‘Their memories will never grow old’: The politics of remembrance in the athenian funeral orations

Classical Quarterly 63 (2):511-536 (2013)


Every winter in the classical period, on a specifically chosen day, Athenians gathered together to mourn the men who had died in war. According to Thucydides, the bones of the dead killed in that year lay in state for two days before being carried in ten coffins organized by tribe to thedêmosion sêmawhere they were buried and then a speech was made in honour of the dead men by a man chosen by the city. As his description makes clear, this ceremony was a public event attended not only by citizens and foreigners, but also by the female relatives of the dead men. Other sources report that thepolemarchosput on theagônfor those who died in the war and these contests included musical, athletic and hippic competitions. The war-dead also received sacrifices. The occasion combined burial with cult and games usually afforded to the divine, although how exactly this combination worked in practice is not clear because Thucydides, our single best source for the Epitaphia, focusses on the burial and the oration given by Pericles in the winter at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War.

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