How Views of the Afterlife in Greece 3000-323 B.C.E.
Affected Their Psychological Ideals
Throughout human history, ideas about the afterlife have shaped the psychological ideals of the societies that come into contact with them. Though some might argue that it is science, specifically, that has shaped our way of life beyond all else, this is too narrow an idea because science has only recently become a part of many people’s daily lives. Beliefs about the afterlife have shaped the psychological ideals of whole societies as well as altering the daily lives of the individuals within them. Greece will be examined from the beginning of the Bronze Age in 3000 B.C.E. to the end of the Classical Period in 323 B.C.E..
The ancient Greek men of the Bronze Age were warriors above all else. They did not have the visions of Heaven and Hell as we do now. Specifically, the idea that living a good life will lead one to a pleasant afterlife and that living a bad or immoral life will lead one to an unpleasant afterlife. The ancient Greeks saw life after death as something only attainable through glory in their present lives. As Achilles said in the Iliad (1997 trans.), “If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy, my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies. If I voyage back to the fatherland I love, my pride, my glory dies.” (p. 265). If they were worthy warriors, if they performed heroic deeds, then these deeds would be talked about. If their deeds were impressive enough, then this talk about them would continue even after they died.
There are some interesting extensions to this first theory of afterlife. The first and most poignant is that it could only be achieved by healthy, free men. “Hades is the god of the underworld…only the strongest and most impressive of men could live in Hades” (Faustino, 2004, p.5). The virtue that was necessary to achieve the afterlife was simply not available to women, to slaves, or to the poor (certainly not mutually exclusive categories at the time). The bodies of fallen warriors, often with their wounds in place, could travel to Hades. This was a less literal life after death than simply being spoken of after dying, as the Greeks of the Bronze Age did not conceptualize an immortal soul that would live on after the body perished. By this conception, those who could go on to Hades would do so as zombies, “mental cripples, deprived of feeling, thought, and speech, and incapable of even normal movement,” (Leahey, 2004, p. 37) deprived of the inner workings that had made them distinct in life. The need for a proper burial meant that children, adolescents, and the elderly were also excluded from the Bronze Age afterlife along with the afore-mentioned women, slaves, and poor people.
The Bronze Age warriors fought as individuals no matter the size of the battle itself. The warrior elites would arrive in chariots, wearing magnificently expensive armor, and would fight those they viewed as their personal enemies while others looked on. One could argue that the warrior ethos of the Greeks was so powerful that, when the style and mechanics of battle changed during the Archaic age, so changed the concept of the afterlife. This change came with the development of the phalanx. Soldiers who were only lightly armored, carrying simple long pikes, were able to make tremendous strides by fighting as a group instead of individually. With this one invention, and the development of the polis, the aristocrats lost their monopoly on glory in battle, prowess in political office, and their place as the sole possible occupiers of the afterlife. “The polis made it possible for any citizen, not just the wealthy aristocrats, to achieve arête. “ (Leahey, p. 39). Though glory was still sought, it was now sought for the benefit and pride of all citizens, and many more citizens were now able to achieve warrior virtue (and the warrior’s...