neolithic tombs

District Line

Overview

Life after death in literature and legend

'This goes to the very heart of it,' said Miranda.

'In so far as what?' asked Quintin.

'In so far as making explicit what is alluded to by allegory and metaphor and other literary devices in everything else that we have been looking at,' she replied. 'Here it is all stated factually, in black and white. The dead are still alive. Go on, throw all the strata at me one by one and I'll show you.'

'Egyptian religion?'

'Wrapping a dead body in bandages to heal it. And the Greek historian Herodotus tells us that the Egyptians believed in a life after death.

'Prehistoric monuments?'

Communal tombs. Circular structures.'

'Arthurian legend?'

'When Sir Gawain crosses over to a 'castle of maidens' in Chr├ętien de Troyes' story of the graal, he finds the mother of King Arthur living there, and his own mother as well, although both of them have been dead for many years.'

'Ancient Greece?'

'Plato. In The Republic he tells the story of a man who returns from the grave and tells of the souls that he has seen returning into the sunlight from the underworld. And in another of his works, Phaedo, he has Socrates openly declare his belief in reincarnation.'

'English poetry?'

'The Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser finds a garden of Adonis in his search for the Faerie Qveene, where babies are sent off into the world from one gate and return again through a 'hinder gate' when they are buried and then sent off again through the first gate for another circular journey.'

'Archaeology?'

'Cart burials. Ship burials.

'European religion?'

'Well, obviously! But notice how frequently a nasty death and a quick revival into the same horror features in medieval Christian accounts of a visit to Purgatory, as though such a thing was to be avoided.'

'Athenian drama?'

'Euripides' Andromache. Achilles dies at Troy and is said to be living now on the island of Leuce near the northern shores of the Black Sea.'

'Ancient Rome?'

'Julius Caesar said that the druids of Gaul believed in the transmigration of souls, which is another word for reincarnation.'

'Irish mythology?'

'The people of the goddess Danu, during the Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh, had a natural pool into which the dead would be thrown in the evening and they would emerge fit and well again the next morning.

'Norse poetry?'

'A thirteenth century note by a copyist of the Poetic Edda: "There was a belief in the pagan religion, which we now reckon an old wives’ tale, that people could be reincarnated".'

'Icelandic saga?'

'Hord broke into Soti’s barrow and found the dead Viking sitting in the prow of a ship, surrounded by all his treasure. They fight and grapple with one another before Hord steals all the wealth and even a gold ring from his adversary's arm.'

'More English poetry?'

'That's unfair. Chaucer. The House of Fame. He finds Orpheus and Simon Magus still alive in a palace in the sky where there is a goddess in charge.

'Norse mythology?'

'The Norse god Thor had a chariot pulled by goats which he would kill for food in the evening and they would be alive again in the morning.'

'Medieval romance?'

'Weight of allegory,' said Miranda. 'If you threaten to kill someone, send them off in a rudderless boat without any food or water and then they wash up on a distant shore and assume a new identity; or if someone spends seven years underground and then emerges into the world again pretending to be someone else… well, you don't have to be Einstein, do you? It's not rocket science. They simply weren't allowed to express it openly, or they would be tortured by the Inquisition and burnt alive at a stake or something.'

potentila

Take a quick tour

The District Line passes through a succession of places in time and location where the dead are found to be still alive in literature, legend or mythology. Click or tap on the circles and tunnel markers to dive deeper into the discoveries that Quintin and Miranda have made. Alternatively, click or tap on the large green button for a quick journey through the summaries. Click or tap on any summary to dive deeper.

Dead and yet Alive

Click and move to the next item

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte d'Arthur

15th century, late-Medieval English.

There are those in many parts of England who say that King Arthur is not dead, but was taken, by the will of our Lord Jesus, into another place; and men say that he will return and that he shall win the Holy Cross. I cannot say that I am convinced of this, but I would rather say – "but rather I wolde sey: here in thys world he chaunged hys lyff." Here in this world he changed his life.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte d'Arthur

15th century, late-Medieval English.

