In Homer's time it was believed that the dead were escorted to Hades. This belief dominated into the Classical period as well. In the fifth century B.C. the passage to Hades was seen as a gradual one. It required Charon and Chthonic Hermes to guide the soul of the dead downwards. Hermes' role as 'escort of souls' (psychopompos) had a double significance: he was in charge not only of the soul's passage to the underworld, but also of its access to the world of the living. The most detailed description of the geography of the underworld we have is an extended passage in Aristophanes' Frogs (117-464), according to which the soul would first arrive at a marsh, where Charon took it aboard and ferried it across to the opposite side of the marsh.

For the Athenian citizens, being buried in one's native soil meant a great deal. This is why being denied burial in Attica was regarded as one of the greatest punishments the city could impose. This also explains why the Athenians took such care to bring their dead warriors home.

The burial rites of Classical Athens were often commented on by Classical writers. Fragments of the Athenian burial laws have been preserved for us in the literature of later Antiquity - for instance, in Plutarch and Cicero. Plato's Laws also contain a description of the procedure for funerals.

The individual sections of the burial ritual were: 1) prothesis ('laying out [the corpse]), 2) ekphora ('carrying [the corpse] out' to burial), and 3) perideipnon (the funeral banquet). Thereafter there were annual gatherings in memory of the deceased. It was very important in Classical Athenian society that the dead person's kinsfolk visited the grave regularly. There are representations of some of these rituals in Classical art.

It was the immediate relatives of the deceased who were responsible for the performance of the customary burial rites. If s/he had no family, or if his/her family did not have the means to undertake the burial, the responsibility fell on a close friend or on the polis. The expenses were often very great - there were the grave-offerings, and all the preliminaries, the burial itself and the rituals it involved. In the fifth century, a 'sumptuary law' was passed in Athens making it illegal for people to build expensive grave monuments. This must be directly connected with the dominance of democratic politics and the institution of state burials for those who had died in battle.

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