Sunday, May 08, 2011


Most Sweet

In the past week some have questioned whether it is permissible or seemly for Americans to rejoice at the news of Osama bin Laden's death, e.g.Weeks quotes Mike Hayes, a campus minister at the University at Buffalo: "As a Catholic Christian, I cannot celebrate the death of anyone, especially when it is done violently."

This attitude, I think, would have been incomprehensible to many, if not most, ancient Greeks. A speaker in Thucydides 7.68.1 (tr. Benjamin Jowett) said:
We should remember in the first place that men are doing a most lawful act when they take vengeance upon an enemy and an aggressor, and that they have a right to satiate their heart's animosity; secondly, that this vengeance, which is proverbially the sweetest of all things, will soon be within our grasp.

καὶ νομίσωμεν ἅμα μὲν νομιμώτατον εἶναι πρὸς τοὺς ἐναντίους οἳ ἂν ὡς ἐπὶ τιμωρίᾳ τοῦ προσπεσόντος δικαιώσωσιν ἀποπλῆσαι τῆς γνώμης τὸ θυμούμενον, ἅμα δὲ ἐχθροὺς ἀμύνασθαι ἐκγενησόμενον ἡμῖν καὶ τὸ λεγόμενόν που ἥδιστον εἶναι.
Sophocles, Ajax 79 (spoken by Athena):
Is not laughter at one's enemies the sweetest laughter?

οὔκουν γέλως ἥδιστος εἰς ἐχθροὺς γελᾶν;
Aristotle, Rhetoric 1.11.13:
To exact vengeance is sweet.

τὸ τιμωρεῖσθαι ἡδύ.
See K.J. Dover, Greek Popular Morality in the Time of Plato and Aristotle (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974; rpt. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), pp. 182-183, and W.V. Harris, "Lysias III and Athenian Beliefs about Revenge," Classical Quarterly 47 (1997) 363-366.

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