top 5 tuesday: Favorite Retellings – pace, amore, libri
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As defined in a recent volume of essays on the subject: The familiar saying about kicking against the goad s is not a true parallel because it usually refers to the futility of a mortal human being resisting the gods or their agents Pindar, Pyth.
Second, framing the issue in this way narrows our search for parallels. Tromp; cf. Importantly, for Paul, Jesus has despoiled Death of this power over human beings by becoming human and by defeating Death on his own territory. How he accomplished this Herculean task is the question that Paul must answer in the face of a longstanding Greco-Roman tradition of failed theomachies. Pramit Chaudhuri has recently surveyed the theomachy topos in Greco-Roman literature from its origins in Greek epic and tragedy through its deployment in Latin literature of the Flavian period.
Chaudhuri observes that the success of the god-fighter in the Homeric epics is strictly constrained by the will of the gods and threatens the hero with doom regardless. Athena authorizes Diomedes to strike Aphrodite, for example, but prohibits him from engaging the other deathless gods in battle Il. Later, Dione comments disdainfully on his fate: Crime scelusImpiety impietasError errorand especially Frenzy furor Herc.
Thereafter, coming back to life as he formerly was is not an option, even for the one individual to have defeated the god of the underworld in single combat.
This is not to say that Greeks and Romans denied the possibility of coming back to life tout court. These heroes do not physically die and return to life in the course of their travels, but even belief in resurrection of this sort was not entirely beyond the pale. The Thessalian hero Protesilaos experienced two such resurrections, according to Philostratus Her.
The issue is not whether resurrection was conceivable pace Wright60but how it was conceivable, under what conditions it might occur, and what manner of postmortem existence it entailed.
That Paul thought it necessary to address this contingent directly only underscores the question of precedents for his audacious declaration of victory over death. Epicurus moves from looking up at religio in the sky tollere. This victory, however, consists in a mastery of scientific fact. He observes that different kinds of bodies are differently composed, and then he hypothesizes that psychic bodies will be changed into spiritual bodies at the resurrection 1 Cor The Greeks were familiar with the conception that eternal existence includes bodily existence.
These considerations help us to pinpoint 1 Cor 15 within the broader topos of theomachy and its evolution in the early principate. What unites Lucretius and Paul is their shared desire to undermine the culturally postulated gods of the day whilst elevating their respective heroes above the fray.
Presenting these heroes as god-fighters is an ideal way to achieve this goal because it simultaneously entertains and provokes: Theomachy provides a congenial, effective, and, above all, sublime idiom with which to shock and inspire the audience, bringing before their eyes an ostentatiously philosophical vision of the world, and in the process turning an epic topos into a moment of extraordinary intellectual power Chaudhuri In 1 Corinthians, by comparison, Paul introduces the folly of the cross as a pretext to extol the wisdom and power of God in Christ to rescue human beings even from the grave 1 Cor 1: Comparison of Heracles and Jesus is not new Malherbe—75; Aune ; Hershbell—73but it is apropos in this context, not least because the mutual threat they pose to the traditional pantheon catalyzes theological reflection.
Nevertheless, the suggestion that Paul represents Jesus as a demigod requires certain qualifications. Theomachy highlights this difficulty by displaying the shocking spectacle of a hero striving violently—and failing—to transcend these limitations.
Heracles becomes reconciled with Hera through his death. No such reversal occurs in the case of Jesus, however, because he displays no such antagonism toward God. What differentiates Jesus from Heracles and other such heroes is his acquiescence to the condition of mortality—the human condition—with all its limitations.
This absence of hubris in Jesus not only helps us to understand why Paul suggests that Jesus succeeded where others failed, it also encourages reflection on an alternative path to deification—the way of humility. Given the popularity of this tragedy well into the Roman period Juvenal, Sat. Oxywith Marshall and Slater69—70it is likely that at least some of the Corinthians will have noticed a few of these connections. Whether Paul himself anticipated this result is difficult to determine in the absence of more definitive evidence for his acquaintance with the tragedy.
