Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Burial of Parents

Luke 9.59-60 (cf. Matthew 8.21-22):
And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.

Εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς ἕτερον, Ἀκολούθει μοι. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν, Κύριε, ἐπίτρεψόν μοι ἀπελθόντι πρῶτον θάψαι τὸν πατέρα μου. εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ, Ἄφες τοὺς νεκροὺς θάψαι τοὺς ἑαυτῶν νεκρούς, σὺ δὲ ἀπελθὼν διάγγελλε τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ.
Admetus in Euripides' Alcestis (662-665, tr. David Kovacs) said he would not bury his father Pheres:
You had better hurry, therefore, and beget other children to take care of you in old age and, when you have died, to dress you and lay you out for burial. I for my part shall never bury you myself.

τοιγὰρ φυτεύων παῖδας οὐκέτ' ἂν φθάνοις,
οἳ γηροβοσκήσουσι καὶ θανόντα σε
περιστελοῦσι καὶ προθήσονται νεκρόν.
οὐ γάρ σ' ἔγωγε τῇδ' ἐμῇ θάψω χερί.
Admetus' words would have shocked the Athenians watching Euripides' play. In Athens, children were obliged by law to bury their parents, as the following passages show.

Demosthenes 24.107 (tr. J.H. Vince):
What adequate satisfaction can you render, or by what punishment can you be punished as you deserve, you who, to say nothing of the rest, subvert the laws that protect old age, that compel the maintenance of parents in their lifetime, and ensure that they shall be honoured with due observance when they die?

καίτοι τίν' ἂν ἀξίαν δοίης δίκην, ἢ τί σὺ παθὼν ἂν τὰ προσήκοντ' εἴης πεπονθώς, ὅς, τὰ μὲν ἄλλ' ἐῶ, ἀλλὰ τοὺς τῷ γήρᾳ βοηθοὺς λυμαίνει, οἳ καὶ ζῶντας ἀναγκάζουσι [τοὺς παῖδας] τοὺς γονέας τρέφειν, καὶ ἐπειδὰν ἀποθάνωσιν, ὅπως τῶν νομιζομένων τύχωσι παρασκευάζουσιν;
Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.2.13 (tr. E.C. Marchant):
Don't you know that even the state ignores all other forms of ingratitude and pronounces no judgment on them, caring nothing if the recipient of a favour neglects to thank his benefactor, but inflicts penalties on the man who is discourteous to his parents and rejects him as unworthy of office, holding that it would be a sin for him to offer sacrifices on behalf of the state and that he is unlikely to do anything else honourably and rightly? Aye, and if one fail to honour his parents' graves, the state inquires into that too, when it examines the candidates for office.

οὐκ οἶσθ' ὅτι καὶ ἡ πόλις ἄλλης μὲν ἀχαριστίας οὐδεμιᾶς ἐπιμελεῖται οὐδὲ δικάζει, ἀλλὰ περιορᾷ τοὺς εὖ πεπονθότας χάριν οὐκ ἀποδόντας, ἐὰν δέ τις γονέας μὴ θεραπεύῃ, τούτῳ δίκην τε ἐπιτίθησι καὶ ἀποδοκιμάζουσα οὐκ ἐᾷ ἄρχειν τοῦτον, ὡς οὔτε ἂν τὰ ἱερὰ εὐσεβῶς θυόμενα ὑπὲρ τῆς πόλεως τούτου θύοντος οὔτε ἄλλο καλῶς καὶ δικαίως οὐδὲν ἂν τούτου πράξαντος; καὶ νὴ Δία ἐάν τις τῶν γονέων τελευτησάντων τοὺς τάφους μὴ κοσμῇ, καὶ τοῦτο ἐξετάζει ἡ πόλις ἐν ταῖς τῶν ἀρχόντων δοκιμασίαις.

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