Go to Eric Miller's homepage

Go to epic homepage



(approximately ten pages.)

"Performance of Lament"

This composition is a hybrid between a paper and a list of quotes.
 It is composed almost entirely of quotes from others' writings,
and yet: I have formed a succession of conceptual categories;
arranged the material into a particular order; and have added a bit
of commentary.

The quoted sources are

1)  Alexiou, Margaret.  The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition.
Cambridge, England: Cambridge U. Press.  1974.

2)  Caraveli-Chaves, Anna. "Bridge Between Worlds: The Greek
Woman's Lament as Communicative Event," JAF 93 (1980): 129-157.

3)  Danforth, Loring.  The Death Rituals of Rural Greece.  Princeton:
Princeton U. Press.  1982.

4)  Holst-Warhaft, Gail.   Dangerous Voices: Women's Laments and
Greek Literature.  London: Routledge.  1992.

5)  Seremetakis, Nadia.  The Last Word: Women, Death, and
Divination in Inner Mani.  Chicago: U. of Chicago Press.  1991.

The topics are:

1) The relationship between epic and lament.

2) The historical and social background of lament, especially as it has
been found in rural Greece.

3)  Descriptions of specific elements of laments.

4)  The role of the ethnographer and her electronic equipment.


1) The relationship between epic and lament.

Epic and lament both tell the story of dead individuals, but to
very different ends.  Epic, like the (traditional Greek) male funeral
oration and after-feast elegiac poetry, tends to celebrate death
as meaningful, and most of all, does not dwell upon the
suffering of all concerned:

In "praising the hero at common meals--the purpose is to educate
and exhort, and to celebrate the state.  It is a patriotic and political
ceremony" (Alexiou, 128).

"The male funeral oration for those who die in battle makes a
virtue of death, provided it is death in service to the state.
This is in direct opposition to the lament of the female relatives,
who, if we are to take the folk laments of Greece and other
modern cultures as representative, mourn their personal loss
in terms of emotional, economic, and social deprivation, and
look upon death as the enemy.  The tension between public
and private burial can only be resolved when the state...
convinces the families, particularly the mothers of soldiers,
that the glory of dying for the fatherland outweighs private grief,
and compensates them for their loss" (Holst-Warhaft, 5).

"Once any state has need of a standing army, it must condemn
the negative, bitter, pain of traditional lament; otherwise, how
will it recruit soldiers and keep their loyalty?  Similarly, once a
state has established courts of law, how can it tolerate the
cycle of revenge such as the one triggered by female lamenters
at the tomb of Agamemnon" (Holst-Warhaft, 5).

In Homer's Iliad, there are many laments.  The key point is that
the lamenting--a tradition recognized by Homer--is contained
and limited in the epic:

"Achilles' grief for Patrocles has been expressed in inarticulate
gesture and cry.  It is Briseis, the slave girl, who begins the first
true lament for Patrocles.  She addresses him directly...
'I weep for you ceaselessly, for you were always kind.
So she spoke, weeping, and the women around her moaned,
Speaking outwardly for Patrocles, but each with her own sorrows'"
(Iliad XIX, 300-2) (Holst-Warhaft, 109).

"There is a tendency in epic to develop the narrative element
at the expense of antiphony and refrain, whereas the lyric
concentrates on the choral and musical elements" (Alexiou, 132).
It is only when one wears the blinders of non-feeling that such
constructions as narrative, linearity, and rationality can remain
intact in one's experience.  Epic and tragedy can be seen as
patriarchal efforts to co-opt the power of women and their
primordial lamenting (Gail Holst-Warhaft, 3, 10).


2) The historical and social background of lament, especially as it has
been found in rural Greece.

