Essay on Western Attitudes Towards Death

1795 Words Feb 2nd, 2013 8 Pages
An Examination of the Evolution of Western Attitudes toward Death

Although the attitudes of western civilization towards death may seem to be unchanged over long periods of time, it has been illustrated in the past that they are, in fact dynamic. Western attitudes towards death are constantly evolving, ever so slowly and subtly. However, periodically quantum leaps in popular thought regarding death have occurred. These changes are noticeable because they are so very rapid. Philippe Ariès, author of Western attitudes towards death describes four distinct eras of thought with regards to death. He calls these eras Tamed death, One’s own death, Thy death, and Forbidden death. The transitions between each of these four eras are caused by
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57). These erotic macabre themes are illustrated in literature, art, and theatre. Love scenes in baroque works such as Romeo and Juliet took place in such places as tombs. During this period death was increasingly though of as a transgression-like the sexual act-which would tear a man from the monotony of his daily life and “plunge him into and irrational, violent and beautiful world” (Ariès, p. 57).
During this period death is no longer desirable, but is admirable in its beauty. A sort of complaisance towards death also develops during this period and becomes one of the major
characteristics of Romanticism. Mourning becomes, for a brief time ritualized, manifested in certain garments and specific fixed intervals. However restraint with regards to mourning in the nineteenth century is lost. The dramatization of death and excessive spontaneous demonstrations become commonplace during this era. Individuality of the deceased becomes even more important than it had been during the era of one’s own death. The church is criticized for charnel houses, as family members now want to be able to visit the site where their loved one is buried. Of course this burial place also had to belong exclusively to the deceased and his family.
The transition between the era of thy death and the forbidden death era was, unlike the others previously discussed, a dramatic and rapid change. Death having been “so omnipresent in the past that it was familiar” would now

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