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6-10-2015, 19:31

Private Burial in the Sixth Century: Kleos and Kin

In the late sixth century, an Athenian named Kroisos died in battle. His family buried him at Phoinikia near Anavysos in Attica, seventeen miles as the crow flies to Athens. They marked his grave with an impressive kouros (figure 1.3).75 The Athenian’s funeral monument lived up to his name, shared with the famously wealthy Lydian king. Powerfully modeled, gloriously naked, perfectly proportioned, long hair elegantly coiffed, the statue commemorated this deceased Athenian with an elitist and individualizing visual rhetoric. Few could afford a marble statue, few could commission a statue crafted with such skill, and none would forget that this was Kroisos who died in battle. The base summoned the passerby: “Stay and mourn at the tomb of dead Kroisos, whom once in the front ranks destroyed raging Ares.”76

The monument glorifies this named individual through its size, beauty, and invocation to mourn. Although the elite Archaic community valued the dead in battle and admired the gore and wounds—the evidence of the kalos thanatos—it substituted for the deceased an imperishable, clean, stone form. The epigram attributes to him the courage that attended his specific position—in the front ranks—in the face of immortal opposition, and the statue’s form endows him with an imposing and youthful physique. Apart from the reference to ranks, there is no mention in the epigram of the community for which Kroisos fought in this imagined epic conflict against none other than the war god himself.

Another sixth-century Athenian, Tettichos, also died in battle and received a private monument. The sculpted stele that represented this individual does not survive; perhaps it resembled the monument for Aristion (figure 1.4), a relief with a man in armor carrying a spear.77 All that is preserved is the poignant epitaph on the base, which called the passerby to take note: “Let citizen or foreigner alike coming from afar pass having mourned Tettichos, a brave man who died in battle and lost his fresh youth. Once you have bitterly lamented, proceed to a brave deed.”78

FIGURE 1.3 Kroisos, from Anavysos (Attica). C. 530 BC. H. 1.94 m. Athens, National Archaeological Museum 3851.

Photo © Erin Babnik.

Like that ofKroisos, Tettichos’s death in battle is declared. Where the statue represented Kroisos as eternally young, the inscription declared Tettichos’s youth. Once again, there is no allusion to the group he fought against or to the collective for which he fought. All those who pass the monument are summoned to remember this dead individual and his fate, to praise him with their mourning, and to emulate him. Citizens and foreigners alike, regardless of the side to which they belonged, were called to honor this youth because ofhis qualities. The virtues he embodied and which his lost stele no doubt represented were recognized not just by Athenians but by the Panhellenic community.

FIGURE 1.4 Grave stele ofAristion, signed by Aristokles. C. 520 BC. H. 2.02 m. Athens, National Archaeological Museum 29.

Photo © Erin Babnik.

These two epigrams and the surviving statue testify to the elitist and individualistic nature of the commemoration of the war dead that was permissible in the sixth century. The dead were displayed to the outside world in order for people to mourn and remember them. Families performed a commemorative act and gave it a commemorative form, using a monument to secure the memory of the deceased and his kleos: glory, fame, renown. Nothing guaranteed kleos like a death in battle, but it needed to be monumentalized and broadcast. Such portrayals of arete—virtue, excellence—praised the dead but also increased the prestige of his family. Kouroi stood near other family graves and were erected by surviving family members.79 On the one hand, then, the monuments were publicly oriented. On the other hand, they were privately sponsored by families who wanted the dead remembered as named and known individuals, and the display context made family connections evident. The deceased’s individuality and membership in a family were stressed over his allegiance to a larger social or political group. The communities to which the dead belonged and against which they fought were largely absent, and there was no need for the monuments to be located near the city. The dead here were identified as Kroisos and Tettichos, not as Athenians, and the epigrams mentioned death in battle to speak to the courage and youth of the deceased, not his membership in a political unit. For most of the sixth century, even public burials, such as for Solon or Tellos, were for individuals.80