What can be argued with greater certainty is that his theology and exegesis show affinities with the hellenized Jewish tradition represented, inter alia, by the Wisdom of Solomon. This text overlaps with the Alcestis in its iconography of death, and so it may have served as a cross-cultural bridge linking Paul to his earliest readers.
Wrestling with Death The Alcestis opens with Apollo explaining how he tricked the Fates into granting a reprieve to the king of Pherae, Admetus, on the condition that someone else willingly die in his place. Upon hearing of her abduction, Heracles descends to the underworld in order to rescue her from the clutches of Death and return her to Admetus to live out her natural life.
For this reason, her story has long been cited as a Greek antecedent to the Christian doctrine of resurrection. My claim is different; namely, that her story offers insight into the ideological grounds on which a doctrine like bodily resurrection could be defended, even though her return to natural life does not constitute a direct antecedent to this doctrine.
Mythology, in this sense, truly is ideology in narrative form. The following four features of 1 Cor 15 have parallels in the Alcestis. Biblical inspiration for this epithet could derive from any number of psalms Tromp—19but the most relevant text is Ps 8: A statement by Philo of Alexandria suggests a related context but lacks a fully realized personification of death: Here, as in 1 Cor 15, death is personified as an adversary even to deathless gods. Second, the adversarial relationship between God and Death in 1 Cor 15 echoes the tense exchange between Apollo and Death in the opening scene of the Alcestis.
That Euripides and Paul differ widely in their understanding of the nature and scope of this prize is both self-evident and irrelevant to the larger set of relationships in view. These relationships show how Paul could justify and even celebrate what could otherwise be considered an act of impiety on the part of Jesus. As Diana Burton52 observes: This imagery can be compared to the concept of the heavenly garment found elsewhere in early Jewish texts Apoc.
What these texts lack, however, is an overt connection between the garment topos and the topos of theomachy. Greco-Roman writers and artists often depict Heracles cloaked in the hide of the Nemean lion, an invulnerable garment which he is said to have used as armor Hesiod, Theog.
A tradition that this lion is the offspring of the moon points to its heavenly origin. As a common feature of his iconography, regardless, it serves as a reminder both of his god-like power and of his near oneness with the beast Papadopoulou Lastly, Paul substitutes Death for Hades in his quotation of Hos The substitution is better explained as a means of integrating Isa If so, Paul then treats Hades and Death as rhetorical synonyms Thiselton This treatment is consonant with the parallelism of Hos Taking the Sting out of Death Death has a similar agency and a similar iconography in the Wisdom of Solomon.
The sixth diptych is especially relevant to 1 Cor 15 both for its overlapping deployment of the theomachy topos and the garment topos, and for its personification of death Wis By design, this elaborate description associates the divine logos with the destroyer of Exod What follows, however, depicts an unmistakeably theomachic confrontation in the wilderness. Not only does the logos seem to be on his side, therefore, he also suffers no physical harm because his priestly vestments protect him: For on his full-length robe the whole cosmos was depicted and the glories of the fathers were engraved on the four rows of stones, and your majesty was represented on the diadem on his head.
On this reading, Wisdom of Solomon personifies death in the angelomorphic guise of the destroyer and reassigns to it the task of testing the Israelites that is otherwise ascribed to the Lord God in Deut 8: In a clever reversal of the canonical text, the Lord now defends the Israelites through the richly adorned liturgical panoply of the blameless high priest.
For he created all things that they might exist, and the lifegiving forces of the cosmos are healing. For righteousness is immortal. But the impious summoned him [i.
Twin warnings also frame this passage in Deuteronomy: This is significant because Wisdom of Solomon later retells the episode of the serpent invasion from Num Not even the fangs of venomous serpents conquered your children, for your mercy defended them and healed them. Wisdom of Solomon insists, however, that it is not this symbol that heals the Israelites but the Lord himself Wis In retelling these episodes, Wisdom of Solomon deftly exploits a peculiar feature of the Exodus story: This differentiation allows Wisdom of Solomon to identify the logos of God with the destroyer on missions involving judgment of the Egyptians but also to position the logos against the destroyer on missions involving the preservation of the Israelites in the wilderness.
