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The search for immortality in archaic Greek myth

Burton, Diana Helen; (1997) The search for immortality in archaic Greek myth. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis considers the development of the ideology of death articulated in myth and of theories concerning the possibility, in both mythical and 'secular' contexts, of attaining some form of immortality. It covers the archaic period, beginning after Homer and ending with Pindar, and examines an amalgam of (primarily) literary and iconographical evidence. However, this study will also take into account anthropological, archaeological, philosophical and other evidence, as well as related theories from other cultures, where such evidence sheds light on a particular problem. The Homeric epics admit almost no possibility of immortality for mortals, and the possibility of retaining any significant consciousness of 'self or personal identity after death and integration into the underworld is tailored to the poems rather than representative of any unified theory or belief. The poems of the Epic Cycle, while lacking Homer's strict emphasis on human mortality, nonetheless show little evidence of the range and diversity of types of immortality which develops in the archaic period. In the context of this development I discuss ways of defining death, such as the personification of Thanatos, forms of the 'good death', and definitions of mortality in terms of time and mutability vs. timelessness and stasis. Immortality is defined by the variants often associated with it (eg. agelessness, invulnerability) and their opposites. Mythical depictions of immortality show that the process of attaining it depends on materials which are themselves unattainable in most cases. A form of immortality, however, can be sought in fame, as the epinicians show. Interwoven with theories of immortality is a nexus of mythmaking about an afterlife in which a significant consciousness of self and personal identity is retained, in the introduction and/or alteration of myths concerning Hades, Elysion, and the White Isle, and the mystery cults.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The search for immortality in archaic Greek myth
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Language, literature and linguistics; Greek mythology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10098732
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