Classics and the Western Canon discussion

76 views
Interim Readings > Tithonus

Comments Showing 1-47 of 47 (47 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Those who have watched old WWII movies, or the more recent Starship Troopers, are familiar with the grizzled old sergeant urging his troops into battle with the familiar “come on, you ___, you wanna live forever?”

Well, some might say yes. And there are some who even today are searching for the secret to eternal life.

But. Is eternal life all it's cracked up to be?

According to Greek legend one who, several thousand years ago, said yes to eternal life was Tithonus. A prince of Troy, Tithonus was the lover of the goddess Eos, who, not wanting to give up her mortal lover, asked Zeus to make him immortal. Zeus granted her wish and made him immortal. But Eos failed to ask that Tithonus be given eternal youth. So he kept on aging and aging, while EOS stayed young, until he regretted his immortality and longed for death to release him.

This legend is the basis of our next Interim Read, Tennyson’s poem Tithonus.
http://www.bartleby.com/337/1292.html


message 2: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 42 comments Would he have the same lament if he stayed youthful? Or if his love aged with him? It seems a rather petulant display of vanity, although I imagine aging incrementally next to your love who stayed youthful would be horrific, and love would probably fade away.


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Dianne wrote: "Would he have the same lament if he stayed youthful? Or if his love aged with him? "

If he stayed youthful, I assume he would have been happy, though realistically would their love have endured forever? And if one of them fell out of love with the other, what then?

But if they both aged forever, would that have pleased him? Is it only that he aged and she didn't? Or does there come a point when continuing to age and age and age becomes untenable? But of course, as a goddess, Eos wouldn't have aged, so that option seems not possible under the Greek understanding of the gods.


message 4: by David (last edited Mar 20, 2018 08:17PM) (new)

David | 2590 comments Tithonus does not seem to share in Cephalus' opinion on the matter.
Republic, I, 329c. . .When the appetites relax and cease to importune us, everything Sophocles said comes to pass, and we escape [d] from many mad masters. In these matters and in those concerning relatives, the real cause isn’t old age, Socrates, but the way people live. If they are moderate and contented, old age, too, is only moderately onerous; if they aren’t, both old age and youth are hard to bear.



message 5: by John (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments It will be interesting to read this. It sounds like it may have been part of the inspiration for Rider Haggard's She.


message 6: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1457 comments The imagery in the poem contrasts his state of helplessness and suffering with two sets of images: images from nature that wither and die in accordance with natural laws; images of Eos who is eternally renewed with each dawn.

He calls immortality “cruel” because he is stuck in limbo: he can neither find release from the ravages of old age, nor can he enjoy eternal youth. He envies what he can no longer have: compliance with the natural order of things--woods that decay and die; swans that die after many summers; man who tills the soil and lies beneath. He withers, “marred and wasted” but he will never have the release of death.
He regrets his choice:

Why should a man desire in any way
To vary from the kindly race of men,
Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance
Where all should pause, as most meet for all?


Tithonus’ defiance of the natural order of things leads to catastrophic consequences.

I see Tithonus as an Icarus figure. Like Icarus, he tries to transcend his human limitations. Both suffer from hubris. Icarus flew too close to the sun with his waxen wings and suffered the consequences. Tithonus stepped outside the natural order of things by requesting and receiving immortality. But whereas Icarus’ punishment was swift, Tithonus has to endure the consequences of his hubris for all eternity.


message 7: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 42 comments Wasn’t it Eos who requested immortality for T due to her own selfishness and not T himself?


message 8: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1457 comments Dianne wrote: "Wasn’t it Eos who requested immortality for T due to her own selfishness and not T himself?"

No, Tithonus asked for immortality and she granted his wish:

I ask'd thee, 'Give me immortality.'
Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile



message 9: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1457 comments At the risk of sounding a bit goofy, I would like to suggest you read the poem aloud to yourself. You can then catch the musical effects. Certain words are repeated for emphasis. The diction is very powerful and creates a sense of longing for the release of death for an aging, withered man contrasted with the color and vibrancy of dawn. The images are primarily visual. But Tennyson engages other senses since there are also auditory and tactile images.

I put Tennyson up there with Keats in that both write poems that sound irresistibly delicious.


message 10: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 42 comments Tamara wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Wasn’t it Eos who requested immortality for T due to her own selfishness and not T himself?"

