Madness to Grieve for One Who Cannot Grieve

Seneca, De Consolatione ad Polybium 9

“Do I grieve for myself or the one who died? If I grieve for me, this torment of emotion is useless and sorrow—excused only because it is honorable—begins to depart from duty when it aims for advantage. Nothing fits a good person less than to make grief for a brother an issue of calculation.

If I grieve on his account, then one of the following two judgments must be true. For, if the dead have no feeling at all, then my brother has escaped the misfortunes of life and has returned to that place where he was before he was born where he is free of every evil, he fears nothing, desires nothing, endures nothing. What madness this is to never stop grieving for someone who will never grieve again?”

“Utrumne meo nomine doleo an eius qui decessit? Si meo, perit indulgentiae iactatio et incipit dolor hoc uno excusatus, quod honestus est, cum ad utilitatem respicit, a pietate desciscere; nihil autem minus bono viro convenit quam in fratris luctu calculos ponere. Si illius nomine doleo, necesse est alterutrum ex his duobus esse iudicem. Nam si nullus defunctis sensus superest, evasit omnia frater meus vitae incommoda et in eum restitutus est locum, in quo fuerat antequam nasceretur, et expers omnis mali nihil timet, nihil cupit, nihil patitur. Quis iste furor est pro eo me numquam dolere desinere, qui numquam doliturus est?

 

Talking Heads, “This Must be The Place (Naive Melody)

“…There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be…”

 

Image result for Ancient Greek hero vase

What A Piece of Work: Homer, Sophocles and Shakespeare

These passages are helpful reminders any day of man’s horror and wonder.

Homer, Odyssey 18.130-5

“The earth raises up nothing feebler than man—
[of all the things that creep and breathe over the earth]
For we think that we will never suffer evil tomorrow
As long as the gods give us excellence and our limbs are quick.
But when the gods carry out painful things too,
We endure them unwillingly with a tormented heart.”

οὐδὲν ἀκιδνότερον γαῖα τρέφει ἀνθρώποιο
[πάντων, ὅσσα τε γαῖαν ἔπι πνείει τε καὶ ἕρπει.]
οὐ μὲν γάρ ποτέ φησι κακὸν πείσεσθαι ὀπίσσω,
ὄφρ’ ἀρετὴν παρέχωσι θεοὶ καὶ γούνατ’ ὀρώρῃ·
ἀλλ’ ὅτε δὴ καὶ λυγρὰ θεοὶ μάκαρες τελέωσι,
καὶ τὰ φέρει ἀεκαζόμενος τετληότι θυμῷ.

Uplifting? Yes. And it made me think of the famous “Ode to Man” from Sophocles’ Antigone (332-41):

“There are many wonders and none
is more awe-inspiring than humanity.
This thing that crosses the sea
as it whorls under a stormy wind
finding a path on enveloping waves.
It wears down imperishable Earth, too,
the oldest of the gods, a tireless deity,
as the plows trace lives from year to year
drawn by the race of horses….”

?Ο. Πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀν-
θρώπου δεινότερον πέλει·
τοῦτο καὶ πολιοῦ πέραν
πόντου χειμερίῳ νότῳ
χωρεῖ, περιβρυχίοισιν
περῶν ὑπ’ οἴδμασιν, θεῶν
τε τὰν ὑπερτάταν, Γᾶν
ἄφθιτον, ἀκαμάταν, ἀποτρύεται,
ἰλλομένων ἀρότρων ἔτος εἰς ἔτος,
ἱππείῳ γένει πολεύων.

(It keeps going… Go here for the full text).  This, of course, I cannot consider without thinking of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (2.2.303-12):

“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—
nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.”

And this always leads me to listen to the musical ‘version’ from Hair, the sweetness of the song makes the bitter lesson a bit easier to swallow: