Idealizing the Dead: From Egypt to Greece

The Idealization of the Dead

Image from Artstor

Both Ancient Greek and Egyptian societies idealized the deceased and stressed the importance of social persona, although they did so in very different ways. Greeks, especially in the Archaic period, focused on the social persona of the deceased and placed a high importance on their social projections after dead through their grave markers, inscriptions, imagery, and offerings. For example, Greeks hired mourners and constructed stock images of ideal forms- demure women and muscular men. They idealized the body in the height of its vitality in life. They also believed in kalokagathia, or a “beautiful death.” i.e. the death of a member of the promachoi, or soldiers of the front lines dying a Homeric death. Egyptians however, idealized the preservation of the body as they believed that death was a continuation of life. They took special care in mummifying the body, but also displayed stock images of the deceased. These depictions showed the individual as the best version of themselves, in the body that they would continue to dwell in after death.

From the Old Kingdom to Archaic Period, both Ancient Greece and Egypt displayed this idealization through artifacts and texts. Our exhibit includes such items as the Dyad of Menkaure, Homer’s The Iliad, the mummy of King Tutankhamun, the Kouroi of Ancient Greece and various death masks from the New Kingdom to the Roman Period of Greece (focusing on deceased males). Taking a functionalist approach, our group explored what these objects can tell us about the societies as a whole, such as how they treated and interacted with their dead. Together, our objects embody the dichotomy between the idealization and ideas of death in Greece and Egypt. The Greeks treated death with fear, pity, and respect as evidenced in both The Iliad and the inscriptions on the Kouroi. The Egyptians, however, did not fear death and were instead focused on how to preserve the deceased and make immortality more attainable.

The Innermost Golden Coffin of King Tutankhamun (Pemberton 103).

Leyna Donaldson, Tenzin Masseli, Emily Freedman, Lucas Olson Duffy, Marina Rothberg

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