Death and the afterlife are universal concerns for humanity around the world. All different cultures and religions contemplate our existence, and seek answers of both our place in the world and our life after.
Although the majority of people do not follow ancient Greco-Roman religious beliefs in this day and age, both the Greeks' and the Romans' exploration of immortality and the afterlife are still examples of power and meaning in life. In what comes to follow, two famous ancient Greek philosophers, Homer and Plato will be compared on their beliefs on death and immorality. Homer (750 BCE) is perhaps the greatest of all epic poets. He composed two major works, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Both were enormously helpful for historians today in understanding ancient Greece. Further, he is the earliest poet in Western civilization whose works are still intact today, and majorly helpful in understanding the beliefs of his era.Born almost four centuries after Homer, Plato (428 – 347 BCE) is also a very well-known ancient Greek philosopher; he founded the Academy and is the author of many philosophical works that have influenced Western thought drastically. Many of Plato's famous teachings are shown in his works from his teacher, Socrates.
Because of this, it is difficult to say where Plato's own teaching starts and where Socrates ends; nevertheless, the teachings of these two are intertwined and both significant to each others own.The Homeric conception of death is not necessarily promising, but it underlines the importance of life and distinguishing oneself. Even for those who have a better journey in death, it is made clear that life is always preferable to death. However, there are people who live very noble lives and additionally understand that death is always undesirable.
One major example of this can be seen in the famous scene in the The Odyssey. Odysseus, a legendary king of Ithaca, is standing with the great hero Achilles, a semi-divine man who brought about the destruction of Troy and was fated to die doing so. Odysseus speaks to him and suggests that Achilles should not grieve at death because, as a fighter and valorable man, he is distinguished between the dead. Achilles replies that he, "would rather work on earth as a poor farmer than rule amongst the dead." (Odyssey 11.
555-558 ) Death, according to the Homeric Conception, is clearly not desirable. Achilles understands that though he was blessed to live a luxurious life, if he had to change his fate, he would always choose life, no matter how burdensome it may be, over death.Further, in the Iliad Homer discusses the conditions of the underworld and that of relating to Patroclus' ghostly visit. Patroclus has been killed and is now returning to inform Achilles on the after world and how death is "grim" and that "never, never again shall I return from Hades" (Iliad 23.90). It is evident that Patroclus has come back to visit his friend to inform him to never desire death, once Patroclus died there is no return and there will not be for Achilles either. Patroclus has seen what it is like to be in the underworld and passionately urges Achilles to stray away from it.
Due to Homer's understanding of the underworld as a dreadful place, he believes that every individual should be granted a proper burial so their life can be honored before they have to experience the pain of the underworld. The death of Patroclus, Achilles' best friend, in the Iliad is one of the many examples where the emphasis of a proper burial is evident. Homer describes his funeral and the looks of despair and disbelief of his loved ones at length. All gathered around to honor Patroclus' brave and long life.
Additionally, after Hector was killed, Priam, Hector's father, comes for what is left of his son. Priam begs Achilles for his son's body, saying "I have gone through what no other mortal on earth has gone through" (Iliad 24.505). Just as Achilles fought for Patroclus's body, Priam fought to have the chance to bury his own son. The emphasis placed on both Hector and Patroclus and their loved ones' desires to retrieve their bodies shows both go to extreme lengths so individuals can be properly buried. Homer along with the Greeks believed that the dead were unable to rest peacefully unless properly buried and as well, would rather anything than to suffer in Hades terrible underworld.Conversely, Plato's views of death and immortality focus on the soul and how it affects what one experiences in the afterlife. In his book The Republic, he starts with the concept of reward and punishment, developing it into his concept of specific evils and then in terms of reincarnation.
He describes and explains this all in relation to the soul and his belief about how the soul can be affected.Towards the end of The Republic, Plato emphasizes his attention to the immortality of the soul. He relates this to the common saying, "you get what you get", however in a more in-depth way. Plato believes that a second life always comes after death. He states in the Republic, " Have you ever sensed that our soul is immortal and never dies" (CITATION) He believes how the soul lives on dead or alive, but also reflects the way a man has lived his life. The man is not only rewarded or penalized in his lifetime but also in the afterlife. If the persons wrong-doings have not been punished in his life then consequently will be punished in the afterlife and if the man has lived harmlessly then he will be blessed in the afterlife. Plato then ties in his belief of specific evils.
His main argument here is each individual thing has its own particular evil, which will eventually deteriorate until no longer a product resulting in death. Plato strongly believes that if anything was to be destroyed its only possible through its own specific evil. One could relate this to a human body and diseases, the human body can only be affected by how you treat it. The soul can also be infected with ignorance and bias. If the owner of the soul were to have an ignorant belief and outlook on life then eventually the soul will be detriated because of its own evil resulting in a poorer life after death.
The soul similarity with the body becomes deformed within its lifetime. With this example he then continues to say that the soul should be indestructible and immortal. Meaning that no soul should be affected by its owners and that if all souls were to be (reliable) then life after for everyone would be good. His belief here may relate to similar beliefs of today on the theory of reincarnation. In Plato's Phaedo he uses the analogy of "Sleep comes after being awake and being awake comes after sleep. Likewise, just as death comes from life so must death return to life again." Ultimately, there is life after death.
To summarize Plato's belief on death and immortality one could see it as everyone is destined for life after death, your soul never dies it's just how one makes of its own life that will affect him in the afterlife.Homer's conception on death is much more realistic and prominent in religions and beliefs today. Although each religion has their own beliefs many overlap with Homers belief on death. There isn't one religion today that does not believe in a proper burial to celebrate and reminisce on the deceased life. However, one could also argue that of Plato's teachings.
Homer's beliefs highlight the fact that death and the underworld are bad things. While Plato's belief is that the soul never dies and stays with you so that if a good person were to die, they would live a peaceful and liberating afterlife. However, similar to Homer's belief, in Plato's eyes, if a bad person were to die, their negative soul will stay with them and will lead them to get what they deserve in their afterlife, specifically a painful afterlife. Plato's idea is more reasonable because it allows good people to continue to be rewarded throughout their afterlife, while bad people will get what they deserve. Homer believes that all people will experience pain in their afterlife, which is unfair. However, Homer does express a good notion when describing that every individual deserves a proper burial, yet we ask, do people who are considered bad, having committed heinous acts throughout their lifetime, deserve a proper burial?