Even Death Might Be a Pleasure

“Some day, perhaps, remembering even this will be a pleasure.” So says the great Aeneas to his men after they have come ashore near Carthage. With many comrades lost at sea and their own ships severely damaged — and this after so many travails — the surviving Trojans find scant reason for solace, much less pleasure.

Can we find meaning, even pleasure, in suffering, even in our death or the death of someone we love? If, as Aeneas says, in remembering there can be pleasure, there should also be the possibility of pleasure in the experience itself.

Have We Not Known Hard Hours Before This?

The context of Aeneas’ great lines is very helpful:

Friends and companions,
Have we not known hard hours before this?
My men, who have endured still greater dangers,
God will grant us an end to these as well.
You sailed by Scylla’s rage, her booming crags,
You saw the Cyclops’ boulders. Now call back
Your courage, and have done with fear and sorrow.
Some day, perhaps, remembering even this
Will be a pleasure.

Why?

Through diversities
Of luck, and through so many challenges,
We hold our course for Latium, where the Fates
Hold out a settlement and rest for us.
Troy’s kingdom there shall rise again. Be patient:
Save yourselves for more auspicious days.

We hold our course for Latium; the very words send a thrill through us. Here is a man that nothing will turn from his divinely inspired course. We see what he has endured, and we marvel. His unswerving dedication is evident to us, and to him. Indeed, how else would even he know his own virtue, except by having endured such suffering? But there is more: Scylla’s rage, Cyclops’ boulders, and countless other adversities have served not only to reveal but also to form and fortify his purpose, his resolve.

Suffering has given Aeneas the opportunity to make the choices that have made him who he is. As now he stands before his men, his identity and stature have been sculpted by his sufferings. Nothing can take that away from him. He knows it, and they know it.

The Possibility of Failing

Not that suffering puts us beyond the possibility of failing, of turning back. Another round of suffering could break us. Following the above speech, Virgil writes:

So ran the speech. Burdened and sick at heart,
He feigned hope in his look, and inwardly
Contained his anguish.

Though steeped in anguish, Aeneas feigns hope for the sake of strengthening others in their suffering. Even as we marvel yet again, we are aware both that this is precisely what a good man should do, and that many men do not. Some day, perhaps, remembering even this will be a pleasure. The word perhaps is no mere literary device. The drama of human freedom in the face of suffering is real. A battle rages within Aeneas, who beyond victory in suffering gives us, and probably also him, confidence in his ever-growing fidelity.

Suffering connects us to who we are, and who we really want to be.

 

John Cuddeback is professor of philosophy at Christendom College. He is the author of True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness and has written for Nova et VeteraThe Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics. He lives with his wife and six children on a farm where they raise heritage breed pigs. “Even Death Might Be a Pleasure” is adapted from his website Bacon From Acorns.

 

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