No, Tithonus asked for immortality and she granted his wish:

I ask'd thee, 'Give me imm..."


Ok, I wasn’t clear because the intro reference refers to Eos asking Zeus, but perhaps this was at T’s request. Or perhaps Tennyson modified the legend.


message 11: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 42 comments I liked this reading of it:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TUKGnq4...


message 12: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1457 comments Dianne wrote: "I liked this reading of it:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TUKGnq4..."


That is such a beautiful reading of the poem. It gave me goosebumps! Thank you so much for sharing it, Dianne.


message 13: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 531 comments There is a Twilight Zone episode about a man who attains eternal life, with eternal youth:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0734588/

"Long Live Walter Jameson"



I just noticed that Aldous Huxley borrowed a line from this poem for the title of After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, which is also about the quest for immortality.


message 14: by Lily (last edited Mar 21, 2018 11:35AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments I hesitate to link this here, rather than in our Tea Room of general conversation, but since it relates, at least somewhat, to the questions of what is beyond time, what is beyond life, what is immortality, read at your own willingness to relate (or not) to Tithonus. It involves "fake news" relative to the soul (in the sense of existence beyond earthly death) of Stephen Hawking. (I would say, none of the literary beauty of Tennyson's exploration of the myth of Tithonus, but not perhaps irrelevant to our 21st century exploration of the meaning and significance of what we label "immortality.")

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/a...

Some of the comments are as much fun as the article, in the sense of suggesting a range of attitudes and perceptions.


message 15: by David (new)

David | 2590 comments Do the gods ever complain of their immortality?

When I was very young, I asked my Uncle why people die. He said, "because they are tired". His answer, simplified for a chiled, turned out to be quite profound. One can be tire of many things in many ways. Tithonus certainly seems tired.

And the idea of being dead and buried as a form of restoration. . .
Release me, and restore me to the ground;



message 16: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Dianne wrote: "I liked this reading of it:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TUKGnq4..."


Thanks for that reading. It focused me on certain passages I hadn't paid enough attention to when reading it on paper (or on computer screen).

For just one example:

Me only cruel immortality
Consumes:

The idea of immortality being cruel, and of it consuming him, are powerful images which contradict what I think many people would think when they think of immortality.


message 17: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Tamara wrote: "I see Tithonus as an Icarus figure. Like Icarus, he tries to transcend his human limitations. Both suffer from hubris. "

That's an interesting juxtaposition. I agree about Icarus and hubris. But I'm not sure that Tithonus was suffering from hubris, but was more motivated by passion. But yes, he did try to transcend what it means to be human.

As a number of commentators have noted over the years, the Greek gods don't have the characteristics that most Westerners associate with God -- compassion, omniscience, honesty, et. al. The Greek gods can be nasty, brutish, cruel, vain, indeed all the ills that humans are capable of. The only significant difference between the gods and men is the immortality of the gods, and Tithonus, as you noted, tries to evade this basic aspect of the human experience.


message 18: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments I had missed in earlier readings the section on cold and warmth, his cold vs. the warmth of men living normal human lives.

Coldly thy rosy shadows bathe me, cold
Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet
Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam
Floats up from those dim fields about the homes
Of happy men that have the power to die,
And grassy barrows of the happier dead.

And, one wonders, are the dead happier than happy men? We recall the warning of Solon to Croesus: count no man happy until the end is known.


message 19: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1457 comments I think the hubris comes out clearly in these lines:

Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man—
So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem'd
To his great heart none other than a God!


Eos grants his wish for immortality. But she is also responsible for his aging, withered body. She brings the dawn, and with each new day, i.e. the passage of time, his body experiences further decline.

But thy strong Hours indignant work'd their wills,
And beat me down and marr'd and wasted me,
And tho' they could not end me, left me maim'd
To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
Immortal age beside immortal youth,
And all I was, in ashes.


Such beautiful lines!


message 20: by Tamara (last edited Mar 22, 2018 03:33AM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1457 comments I may be stretching things a bit, but I'm also wondering if the poem can be read as a cautionary tale about tampering with the environment.

I'm seeing parallels with Shelley's Frankenstein. When we try to go against nature, when we mess her up by thinking we can play God, we end up wreaking havoc. By the time we realize the error of our ways, it is too late to reverse the damage.


message 21: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 95 comments Everyman wrote: "Tamara wrote: "I see Tithonus as an Icarus figure. Like Icarus, he tries to transcend his human limitations. Both suffer from hubris. "

That's an interesting juxtaposition. I agree about Icarus an..."


