Reanimation In The Odyssey

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In Ancient Greece, peoples fear of reanimation forced them to perform burial rituals for the dead, fearful that if they did not, the dead would come back to harm the living. In 19th century U.S. and Europe, reanimation was feared to the point where people had to place cages over their graves, so that the living would not harm the dead’s bodies through electric reanimation. In 19th century Haiti, Haitians feared reanimation because they were afraid of the idea of being drugged, or “killed”, and being reanimated to be used as slaves. While it is true that all three societies shared the anxiety of reanimation, it would be unfair to suggest that these fears have similar origins. By viewing the historical context of each society, it is evident that…show more content…
This belief of the Ancient Greeks is apparent in Homer’s Odyssey, where Odysseus visits the underworld. Scholar Sarah Johnston writes: “Elpenor tells Odysseus that if his funeral rites are not carried out as soon as the men return to Circe’s island, he will become ‘a cause for the gods wrath’ upon Odysseus” (Restless Dead 10). As Elpenor threatens Odysseus, it is evident that the Ancient Greeks believed that if funeral rites are not performed, harm will come to Odysseus by way of the gods. If not harm from the gods, the harm could come from their ancestor personally as a revenant, in which it is believed their ancestor’s spirit returns to its body. This fear of harm from revenants is also evident in the story of Polykritos from lecture. In this story, Polykritos returns to his town demanding his son, and soon after he takes his son, tears him to pieces, and devours all but his head before running away (Feb. 2nd Lecture). The story of Polykritos shows that the people of Ancient Greece believed revenants posed a threat to the living. By failing to carry out proper burial rituals, the living put their own bodies at risk. This fear was so strong that the Greek’s burial ritual included placing a chin strap over a dead persons head so their spirit may not…show more content…
During this time period, two developments in medical science contributed to fears about the living dead—the rise of anatomy in medical education, and the theory of galvanism. The theory of galvanism is the idea of using electrical power on dead tissue to reanimate it, and in order to demonstrate galvanism on human bodies in medical schools, anatomists needed human corpses to practice on. During this time period, however, popular opinion on use of human cadavers for dissection was highly negative, which made obtaining those bodies much more difficult. David Humphrey wrote in Dissection and Discrimination, “The safest way was to steal the dead of groups who could offer little resistance and whose distress did not arouse the rest of the community” (820). Much like Victor Frankenstein, these anatomists had to succumb to stealing bodies from graves for their demonstrations and experiments. After grave robbing became popular in 19th century U.S. and Europe, the public reacted in a protective manner. As mentioned in lecture, people began to use “Mort Safes”, which are cages that one has put over their grave (Feb. 9th Lecture). These protective actions show the fear of a loved one’s body being stolen and dissected for science. This fear correlates to the controversy of electric reanimation
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