Ioulis on Keos, late 5th cent. B.C. (Ditt. Syll. 1218. G)

Throughout Greece limits were set by law on the expense, luxury, and amount of mourning at funerals. A practical consequence of such legislation is that women’s opportunities for gathering and for expressing themselves were restricted. This inscription comes from an island not far from Athens, and is thought to be a copy of an earlier law of the Athenian legislator Solon. [6]

These are the laws concerning the dead: bury the dead person as follows: in three white cloths-a spread, a shroud, and a coverlet-or in fewer, not worth more than 300 drachmas.[7] Carry out [the body] on a wedge-footed bed and do not cover the bier with cloths. Bring not more than 3 choes of wine to the tomb and not more than one chous of olive oil, and bring back the empty jars. Carry the shrouded corpse in silence all the way to the tomb. Perform the preliminary sacrifice according to ancestral customs. Bring the bed and the covers back from the tomb inside the house.

On the next day cleanse the house first with sea water, and then cleanse all the rooms with hyssop. When it has been thoroughly cleansed, the house is to be free from pollution; and sacrifices should be made on the hearth.

The women who come to mourn at the funeral are not to leave the tomb before the men.[8] There is to be no mourning for the dead person on the thirtieth day. Do not put a wine-cup beneath the bed, do not pour out the water, and do not bring the sweepings to the tomb.[9];

In the event that a person dies, when he is carried out, no women should go to the house other than those polluted [by the death]. Those polluted are the mother and wife and sisters and daughters, and in addition to these not more than five women, the daughters’ children and cousins; no one else. The polluted when washed with water poured out [from jugs] are free from pollution. (The next 2 lines are damaged).

This law has been ratified by the council and the people. On the third day those who mourn on the anniversary of the death are to be free from pollution, but they are not to enter a temple, and the house is to be free from pollution until they come back from the tomb.


6. Cf. Plutarch, Life of Solon 21. On the political reasons for the legislation, and modern analogues; cf. Alexiou, 1974, 21-3. 

7. The women in the household washed the corpse and laid it out for burial. 

8. For similar regulations, cf. Demosthenes, 43.62.

9. Apparently legislation against customs intended to remove death-pollution by catching it in a cup of water and by interring all traces of dirt in the housalong with the corpse. Cf. Parker, 1983, 35-6. Probably the additional five women were relations by marriage; at the end of the Iliad Hector is mourned formally by his mother Hecuba, his wife Andromache, and his sister-in-law Helen. Cf. Parker, 1983, 40.