In my understanding of 'hubris' this term encompasses about everything man does to unsettle the natural order of things (although the Greek gods weren't always too consequent), with no regards to the motivation of man's action to do so. Besides, we see passion as a good enough motivaton to try to achieve some things, as immortality (to be with your love forever), but I doubt that ancient Greeks would've seen it that way. I don't know enough of the subject though


message 22: by John (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments Dianne wrote: "Tamara wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Wasn’t it Eos who requested immortality for T due to her own selfishness and not T himself?"

No, Tithonus asked for immortality and she granted his wish:

I ask'd the..."


I agree with you, Dianne, the mythology seems unclear on this, having Tithonus request immortality may be Tennyson's interpretation or gloss.


message 23: by Michael (new)

Michael Finocchiaro (fino) | 3 comments Wonderful debate here on this great myth and incredibly beautiful poem. It reminds me of several science fiction novels that explore immortality. Besides the short story “The Waves” by Ken Liu, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy also talks eloquently about the possible effects of longer human life on memory.


message 24: by Ian (last edited Mar 22, 2018 04:08PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments Dianne wrote: "having Tithonus request immortality may be Tennyson's interpretation or gloss..."

I'm not sure which form of the story Tennyson was using, and where he found it -- I assume that there is some scholarship on the subject, but I am not well-informed about Victorian literature in general. He may have gone to one or more of the ancient source texts, or just used a pre-digested modern handbook, like the majority of his probable readers.

There *are* several alternative versions of this myth -- like most of them.

The most extensive is in the "Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite" (Hymn no. 5, lines 218-238), part of a collection of mythological and devotional poems in epic hexameters, which are definitely NOT by Homer, whoever he (or she) was. If you are curious, you can check Wikipedia, which mentions several modern translations, which I reviewed on Amazon, with others, some years ago.

According to Aphrodite herself in the Hymn, it was Eos (Dawn: Latin Aurora) who asked Zeus to make Tithonus immortal, and forgot to throw in eternal youth ("the fool!"). In this version, she abandons his bed when he begins to go grey. He then dwindles away, babbling incessantly until she shuts him in a chamber.

In other accounts, he then becomes a cicada, a withered-looking insect which chirps constantly.

However, a scholium (an ancient marginal comment) to the Iliad says that it was Tithonus who asked for immortality, and forgot to include eternal youth, and there are some relatively minor sources which agree.

Tithonus is alluded to in the Iliad and the Odyssey (hence the scholiast's comment) as still sharing Eos' bed. This doesn't quite fit the chronology of the Hymn, in which Aphrodite is addressing Anchises, who, with their son Aeneas, took part in the Trojan War. So the more ancient epic version may not know the now-standard ending. Or one of the poets just didn't care. (Greek myths are difficult to sort out into any chronological order, so that, in comparing stories, it sometimes seems that an effect precedes its cause.)

Most versions of the story make Tithonus, like Anchises, a member of the Trojan royal dynasty, and the Hymn explicitly links his story to that of another Trojan prince carried off by an Olympian (Zeus himself), Ganymede.

Eos herself seems to have had a habit of snatching away beautiful young men. Some scholars have suggested that she is a death-goddess, although this doesn't seem to match up well with her Sanskrit counterpart, Ushas, who has a major role in the hymns of the Rig Veda.

The cognate Roman goddess Aurora doesn't seem to have had much mythology of her own, or at least such stories were pretty completely submerged by that of Eos, picked up first by way of the Etruscans, and later directly from Greek sources. Her name is used instead of Eos in translations of the Homeric Hymns (and the epics) from Elizabethan times to the early twentieth century, so it is useful to have that in mind if you are tracking down versions.

(See Wikipedia for useful accounts of the three goddesses. Eostre, the goddess behind our word "Easter" -- not the Christian festival itself -- is given as another cognate name.)

As an aside, the fantasy writer Katherine Kerr has a Tithonus-like figure in her long series of novels of "Deverry and the Westlands." I'll refrain from giving details, as the story takes several volumes to unfold in all its complexity, and even giving his name would be a major spoiler.)


message 25: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1457 comments Ian wrote: "Dianne wrote: "having Tithonus request immortality may be Tennyson's interpretation or gloss..."

