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history classics

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Introduction

A comparative study of ancient burial rites and beliefs, and whether they had an influence on today's society. In order to compare and contrast the beliefs about death and burial in the ancient civilisations of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, I will analyse a specific example from each. For the Egyptians, I have chosen to study King Khufu, and his grave the pyramid of Giza. To gain some background knowledge of Khufu I have read sections of book two of 'The Histories' by Herodotus. In these passages Khufu comes across in a very negative light, as a leader who is able to exploit his population for his own gains, for example Herodotus states that Khufu 'closed the temples, and forbade the Egyptians to offer sacrifice, compelling them instead to labour, one and all, in his service.'1 Of course this service was the building of his great pyramid which took twenty years to complete. Agamemnon, the legendary Mycenaean king, is the person I have chosen to study in order to find out about death beliefs in ancient Greece. Through the study of the Odyssey I have got a slight picture of what he was like, that of the victorious and much loved King. However through the reading of the Agamemnon by Sophocles, I get a very different image of the king. In the play Agamemnon is depicted as a scheming king and one not favoured by the gods. As the play goes on I see more and more motives for Clytemnestra to take revenge on her husband, and he eventually comes to a gruesome end; first Clytemnestra wrapped him in a net, and then 'at my (Clytemnestra) leisure choosing the best places on his helpless body I pushed the blade into him (Agamemnon)'2. To get an idea about beliefs in the Roman world I chose to investigate the burial of Stilicho (359 - 408 AD) ...read more.

Middle

Both the ascending and descending passages are angled at 26 degrees, which shows a great deal of workmanship rarely seen in other pyramids. The Grand Gallery is at the end of the ascending passage and it is here where you can decide to go to the king's or the Queen's chamber. Unlike the rest of the pyramid, the Grand Gallery is the only place where decoration is found in the form of polished corbelled limestone. Both the King's chamber and the Queen's chamber have air shafts with the ones in the king's chamber leading to the outside. This connects with the Egyptian belief that the soul of the Pharaoh would travel up these to the stars, as, just like the actual structure of the pyramid, these air shafts in the king's chamber are in alignment with the stars of Orion, believed by the Egyptians to be their god Osiris. The shafts in the Queen's chamber remain more elusive as they do not lead to the outside, but to a small doorway which, Egyptologists believe, remains unopened. This could lead to the genuine resting place of the king. This ties in with what was found by two French Egyptologists, who, using radar and architectural analysis, claimed they had found a previously unknown chamber under the Queen's chamber. The Pyramid at Giza is by far the most different in terms of internal structure as it is far more complicated than the others. Due to this, the pyramid is the tomb which holds the most secrets and mysteries about how and why it was built in this way. The actual set out of the interior in Agamemnon's tomb is a lot like that of the Egyptians as it had a special burial chamber for the King and this was then blocked off. They both are on a huge scale and both have relieving structures to help support the weight. ...read more.

Conclusion

Another similarity between today and the Egyptian beliefs is the idea of your soul, or heart, being weighed to see whether you are worthy enough to join the gods. However unlike the Egyptians, Catholics believe in Purgatory, a place of limbo before you are deemed virtuous enough to go to heaven. This idea of limbo is seen in the Greek world, as if you aren't buried properly, then the ferryman wouldn't take the dead to the underworld, and they would remain on the banks of the Styx. The Romans came up with the idea of tombstones, so that their name and deeds would be remembered, a tradition carried on today. Sometimes, although not often, in the Roman world, the deceased seemed to have been granted a sort of "hero" status, almost being treated like a god after death. The deceased would occupy a temple where the public could enter; this acted as the forerunner to the tradition of Christians visiting martyr's tombs and the idea of sacred relics. The Roman belief of being wary of the dead also survives today and we too are cautious about the powers of the dead and the supernatural. A difference is that in today's age we no longer bury people with items to take to the afterlife, yet the belief of looking your best for the next world still remains popular. In terms of today's actual tombs, it is very similar to the idea of sarcophagi, however unlike the ancient world, today cremation is popular. The tombs themselves are not as sophisticated as those in the ancient world, and they are not as cared for and treated with as much respect. Overall it is the ancient world that has influenced our beliefs in life after death, more that the actual method of burial. Bibliography Proof reading OK Page numbers OK Word count 3,160 excluding Bibliography. A range of fascinating information. Only glimpses of use of classical literature as source material. Depends heavily on secondary sources. Conclusion is more in the form of a repetition of previous points. But you do answer your own question. ...read more.

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