Not coincidentally, this same combination of themes reappears in 1 Corinthians with similar distinctive language and in reference to the same events: The theory that Paul understands Christ as the destroyer, however, is quite mistaken.
Although Paul mentions Christ and the destroyer in virtually the same breath, this does not mean that the two are one and the same in his mind. Advocates of this theory must ignore or attenuate the explicitly typological character and eschatological orientation of his exegesis in order to extract an alleged angelomorphic Christology from this passage Gieschen— It would be absurd to suggest on the basis of this remark that Paul views Christ as a preexistent petramorph, but not that Paul views the rock as a visible manifestation of the invisible power of the logos to nourish, to heal, and to defend the Israelites.
Paul concedes that some of the Israelites were destroyed, but he frames their loss as an object lesson for those in Christ who would live at the ends of the ages. Although the meaning of this remark is contested e. Second, Paul suggests that the logos who nourished, healed, and defended Israel in the wilderness is the logos of the cross: Because Paul believes that this same logos has been crucified in the last days, the cross punctuates his understanding of the wilderness tradition.
Barclay argues in dialogue with David Horrelln. This weapon, in turn, can be nothing other than the cross. This is especially clear in the Septuagint, where the first bicolon He accomplishes this task in two ways. Implicitly, he associates Christ with the blameless high priest of Wisdom of Solomon or with Heracles.
So it is that in The Sixth Sense we think that we are seeing things from our perspective of being alive, while instead we are seeing things as the dead see them.
But why are these dead depicted as deluded? And, above all, why do they delude themselves into thinking that they are alive? Once again, the not completely dead deceased, awaiting what Lacan called Second Death, incarnate something tragically vital: But why incarnate in the dead our suspicion — our vital, living suspicion — that desire is the matrix of our illusions? Rationalism tells us that ghosts are a delusion of the living; yet ghosts are depicted today as deluding themselves into being alive.
The most plausible response, which we moderns dare not even think, is the following: A suspicion that in certain schizophrenics becomes an atrocious certainty: The philosopher Louis Althusser, himself a psychotic, wrote that he had been persecuted all his adult life by the idea that he did not exist.
With every new publication, usually well-received, he feared that an astute critic would discover a horrendous secret: Freud and the dead father Even Sigmund Freud wrote about a man who did not realize he was dead: But he felt it exceedingly painful that his father had really died, only without knowing it. The dream-thought then runs: What we have here is thus the familiar case of self-reproach after the loss of someone loved, and in this instance the self-reproach went back to the infantile significance of death-wishes against the father.
In fact, Freudian theories and interpretations are based on a truly metaphysical assumption: Even if we dream of something desperately painful or unpleasant, this expresses a desire on our part that we find unacceptable. Dreams never really confront us with the other and the real, with what is outside us, but fundamentally express our desiring life. And if through the dream we end up encountering the other and the real instead … then it is a nightmare, and we awaken.
Now, in the case reported by Freud, the dead person who deludes himself into thinking he is alive is the father. The end of the story, however, overturns this linear Oedipus: And in the end it is the oedipal desire of the son that triumphs: For psychoanalysis, the artistic work is, like a dream, always an illusion.
These analytical interpretations do not sound fake, and yet today there seems a certain intellectual laziness about them. What shines in this film, in fact, is not the imaginary death, but its implausible reality. The recurring dream recounted by Freud, then, can be interpreted in other plausible ways.
It is not enough to delude ourselves that the person is not really dead, we want the dead person himself to delude himself into thinking so. We identify with the dead person as we did with the dying one: We would like him to live for himself, it is not enough that he is living only for us.
In legends and superstitions, phantasms appear agitated by passions that remain enduringly intense; the dead are never serene and detached, otherwise they would never appear to the living. They are the agents of a nagging, iterative request, and more than anything else they are desiring beings. Thus what distinguishes them from the living is not desire, but the fact that they can never enjoy: In particular, they cannot enjoy life, which is why they never cease to envy the living for its pleasures.
