Sunday, January 28, 2007

What remains unburied.

To what extent is the unburied corpse in Greek literature an indictment against the Zoroastrian practice of allowing wild dogs and birds to devour the flesh of the dead in order not to contaminate the ground? The opening stanza of the Iliad reads:
Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.
The world is topsy-turvy because corpses litter the open ground. And Sophocles’ Antigone is all about Polyneices’ unburied corpse and angering the local gods—i.e., the gods of the Greeks as opposed to the god (Ahura Mazda) of the Persians, who might actually delight that Polyneices remains unburied. Considering that the Greeks and the Persians were always at war, the argument can be made that they influenced each other to a great extent: each was aware of the cultural practices of the other. I think it is also safe to say that the reason Thebes suffered so greatly for not burying Polyneices is that the Thebans employed a Persian practice and thereby angered their own gods.

Something to think about, I suppose, as we face another week of too much (and too rushed) reading.

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