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 A&H 307 - Topics in Antiquity: Death and the Afterlife in the Ancient Greek World


Among the most poignant monuments from the ancient world are those that commemorate the dead. Parents lament a child that died too young, or a son fallen in battle; husbands mourn over a wife who died in childbirth. Often, these personal documents from antiquity upset preconceived ideas about ancient society. For example, the Athenian men who died in war had supposedly almost heroic status in the 5th century BC; and yet more women appear on gravestones from this time. 

Besides the archaeological record, ancient Greek texts offer a wealth of information about beliefs in the afterlife. They tell us about Charon, the terrible ferryman on the river of the dead; about the dubious bliss of the Elysian Fields; and about desperate attempts to somehow overcome death, as portrayed in Greek tragedy and epic. Over time, other images of the afterlife evolved, like Plato’s pick-your-own-fate – but beware of the catch!; or Lucian’s terrible, punishing underworld which resembles the Christian hell. 

From the royal tombs of the Macedonian kings to a roof tile used as a gravestone in Classical Athens, this course explores the cult and culture of death and the afterlife in Iron Age Greece (after 1100 BC). Students will learn how to study and use the many types of evidence and a wide range of historical and interpretive models available for research on this topic, from archaeology, epigraphy and history, to philosophy and anthropology.





The following is required in order  to take this course: 

  • 2 antiquity courses


  • 1 200-level course in antiquity and a 200-level socio-cultural history, art history, philosophy, anthropology, literature or religion
  • ACC 120 Rhetoric and Argumentation 

Additional information

If you do not fulfill these requirements but would like to take the course, please apply to the instructor by email (, explaining your motivation and listing relevant courses you have taken. First-year students with a high grade in the 100-level antiquity may also apply.