Research Paper: Life After Death: Afterlife

Pages: 22 (6046 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Evidence retrieved from archaeological patterns suggests that while they originally abandoned their dead, human beings developed a sense of responsibility by assuming patterns that are more mournful. Echoing the same, Professor Godfrey Muriuki of the University of Nairobi notes, "From flower petals to flint, fetal positions to facing east, bare bones to goat horns, man started supplementing the basic corpse… From Neanderthal and especially Cro-Magnon times evolved an increasingly ritualistic approach."

Early references to Ancient Greek beliefs emerge from Homers accounts as documented in The Iliad and The Odyssey. In other historical accounts, the conception of the Afterlife had taken form in Ancient Greek beliefs dating back to the 6th Century BC. The Greek concept of the afterlife incorporates the 'underworld' depicted as an alternate universe where souls went after separation from the physical body after death. The mainstream belief was that souls of the dead, otherwise referred to as the living dead, resided in the underworld. Flittering about in the underworld with no sense of purpose, the souls existed insubstantially -- there was no material existence. As depicted in the Homeric Underworld, these souls were immaterial and insubstantial and therefore lacked menos (strength), which limited any material influence on the living

. Historical accounts concur with Homeric depiction of immaterial souls that lacked phrenes, or wit. Existence in the underworld lacked purpose; it was very neutral since there were no political positions or social status and the souls were not in control over life or destiny.

There were no hints of progress in the Greek Underworld. The most attributable factor about the Greek Underworld is that it existed independent of the concept of time. Existence in the underworld took the form of infinity and continuity. The psyche froze in experience and appearance upon death. Souls never changed in terms of age or in any other sense. Further inquiry into the nature of existence in the afterlife indicates that the spirits took the form of the individual upon death, for instance, the souls of soldiers who died in battle remained blood-spattered throughout their eternally in the underworld. As for those who died peacefully or in range and vengeance, their souls remained as such through eternity too

Largely, the dead in Ancient Greek beliefs were not malevolent or dangerous in any way since they lacked material existence rendering them incapable of exerting any substantial influence on life; the Homeric depiction of the afterlife is unpleasant and gruesome too. The souls grew angry upon feeling hostile presence at the places near their graves. In ancient Greece, there was a prevailing tradition through which people believed in appeasing the dead by offering fresh sacrifices. Most of the sacrifices offered were blood sacrifices due to the belief that, to become conscious and communicative again, the spirits needed the essence of life. The reference to this claim emerges in Homer's Odyssey in the scene where Odysseus offers blood sacrifice to appease the souls so that they may interact with him

As indicated by objects found in tombs such as game-boards and dice, one can reasonably infer that the most favorite pastime for the spirits in the underworld included playing games. Ancient Greeks buried their dead with various gifts and possessions such as jewelry, clothing, and foodstuff for use in the Underworld. Irrespective of Homer's depiction of the dead as not being capable consuming food or drinks, in some parallel historic accounts, there were numerous elaborate feasts and festivities in the Underworld. While it is not entirely clear, some accounts indicate that the spirits of the dead were capable of having sexual intimacy amongst them without procreation.

According to Lucian, the souls residing in the Underworld took the form of simple skeletons indicating that all of them looked similar; it was virtually impossible to tell one from the other since they were indistinguishable from each other. Sources further indicate that the Lucian view of the afterlife in the Underworld was not universal; Homer, for instance, depicts the dead retaining their familiar faces as portrayed in the scene with Achilles' ghost

As mentioned earlier, the most attributable factor about the Greek Underworld is that it existed independent of the concept of time but within the space continuum. Since existence in the afterlife beats the time continuum, the dead were always aware of the future making them able to predict and prophesy certain outcomes. In Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey, it emerges that the living could not alter fate / destiny but the dead could bend time continuum to know what was about to happen. For instance, Oedipus' destiny to kill his father and marry his mother was among the prophecies made. The dead would reach out to the place beyond immediate perception and human time: the Underworld

The common belief was that the actions committed in one life determined where the soul went in the afterlife. As depicted in The Iliad, death was not glorious; the underworld was unpleasant due to the lack of purpose. The souls tormented themselves throughout eternity. The Homeric reference to this emerges in the following excerpt: "I'd rather be a day laborer on earth working for man of little property than be the king of the dead." These were the words uttered by Achilles' ghost. In other Homeric accounts, the afterlife occurred in different underworlds. The first underworld identified as the Gates of Hades was a cold and dark real. Guarded by a deity going by the same name, Hades was the universal destination of the dead. Another underworld going by the title Tartarus emerges as the deepest region of the Greek Underworld. According to the historic accounts of Hesiod, the estimated time for an anvil to fall from heaven to earth was nine days. An anvil would take another nine days to fall from earth to Tartarus. Tartarus, was the place reserved for punishing the worst and most wicked sinners. In Tartarus, there was Ixion, who murdered his father-in-law, Sisyphus, the murderer and thief destined to push a boulder up a hill for eternity, and where Tantalus awaits punishment for sharing with humans some of the secrets of the gods. Tartarus was also believed to be the place where the gods cast enemy combatants and other monsters after defeating them. It was the residence of, among others, the Titans, the Cyclopes, and Typhus

Elysium, otherwise referred to as Elysian Plain or Elysian Fields, was the Greek Underworld's equivalent to the Biblical 'heaven.' According to Homeric references, the Elysian Fields was a paradise where only the righteous got to go; only the good souls and the pure hearts inhabited this Underworld

. As it first appears in The Odyssey, the Elysian Fields, characterized by gentle breezes and located on the western ends of the earth, is the home of Menelaus. The Elysian Fields closely resembles Hesiod's Isles of the Blessed located in the western ocean as depicted in Works and Days.

Another aspect of Greek religious belief in the afterlife was reincarnation; the belief that while leaving the body after death, the human soul enters another body. The concept of transmigration of the soul through reincarnation first emerged in the works of Orphics and Pythagoreans. Plato and Pindar would later teach the same concept in The Republic and Olympian respectively. Pythagoreans espoused that the soul retained its identity throughout all of its lifetimes. As for the argument by Plato, the soul cannot reconstruct or remember previous experiences after reincarnation. Although a section of historians believe that the Greeks learned the concept of reincarnation from Egypt, Plato and Pythagoreans maintain that reincarnation developed independently in Ancient Greek religion

Predominantly conspicuous is the change, which currently portrays itself in the departure of the soul from the physical body upon death. The departed spirits, as mentioned earlier, leave the material world for the underworld where they continue to exist insubstantially. However, after severance and detachment from the material world, the physical existence of human beings came perforce to an end. Upon death, what came in the afterlife was insubstantial in terms of material existence. Dead people could not lift or perform any task; their existence was sorrowful and purposeless. They could not even carry away with them any possession, loved ones, social status, economic wealth or political position.

The afterlife, as discussed in the context of Ancient Greek mythology, culture and religious dispensation, emerges as a parallel concept of material existence as it is in our material universe. With the incorporation of the underworld, the idea of afterlife seems to occur in a different world parallel to our material world. Outside the realm of mythology, the idea of an afterlife seems like a fantasy since it beats the logic of science. However, science is a discipline best known for its notorious insistence of proof in form of empirical evidence. As such, by its very nature, scientific method dismisses qualitative analysis in favor of quantitative analysis. In… [END OF PREVIEW]

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