"Many of the major religions established in the Middle East are based
on ritual lament.  All of these lamenting religious cults focus on the
unjust or untimely death of a young man or god.  In one group of cults,
a beautiful young man is mourned by his goddess-lover: Adonis is
lamented by Aphrodite; the Babylonian Tammuz by Ishtar; Phrygrian
Attis by Cybele; Egyptian Osiris by his wife Isis.  As might be expected
in such cults, women play a prominent part, often leading the ceremonial
weeping for the dead god" (Holst-Warhaft, 24).  Although the Catholic
Church has done its best to contain this motif, the Marys weeping for
Jesus must be included in this list.

"Living lament traditions have been reported in remote areas of
Greece, Yugoslavia, Ireland, Scotland, the Ingrian villages of Finland
and Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, and New Guinea" (Holst-Warhaft, 6).
In other words, although female lament has been identified and
studied most of all in Greece, it seems to be a near universal
phenomena in pre-modern societies.

"Whereas in some areas of Greece, men can sing about the
dead--mainly mythified accounts of the death of heroes--ritual
lamentation for the dead, performed during ritual activities such
as funerals, memorial services, and visits to the cemetery, is virtually
the exclusive territory of women.  The poetry accompanying such
ritual activities is sung unaccompanied to various melodic patterns
which differ from locality to locality and which are punctuated by
stylized wails and interjections of expressions of pain"
(Caraveli-Chaves, 129).

Actually, in Greece, even rural Greece, the living tradition now
seems to be fading quickly:

"The small, dwindling segment of tradition holders within this society,
on whom my investigation focuses, consists of old people whose
ages range between the late fifties and late eighties"
(Caraveli-Chaves, 131).  This was written twenty years ago, in 1980.

The death of the Greek lament tradition is due in part to "the rapidly
changing value system, which has come increasingly to incorporate
urban middle-class aspirations, such as university education for
their children and modern standards of living.  To the rising
village middle class, or to those who have fled the village altogether
for the city, a mother or grandmother who still laments for the dead
constitutes an embarrassing admission of primitivism" (Caraveli-Chaves,

Lament alludes to "local history, village personalities, genealogies,
and the importance of place" (Seremetakis, 8).  Lament is not done
by isolated individuals, but by community members together.

In 1974, Margaret Alexiou wrote: "In most villages, lamentation
remains a social duty for the whole community, to be performed for
all alike.  The bereaved family is not asked if it wishes for the dead
to be lamented; the women simply come to the house and weep,
first for whoever has died, then for their own dead" (Alexiou, 50).

"The purpose of ritual lamentation is a collective tribute to the dead
from the whole community" (Alexiou, 44).

The end of isolated village life has done to lament what 2600 years
of male legislation could not.

"In classical Greece, from the sixth century onwards, legislation was
introduced in Athens and a number of the more advanced city-states
aimed at the restriction of what was viewed as extravagant mourning
of the dead.  The new laws were particularly severe on women
mourners...  Evidence from the Byzantine period and from modern
anthropologists working in Greece in this century, however,
suggests that despite opposition from the state in antiquity, and from
the Church in the Christian era, women have continued to be the
self-appointed mourners of the dead, composing and sing laments
to express their grief and often their rage at losing their loved ones"
(Holst-Warhaft, 3).

In the 6th century bc, Solon introduced laws forbidding tearing of
clothes in lament, regulating where and when lamenting could take
place (it had to end by sunrise), how many people could participate,
what animals could be sacrificed, and how much food could be
served (Alexiou, 6).

"The state cult attempted to replace clan cults" (Alexiou, 18).

And so it was with Christianity:

John Chrysostom (Archbishop of Constantinople, 347-407 ad)
demanded:  "'What are you doing woman?  Tell me, would you
shamelessly strip yourself naked in the middle of the marketplace,
in the presence of men, you who are a part of Christ?  Would you
rend your garments, tear your hair, and wail loudly, dancing and
preserving the image of Bacchae women, without regard for
your office to God?'" (Alexiou, 29).

It seems even Christian nuns were not fully converted.  John
Chrysostom: "'The chants had died down.  Then one of the
holy sisters cried out in a disorderly fashion that never again
should we set eyes on this divine face, whereupon the other
sisters cried out likewise, and disorder and confusion spoiled
that orderly and sacred clarity, with everyone breaking down
at the lament of the holy sisters.'" (Alexiou, 31).