The non-superstitious adhere to a theory that is situated entirely in the psychological register: We tend to imagine death as an eternal state of desire that has reached a point where it has become impossible to satisfy — to annul through satisfaction. The dead can never kill their desire, while we living can allow ourselves to do so. We imagine death curiously as the continuing, eternal, painful consciousness of being nothing.
From Nietzsche to Husserl, Bergson to Freud, at the source of every belief lies the world of life. Death and the real do not exist in an absolute sense — only our perceptions and lived experiences exist, and they do so in a relative sense. Reality is reduced to our sensations, it is ultimately the accumulation of our private perceptions, which we can compare to the sensations of others.
There is no Kantian thing-in-itself, no noumenal real at the base of phenomena, but only phenomena accessible to our perceptive and intellectual experience as sentient beings. Insofar as death is the cessation of thoughts and perceptions, it does not exist; or rather, it is only the death of the other that exists, in the sense that we come to miss the other, but not ourselves. My death lies always and only in the future — it is never present,  and since what exists for us is only what has taken place or is taking place, my death is always and only imaginary, never real.
Full text of "Apotheosis and after life;"
And so, for Heidegger, my death is always and only possibility: It has no place in my life, it will always be outside. One day, my life will end, but I don't want it to be burdened with death, I want that my death never enter my life, nor define it, that I always be a call to life. Death weighs upon life, and life can free itself by thinking only about itself. The dead, on the other hand, do not think.
It is often stupidly questioned why the terminally ill should take the time to take care of banal practical matters, when they might do better to reflect on the mystery of death. And yet both exclude the presence of death: Heidegger by making it our most personal possibility, and Sartre by excluding it from the horizon of life. Modern man says that praises bestowed on the dead are certainly of no use to the dead, but only to the living. If we organize a tenth-anniversary memorial service for a deceased friend, we are doing so for ourselves, so that we may enjoy our memories of him.
This explanation, however, makes something appear as functional which in fact is not. After all, there are many other ways in which we might recall our deceased friend: In fact, our funeral services are staged in such a way as to please the dead: We are careful not to say anything untoward; one should speak only well of the newly deceased. We behave as if the dead person were fluttering about us, hearing our every word. But whatever for, if the dead do not exist? Enlightened, we think we are doing all this for ourselves, but in actual fact we are also celebrating a magic sacrifice — we burden ourselves with costly funeral expenses, we lavish time on organizing eulogistic liturgies, and so on.
But are we not doing so because it is the supposed pleasure of the deceased that satisfies us? There is something secretly hallucinatory in all these public obituaries. It is actually for the dead that we indulge in memorial ceremonies; and it is only to the extent that we feel that we are satisfying them that we ourselves feel satisfied.
When we say that the deceased is nothing in and of himself — that he is only a handful of memories for those whom he has left behind — we are not being sincere.
top 5 tuesday: Favorite Retellings
In fact, any serious mourning implies an identification with the dead as dead. Often, people close to us die towards whom, for a good part of their lives, we were quite indifferent, not to say hostile — but their demise devastates us. We discover how important they were to us only post mortem. Mourning is a contradiction: Our mind restlessly returns to the person whom we have lost, a perverse desire sets in to make us suffer, making use of the bittersweet fragments of remembrance and nostalgia.
Perhaps we continue to mourn our loss because we assume that it is the deceased who weep for the termination of their own lives. A superstitious altruism emanates from every act of mourning. Living for Posterity It is very embarrassing for us moderns — even if we believe in the afterworld — to admit this simple and terrible truth: So terrible that we have developed exalted vitalist philosophies, deluding ourselves that death does not exist in order to distract ourselves from this macabre condition.
Yet our life would not be worth living if it were completely enclosed in the framework of our life. Many of the things that are most important to us are things that will outlast us, and they are things that we do only so that they will outlive us. Starting with our children: And if I did entertain a hope of this kind, I should be the most awful kind of parent.
