Echoes of the Underworld: Manifestations of Death-Related Gods in Early Greek Cult and Literature

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

This thesis examines mythic representations of death- and Underworld-related divinities in light of contemporary archaic and early classical Greek associated cultic practice. Current scholarly approaches to these so-called ‘chthonic’ divinities generally adopt a view of the divine framework of the Underworld which places death-related concerns as the primary focus of the divinities concerned. In this project I have looked at Hades, Persephone, Demeter, Hekate and the Moirai and Keres for analysis of this framework. This thesis demonstrates that the death-related functions of these divinities were not the principle factor in their characterisations, but were rather only one aspect of a more nuanced identity. More generally, this thesis demonstrates that the ways that the Greeks viewed death and utilised death-related gods in cultic and literary representations support the idea that the association with death was not the primary aspect of any of these divinities. By investigating the mythic characterisations and cultic realities of these divinities, utilising the methodological approach of thin-coherence, this thesis shows that a more nuanced picture emerges.
This thesis contributes a new approach to the death-related divine, demonstrating primarily that their death-related function is not the primary source of cultic dedication. In cases where a death-related divinity does not receive cultic dedication, or significant cultic dedication, the death-related function found in their mythic profile remains their primary function. I show that death-related gods who receive cultic dedication do so within the remit of other areas of interest, and this is most usually demonstrated in the contrasting tropes death/fertility, death/agriculture, and death/marriage. These tropes are demonstrated in various ritual activities throughout this thesis. Therefore, this project shows that death is an area of concern that permeates the world of the living and is not separate from it.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorIsmene Lada-Richards (Supervisor) & Hugh Bowden (Supervisor)

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