Please use this blog to help us remember Joshua Lee Anderson, who made the tragic and fatal decision to take his life on Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Please post any memories or thoughts you may have in the comments.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"He Who Learns Must Suffer" (Aeschylus)

In a recent journal entry, I wrote, "I feel as though I am shriveling up inside."  This doesn't sound very healthy and to be honest, surprised me so I continued writing....
I feel like I am slowly shriveling up inside - or better said, contracting within myself - bringing the world around me into a close circle: my home, my family, my work and that's about it.  My "people world" is very small and only by necessity.  Truthfully, I find being with people and making conversation, exhausting.     
But my internal world has expanded for I have gone back in time, all the way to the ancient Greek and Roman writers, and to Shakespeare in the Elizabethan time and have found a newly discovered genre, tragedy, from which to garner meaning around our own tragic experience. 
In my journal, I did reflect that Tim has continued seeking and expanding his external world which is fine - just another way that we have handled our grief differently.

So my physical world has contracted but my mental world has expanded, via my reading.  For in the past few months I have read the following works:
  • The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer
  • The Aeneid by Virgil
  • All seven extant plays by Greek tragedian, Sophocles
  • The first play, Agamemnon, in the Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylus
  • The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton
  • Seven major tragedies of Shakespeare
To supplement my reading, I have checked out from my local library and listened to several audio courses from The Teaching Company; my favorites being on The Iliad, The Odyssey and The Aeneid  by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver.

What is it about these ancient works that have spoken to me, touched my heart and have provided inspiration, guidance and just plain "food for thought"?  I think it is summed up in the following quote:
God, whose law it is that he who learns must suffer.  And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.   
(Aeschylus in Agamemnon, quoted by Edith Hamilton in The Greek Way).
The works of the four greatest tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Shakespeare) have explored the depths of human pain and suffering and the resulting dignity, resiliency and fortitude of the human spirit.  Lessons abound in these works.  And Aristotle is right - a catharsis does occur when reading or viewing tragedy, which is a difficult paradox to explain.  How is it that I feel purged, cleansed or more connected to my own deep feelings when I see or read about the suffering of others?

I googled the beginning of the above quote and found a talk given by Herbert Golder to The Alpha Omega Counsel in January 2010 called The Greek Invention of the Human.   Of special interest was the part where he talks about how Jackie Kennedy gave her brother-in-law, Bobby, a copy of The Greek Way, saying it was one of JFK's favorite books.  Bobby had been devastated by his brother's assassination and was unable to find solace anywhere.  This book helped so much that he took it everywhere, memorizing the quote from Agamemnon.   Just what did Kennedy find in the Greeks?  The same thing I did.
A civilization eager to look death in the face, but one that seemed to draw strength from what it found there.  The more the ancient Greeks pondered the transience and fragility and pain of human life, the more convinced they became of its dignity and its significance...So what Kennedy found in the Greeks was an ethos that embraced the tragic complexity of life and didn't back away from it, that wasn't afraid of it, embraced it, but drew strength from it and not defeat....Freedom to choose - the courage, the manner, and the dignity with which one confronts that fate; to turn death, to which we are all bound, into destiny. 
I wrote these quotes from Golder's talk in my journal because they express the relevance of the ancient works to our times, for despite how different my life is to those who lived in the 5th century BC or in Shakespeare's time, our hearts and souls are the same.

Here is a list of posts from my reading:

Dec 12, 2011 -  Quote from Romeo and Juliet
Feb 12, 2012 - Book review: Macbeth by Shakespeare
Feb. 26, 2012 - Thoughts for grieving parents from Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet
Feb 26, 2012 - Teenage suicidal ideation in Romeo and Juliet
March 31, 2012 - Book review - The Iliad of Homer
June 5, 2012 - Death, grief and suicide in Hamlet - Part I
June 8. 2012 - Death, grief and suicide in Hamlet - Part II
June 23, 2012 - The grief of Achilles in The Iliad
July 28, 2012 - Book review - Othello by Shakespeare
July 29, 2012 - Book review - Oedipus the King by Sophocles
July 29, 2012 - Book review: The Aeneid by Virgil

RIP Josh. I am learning through my suffering but it has come at a horrible cost.  I would gladly give it all back and be my old ignorant self - to have you here.

1 comment:

GrahamForeverInMyHeart said...

Thank you for sharing your reading journey. My husband has been exploring Othello, Hamlet, and Macbeth since the death of our son.

But, like you, we would trade enlightenment and understanding (and everything else in the world) to have our son back with us. We miss him, as you miss Josh.