And this is true for anyone who loves: Is it for egoistic reasons, so as not to go through the horrible experience of living without our loved one? One contradiction shines through here: So it is that egoism triumphs, slyly, at the peak of altruism. But even adoptive parents desire that the life that they have helped to raise will survive them. Modern psychologism tells us that we wish others to survive us because we desire to be immortal.
We should like to participate in the potential immortality of our species. Some are not satisfied in having their children survive them, but dedicate their lives to having their works survive them. The either-or choice would throw many of them into an agonizing uncertainty. What we are embarrassed to admit today — in times when selfishness and cynicism are often elevated to the status of pure rationality — is that, unless we give ourselves up to worthless hedonism, we live with our thoughts fixed on those who will follow us.
We live gracefully for them. Homage to the real In the film The Others, as in The Sixth Sense, the dead are oblivious to the fact that they are dead. This specificity marks a turning point in modernity: Our mourning has effectively become iconoclastic; our grief for a loss is forced back into our personal and private life and is never displayed publicly.
And as to our own death, we obstinately reject it. The well-known therapeutic frenzy is not just a whim of doctors, it is the technocratic reverberation of our no longer wanting to know about dying. Globalization insists that there is no longer the radically other-than-me. Thus death, and whatever is authentically other than me, does not exist. Everything is my World of Life. Just as things are reduced to being our objects and our instruments, so subjects today are clients and agents — or better still, stockholders.
We must never be patients; if we suffer, we must transform ourselves as soon as possible into agents. Certainly we are far from realizing the program of the Epicurean philosophers — to free ourselves from the fear of death by acknowledging that death does not exist, because if we are dead, we do not exist. Our fear of death — so we are told — is a fear of nothing actually, it is the fear of something: We fear death only because we mistake it for something in life; in fact, once dead, it will be just as it was before we were born.
Our fear of disappearing must be an illusion — if we were free of all superstitions, it is said, we would no longer even fear dying. This is the Schopenhauerian ideal, which many propose as the ethical way, that is, as a strategy for being able to be happy: The dead who deceive themselves into thinking that they are alive are thus the hyperbolic allegory of inauthentic life, according to us moderns: Not only in the sense that we all know that we shall die — we know that indeed — but in a more unacceptable sense: To think of ourselves as dead, for each and every one of us, is to think of ourselves as radically totally other: To be dead is the greatest point of alterity: There is nothing more other than the real in itself.
Western thought, from Aristotle onwards, has usually thought of the real as actualitas, act. Reality, act and presence, in the temporal sense of present, are intimately connected in our way of thinking. The close connection between being real and being present, in the present, is dominated by a profoundly anthropomorphic activistic principle: Thus the real is usually perceived as the product of work or of creation — of God, Nature, or man himself.
Western culture finds it difficult to conceive that part of being that seems marked by passivity or passion more than by action — that seems marked by death as a non-presence rather than by the presence of the life agent, and by the past more than the present. And in the term given fact, one presupposes that objects were in fact given, they were gifted to us. Facts and data, being fundamentally productions or gifts, lend themselves from the start to our manipulation which counts them, re-orders them, transforms them, and uses them.
But what then remains of the real of absence and of death? The real is in fact a mode of absence: The entity that we call the Real unlike the Imaginary is what asserts itself for us as other-than-us, that is, other-than-our-being-present-to-ourselves, and thus other than our presence and experience of it.
It is the rock against which the glorified ship of every spiritualism breaks in the end, the inescapable remnant that humiliates our presumptuous conviction that we can subordinate the world to our desires and interests. Common sense tells us that even our most vivid and febrile sensations are not real: As long as we are alive, we are, luckily, a little unreal.
We are certainly this or that, but we can always think that we might stop being it. Everything Heidegger had to say regarding the human being as Dasein being therethrown projection, projection towards the future, gives a conceptual framework to this providential unreality of life, completely directed towards non-presence thanks to desire, to projection, and to that sweet longing for sleep.
To be alive means placing oneself ahead of time in something that is not yet there. Alive, the possible sucks away a good bit of the real, it softens it, lulling us into hope and promise. To be alive is to believe that we are first of all possibility, that we do not coincide with the real that we were or still are.