There certainly has been a continuity and consistency in
Western culture.  1400 years later, the Irish poet William Drennan
(1754-1820) would echo Chrysostom's sentiment:

"There our murdered brother lies;
Wake him not with women's cries;
Mourn the way that manhood ought--
Sit in silent trance of thought.

Write his merits on your mind;
Morals pure and manners kind;
In his head, as on a hill,
Let Virtue place her citadel..."

From "The Wake of William Orr" (Holst-Warhaft, 2).

One elderly lady remembered that in the village of Samarina
in 1947, "Fifty women gathered round, and they all were keening.
The burial was held up for hours, waiting for the dirge to come
to an end.  And the policeman, who at first gave orders for the
bodies to be buried at once, when he heard the women,
he began to weep himself, and he let them go on with their
lament as long as they liked" (Alexiou, 47).  The passion
of lament is evidently potentially highly contagious.

"The function of the invocation at the tomb is for the living,
by their offerings and passionate observations, to enter
into communion with the dead" (Alexiou, 46).

Lament is a "magic incantation designed to bring the
dead back to life" (Alexiou, 134).

According to the public authorities, "A hero's death,
it seems, should be marked by praise, not women's cries,
that may 'wake the dead.'  If their cries have such power,
women must be capable of some direct communication
with the dead.  What is meant by 'waking the dead'?
Simply disturbing their peace, or stirring them to revisit
the living, perhaps to take revenge for an unjust death?
(Holst-Warhaft, 2).

There is an "underlying fear of laments as magic songs,
songs which open up perilous channels of communication
between the living and the dead"  (Caraveli-Chaves, 130).

"Such a dialogue with the dead places a certain power
in the hands of women...  In a patriarchal society where
women are consistently undervalued, lament gives women,
who, both as child-bearers and mid-wives already have a
certain control over birth, potential authority over the rites
of death" (Holst-Warhaft, 3).

At the village level, it seems, women play a dominant role
in rituals of death, as they do in rituals of birth.  In societies
where most deaths are deaths of small children, it may
seem natural for the mother who tends the small child
from birth to bury it (Holst-Warhaft, 2).

"It is woman's capacity for reproduction that also gives her
firsthand access to the realm of the dead" (Caraveli-Chaves, 146).

"Laments bridge and mediate between vital realms of existence:
life and death, the physical and he metaphysical, present and past,
temporal and mythic time.  The lamenter becomes the medium
through whom the dead speaks to the living, the shaman who
leads the living to the underworld and back, thus effecting a
communal confrontation with death and, through it, a catharsis"
(Caraveli-Chaves, 144).

"Men's power is restricted to the public, visible, and official realm.
Though it provides them with opportunities for social domination,
it limits them to a temporal sphere of experience.  Women dominate
the rituals connected to the life cycle as well as irregular, secret rites
such as magic and witchcraft.  As midwives, matchmakers, singers
of bridal songs, and finally, as lamenters, they dominate the rites
of passage, the perilous moments of transition from one realm to
another.  Such segregated domains of male and female activities
render men socially but not culturally dominant, and establish a
complex network of balances within the community" (Caraveli-Chaves, 143).

"Open wounds, the open female mouth that screams and improvises
moiroloi (songs of fate), and metaphors of birthing, form a symbolic
continuum, the official cartography of the female body.  These are
thresholds, limens, points of entry and exit where the outside and
the inside--fate, truth, and the social order--meet in disordering contact.
The presence of moira (fate) intensifies when the orificial imagery and
functions of the female body intensify.  In everyday social life, men
associate this process with the polluting ambiance of the feminine.
In the mourning ritual, women convert and invert the orificial symbolism
of the polluting (women's speech and embodiment) into media of
cultural power that contest the verities of everyday social life"
(Seremetakis, 121).

