Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning in Western Literature


How did this compendium of samplings of writing about Dying, Death, Grief, and Mourning come about? It must have been, quite by a series of circumstances that I cannot fully explain. I cannot trace back to the exact onset of the research. My best recollection is that it was during my reading and subsequent re-reading and re-reading of the first entry, Gilgamesh, and the poignant passage that opens Book VIII in the original fragmented translation and then in the marvelous adaptation written by Stephen Mitchell in 2004 and the reading done for Books on Tape. Each line, each reference is reflected in myths for the next 5000 years. It is not just about death, which is my focus, but also about the parallels in cultural remnants from our earliest ties.


Some of the themes and events that resonate through centuries of literature are as follows:

Walled cities
Royalty/Priests/Artisans/Servants, Craftsmen, Merchants, Innkeepers, Farmers, Laborers/ Poor
Marriage of Gods to humans
The significance of flour
Dream interpretations
The bull and the dragon
Biblical parallels/ Old & New Testaments
The Great Flood
The snake, the lion of the ground
Shaping the human from clay
Funerals, Statues, and burial rituals
Honor in battlefield dying
The sin of suicide
The search for life, youth eternal
The power of women
The defeat of women
Of a woman scorned
Life after life beneath the earth in hell/Deity of Hell
Relationship with Mothers and Fathers/ Mothers and Sons
The odysseys
The five stages of grief
Setting of a foundation stones
The deification of birds
The power of male sexuality/ the weaknesses
The Second Coming/Resurrection/Afterlife
The concept of Heaven and Hell
The sacredness of temples/Priestess
Baptisms/Holy waters/Cleanliness
Colors Purple and Gold
Doubles in literature
Fathers and Sons
The numerical value of seven (7)
All of the above placements of themes and events are purely the researcher’s and the reader’s choices.

Egeus: "Just as no one has ever died who did not live, so no one lives who will not die."
Geoffrey Chaucer, Knight’s Tale. 1387

For the living know that they will die;
But the dead know nothing,
And they have no more reward,
For the memory of this is forgotten.
Also, their love, their hatred, and
their envy have now perished;
Nevermore will they have a share
In anything done under the sun.

King James, Ecclesiastes, 8 – 12
Solomon, 931 BCE

Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning in Western Literature