The Death Rituals of Rural Greece

Princeton University Press

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.

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About the author

Alexander Tsiaras is President and CEO of Anatomical Travelogue Inc. His is a scientist, artist and journalist. As a technological innovator, he has participated in the development of the lens that enabled the first photographs of human fertilization and the recording of the development of the fetus. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Dec 31, 1982
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Pages
169
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ISBN
9780691000275
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / Greece
Social Science / Anthropology / General
Social Science / Death & Dying
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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"If the Saint calls you, if you have an open road, then you don't feel the fire as if it were your enemy," says one of the participants in the Anastenaria. This compelling work evokes and contrasts two forms of firewalking and religious healing: first, the Anastenaria, a northern Greek ritual in which people who are possessed by Saint Constantine dance dramatically over red-hot coals, and, second, American firewalking, one of the more spectacular activities of New Age psychology. Loring Danforth not only analyzes these rituals in light of the most recent work in medical and symbolic anthropology but also describes in detail the lives of individual firewalkers, involving the reader personally in their experiences: he views ritual therapy as a process of transformation and empowerment through which people are metaphorically moved from a state of illness to a state of health. Danforth shows that the Anastenaria and the songs accompanying it allow people to express and resolve conflict-laden family relationships that may lead to certain kinds of illnesses. He also demonstrates how women use the ritual to gain a sense of power and control over their lives without actually challenging the ideology of male dominance that pervades Greek culture. Comparing the Anastenaria with American firewalking, Danforth includes a gripping account of his own participation in a firewalk in rural Maine. Finally he examines the place of anthropology in a postmodern world in which the boundaries between cultures are becoming increasingly blurred.
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, this inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds as an idealistic young neurosurgeon attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times Book Review • People • NPR • The Washington Post • Slate • Harper’s Bazaar • Time Out New York • Publishers Weekly • BookPage

Finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Books for a Better Life Award in Inspirational Memoir

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.
"If the Saint calls you, if you have an open road, then you don't feel the fire as if it were your enemy," says one of the participants in the Anastenaria. This compelling work evokes and contrasts two forms of firewalking and religious healing: first, the Anastenaria, a northern Greek ritual in which people who are possessed by Saint Constantine dance dramatically over red-hot coals, and, second, American firewalking, one of the more spectacular activities of New Age psychology. Loring Danforth not only analyzes these rituals in light of the most recent work in medical and symbolic anthropology but also describes in detail the lives of individual firewalkers, involving the reader personally in their experiences: he views ritual therapy as a process of transformation and empowerment through which people are metaphorically moved from a state of illness to a state of health. Danforth shows that the Anastenaria and the songs accompanying it allow people to express and resolve conflict-laden family relationships that may lead to certain kinds of illnesses. He also demonstrates how women use the ritual to gain a sense of power and control over their lives without actually challenging the ideology of male dominance that pervades Greek culture. Comparing the Anastenaria with American firewalking, Danforth includes a gripping account of his own participation in a firewalk in rural Maine. Finally he examines the place of anthropology in a postmodern world in which the boundaries between cultures are becoming increasingly blurred.
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