A greek funeral is carried out in three stages; the prothesus (wake), ekphora (procession), and cremation. The first step in preparing the body for funeral would be to close the eyes and mouth of the corpse. The women of the household; usually with seawater, would then wash the body and any wounds or injuries would be cleaned and dressed. The body would be dressed in a plain white or gray ankle length shroud, and if the deceased was a solider he would be dressed in a traditional military cloak. If the deceased was female they were usually given a necklace and earrings to wear that were modest. Most bodies also received a diadem or crown on the head of the deceased- usually these were made of tree branches; although when kings were buried they were buried with gold facemasks and breastplates.
When the body was laid out it was laid on a bed with its feet facing the entry way and a coin was placed in the mouth of the body as payment to Charon- the ferryman who would take them across the river Styx. The viewing of the body in this state lasted 48 hour. During this time the friends and family of the deceased would take part in a lamenting song and dance called the threnos. The threnos in an improvised lament that is started by a professional mourner and then finished by the family.
Examples of Laments- I had my child as the sun, and now that my child is obscured, I his mother, am without sun. My child was a bright star, but now he is hidden, and the gloom of night has enshrouded me, his mother. My child was light to me, but he is quenched, and now I walk in darkness.
My love, I loved you well, I kept you well. I kept you as musk in the box and wire in the reed. I kept you as a silver lamp which lit up the home. Not the wire has rusted, the musk has lost its fragrance, now the silver lamp has fallen and shattered.
After the appropriate dances and customs had been observed the body would be brought to the grave sight by either horse drawn carriage or pall-bearers. The funeral procession to the burial site was always led by men and with women in the back. Unlike most modern funeral processions these ancient processions were not silent marches. The funeral party would make many stops along the way to cry out in order to attract attention and while walking women would tear at their hair and clothes as an expression of their grief.
There is some evidence to support the theory that animal sacrifices were made at the burial site at the time of burial. The animals selected for this ritual were always black and usually a sheep or an ox, and only female or castrated animals were appropriate for sacrifice. Animal sacrifices were most often made at sunset. The animal would be slaughtered with the head pointed downward over the offering trench to appease the souls of the dead. This way all the blood would seep down into the earth.
Once the body was interred a simple ceremony was performed over the grave to sow the earth with the fruits of its bounty, thus assuring the deceased a peaceful rest and allowing them to return to the land of the living.
Following the actual burial, friends and family would be invited to leave offerings of food and other gifts either in the grave or beside it. It was common practice to have a trench dug near the grave for exactly this purpose. Eventually all the offerings made would be set onto wooden planks and burned. Just as the women were the last in the procession to arrive at the ceremony they were also the first to leave. The women would leave early so that they could return to their homes and begin preparations for a large banquet held in honor of the deceased. The men stayed behind to complete the burial, the final step of which was to place a large slab or rock, or a stele over the grave. These steles were brightly painted, often with relief images depicting a generalized image of the deceased and their closest companions. Every funerary monument had an inscribed base with an epitaph, which was written in verse and memorialized the dead.
Once someone had passed away it was very important to visit his or her grave regularly. Religious rites were performed at the gravesite on the third, ninth, and thirtieth day after the burial. Outside of that-visits by family members were customarily made on a monthly basis and on important holidays. Visitors to the gravesite would leave behind gifts such as elaborate painted vases filled with oil, or colorful ribbons and floral wreaths that could be draped over the gravestone. Women would sometime bake small cakes of honey or leave pomegranates- the food of the dead- as offerings at the grave site.