“Because it is dangerous to ignore the existence of the irrational. The more cultivated a person is, the more intelligent, the more repressed, then the more he needs some method of channelling the primitive impulses he’s worked so hard to subdue. Otherwise those powerful old forces will mass and strengthen until they are violent enough to break free, more violent for the delay, often strong enough to sweep the will away entirely. For a warning of what happens in the absence of such a pressure valve, we have the example of the Romans. The Emperors. Think for example, of Tiberius, the ugly stepson trying to live up to the command of his stepfather Augustus. Think of the tremendous impossible strain he must have undergone, following in the footsteps of a saviour, a god. The people hated him. No matter how hard he tried he was never good enough, could never be rid of the hateful self, and finally the floodgates broke. He was swept away on his perversions and he died, old and mad, lost in the pleasure gardens of Capri: not even happy there as one might hope, but miserable. Before he died he wrote a letter home to the Senate “May all the Gods and Goddesses visit me with more utter destruction that I feel I am daily suffering.” Think of those who came after him. Caligula. Nero.”
“The Roman genius, and perhaps the Roman flaw…was an obsession with order. One sees it in their architecture, their literature, their laws – their fierce denial of darkness, unreason, chaos…Easy to see why the Romans usually so tolerant of foreign religions, persecuted the Christians mercilessly – how absurd to think a common criminal had risen from the dead, how appalling that his followers celebrated him by drinking his blood. The illogic of it frightened them and they did everything they could to crush it. In fact, I think the reason they took such drastic steps was because they were not only frightened but also terribly attracted to it. Pragmatists are often strangely superstitious. For all their logic who lived in more abject terror of the supernatural than the Romans?
The Greeks were different. They had a passion for order and symmetry, much like the Romans but they knew how foolish it was to deny the unseen world, the old gods. Emotions, darkness, barbarism….Do you remember what we were speaking of earlier, of how bloody, terrible things are sometimes the most beautiful? It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what would be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? to throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads, head thrown back, throat to the stars, “more like deer than human being.” to be absolutely free! One is quite capable of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst. To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! These are powerful mysteries. The bellowing of bulls. Springs of honey bubbling from the ground. If we are strong enough in our souls we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let god consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn.”
Julian Morrow from Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (Penguin Books; 1993)
I’m back….after a long long LONG hiatus, I have returned to my blog. There will be more posts. Of this I am sure