The Death Rituals of Rural Greece – This compelling text and dramatic photographic essay convey the emotional power of the death rituals of a small Greek village — the funeral, the singing of laments, the distribution of food, the daily visits to the graves, and especially the rite of exhumation. These rituals help Greek villagers face the universal paradox of mourning: how can the living sustain relationships with the dead and at the same time bring them to an end, in order to continue to live meaningfully as members of a community? That is the villagers’ dilemma, and our own. Thirty-one moving photographs (reproduced in duotone to do justice to their great beauty) combine with vivid descriptions of the bereaved women of “Potamia” and with the words of the funeral laments to allow the reader an unusual emotional identification with the people of rural Greece as they struggle to integrate the experience of death into their daily lives.
Loring M. Danforth’s sensitive use of symbolic and structural analysis complements his discussion of the social context in which these rituals occur. He explores important themes in rural Greek life, such as the position of women, patterns of reciprocity and obligation, and the nature of social relations within the family.
“From first page to last plate the reader is drawn into a contemporary ritual drama, which opens at the graveyard in the village of ‘Potamia’ in northern Thessaly as the women gather at Vespers to tend the graves. Suddenly Irini’s cries for her daughter, killed five years before in a hit-and-run accident in Thessaloniki, are taken up by one, then another of the women in a crescendo of antiphonal lamentation.”Margaret Alexiou, London Times Literary Supplement.
“Danforth (and Tsiaras) have produced an unusual, even beautiful book, which should satisfy scholars while being accessible to a lay readership. It should be moving for all readers. In addition to a rich ethnography of death-related practices, the book includes many funderal laments, refers to poetry to popular songs, to novels, and to the folkloric traditions so rarely invoked by anthropologists; then as if this were not enough, the text is supplemented by photograph of such quality that it is hard to resist the feeling that one has actually visited the village of Potamia.”Peter Loizos. Man.
“The Death Rituals of Rural Greece is a rare book combining the best elements of anthropology and good writing. It is at once intensely personal and highly intellectual succeeding as serious anthropology without sacrificing its accessibility to a more general audience. Greece and anthropology have been well served by this fine piece of scholarship.”Peter Allen. Reviews in Anthropology.