Death is nothing to us, since when we are,
death has not come; and when death comes,
we are not.
NO MATTER HOW M U C H the Greeks valued health, they realized that sooner or later even the healthiest and most robust among them must die. The Greeks had no single view on the meaning of death. Rather, they held a plurality of often conflicting views, just as we do in our own culture. In this chapter, I shall illustrate some of the attitudes that the Greeks had toward death at various times in their cultural development.
Before undertaking to sketch these various attitudes, it is imperative to isolate precisely what features of this complex topic one seeks to understand. The simple expression “attitudes toward death” involves a complex of interrelated concepts that are by no means identical.1 Attitudes may be explored on at least three levels: (a) cognitively, one may inquire how people think about death; (b) affectively, one may try to discover how people feel about death; and (c) behaviorally, one may investigate how people behave toward their own or others' impending death. My analysis will encompass primarily (a), the cognitive side of this topic. I shall ask, How did various philosophers, poets, artists, and ordinary Greek citizens conceive of death at different points in Greek culture?
Furthermore, the word “death” itself is a highly elusive and disunified concept in our ordinary usage of that term. Its standard senses in the present context include: (1) the dying process; (2) the precise moment of death; and (3) the state of being dead. I am primarily interested in (3), how the Greeks conceived of the state of being dead. The answer to this question promises to significantly contribute to our background understanding of various Greek ethical views on euthana