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The most recent episode of Grimm featured the discovery of a mummified wesen, an Anubis, I suppose. This discovery set off a chain of different cultural and personal reactions: the desire of the human academic to preserve, study and display the find as a valuable historical artifact; the offense at displaying a wesen body, however academically valuable, in any public context by the terrorist-activists of the Beati Paoli, the Wesen Council, and both Monroe and Rosalee; and the less emotionally invested understanding by Nick, Hank and Juliette who are more concerned with solving the homicide of the intruder and the guard than anything to do with the mummy. Ultimately, I found Grimm's resolution of this whole episode culturally tone deaf and many of its characters wildly hypocritical in unacknowledged ways.

There is a relevant and ethically complex discussion to be had about the exhumation of human remains and their subsequent handling and display in academic and educational contexts, including universities and museums. A fair discussion demands consideration of (1) the academic value of a find and its potential contribution to our scientific and historical understanding, (2) the likely cultural beliefs—at least as we understand them, largely determined by item #1—of the individual whose remains are under question and therefore what constitutes "respect" for those remains, and (3) the sensibilities of the (potential) viewing public and their sense of propriety in the display of the human body. There is no entirely satisfying answer for any situation, and the likely default for this debate will always remain respectful dissensus, but this is not actually the debate as "Once We Were Gods" presented it.

(Egyptian mummy on display at the British Museum)

Before I elaborate why I was displeased by "Once We Were Gods", it should be mentioned that there were very pragmatic reasons for not allowing the university and Professor Gates to keep the mummified Anubis. If the existence of wesen must be kept a secret, then the preserved body of a woged wesen could not be allowed to be subjected to academic and medical analysis. But, despite this urgency, this was not the argument advanced by the characters.

1. Aside from the caveat above, what makes wesen remains any different than human ones? In other words, why should the mummified Anubis be treated any differently than a human mummy from the same period? The remains in "Once We Were Gods" were given distinction because they belonged to wesen. Rosalee and Monroe made no larger claims about other remains in museums or academia, and the disrespect they charged for the Anubis did not extend to other humans. Aside from raising the very troubling question of wesen "humanity," it unjustifiably elevates wesen above ordinary humans. Certainly, the torture, murder, and unconsensual mummification of the Anubis was horrific, but so were the unmentioned (but historical) human sacrifices evidenced in many Ancient Egyptian burial sites. Should the same "respect" be accorded to them?

2. Rosalee and Monroe seem too pleased for my comfort about the revered status of ancient wesen. Whatever identity they might feel with their long-dead wesen "ancestors" (see #3), fondly recalling the eras when wesen were worshipped as gods is a little unsettling by analogy, though I suppose not at all uncommon by analogy. The nostalgia of one's perceived past is essentially disguised desire, and here it is desire for supremacy over humans. Wanting to be worshiped is strange and I would have thought uncharacteristic of our favorite wesen couple, but here they are starry-eyed before the prospect of deification. It is odd.


3. By all indications, the idea of "wesen culture" is a fiction, but the wesen in the episode leverage it as though it has validity.
One thing Grimm has made absolutely clear in three seasons is that there are substantial cultural differences not only between wesen "species" but across geographical and chronological distance. A culture may have a traceable heritage—although this too is quite rare, even if it is imagined not to be—but that does not mean that the culture does not change in deep and meaningful ways. No currently living individual—no matter if they share (or think they share) genetic, geographical, political, or religious identity—can speak as one within the culture of the individual whose remains are in question. At best, we can hope to speak on behalf of it and our necessarily flawed understanding of it.

Most of the time, the vicissitudes of history nullify this sense of identity anyway. To give an example, whatever you believe about the claims of the modern nation of Greece to the Parthenon fragments housed in the British Museum (another ethically complicated debate), there is no direct claim that government can make except occupying the same geographic territory. The modern Greek government is not the Athenian polis, millenia of migration and invasion have eroded any direct ethnic continuity, and for the rest of the Greek states the Parthenon would have been a monument of Athenian hegemony rather than an icon of Greek cultural achievement as it is now. It has, like the wesen in "Once We Were Gods", imposed a modern category onto an ancient one and essentially proclaimed them identical.


4. Despite all their nagging about respecting the remains of the wesen and indignation at its treatment at the university, Monroe, Rosalee and Alexander all decide to cremate the body of an Ancient Egyptian without any regard for his likely ideas of the afterlife.
The very reason bodies of rich people were mummified and they were buried with slaves, wives, and riches is that they believed those things—including the body—were needed in the afterlife. There is, in fact, no evidence that cremation was ever practiced during the relevant period no matter one's social station. It is, ultimately, the last thing the Anubis would likely have wanted. This decision was made not with regard to the remains but in defiance of it, with concern only for their own needs and sensibilities.
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