"The vocality of women, the signs of dreaming and warning, the signs
of death itself, are wild.  They come from the outside, and they are
intrusive and transgressive.  They must be subjected to domestication
through silencing or low voicing" (Seremetakis, 57).

"Men often encourage their wives and other female relatives to devote
less time and energy to the care of the deceased and to visit the
graveyard less frequently, once a week perhaps, rather than every day.
Men argue that such intense involvement with the dead can only lead
to increased grief and pain, which may in turn cause illness"
(Danforth, 136).

"Some mourning women have even gone to the extreme of leaving
their homes in the city, and living for a year at the graves of the dead"
(Alexiou, 33).

Mourners typically "wear black clothes, grow hair long, and neglect
personal appearance" (Alexiou, 32).

"The lamenter's manipulation of narrative conventions transforms a
given item of subject matter (such as the mourning of a dead relative)
into a source of personal benefit and a means of affirming a complex
network of relationships among the female participants"
(Caraveli-Chaves, 145).

"The main effects of lamentation on the women of 'patriarchal' Greek
village society are the establishment of a strong sense of bonding
among them, and the reinforcement of social roles and modes of
interaction which can best serve as strategies for survival
(Caraveli-Chaves, 130).

Female lament enables "bonding through shared suffering"
(Caraveli-Chaves, 146).

"In Finland, China, and Greece, laments are sung by the bride's family,
and often by the bride herself, as she leaves to become a member
of her husband's household" (Holst-Warhaft, 1).

"Lives of women acquire meaning through the maintenance of
social relationships with other members of their families"
(Danforth, 138).

"The more the bereaved defined themselves in terms of their
relationship to the deceased, the more death threatens their
socially-constructed world" (Danforth, 138).

"Because of the marginal position of women in rural Greek society,
women are much more threatened by the death of a significant
other than men are" (Danforth, 138).

"Because a woman's identity depends greatly on her relationship
to a man, the death of this man deprives her of the crucial component
of her identity" (Danforth, 138).

"Because of the loss of social status and the virtual social isolation
plaguing the widow in the patriarchal milieu of traditional Greek villages,
widowhood is used in poetry as a synonym for death--in fact, as an
alternate form of death itself--a living death, as it were" (Caraveli-Chaves, 137).

"For these reasons, it is necessary for a woman to maintain the social
relationships she enjoyed with the deceased" (Danforth, 138).

"The song becomes a universal lamentation for all women within
the same world view, bewailing woman's hard lot and celebrating
the creative skills through which one can transcend this lot,
survive in it, or compensate for it" (Caraveli-Chaves, 146).

"It is ponos (plural, poni: pain, grief, suffering, sorrow) that maintains
the religious perspective toward death and enables the conversation
with the dead to continue" (Danforth, 141).

"One woman said, 'Ponos is necessary.  It needs to be cultivated.
Because I feel ponos for you and you feel ponos for me, we are comforted.
A woman wants to feel ponos in order to find solace.  I like to go to funerals
to cry.  I want to go because there I feel ponos.  There I remember my own
dead relatives.  I feel sad there because I had parents too'" (Danforth, 142).

There is a polarity between the local-oral-improvised and the
metropolitan-textual (Seremetakis, 165), and between the (female-dominated)
household and the (male-dominated) public institution, including the church
(Seremetakis, 170).

"Professional mourners and strangers, may, with the permission of the
kinswomen, lament their own troubles and their own dead, sending a
message through the dead to their own kinsmen in the underworld"
(Alexiou, 41).  Thus, through the acceptance (and in some cases the
desiring) of the presence of people who did not know the deceased,
and the sense that the deceased is joining many others in the realm
of the dead, there is a certain public sphere component in lament culture.

"In the modern Greek context, it is not generally the bereaved relatives
themselves who sing laments; they are regarded as as being in too
great distress to articulate their grief at the time of death.  Rather it is
a group of women who have usually experienced bereavement
themselves and can recreate their emotional responses at one remove.
Bereaved women who express their grief in a wild or unrestrained
fashion may be reprimanded by other women and told to join in the
singing" (Holst-Warhaft, 28).

