Facing Down the Furies

Edith Hall


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Yale University Press
14 May 2024
ISBN: 9780300273533
256 pages

From the publisher

An award-winning classicist turns to Greek tragedies for the wisdom to understand the damage caused by suicide and help those who are contemplating suicide themselves
In Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus the Tyrant, a messenger arrives to report that Jocasta, queen of Thebes, has killed herself. To prepare listeners for this terrible news, he announces, “The tragedies that hurt the most are those that sufferers have chosen for themselves.” Edith Hall, whose own life and psyche have been shaped by such loss—her mother’s grandfather, mother, and first cousin all took their own lives—traces the philosophical arguments on suicide, from Plato and Aristotle to David Hume and Albert Camus.
In this deeply personal story, Hall explores the psychological damage that suicide inflicts across generations, relating it to the ancient Greek idea of a family curse. She draws parallels between characters from Greek tragedy and her own relatives, including her great-grandfather, whose life and death bore similar motivations to Sophocles’ Ajax: both men were overwhelmed by shame and humiliation.
Hall, haunted by her own periodic suicidal urges, shows how plays by Sophocles and other Greek dramatists helped her work through the loss of her grandmother and namesake Edith and understand her relationship with her own mother. The wisdom and solace found in the ancient tragedies, she argues, can help one choose survival over painful adversity and offer comfort to those who are tragically bereaved.