I am reading a book that states the hero "knew himself to be among the dead". Does this means that he considered himself as good as dead, or that he understood that all the people around him were dead?

Generally, what does "among the dead" means?

  • sure, it is from Daniel Akst's "St. Burl's Obituary". page 5.
    – user60030
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 10:55
  • The scene is that the protagonist enters a restaurant and understands that everybody in it are dead.
    – user60030
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 10:58
  • No, the protagonist enters his favorite restaurant and he is surprised to see that it's been robbed or lynched. it is quite a realistic novel so no zombies/aliens, more like Italian mafia. unfortunately i have only the first 5 pages of the book, so this is more or less all the information i can give.
    – user60030
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 11:17
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    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 16:47
  • I am a student of a translation program, and i had a filling that maybe there is another meaning to "among the dead" that i might have missed, so i thought this will be the proper place to ask.
    – user60030
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 17:03

3 Answers 3


As far as I know, there is no idiomatic usage of "among the dead". It appears to be used in both of the contexts you've provided. In your case, it's that everyone around him is literally dead.

Some quotes:

...those hideous nights when we toss and turn in fever and pain, when we lie, like living men among the dead, staring out into the dark hours that drift so slowly between us and the light. - Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, Jerome, Jerome K.

If they do not square accounts with me about my cows, I will go down to Hades and shine there among the dead. - Homer, The Odyssey

She did not know any of the names listed among the dead. - Cambridge Dictionary

Naturally, the villagers show up and drive the monster away, and he goes to a graveyard to find solitude among the dead. - a summation of Bride of Frankenstein

There are "dead" idioms, such as, dead as a doornail, dead ringer and over my dead body, but not among the dead.

  • "among the dead" is an idiom that possibly means those in Hell (or who are going to die soon). Cf. 1 Peter 1:3 Darby, Luke 24:5).
    – virmaior
    Commented Jan 2, 2014 at 21:17
  • @Susan, why would we need a Hebrew scholar to ask if English from an English bible translation is idiomatic? A very large number of idioms derive from the KJV. "Separating the sheep from the goats" is most definitely an English idiom.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jan 2, 2014 at 21:50

I'm not so sure Susan...if the protagonist really did walk into a restaurant and find that it's been robbed, where's the suggestion that he's literally surrounded by dead people? And if he did walk into the restaurant and find, as you suggest, everyone dead, it would be rather clumsy of the narrator if the intention was to repeat that obvious point: 'He knew himself to be among the dead'. Duh.

I think some subtlety is being missed. Does the protagonist feel terribly afraid and unsafe? Is it that the protagonist feels threatened or targeted, so that he feels as good as dead? Or (and this is a stretch), does the protagonist feel 'something die in him' on being faced with such devastation?

I don't know, but I think a deeper reading is required.


The main character in Daniel Akst's book, Burl Bennett, is an obituary writer. So using the phrase 'be among the dead' at this awkward moment is perhaps more a reflection of his professional capacity. Seeing the dead he might of course also have been fearing for his life, since he was co-owner of the restaurant in question.

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