"A distinction is made between the composed or generalized laments
that are part of a standard repertoire in a given region, and that may be
used by lamenters regardless of the particular circumstances of death,
and the personalized lament addressed by a female relative of the
deceased" (Holst-Warhaft, 44).

Lament involves the expression of irrational feelings in order
"to effect some control over the disturbing and incomprehensible
process of death" (Alexiou, 128).  In lament, Death is integrated
into community life through ritual; in modern culture, Death is feared
as impure and so is kept at a distance (Holst-Warhaft, 9).

"Men and women may both weep for their dead, but it is women
who tend to weep longer and louder, and it is they who are thought
to communicate directly with the dead through their wailing songs.
Frequently, in these cultures, laments are led or sung by a skilled,
even professional class of women who are regarded as being
especially gifted at improvising and performing songs for the
dead" (Holst-Warhaft, 1).

"Men and women both weep in these societies, but it is women
who seem to be able to turn weeping into a controlled, often
contemplative lament: 'tears become ideas,' as Steven Feld puts it"
(Holst-Warhaft, 20).

In many cultures, men's weeping tends to be inarticulate and violent.
Women's weeping, on the other hand, is in many cultures transmuted
into prolonged improvised singing (Holst-Warhaft, 21).

Patterned weeping may feature various types of special pitches
and quavering voices (Holst-Warhaft, 21).

"The indigenous theory of catharsis is that in spite of the desirability
of immersing oneself fully in the emotions of pain, grief, and sorrow,
the ultimate goal is to rid oneself of these emotions through their
repeated expression" (Danforth, 144).


3)  Descriptions of specific elements of laments.

Lament occurs at three stages--
1) wake.
2) funeral procession.
3) tomb.
(Alexiou, 46).

"The ritual formality of the men, who enter in procession usually
from the right with their right arm raised in a uniform gesture,
contrasts sharply with the wild ecstasy of the women who stand
around the bier in varying attitudes and postures" (Alexiou, 6).

"The chief mourner stretches her right hand over the body, and
with her left hand grasps the right arm of the woman standing to
her left.  The dirge is passed from one individual or group to
another all day long" (Alexiou, 40).

Common gestures include:  Kneeling.  Right hand stretched
upward; right hand reaching out to the dead person.  Left hand
clutching one's head and hair; left hand striking oneself (Alexiou, 6).

In the olden days, "Since each movement was determined by
a pattern of ritual, frequently accompanied by the shrill music
of the aulos [reed pipe], the scene resembled a dance, sometimes
slow and solemn, sometimes wild and ecstatic" (Alexiou, 6).

"Screaming occurs especially upon the initial visual encounter
with the corpse, and subsequently at the moment of separation
from the corpse" (Seremetakis, 107).

There are "patterns of rhetorical questions, or of question and
answer combinations" (Caraveli-Chaves, 139).

It is traditional for speakers to begin by expressing anxiety lest
she should be unable to find words inadequate for the occasion.
Typical formulations of this sentiment are:
"How shall I weep for you?"
"What can I say to express my affection?" (Alexiou, 161)

In many laments, the dead is asked what will happen in the future:
"What will become of me?" (Alexiou, 137)
"What will I do now?" (Alexiou, 175)
"How can I bear the loss of you?" (Alexiou, 161).

"Occasionally, an entire lament consists exclusively of the plight
of the female mourner" (Caraveli-Chaves, 138).

"To lament is to cry one's own fate" (Seremetakis, 3).

"Many laments performed at the grave site consist of nothing
but formulaic speech which relates to the dead person
everything, from the news of the village to the personal
grievances of the mourner" (Caraveli-Chaves, 148).

A mourner may introduce into her improvisation many specific
details from the past (Alexiou, 123).

"Portions of a dialogue that actually occurred between the
dead man and his aunt...found their way into her lament"
(Caraveli-Chaves, 151).

