Thursday, May 16, 2013


Ran into this very good article about the difficulties of burying Tamerlan Tsarenev, the elder of the Boston bombers.  You may know that he was refused burial in Massachusetts.  Eventually the body was spirited away to distant cemetery and buried.
The article makes the connection with the intense importance put on burial in the Iliad and also with the circumstances in Antigone.  The whole thing is excellent and I highly recommend it.  An excerpt:
There is, in the end, a great ethical wisdom in insisting that the criminal dead, that your bitterest enemy, be buried, too; for in doing so, you are insisting that the criminal, however heinous, is precisely not a “monster.” Whatever else is true of the terrible crime that Tamerlan Tsarnaev is accused of having perpetrated, it was, all too clearly, the product of an entirely human psyche, horribly motivated by beliefs and passions that are very human indeed—deina in the worst possible sense. To call him a monster is to treat this enemy’s mind precisely the way some would treat his unburied body—which is to say, to put it beyond the reach of human consideration (and therefore, paradoxically, to refuse to confront his “monstrosity” at all).
This is the point that obsessed Sophocles’ Antigone: that to not bury her brother, to not treat the war criminal like a human being, would ultimately have been to forfeit her own humanity. This is why it was worth dying for.
 I'll have to think on that for a while.  It's easier for me to see how the Tsarenev grave would be a nightmare for any cemetery owner.  The vandalism risk is huge and persistent.  Even worse, someone may choose to treat it as a shrine.  Who needs the headache?  And who really wants to give that much effort for a man such as he?  Having said that, I was somewhat relieved when I heard that a spot had been found.  (But why not keep the new location and people involved a secret?)

Back in January and February, I was somewhat puzzled at the importance that the Greeks put on burial.  We don't have anywhere near the same unanimous value on burial rites as they did then.  We don't bat an eye if someone chooses cremation over traditional burial.  We aren't concerned if someone leaves their body for science.  We actually exert pressure to donate organs.  I wonder what Homer would have thought of that?
I talked with my father and he reminded me that we've launched missions in Afghanistan to recover bodies of fallen soldiers.  We've risked blood and treasure for men that were already dead.  This was important and my sense is that it is of great importance to the esprit de corps of our military.  I'm curious what a group of Marines would think of the end section of the Iliad, when Achilles desecrates Hector's body again and again.

This struck home to me the other night.  Some years ago both of my very loved cats died with the span of a few months.  We buried them both in the back yard, under a sapling that we planted.  This was before we had any children.  The other night the older kids were playing back there and I went to check on them. 
They had dug a fairly deep hole right about where the kitties are and I was very worried that they would dig them up.  Oh, I didn't want a hole in the yard.  And if they opened up the boxes, they'd find something pretty grisly. 
But it was more than that.  I didn't want the cats to be disturbed.  Whether it makes sense or not, I didn't want their rest to be disturbed.  I don't know if cats have an afterlife.  Sometimes I think that the cats would love the birds and squirrels that play above them, sometimes I think they'd be frustrated that they can't get them.  I often wonder what they'd think of the kids, especially when they play near the tree.  But they've passed on and I didn't want them to be connected like that. 
I guess I'm not as indifferent to burial rites as I'd thought.


  1. That was a very interesting article. The question of burial also came up in Hamlet over Ophelia's burial. I agree with the decision to bury Tamerlan. It's the only human thing to do.

    1. I'd forgotten the burial bit in Hamlet. And you're right, I'm glad he was buried too.