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by Archaeology Newsroom

Death in folk songs

The extent to which death as a theme affects universal and biological concerns can be used as a key to research or even as a criterion for the determination of a cultural system. From this point of view the Greek folk-song represents a most significant case, where the experience of death puts human values in perspective thus creating an extremely suitable plane for the study of bio-cosmotheory. We will approach the subject from this point of view. In the poetry of a people like the Greeks, whose modern history is a long series of hardships, the problem of death is not, of course, limited to the category of songs specifically related to mournful occasions. Almost equally often it can be traced to heroic songs, where the attitude towards death usually serves as the criterion of heroism. In ballads, the adventure of life in its mythical or social dimensions is interlaced with bloody incidents or an experience of death. Expatriation songs, due to their lamenting character, stand very close to death lamentations. In the adages and in the purely banquet and dancing songs the prospect of death creates the well-known motif of “carpe diem”. Here we deal only with songs that specifically deal with death.These can be classified in two distinct groups, lamentations and songs of the Underworld or songs of Charon (=ruler of death).

The lamentations are mournful songs that are related to the folk customs and rituals of the preparation and burial of the dead. They represent a direct expression of the pain and sorrow for the loss of a certain person and therefore they have an extemporizing character. The songs of Charon form a thematic group of allegories originating from the Middle-Ages, combined with themes of frontier poetry. They do not refer to specific persons but they create a mythical tale of the struggle between life and death through personification of the opponent forces. Lamentations and songs of Charon, in spite of their difference in character and style, share basic concepts so as to compose, finally, a common approach towards life and death.