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Concepts of death

*Aristotle (384-322 BCE) and other Greek writers viewed death as the withdrawal of faculties such as growth, sensation, locomotion, and intellect. These were governed by the 'soul' which had distinct parts responsible for the various faculties. The soul also had an immortal entity (though this is debatable in Aristotle's philosophy) which continued to exist after death. The *Hippocratic physicians (c. 400 BCE) believed that the essence of life welled from the heart and flowed through the body. They were not afraid to predict death in a sick patient since it would absolve them from blame if treatment failed, or from censure if they refused to give treatment other than a palliative. They described the appearance of the face when death was imminent. The nose was pointed, the temples sunken, the eyes hollowed, the ears cold and flaccid with the tips slightly drooping. The skin of the forehead was hard and tight, the face was dusky or pallid.

At *Epidaurus, where there was a major shrine to the healing god, Asclepius, a building was specifically erected outside the precinct to accommodate the dying. The customs and tradition of Classical Greek warfare generally allowed both sides to retrieve and bury their dead after a battle, though usually the defeated would have been despoiled by the victors before they could be retrieved. The military writer, Onasander (c. CE 50), believed that soldiers would be more willing to fight if they went into battle in the knowledge that they would receive a decent burial if killed.

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Copyright Dr Carole Reeves