'Sir,' said Sir Gawain to King Arthur. 'These are all ladies whom I fought for whilst I was alive.'

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Old French pre-Vulgate Lancelot

13th century, Old French.

When Sir Gawain enters the first gate of the Dolorous Castle, he comes upon a strange cemetery. Within it lies the fresh grave of the white knight.

Medieval Arthurian Legend

Chrétien de Troyes: The Story of the Graal

12th century, Old French.

The eloquent old ladies that Sir Gawain speaks to so courteously that evening are both dead ladies, and one of them is his mother. It is a castle of the dead.

Prehistoric Britain

Neolithic Long Barrows and Passage Graves

4000 to 2500 BC, Neolithic, Britain.

The skulls were sometimes put in one place, the left arm bones in another, almost as if hinting at one composite person lying there in the grave.

Prehistoric Guernsey

Passage Grave: Le Dehus

3500 to 2500 BC, Neolithic, Guernsey, Channel Islands.

'If the midwinter sunrise did shine into the tomb, it did so onto a giant phallus.'

Prehistoric Britain

Round Barrows

2500 to 1500 BC, Late Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain.

The people in late-Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain liked to invoke the circle when commemorating their dead.

Prehistoric Britain

Stonehenge

c. 2300 BC, Bronze Age stone circle, Salisbury Plain, southern England.

The midwinter sun can be seen setting behind the far uprights beneath their impossibly heavy stone lintels.

Ancient Athens

Plato: The Republic

5th century BC, Ancient Greek. Athens

'Souls, here is a new beginning for you, a new cycle of life. To each who chooses, that life shall be his destiny.'

Elizabethan English Poetry

Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Qveene

16th century, Elizabethan English. Numerous printed copies.

The old man Malbecco finds a cave, where he lives like a bird with one eye open and one eye closed, feeding on toads and frogs. "Yet can he never dye, but dying lives…"

Elizabethan English Poetry

Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Qveene

16th century, Elizabethan English. Numerous printed copies.

"… so like a wheele around they runne from old to new."

Elizabethan English Poetry

Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Qveene

16th century, Elizabethan English. Numerous printed copies.

Prince Arthur threw the lifeless corpse onto the ground, but it sprang back up to renewed life and renewed battle!

Elizabethan English Poetry

Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Qveene

16th century, Elizabethan English. Numerous printed copies.

Cupid looked with pleasure at the poor damsel Amoretta and at her heart lying in a bowl. Every night this ritual is enacted.

Elizabethan English Poetry

Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Qveene

16th century, Elizabethan English. Numerous printed copies.

The balm from this tree has the property that it can heal and rear again a senseless corpse appointed for the grave.

Pagan Burials and Transport

British Iron Age: Cart Burials

300 to 100 BC, Iron Age, Yorkshire, England.

What made all these finds so exciting were the dismantled parts of a two-wheeled cart (or trap, or chariot) in each of these graves.

Medieval Christianity and the concept of Purgatory

Visio Monachi de Eynsham

Late-12th century, Latin, Bodleian Library, Oxford and Trinity College, Dublin | 15th century Middle English versions at the Bodleian Library and the British Library, London.

Each soul was drowned in the lake, then cast into a fire, then carried high onto a hillside of horrible cold and snow and down again into the grievous stench of the lake and yet again into the towering flames on the opposite side…

Celtic Christianity

The Vision of Tundale

12th century, Latin, translations into 15th century Middle English: British Library, London; Bodleian Library, Oxford; National Library of Scotland.

Some struck off the head, others the thighs, arms, legs at the knees, and some hacked the souls into pieces. Yet they were all soon restored back again into their original shapes, only to be seized once more by the butchers.

Ancient Athenian Drama

Euripides: Andromache

5th century BC, Ancient Greek. Athens.

And you will leave the ocean to visit Achilles, our dear dead son, where he now lives, settled on the island of Leuce near the northern shores of the Black Sea.

Ancient Athens

Phaedo by Plato

5th century BC, Ancient Greek. Athens.

