Attitudes towards Death in Ancient Greece and Ancient China

  • Xiaoqun Wu


In this chapter, the author mainly discusses people’s views on death in two ancient societies, specifically involving the following three aspects: (1) the popular views of death and what constituted ‘a good death’ in Greece and China; (2) a comparison of ‘The House of Hades’ and Psychē in Greece with ‘Yellow Springs’ (黄泉) and Gui (鬼) in China; and (3) the power of the dead. From those, it is evident that the Chinese and the Greeks follow different modes of meaning-making when they face the same challenge of death. In ancient Greece, the Greeks’ fear of not being buried may have been greater than the fear of death itself. In ancient China, the Chinese tried to ‘serve the dead as they served them alive’.


View of death ‘The House of Hades’ Psychē Yellow Springs’ Gui The power of the dead 


  1. Bremmer, Jan. 1983. The Early Greek Conception of the Soul. Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Chien, Mu钱穆. 2004. Soul and Heart 灵魂与心. Guang Xi Normal University Press 广西 师范大学出版社.Google Scholar
  3. Fung, Yu-Lan. 1983. A History of Chinese Philosophy, vol. 1. The Period of the Philosophers (From the Beginnings to Circa 100 B.C.). Trans. by Derk Bodde. Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Garland, Robert. 1985. The Greek Way of Death. New York: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Guthrie, W. K. C. 1993. Orpheus and Greek Religion: A Study of Orphic Movement. Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Huang, Chun-Chieh. 2007. The Defining Character of Chinese Historical Thinking. History and Theory 46 (2): 180–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Küng, Hans and Ching, Julia. 1989. Christianity and Chinese Religions. Doubleday.Google Scholar
  8. Lincoln, Bruce. 1991. Death, War, and Sacrifice: Studies in Ideology and Practice. The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  9. Lupu, Eran. 2005. Greek sacred Law: A Collection of New Documents (NGSL). Brill.Google Scholar
  10. Mirto, Marria Serena. 2012. Death in the Greek World: From Homer to the Classical Age. Trans. by A. M. Osborne. University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  11. Morris, Ian. 1989. Attitudes toward Death in Archaic Greece. Classical Antiquity 8 (2): 296–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Nagy, Gregory. 1997. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Rev. ed. The Johns Hopkins University.Google Scholar
  13. Rohde, E. 1987. Psychē: The Cult of Souls and Belief in Immortality among the Greeks. Trans. from the eighth edition by W. B. Hillis. Ares Publishers, Inc.Google Scholar
  14. Wu, Hung. 2010. The Art of the Yellow Spring: Understanding Chinese Tombs. London: Reaktion Books.Google Scholar
  15. Wu, Xiaoqun 吴晓群. 2013. An Angle of Comparative Civilizations: Ancient Funeral in China and Greece一个文明比较的视角——中国与希腊的古代丧葬仪式, Guangming Daily 光明日报, 8 July.Google Scholar
  16. Yu, Ying-shih. 1964–1965. Life and Immortality in the Mind of Han China. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 25: 80–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Yu, Ying-shih. 1987. ‘O Soul, Come Back!’ A Study in the Changing Conceptions of the Soul and Afterlife in Pre-Buddhist China. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 47 (2): 363–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiaoqun Wu
    • 1
  1. 1.Fudan UniversityShanghaiChina

Personalised recommendations