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Greek Laughter and TearsAntiquity and After$
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Margaret Alexiou and Douglas Cairns

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781474403795

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474403795.001.0001

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Guiding Grief: Liturgical Poetry and Ritual Lamentation in Early Byzantium

Guiding Grief: Liturgical Poetry and Ritual Lamentation in Early Byzantium

(p.199) 12 Guiding Grief: Liturgical Poetry and Ritual Lamentation in Early Byzantium
Greek Laughter and Tears

Susan Ashbrook Harvey

Edinburgh University Press

Early Byzantine church leaders regularly admonished against grief as a Christian response to death. Yet, mourning practices continued unabated, and church leaders also participated in the lavish mourning that attended the funerals of beloved church figures, whether bishops or holy men or women. Amidst such contradictory discourses, liturgical piety appears to have provided a constructive manner of engaging grief and negotiating such tensions. Early Byzantine liturgies in both Greek and Syriac abound in hymns and homilies that retold biblical stories in dramatic fashion. Often, these included searing depictions of anguish, grief, and lamentation over loss or death for biblical characters. The accounts show strong similarities with traditions from classical drama, with imagined speeches as well as dramatic narrative that linger closely on postures, gestures, and lyrical expressions of sorrow. This chapter argues that these presentations took on particular social significance in the context of liturgical setting and performance. Embedded within liturgy itself as an overarching narrative, such stories took on resolution within a higher process of grief turned to restoration. Biblical tragedy, articulated in homilies and hymns, offered congregations typological expressions of their own sorrows, even as people were ritually guided from bereavement to consolation.

Keywords:   Liturgy, Grief, Lament, Ritual, Liturgical poetry

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