Those who have ignored the principals of justice, or lived their lives by violence, will become wolves, or hawks. But some are much happier than this…

Ancient Athens

The Dionysian Mysteries

Mycenaean and into classical Greece, proto-Christianity.

The mysteries date back to the time of Mycenaean Greece and were possibly derived from Minoan Crete, or from the Orphic mysteries of Thrace.

Ancient Rome

Roman Pompeii and the Bacchic Mysteries

1st century AD, Pompeii, Bay of Naples, Italy.

A third figure is looking down into the bowl and seeing not his own reflection but the reflection of the mask staring back at him.

Ancient Greek Religion

The Eleusinian Mysteries: Demeter and her daughter Percephone

Homeric Hymn to Demeter, 7th century BC, Ancient Greece.

Percephone should spend only a third of every year in the Underworld.

Ancient Greek Religion

The Eleusinian Mysteries: Demeter and her daughter Percephone

Classical Greece, Eleusis, near Athens, Greece.

Percephone has eaten a pomegranate seed and will have to return once more from the Land of the Dead. She will die and return again, time after time.

Iron Age Britain

Votive Offerings in the River Thames

400 to 50 BC, River Thames, London, England.

A bronze shield found in river deposits near the River Thames at Chertsey in England was not made for battle; and it has a pair of double-headed snakes beside the handle.

Iron Age Greece

The Greek Philosopher Pythagoras, as described by Ovid and Diodorus Siculus

Pythagoras, born c. 575 BC, Samos, Aegean Sea: died c. 495 BC, Crotona, southern Italy.

Pythagoras could remember some of his past lives.

Iron Age Britain

Julius Caesar and the Druids

1st century BC, Latin, concerning Britain and Gaul.

A particularly firm belief amongst the druids is that the soul is not extinguished at death but "passes from one body to another".

Iron Age Greece

The Greek Philosopher Pythagoras, as described by Clement of Alexandria

c. 575–495 BC, Crotona, southern Italy.

Both Pythagoras and Plato derived their ideas from the barbarians: Egyptians and Persians; and the Druids among the Gauls; and the philosophers of the Celts.

Irish Mythology

Tales of Fionn mac Cumhaill: the Tuatha de Danaan

pre-12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

She wrapped the dead body in leaves and a little while later the Lad of the Skins leapt up, as healthy and alive as he had ever been!

Irish Mythology

Legends of the Tuatha de Danaan: Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh

pre-12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

Men that were wounded to death in the battle would be brought to the spring and put into it as dead men, and they would come out of it alive and well and fitter even than they had been before.

Irish Mythology

The Tuatha de Danaan

12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

The Tuatha de Danaan continued to make their presence known in Ireland, and would often invite warriors into their world beneath the hills and the burial mounds.

Irish Mythology

The Tuatha de Danaan

pre-12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

A long time afterwards, Caoilte is wounded badly with a poisoned spear, and goes again beneath the ground into the hill of Ilbrec, now in search of healing.

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The Tale of Thorstein Mansion-Might

14th century, Old Norse.

Thorstein went to the burial mound, called down for gloves and a stick and then followed the boy down through the waters of a river. Below them they could see a large plain with farms and a city.

Scandinavian Mythology

Old Icelandic Poetry: Poetic Edda

13th century, Old Norse, Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, Reykjavik.

"Helgi and Sigrun were thought to have been reborn. He was Helgi Haddingia-damager and she was Kara, Halfdan’s daughter."

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The Saga of Hromund Gripsson

13th century, Old Norse.

'The troll inside this barrow will kill us all!' they warned.

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The Saga of Hord

14th century, Old Norse.

Hord broke into Soti’s barrow and found the dead viking sitting in the prow of a ship, surrounded by all his treasure.

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The Saga of Grettir the Strong

14th century, Old Norse.

Grettir intended to find out what he was like, the occupant of this grave-mound whose ghost had been walking the countryside round about.

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The Saga of Grettir the Strong

14th century, Old Norse.

A troll is a dead person who lives in the ground and comes out to terrorise a district at night.

