Dangerous Voices: Women's Laments and Greek Literature

Synopsis

In ancient Greece, from the sixth century onwards legilation was introduced in Athens and a number of the more advanced city states which was specifically aimed at the restriction of mourning of the dead, particularly women's laments. THis book investigates the threat which such mourning posed ot the society and the way in which the state attempted to suvdue and subvert laments.The author argues that laments are a complex art form that gives women a means to express not only pain, but frustration and anger. In the larger social unit of the ancient Greek polis, women's prominence in the death rituals and their use of the public forum of the funeral to express grief and anger presented a powerful challenge to established social order. The state's need to raise a standing army meant that death in war had to be glorified, not lamentd; at the same time the existence of official las courts discouraged the cycle of private retribution which was inflamed by laments. In fifth century Athens, the funeral oration and tragedy appropriated the function of and condemend the excesses of women's laments. Attempts ot curb women's laments in antiquity and the Byzantine period were only partly successful. Women's laments remained an essential part of the death rituals of rural Greece. The book ends with a chapter which discusses how the modern Greek men and women writers have dealt with the lament, concluding that the loss of the traditional lament in Greece and other countries not only deprives women of their traditional control over the rituals of death but leaves all mourners impoverished.