Thursday, April 21, 2016


This Sweet Life of Ours

Erwin Rohde (1845-1898), Psyche, tr. W.B. Hillis (1925; rpt. Chicago: Ares Publishers, Inc., 1987), pp. 3-4 (citations in brackets added by me):
It was to a Greek poet [Euripides, fragment 638] that the question suggested itself: "Who knows then whether Life be not Death, and what we here call Death be called Life there below?"

From such jaded wisdom and its doubts Greek civilization is still far removed when, though already at an advanced stage in its development, it first speaks to us in the Homeric poems. The poet and his heroes speak with lively feeling of the pains and troubles of life, both in its individual phases and as a whole. The gods have allotted a life of pain and misery to men, while they themselves remain free from care. On the other hand, to turn aside from life altogether never enters the head of anyone in Homer. Nothing may be said expressly of the joy and happiness of life, but that is because such things go without saying among a vigorous folk engrossed in a movement of progress, whose circumstances were never complicated and where all the conditions of happiness easily fell to the lot of the strong in activity and enjoyment. And, indeed, it is only for the strong, the prudent, and the powerful that this Homeric world is intended. Life and existence upon this earth obviously belongs to them—is it not an indispensable condition of the attainment of all particular good things? As for death—the state which is to follow our life here—there is no danger of anyone mistaking that for life. "Do not try and explain away death to me," says Achilles to Odysseus in Hades [Homer, Odyssey 11.488]; and this would be the answer any Homeric man would have given to the sophisticated poet, if he had tried to persuade him that the state of things after life on this earth is the real life. Nothing is so hateful to man as death and the gates of Hades: for when death comes it is certain that life—this sweet life of ours in the sunlight—is done with, whatever else there may be to follow.

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