Ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman
practices of preparing the dead for the next cradle of
humanity are very intriguing. These two cultures differ in a
multitude of ways yet similarities can be noted in the domain
of funerary services. In the realm of Egyptian afterlife, The
Book of the Dead can provide one with vital information
concerning ritual entombment practices and myths of the
afterlife. The additional handouts I received from Timothy
Stoker also proved to be useful in trying uncover vital
information regarding the transition into another life.

Regarding the burial practices of Greece and Rome, parts of
Homer’s Odyssey are useful in the analysis of proper
interment methods. One particular method used by the
Egyptians was an intricate process known as mummification.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

It was undoubtedly a very involved process spanning
seventy days in some cases. First, all the internal organs
were removed with one exception, the heart. If the body
was not already West of the Nile it was transported across
it, but not before the drying process was initiated. Natron (a
special salt) was extracted from the banks of the Nile and
was placed under the corpse, on the sides, on top, and bags
of the substance were placed inside the body cavity to
facilitate the process of dehydration. After thirty-five days
the ancient embalmers would anoint the body with oil and
wrap it in fine linen. If the deceased was wealthy enough a
priest donning a mask of Anubis would preside over the
ceremonies to ensure proper passage into the next realm.

One of the practices overseen by the priest was the placing
of a special funerary amulet over the heart. This was done in
behest to secure a successful union with Osiris and their kas.

The amulet made sure the heart did not speak out against the
individual at the scale of the goddess of justice and divine
order, Maat. The priest also made use of a “peculiar ritual
instrument, a sort of chisel, with which he literally opened the
mouth of the deceased.” This was done to ensure that the
deceased was able to speak during their journeys in Duat.

Another practice used by the Egyptians to aid the departed
soul involved mass human sacrifice. Many times if a
prominent person passed away the family and servants
would willfully ingest poison to continue their servitude in the
next world. The family members and religious figureheads of
the community did just about everything in their power to aid
the deceased in the transition to a new life. The community
made sure the chamber was furnished with “everything
necessary for the comfort and well-being of the occupants.”
It was believed that the individual would be able of accessing
these items in the next world. Some of the most important
things that the deceased would need to have at his side were
certain spells and incantations. A conglomeration of reading
material ensured a successful passage; The Pyramid Texts,
The Book of the Dead, and the Coffin Texts all aided the
lost soul in their journey through Duat into the Fields of the
Blessed. “Besides all these spells, charms, and magical tomb
texts, the ancient practice of depositing in the tomb small
wooden figures of servants was employed.” These “Ushabi
statuettes” as they are called, were essentially slaves of the
deceased. If the deceased was called to work in the Elysian
fields he would call upon one of the statues to take his place
and perform the task for him. It was not unheard of for an
individual to have a figure for every day of the year to ensure
an afterlife devoid of physical exertion. Just about every thing
the embalmers and burial practitioners did during the process
was done for particular reasons. Many of the funerary
practices of the ancient Greco-Romans were also done with
a specific purpose in mind. Unlike the Egyptian’s the
Greco-Roman cultures did not employ elaborate tombs but
focused on the use of a simple pit in the ground. Right after
death, not too dissimilar from the practices of the Egyptians,
it was necessary for the persons to carefully wash and
prepare the corpse for his journey. It was vital for all
persons to receive a proper burial and if they did not they
were dammed to hover in a quasi-world, somewhat of a
“limbo” between life and death. One Greco-Roman myth
that illustrates this point is The Odyssey by Homer. There is
a part in Book eleven of the work in which Homer
specifically addresses proper burial rites. When Odysseus
wishes to contact Tiresias, he comes across Elpenor, one of
his soldiers. This particular man fell (in a haphazard fashion)
to his death on the island of the Kimmerians, but did not
receive a proper burial and was stuck in limbo. Elpenor
begged Odysseus and his men to return to the island and
care for his body. Consequently, they did return and Elpenor
passed into the next world. Most likely he was buried in the
same fashion other members of his society were; a pyre was
probably constructed and the body placed upon it. Also
placed on the pyre were items that the deceased held dear in
life with the hope that they would follow him into the next
world. In order to survive in the afterlife, the deceased “is
also presented with a small coin which came to be known as
the ferrying fee for Charon.” This can be likened to the
Egyptian practice of introducing coinage into the tomb in
some cases. Homer also speaks of the psyche, which slips
out of man “at the moment of death and enters the house of
Ais, also known as Aides, Aidoneus, and in Attic as Hades.”
This idea can be compared to the concept of an individual’s
ba in ancient Egypt. When someone died, an eternal part of
them (their ba) would also slip out and seek out the
individuals spiritual twin (their ka) in order to unite with it and
facilitate a successful passage. Many times in myth, the living
desired to speak with the departed. When Odysseus wishes
to speak with the Nekyia in Book eleven, goats must be
sacrificed and their blood was recognized as inspiring the
deceased to speak. The Egyptians also were concerned with
the ability of the deceased to speak in the next realm; this is
exemplified in one of the most important spells in The Book
of the Dead, the opening of the mouth. When all the funerary
rites had been done, the next step was to mark the spot of
the deceased. “The grave is marked with a stone, the sign,
sema.” This grave stone would have the name of the soul,
and often some type of epigram in verse form. Invariably
near the grave, some type of guardian of the soul would be
located. Lion and sphinx were found as grave markers and
this idea is paralleled in the practices of the natives of Egypt.

A certain “cult image” was buried with the deceased in Egypt
in order to look after and more importantly protect one’s ba
from being disturbed. It also acted as a type of “purge valve”
for any ba which may have been unjustly disturbed in the
tomb. Burial practices aside one can note an interesting
difference between these two ancient civilizations.

Differences can be observed concerning how amicable the
afterlife was. The Egyptians had a positive outlook. They
believed that after one became Osirus, They would move
into a new world, which was nice, no one had to work, and
everything was very clean. One could compare their lives in
the next world with the children’s classic board game,
Candyland. In this game all was fine and dandy, the “don’t
worry be happy” attitude flourished, not distant from the life
in the Fields of the Blessed. On the other hand,
Greco-Roman afterlife was a rather dismal place. The dead
Achilles summed everything up by saying to Odysseus, “Do
not try to make light of death to me, I would sooner be
bound to the soil in the hire of another man, a man without
lot and without much to live on, than rule over all the
perished dead.” Needless to say, the Homeric afterlife was
no Candyland. Candyland or not, both cultures went to
extremes in order to guarantee a successful voyage into the
next world. The two ancient civilizations hoped that through
their intricate actions the individual would be protected and
prepared for their many experiences on “the other side.” By
looking at selections of Homer’s Odyssey and The Book of
the Dead, one can draw many similarities between the two
cultures; however, differences are also apparent due to
cultural differences concerning what would happen to the
departed soul.

Author