This emphasis on the individual resulted in part from the nature of sixth-century Athenian warfare, in reality and in popular conception. We know little about the Athenian fighting force in the Archaic period, but there were no mass mobilizations or campaigns, and many conflicts consisted of raids, border disputes, and internecine strife.81 The tyrants relied on volunteers and foreigners, and Peisistratos was able to take power with only fifty men armed with clubs. Although the hoplite phalanx was in place, and although Athenians could fight as a community, conflicts were small in scale and number, and hop-lites were among the wealthier Athenians. The emphasis on the individual was also a result of sixth-century mentalities informed by Homeric epic, in which the most celebrated conflicts were one-on-one heroic encounters. Vase paintings, as we have seen, further fostered this mentality (figure i. i). The combatants in figure 1.2 seek to recover a hero’s body to give it a heroic burial.

The individuality of warriors became most conspicuous when they died and families wanted their corpses present. Kin could clean the body, lay it out in the home, convey it to a burial ground, and bury it (figure 1.5a).82 An Archaic plaque that once decorated a grave illustrates the ideal interaction between living and corpse (figure 1.6).83 The cleaned and anointed body is present and lies on a bier, which could be elevated to facilitate physical contact. Mourners surround the corpse and salute it, and a woman cradles the head in her hand.

FIGURE 1.5A Detail from a black-figure loutrophoros attributed to the Sappho Painter, with mourners lowering a coffin into the ground. Early fifth century BC. H. (vessel) 0.64 m. Athens, National Archaeological Museum 450.

Photo: G. Fafalis © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports/Archaeological Receipts Fund.

Similarly, on the other side of the loutrophoros with the deposition of the coffin, the family crowds around the bier with the deceased, and a woman holds the man’s head (figure 1.5b). Literature testifies to the importance of such touching of the dead. Klytaimestra imagines the Trojans embracing the bodies of their dead on the battlefield.84 When Jason beholds his children’s bodies, he yearns to hold them.85 Not only did touching the body let mourners provide a final gesture of affection toward the corpse, but the contact also helped them to fully comprehend that the deceased had passed.86

There were no restrictions on transporting the corpses of the dead from the battlefield and burying the body as a family.87 Mourners would perform those funeral rites that Elektra wishes she had done, saying when she believes she holds her brother’s ashes: “I, unhappy one, did not wash you with loving hands or take up the sad burden, as is proper. . . . ”88 Such rites did not have to entail great expense. Many conflicts in the sixth century were not far from home, and bodies might easily be conveyed back to the hearth. That dead bodies could be transported significant distances is evidenced by the Thespians carting the bodies of their dead about fifty kilometers to cremate them at home following the

FIGURE 1.5B Detail from other side of vessel in figure 1.5a: mourners gather around a corpse, touching the body.

Battle of Delion.89 After conflicts great distances from home, comrades could cremate the dead and bring back the ashes to a family.90 When unable to perform some funeral rites, kin such as Elektra could still provide a private burial for the ashes and mourn the dead in their homes. Although Elektra laments that she cannot prepare Orestes’s body, she receives some comfort from the ashes that she holds.

The culmination of private funerary rites was the creation of a commemorative monument. Even without the body or the ashes present, families could erect private monuments to the war dead. Although private commemoration of the dead offered opportunities to the wealthy for display and for claims to kleos and arete, watchwords ofthe Athenian aristocracy, it was available in some form to all. Simple stelai, plain pots, or mounds of dirt could serve as memorials for the deceased.

For sixth-century Athenians from the mass and the elite, the presence of the body—real and represented—mattered for rituals, mourning, and remembrance. The advent of the public burial of the war dead fundamentally altered these processes. New customs and media shifted the way the body could be present and altered the manner in which the dead could be remembered. The rest of this chapter sketches the process of public burial as it existed in the mid-fifth century in order to assess the extent of the changes. Next, it discusses the origins of the state institution of public burial in order to evaluate more fully the significance and impact of these changes in their social, political, and cultural contexts.

FIGURE 1.6 Black-figure terra-cotta funerary plaque with a corpse laid on a bier. C. 520510 BC. H. 0.26 m. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1954 (54.11.5).

Photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo source: Art Resource, New York.



 

 

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