"Occasionally, narrative units prescribe appropriate behavior:
'Ah women of Dzermiathes, weep!  sing laments for her!'"
(Alexandra Pateraki) (Caraveli-Chaves, 148).

Vendetta laments employ narratives of the past.  A lamenter
may cry out to co-mourners, "Do you remember?" in an
attempt to shame them into retributive action (Alexiou, 166).

The standard structure of a lament sequence is:
1) Preliminary address to the dead.
2) Remembrance of the past (narrative).
3) Renewal of initial address.
(Alexiou, 133).

"Direct addresses to the deceased interrupt the linear flow
of the surrounding narrative fiber of the lament.  Direct appeals
to the dead person break off the more descriptive action,
such as the lists of sorrowful or praiseworthy aspects of the
dead person's life" (Caraveli-Chaves, 137).

Polyphony in lament:
1) improvised singing (soloist).
2) standard refrains (chorus).
3) stylized sobbing.
4) screaming.
5) improvised prose monologues, usually by close kin, which
function as counterpoints to the singing and screaming.
6) physical gestures.
(Seremetakis, 106).

"The soloist emerges from the chorus in order to dialogue
with it and to engage in an agon with it" (Seremetakis, 124).

The soloist sings "an improvised composition of stressed
8-syllable verses, as opposed to the more secular and national
15-syllable verses used in folksongs performed by men"
(Seremetakis, 3).

The soloist will often interject a sob before and after a line
of song...  In this movement from nonlanguage to language
to nonlanguage, the sob occupies a pivotal position; it functions
as a hinge in the soloist's improvisation. (Seremetakis, 117).

"Chorus members often repeat the last word or phrase of the
soloist" (Seremetakis, 49).

Antiphony occurs in numerous ways, including  interjected
cries, dialogue between the living and (representations of)
the dead, and refrain.  (Alexiou, 146)

The chorus supplements the soloist's singing with an elaborate
metanarrative consisting of crying, stylized sobbing, screams,
monologues, and body gestures" (Seremetakis, 125).

"The chorus ornaments the soloist--just as the soloist ornaments
the dead--with poetry, gesture, and feeling.  The soloist reserves
her greatest expression of pain for the dead in her ritual sobbing
at the beginning and end of each verse.  The sob is both a musical
and emotional ornament" (Seremetakis, 214).

"After the singing of each verse of a lament, there is a break
during which women whose grief is most intense cry, sob, shout
personal messages to the deceased, or talk emotionally about
the recent death.  When the women who lead the singing begin
the next verse, they interrupt these cries and shouts, and the
others tend to pick up the verse and rejoin the singing" (Danforth, 73).

Screams are seen as punctuations, not interruptions (Seremetakis, 117).

"An intervening singer will attach her mourning to that of the violent
performer.  The consoling singer attempts to establish an antiphonic
relationship" with the performer of acoustic violence.
(Seremetakis, 119).

Wishes are expressed--
"I wish I could have prevented your death."
"I wish I had died instead of you."
"I wish we had died together."
(Alexiou, 178).

"Lamenters often cry out for the dead not to leave them"
(Alexiou, 128).

"Women addressed the dead directly, rousing them to interact
with the living" (Holst-Warhaft, 10).

Lists are given of the dead person's qualities.  Phrases (with
variation) are repeated again and again:
"You are ___, you are ___, you are ___," etc.   (Alexiou, 175).

"A traditional feature of the refrain is the reiterated statement
that the person is dead.  The lamenter often calls out to the
dead person, calling out his name" (Alexiou, 136).

The fact of her daughter's death is repeated over and over again,
with mesmerizing effect (Alexiou, 146).

The most passionate sometimes express a "wild desire to bury
oneself in the tomb with the dead" (Alexiou, 28).

"Cries come at regular intervals.  The frequency increases"
(Alexiou, 136).

"The result of this antiphonal exchange between kinswomen
and strangers was a gradual crescendo of emotion, of rising intensity
but not without its traditional ritual pattern" (Alexiou, 41).

