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The Hour of Our Death: The Classic History of Western Attitudes Toward Death over the Last One Thousand Years Paperback – February 12, 1982
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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“This book represents a remarkable collection of historical aphorisms. It is a classic that should be read by all serious students of death and dying.”—Darrell Chase, University of Memphis
“Philippe Aries has provided us with an extraordinary historical account of the perception and experience of death and dying. . . . This book . . . demands serious attention. . . . Please read this remarkable book. . . .The book is a magnificent contribution to society.”—Journal of Religious Gerontology
“Aries has once again given us something of which probably no other historian. . . is capable: an absolutely magnificent 1,000-year panorama of an extremely elusive, yet fundamental, human concern.”—The New Republic
“A great work of historical reconstruction...that one immediately recognizes as seminal.”—Psychology Today
“Aries meanders through the long, mazelike corridors of his theme like an insatiable collector, relishing every suggestive find, taking turns at random, and spinning interpretations of everything he sees. . . . A monument to its subject.”—The Saturday Review
“A scholarly study which is very appropriate for junior, senior, and graduate level university students in courses on the sociology and history of death.”—R. Stephen Schwartz, Winona State University
“Clearly a thorough, eclectic study.”—Vincent Barry, Bakersfield College
“A classic in the field of the history of dying and death.”—Nathan Kollar, St. John Fisher
“A gorgeous, amazing book that will give me many hours of education and entertainment.”—Pat Crane, San Antonio College
“An excellent look at death as seen through the ages.”—Philip G. Patros, South Connecticut State University
Text: English, French (translation)
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The subtlety of the gra estones and large-as-life stone effigies, as well as 500 year old perfectly preserved Monks with their skullcaps still placed on them is nothing less than stunning.
Aries divides his study into four overlapping historical periods: "The Tame Death", "The Death of the Self", "The Death of the Other", and "The Invisible Death". The Tame Death roughly corresponds with the pre-Christian and early middle ages. This period was characterized by a meek acceptance of passing into a long period of sleep. Death is social, and the death ritual has a central place in the society.
"The Death of the Self" is moves more into the middle and late middle ages. Here, death is used by the mendicant orders of Christianity to convert a quasi-pagan population. Thus, there is a corresponding rise in individual's concern with their own death. Also during this period, there is a rise in materialism, which creates a duality between the love of things and the renunciation of the material world which is supposed to preceed death.
The Death of the Other and the Invisible Death are familiar to most modern folks. The Invisible Death is corresponds with the post WWII American model, and the Death of the Other largely corresponds to the romantic movement (lots of weeping, lots of drama).
Aries basic thesis delves into "the Invention of Tradition" territory, i.e. that modern attitudes towards death are just that, modern, and largely without antecedent in history. Aries also points out that pre-Christian traditions of death have persisted far longer in the west then one might suppose. His main illustration for this contention is the observations that the concept of "purgatory" was not fully accepted until well into the 17th and 18th century (purgatory being an exclusively Chrisitian concept).
The research and execution can only be considered awe inspiring, but the thesis less so. Any modern reader of history is aware that "tradition" is invented. Aries is less concerned as to why this might be the case, but for me, the "why" is the interesting question.