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Funeral oration (ancient Greece)

A funeral oration or epitaphios logos (Greek: ἐπιτάφιος λόγος) is a formal speech delivered on the ceremonial occasion of a funeral. Funerary customs comprise the practices used by a culture to remember the dead, from the funeral itself, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honour. In ancient Greece and, in particular, in ancient Athens, the funeral oration was deemed an indispensable component of the funeral ritual.

The epitaphios logos is regarded as an almost exclusive Athenian creation, although some early elements of such speeches exist in the epos of Homer and in the lyric poems of Pindar. Pericles' Funeral Oration is the earlier extant of the genre. The Athenians are those who set the standard and, therefore, Demosthenes praises them, saying that "you alone of all mankind publicly pronounce over your dead funeral orations, in which you extol the deeds of the brave".

In Homer very few elements of epitaphios logos or laudation are found. At the funeral of Patroclus chief in all the mourning is Achilles; the son of Peleus laid his bloodstained hand on the breast of his friend and cried: "Fare well Patroklos, even in the house of Hades. I will now do all that I erewhile promised you; I will drag Hector hither and let dogs devour him raw; twelve noble sons of Trojans will I also slay before your pyre to avenge you." As he spoke he treated the body of Hector with contumely, laying it at full length in the dust beside the bier of Patroklos. At the funeral of Hector the women, Andromache, his mother and Helen, deliver the final public statements over the dead body. Andromache laments the loss of her husband with these emotional words:

In the Sixth Olympian For Hagesias of Syracuse, the poet mentions a characteristic example of an epitaph high praise: "Hagesias, that praise is ready for you, which once Adrastus' tongue rightly spoke for the seer Amphiaraus, son of Oicles, when the earth swallowed up him and his shining horses. In Thebes, when the seven pyres of corpses had been consumed, the son of Talaus spoke in this way: “I long for the eye of my army, a man who was good both as a prophet and at fighting with the spear.”" Nicole Loraux observes that the epitaphios was "born of lyric poetry and in competition with it", since the funeral oratory "uses poetic themes but reinterprets them from a resolutely political perspective".

  • Preamble, which treats the performance expectations of the audience. The orator usually asserts that it is almost impossible for him to find words worthy of the glorious achievements of the war dead. Such a preamble reveals the position of the epitaphios as an oral genre within a ritually and socially bounded society.
  • Origin and ancestors.
  • The war dead, their self-sacrifice and their devotion to the Athenian Polity.
  • Epilogue, which constitutes a consolation and an encouragement for the families of the war dead. The epilogue employs a traditional dismissal of the mourners for further private lament, at which point the city's promise of education for the surviving orphans signals the resumption of life in the polis.
  • Colaiaco, James A. (2001). Socrates Against Athens: Philosophy on Trial. Routledge (UK). ISBN . 
  • "Funeral Oration". Encyclopaedia The Helios. 1952. 
  • Foley, Helene P. (2002). Female Acts in Greek Tragedy. Princeton University Press. ISBN . 
  • Derderian, Katharine (2000). "The Epitaphios Logos and Mourning in the Athenian Polis". Leaving Words to Remember. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN . 
  • Loraux, Nicole (1994). The Children of Athena. Princeton University Press. ISBN . 
  • Loraux, Nicole (1986). The Invention of Athens: The Funeral Oration in the Classical City. Harvard University Press. 
  • Monoson, Sara (2000). Plato's Democratic Entanglements. Princeton University Press. ISBN . 
  • Samons, Loren J. (2005). "Bail Oinochoai". Periklean Athens And Its Legacy by Judith M Barringer and Jeffrey M Hurwit. University of Texas Press. ISBN . 


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