"In returning from being overcome by pain, she may signal her return
by asking the dead to give blessing to those left behind in the realm
of the living, or she may include her own blessing to the attending
mourners.  She may include a ritual reciting of the names of all
present" (Seremetakis, 119).

Three types of lament are:
1)  personal laments for family members.
2)  community laments for gods and heroes.
3)  historical laments for disasters affecting a city or people
(Alexiou, 55).

Forced migrations can inspire laments for one's lost city or homeland
(Holst-Warhaft, 1).

"Among these people, not only is traditional folk poetry still composed
in the form of rhyming or assonant...couplets for all occasions, but a
highly complex set of criteria is at work.  Successful couplets or entire
songs composed by various village people, some dead now, are
remembered and circulated orally in one or several villages.  Even
individual lines, considered particularly successful because of their
artistic merit, are singled out, discussed, sung, and at times
consciously used for new compositions" (Caraveli-Chaves, 131).

A famous couplet from a lament:
"'Ah mother, keeper of the home and mistress of embroidery,
You knew how to embroider the sky with all its stars.'"
(Alexandra Pateraki) (Caraveli-Chaves, 133).

Laments invoke the dead to rise again (Alexiou, 109).

The dead are praised and reproached--all is seemingly designed
to provoke the dead to respond. (Alexiou, 182)

"The mourner may address the dead, the tomb, the earth, the
community of the dead (asking its members to look after the
new-comer)" (Alexiou, 146).

"The dead person's underworld journey is an important lament
convention" (Caraveli-Chaves, 137).

"Through the lament narrative, we follow the dead person's plight
from life to death, comparing the idealized past--before death
occurred--to the present, which is bleak and devastating by
comparison.  Through wish or illusion, the mourner journeys to
the realm of the dead, the dead returns to the realm of the living
and, in this way, mythic time in the form of the ideal past is
symbolically recaptured" (Caraveli-Chaves, 141).

"The epic hero's journey through obstacles, descent into the
underworld, and ascent or transcendence are symbolically
undertaken by the lamenter" (Caraveli-Chaves, 155).

Lamenters speak of "the journey of life and death" (Alexiou, 190).

Laments are sung as the dead is about to leave on his last journey
(from house to grave) (Alexiou, 5).

"Within the lament text itself there are thematic units in which
the lamenter is an active protagonist--the traveler of journeys
in pursuit of the beloved dead, the teller of stories, and he
seeker of witnesses for her own plight and private sorrows.
Other units render the mourner passive--the messenger from
the community to the realm of the dead, the medium through
whom the voice of the dead is heard by the living"
(Caraveli-Chaves, 154).

"The dead person's past actions can be depicted entirely
through allusion, without any references to actual circumstances,
or even to the fact that a death has occurred at all.  The transition
from life to death may be alluded to through such conventional
imagery as the melting of snow, the uprooting of vegetation,
or the wilting of a flower" (Caraveli-Chaves, 137).

The dead person is often compared to a pillar of the house
(Alexiou, 193), or to a fallen tree (Alexiou, 198).

A river or lake is often presented as the intermediary between
the living and the dead (Alexiou, 203).

Within laments, "marriage and a journey to a distant land,
both involving painful separations, can be seen as imperfect
metaphors for the separation of death" (Holst-Warhaft, 19).

"The living and the dead are the principal antithetical categories
dividing the human characters of lament poetry.  Ritual lamentation
as a whole constitutes a dialogue between the mourner and
the deceased" (Caraveli-Chaves, 141).

"Since they are usually addressed directly to the dead, laments
enable the members of the family or small community to tell the
dead they are missed, sometimes to berate them for abandoning
the living.  Laments may also, by a sort of possession on the
lamenter's part, enable the dead to address the living, and either
assuage their grief or call on them to redress real or imaginary
grievance suffered in life" (Holst-Warhaft, 3).

"Old women may comment on the vanity of life: 'Mankind adds
up to nothing.  A life of strife, and only evil at the end.'" (Alexiou, 42).