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

Eyrbyggja Saga

13th century, Old Norse.

[The dead Icelander] slew some men, and some fled away; but all those who died were seen in his company afterwards.

Medieval English Poetry

The Middle English Poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer

14th century, Middle English. Numerous printed copies.

The wood is filled with animals of every description. Pythagoras is mentioned. The Phoenix is invoked.

Medieval English Poetry

Geoffrey Chaucer: The House of Fame

14th century, Middle English. Numerous printed copies.

I heard Orpheus playing sweetly and precisely on a harp, and lesser harpers sitting at his feet.

Medieval English Poetry

Geoffrey Chaucer: The Legend of Good Women

14th century, Middle English. Numerous printed copies.

Geoffrey's 'goddess of the flowery mead' turns out to be Alcestis, who was rescued from the Land of the Dead by Heracles and restored into human form once more.

Medieval English Poetry

The Isle of Ladies

15th century, Middle English: 16th century manuscript copies at the British Library and Longleat House, Wiltshire, England.

Almost at once, the dead bird came back to life, preened itself and they all flew off, singing happily together.

Medieval English Poetry

Geoffrey Chaucer: Canterbury Tale from the Wife of Bath

14th century, Middle English. Numerous printed copies.

In the days of King Arthur, whose memory is held in such high esteem, Britain was filled with the magic of an Otherworld.

Irish Mythology

The Tuatha de Danaan

pre-12th century–present. Old Irish | Modern Irish, folklore.

Although the pigs were killed and eaten one day, they would be alive again and fit for eating the next day.

Scandinavian Mythology

Snorri Sturluson: The Prose Edda

13th century, Icelandic: numerous copies in Iceland, Copenhagen.

Thor slaughtered his goats and cooked them to eat. In the morning, Thor gathered the bones and the hides together, waved his hammer over them whilst uttering a spell, and the goats leapt up as lively as they had ever been.

Scandinavian Mythology

Snorri Sturluson: The Prose Edda

13th century, Icelandic: numerous copies in Iceland, Copenhagen.

When the warriors died they turned to stone and as dawn broke the next day they awakened to life once more.

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The Saga of Hervor and King Heidrek the Wise

13th century, Old Norse.

'Fire doesn't frighten me.' said Hervor. 'Not even the sight of the dead standing beside their burial mounds.'

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The Saga of Grim Shaggy-Cheek

13th century, Old Norse.

When Grim kisses the child, her loathly carapace falls away and beneath the hideous skin is revealed Lofthaena herself, in all her beauty.

Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The Saga of Arrow-Odd

13th century, Old Norse.

Arrow-Odd tears Ogmund’s face away from the bone as he disappears into the ground. The earth closes over Ogmund as he vanishes into the ground. But Ogmund turns up again, later in the tale, as King Quillanus of Novgorod.

Arthurian legend PrehistoricBritain Plato Edmund Spenser Christianity Classicaldramaphilosophy DionysusDemeter IronAge Irish mythology Norsemythology Icelandicsagas Geoffrey Chaucer Norsemythology Icelandicsagas Sir Thomas Malory Sir Thomas Malory pre-Vulgate Lancelot Chrétien de Troyes Archaeology and prehistory Archaeology and prehistory Archaeology and prehistory Archaeology and prehistory Ancient Greece The Faerie Qveene The Faerie Qveene The Faerie Qveene The Faerie Qveene The Faerie Qveene Iron Age Britain Purgatory Celtic Christianity Athenian drama Plato Ancient Greek Religion Roman Religion Ancient Greek Religion Ancient Greek Religion Iron Age Britain Iron Age Greece Iron Age Britain Iron Age Greece The Lad of the Skins Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh Tuatha de Danaan Caoilte Icelandic saga Norse mythology Icelandic saga Icelandic saga Icelandic saga Icelandic saga Icelandic saga Medieval English poetry Medieval English poetry Medieval English poetry Medieval English poetry Medieval English poetry Tuatha de Danaan Norse mythology Norse mythology Icelandic saga Icelandic saga Icelandic saga