amultitude of ways yet similarities can be noted in the domainof funerary services. In the realm of Egyptian afterlife, TheBook of the Dead can provide one with vital informationconcerning ritual entombment practices and myths of theafterlife.
The additional handouts I received from TimothyStoker also proved to be useful in trying uncover vitalinformation regarding the transition into another life. Regarding the burial practices of Greece and Rome, parts ofHomer’s Odyssey are useful in the analysis of properinterment methods. One particular method used by theEgyptians was an intricate process known as mummification. It was undoubtedly a very involved process spanningseventy days in some cases. First, all the internal organswere removed with one exception, the heart.Order now
If the bodywas not already West of the Nile it was transported acrossit, but not before the drying process was initiated. Natron (aspecial salt) was extracted from the banks of the Nile andwas placed under the corpse, on the sides, on top, and bagsof the substance were placed inside the body cavity tofacilitate the process of dehydration. After thirty-five daysthe ancient embalmers would anoint the body with oil andwrap it in fine linen. If the deceased was wealthy enough apriest donning a mask of Anubis would preside over theceremonies to ensure proper passage into the next realm.
One of the practices overseen by the priest was the placingof a special funerary amulet over the heart. This was done inbehest to secure a successful union with Osiris and their kas. The amulet made sure the heart did not speak out against theindividual at the scale of the goddess of justice and divineorder, Maat. The priest also made use of a “peculiar ritualinstrument, a sort of chisel, with which he literally opened themouth of the deceased. ” This was done to ensure that thedeceased was able to speak during their journeys in Duat. Another practice used by the Egyptians to aid the departedsoul involved mass human sacrifice.
Many times if aprominent person passed away the family and servantswould willfully ingest poison to continue their servitude in thenext world. The family members and religious figureheads ofthe community did just about everything in their power to aidthe deceased in the transition to a new life. The communitymade sure the chamber was furnished with “everythingnecessary for the comfort and well-being of the occupants. “It was believed that the individual would be able of accessingthese items in the next world. Some of the most importantthings that the deceased would need to have at his side werecertain spells and incantations.
A conglomeration of readingmaterial ensured a successful passage; The Pyramid Texts,The Book of the Dead, and the Coffin Texts all aided thelost soul in their journey through Duat into the Fields of theBlessed. “Besides all these spells, charms, and magical tombtexts, the ancient practice of depositing in the tomb smallwooden figures of servants was employed. ” These “Ushabistatuettes” as they are called, were essentially slaves of thedeceased. If the deceased was called to work in the Elysianfields he would call upon one of the statues to take his placeand perform the task for him. It was not unheard of for anindividual to have a figure for every day of the year to ensurean afterlife devoid of physical exertion. Just about every thingthe embalmers and burial practitioners did during the processwas done for particular reasons.
Many of the funerarypractices of the ancient Greco-Romans were also done witha specific purpose in mind. Unlike the Egyptian’s theGreco-Roman cultures did not employ elaborate tombs butfocused on the use of a simple pit in the ground. Right afterdeath, not too dissimilar from the practices of the Egyptians,it was necessary for the persons to carefully wash andprepare the corpse for his journey. It was vital for allpersons to receive a proper burial and if they did not theywere dammed to hover in a quasi-world, somewhat of a”limbo” between life and death. One Greco-Roman myththat illustrates this point is The Odyssey by Homer. There isa part in Book eleven of the work in which Homerspecifically addresses proper burial rites.
When Odysseuswishes to contact Tiresias, he comes across Elpenor, one ofhis soldiers. This particular man fell (in a haphazard fashion)to his death on the island of the Kimmerians, but did notreceive a proper burial and was stuck in limbo. Elpenorbegged Odysseus and his men to return to the island andcare for his body. Consequently, they did return and Elpenorpassed into the next world. Most likely he was buried in thesame fashion other members of his society were; a pyre wasprobably constructed and the body placed upon it. Alsoplaced on the pyre were items that the deceased held dear inlife with the hope that they would follow him into the nextworld.
In order to survive in the afterlife, the deceased “isalso presented with a small coin which came to be known asthe ferrying fee for Charon. ” This can be likened to theEgyptian practice of introducing coinage into the tomb insome cases. Homer also speaks of the psyche, which slipsout of man “at the moment of death and enters the house ofAis, also known as Aides, Aidoneus, and in Attic as Hades. “This idea can be compared to the concept of an individual’sba in ancient Egypt. When someone died, an eternal part ofthem (their ba) would also slip out and seek out theindividuals spiritual twin (their ka) in order to unite with it andfacilitate a successful passage.
Many times in myth, the livingdesired to speak with the departed. When Odysseus wishesto speak with the Nekyia in Book eleven, goats must besacrificed and their blood was recognized as inspiring thedeceased to speak. The Egyptians also were concerned withthe ability of the deceased to speak in the next realm; this isexemplified in one of the most important spells in The Bookof the Dead, the opening of the mouth. When all the funeraryrites had been done, the next step was to mark the spot ofthe deceased. “The grave is marked with a stone, the sign,sema. ” This grave stone would have the name of the soul,and often some type of epigram in verse form.
Invariablynear the grave, some type of guardian of the soul would belocated. Lion and sphinx were found as grave markers andthis idea is paralleled in the practices of the natives of Egypt. A certain “cult image” was buried with the deceased in Egyptin order to look after and more importantly protect one’s bafrom being disturbed. It also acted as a type of “purge valve”for any ba which may have been unjustly disturbed in thetomb. Burial practices aside one can note an interestingdifference between these two ancient civilizations. Differences can be observed concerning how amicable theafterlife was.
The Egyptians had a positive outlook. Theybelieved that after one became Osirus, They would moveinto a new world, which was nice, no one had to work, andeverything was very clean. One could compare their lives inthe next world with the children’s classic board game,Candyland. In this game all was fine and dandy, the “don’tworry be happy” attitude flourished, not distant from the lifein the Fields of the Blessed. On the other hand,Greco-Roman afterlife was a rather dismal place.
The deadAchilles summed everything up by saying to Odysseus, “Donot try to make light of death to me, I would sooner bebound to the soil in the hire of another man, a man withoutlot and without much to live on, than rule over all theperished dead. ” Needless to say, the Homeric afterlife wasno Candyland. Candyland or not, both cultures went toextremes in order to guarantee a successful voyage into thenext world. The two ancient civilizations hoped that throughtheir intricate actions the individual would be protected andprepared for their many experiences on “the other side. ” Bylooking at selections of Homer’s Odyssey and The Book ofthe Dead, one can draw many similarities between the twocultures; however, differences are also apparent due tocultural differences concerning what would happen to thedeparted soul.