There is a "tragic assessment of the futility of human life"
(Alexiou, 166).

The women who lead the singing are often themselves in mourning
and through their singing express their grief for their own dead"
(Danforth, 73).

Lamenters are also often "possessors of secret charms and
miraculous potions" (Caraveli-Chaves, 145).

"The expression of anger against authority in any form--the police,
the state, even the doctors who cared for the person--is a common
feature of Maniat laments" (Holst-Warhaft, 67).


4)  The role of the ethnographer and her electronic equipment.

Major obstacles ethnographers have recently encountered in
attempting to secure actual lament performances, rather than
text recitals, sung for the memory of a specific dead person included
"men's ambivalent attitude toward women's lamentation ranging from
outright hostility to uneasy mocking of the tradition and, in some
cases, to thinly disguised admiration"; the fear of lament as opening
up dangerous channels with the dead; and the dying out of the
activity, which must be performed by a community.
(Caraveli-Chaves, 130)

"In inner Mani, the only way by which an ethnographer can enter
into the feminine space of divination and/or death is to enter as
a member of the chorus, as a witness with contractual obligations"
(Seremetakis, 123).

"Antiphonic performance entails both the original declarations
of the soloist and the repetition, response, and historicization
of the latter's discourse by the chorus" (Seremetakis, 120).

"The dyadic organization of the lament (soloist/chorus) guarantees
a built-in record-keeping function" (Seremetakis, 120).

"The most marked and strong sign of a 'naked' death...is the
absence of a chorus and of other soloists to 'take' the song from
the leader" (Seremetakis, 101).

"The person who is not mourned, whose kin did not 'appear,'
dies a 'naked' death" (Seremetakis, 214).

"The acoustics of death embodied in screaming and lamenting
and the presence of kin construct the 'good death.'  The silent
death is the asocial 'bad death' without kin support.  Screaming
the dead counters the isolation of death" (Seremetakis, 101).

"Besides expressing and channeling emotion, lamenters are
also responsible for inscribing or, perhaps one could more
accurately say, keeping the memory of the deceased alive"
(Holst-Warhaft, 35).

"My documentation was incorporated, in part, into the traditional
record-keeping functions of lamenters who specialized in poetic
improvisations of the life histories of the dead.  Each death and
each performance deserved historization" (Seremetakis, 9).

"Again and again, before and after the performance of laments,
I was asked in informal conversation to bear witness to the virtues
and suffering of the dead person.  It was not infrequent for
performers, even when immersed in pain, to pause in order to ask:
"Is your tape machine working?"  It was in fact the very guarantee
of immortality, provided their dead through the recording, that
often gained me access to the forbidden territory of ritual lamentation"
(Caraveli-Chaves, 150).

"Lament language is magical language seeking to remedy death
and heal the living.  By commemorating the past life of the dead
person and using the community as a witness, poetic language
is utilized as a weapon against death and as a vehicle for ensuring
immortality for community members.  Moreover, kinship ties are
thus affirmed and the continuity of generations is ensured"
(Caraveli-Chaves, 151).

My (Eric's) perpetual (and boring and ridiculous?) question:
What of enabling distant participants (family members and/or
others) to witness and respond, in modified chorus-like fashion,
via interactive telecommunication?  Might not this enable new
forms of witness, continuity, and (spatial and eventually temporal)
immortality?  Even within the Greek lament tradition, there was
room for people who did not know the dead, but who were
welcome to partake of the activity as a way of mourning their
own dead and of forging a common bond of sharing and suffering.
Of course, participation from afar would never be the same as
in-the-flesh participation, but it could be something.  This would
place the ethnographer in the role of transformer and facilitator
of the tradition, not just documenter of it; the equipment could
in such cases be seen as part of the sacred apparatus of ritual,
not a profane intrusion.  Such activity, conceivably, could help
turn what might have been bad, naked deaths, into good,
ornamented ones, at which members of the community could
appear, commemorate, and share.