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Bruno Snell – With tragedy comes understanding; with understanding comes choice; with choice comes tragedy

February 5, 2015

“We cannot identify ourselves with the world of Homer – partly because we cannot revive artificially the belief in Homeric gods, and also because all his ideas were given to him by tradition. For him there was as yet no possibility of selecting ideas freely. So we too are not at liberty to choose.
            This situation changes with tragedy, and especially with Euripides. When different ways of life become open to choice, one way is inevitably regarded as better and the other as worse. And since Greek tragedy almost reaches that analytical understanding of man which has remained valid for later times, the decisions to choose either this or that life confront us also with the question: what do we sanction? …

[I]s this growing sense of freedom and realization of choice really a blessing to mankind? Scarcely anyone will question the benefits derived from the freeing of man’s theoretical intellect for research or doubt the good accruing from increased personal and interior relations among men. Nor, on the other hand, will many fail to deplore that the desire for power has become uninhibited, that many moral restraints have been relaxed, and that man has lapsed into insecurity and is tormented by nihilism. But of course one is not allowed to separate these two aspects from each other. Both are necessary consequences of the newly acquired concept of the human mind.”

(from Poetry and Society [1961])

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