To live is to leave the game of being open. To die is just to have been, the game is over. The real is our being only for the other. In our desire to be honored after death, it is the need that the other be accepted and respected as other that affirms itself as the crucial condition of humanity. Humanity implies the paradoxical desire that even what it no longer desires, what has ceased to be human, should be respected.
It is the most unshakable need for transcendence. Belief in the supernatural is the form probably the most archaic that this primary drive to transcend assumes. While this ecstatic, soaring desire, leads us to valuing the other, not because it lives with us or for us, or because it is part of us, but because it is precisely radically other with respect to us. This is scandalous for our modern mentality, for which only my life exists, what I want, what I believe in.
I come upon the Other — the capital O here connotes its transcendental character — insofar as I forsake turning it into a practical object of my life; I exempt it from my whirlwinds of planning, and bow before this hard, ultimately mystical, recognition: Many people consider another person or another object as more important than themselves: But I remain the most important thing for myself if I do not realize that I am already dead.
We want respect not for ourselves, but for the other that we are to others and for the other from that which we are, an eloquent approximation of the otherness that obliges us. The pity that we feel for our cumbersome otherness — which we also call self-respect — is the unexpected matrix of any altruism.
But this other from what we are concerns us, impassions us and even stirs compassion in us. Dying for a Dead Man The tragedy Antigone is a somewhat awkward horror story for us moderns, who have such a thirst for life.
Antigone, like Alcestis, chooses death. Even Hegel modernistically smeared her: Apparently the Neanderthals, an extinct human species, were unable to speak because they did not have an adequate vocal tract, yet they had a form of death cult. We specify human beings, before the creation of languages or artifacts, as bizarre animals that pay homage to their dead.
From Sophocles to Shyamalan, many western dramas illustrate this hyperbolic paradox: Hence, human beings care for the no-longer-human, bearing witness to their own eccentricity with respect to life and the City. This respect is probably coessential to their vocation for science and truth, things that are so in-human. For human beings, the world cannot be reduced to their environment; the latter is only one side of the biological coin, the other side of which is the organism.
In biology organisms and the environment are always mutually implicated. The strange passion for the supernatural that many share means that what has always counted historically for human beings is beyond their vital environment. Homo sapiens has always been fond of the dead or as yet unborn world, for the world beyond or before her or his own life.
Scientific curiosity, insofar as it transgresses the limits of useful prediction, seems to have the same origin as death cults. Indeed, this dialogue is an apologia for death. When Socrates drinks the hemlock, he speculates with his friends upon the immortality of the soul in theoretical terms, but is careful not to sing the praises of eternal life. To him the philosopher is devoted to death, therefore does not fear it, but loves it and hopes he will die.
They basically commit suicide: If this is so, will a true lover of wisdom who has firmly grasped this same conviction — that he will never attain to wisdom worthy of the name elsewhere than in the next world — will he be grieved at dying? Will he not be glad to make that journey? The philosopher, because he despises physical pleasure, already has one foot in the grave. The idea that philosophy is above all a preparation for death runs through the centuries.
In fact, when I first read the Phaedo, I found this vocation somewhat scandalous, because at the time, as a Nietzschean, I only appreciated life, or rather, the vital side of life. In this exaltation of philosophers as professionals of death, I already heard the echoes of the wretched fate of so much philosophy: By repudiating flesh and life, has western metaphysics not prematurely become corrupt, abandoning to its destiny the pathetic world of humans?
From the Phaedo to Derrida, making being-for-death the model of its proper, appropriate — in short, philosophical — existence, has philosophy not become a servant of the powers that despise life and use philosophy to increase their power?
These doubts remain, yet in time things have come across differently to me. I came to understand — obscurely at first, … then, even more obscurely, that in some sense it is only the memento mori that makes us truly savor the value of life.
So many paintings entitled Et in Arcadia Ego depict young people who in that mythic region of Greece dedicate themselves to erotic play in a carefree rural setting.