I'm not sure which form of the story Tennyson was using, and where he found it -- I assume that the..."


That's a lot of wonderful background information. Thank you for that, Ian.


message 26: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Tamara wrote: "She brings the dawn, and with each new day, i.e. the passage of time, his body experiences further decline."

I had missed that. For those who don't know the Greek gods that well, Eos is the goddess of the dawn.

"Eos rose into the sky from the river Okeanos (Oceanus) at the start of each day, and with her rays of light dispersed the mists of night.
She was depicted either driving a chariot drawn by winged horses or borne aloft on her own wings."
http://www.theoi.com/Titan/Eos.html

So yes, it's her bringing the dawn every day that causes Tithonus to grow older by that day. Nice find on that relationship, Tamara.


message 27: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Tamara wrote: "I may be stretching things a bit, but I'm also wondering if the poem can be read as a cautionary tale about tampering with the environment. ."

I don't think that's a stretch at all. The natural way of life is for men to die. When we try to alter the natural way, the law of unintended consequences kicks in and the result is bad.

Many years ago there was a commercial for a margarine which showed, as I recall, Mother Nature tasting the margarine and thinking it was butter. But of course it wasn't. The tag line is "it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature."
Actually found an example on Youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijVij...

But whether 2,000 year old myth or modern commercial humor, the message is the same.


message 28: by David (new)

David | 2590 comments Everyman wrote: "But whether 2,000 year old myth or modern commercial humor, the message is the same."

reductio ad absurdum:
As late as 1770 religious scruples regarding lightning-rods were still felt, the theory being that, as thunder and lightning were tokens of the Divine displeasure, it was impiety to prevent their doing their full work.



message 29: by John (new)

John Seymour | 53 comments Ian wrote: "Dianne wrote: "having Tithonus request immortality may be Tennyson's interpretation or gloss..."

I'm not sure which form of the story Tennyson was using, and where he found it -- I assume that the..."


First, in your cutting and pasting, you misattributed the suggestion of a Tennysonian gloss, that was mine, not Dianne's.

Second, thank you for the background. I spent a little time yesterday going and reading several variants of the Tithonus myth, but hadn't seen any reference to the scholium. That could certainly be the source for Tennyson's take.


message 30: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 42 comments You are right John- the cut and paste was yours, I had just noted that perhaps Tennyson had modified the legend. However, if for argument’s sake Tennyson did modify the legend with his own poetic license, he clearly had a reason for doing so in mind, perhaps one of the ideas discussed in this thread already. The more I think about this poem, the more it seems clear how immortality in the circumstances described would be horrific.


message 31: by Ian (last edited Mar 23, 2018 02:23PM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments John wrote: "Ian wrote: "Dianne wrote: "having Tithonus request immortality may be Tennyson's interpretation or gloss..."

I'm not sure which form of the story Tennyson was using, and where he found it -- I ass..."


Thanks for the correction, and my apologies.

Obviously, I should have spent a little more time reading what was on the screen in front of me, instead of *immediately* checking a couple of translations of the Homeric Hymns, with notes, and then calling up digital copies of annotated translations of, e.g., the "Library of Apollodorus"!


message 32: by Ian (last edited Mar 31, 2018 07:59AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 619 comments While I'm on the topic, I thought I would add some notes for those curious about the sources I used, or tried to use: the perpetual graduate student in me isn't happy if I don't include them. If you aren't interested, feel free to skip what follows:

The "Library" (of Greek Mythology) was once attributed to a certain Apollodorus the Grammarian: this has been shown to be impossible, because the dates don't match up, and some now call its unknown author Pseudo-Apollodorus. It seems to at least mention almost everyone in Greek mythology (although it doesn't), and is in any case, the best, and beyond question the most comprehensive, surviving *ancient* manual of Greek (but not Roman) myths. It was called a "Library" because it contained many books in condensed form -- there are comparable ancient examples of the practice, on other subjects.

For Apollodorus on Tithonus, and how it relates to other versions, I mostly used J.G. Frazer's aging, but lavishly annotated, version for the Loeb Classical Library -- now in a searchable Delphi Kindle edition -- backed up by the Kindle version of Robin Hard's translation for the Oxford World's Classics. Frazer seems to at least mention all the sources and variants. (Yes, this Frazer is the author of the well-known "The Golden Bough." He was a classicist as well as armchair anthropologist.)

Apollodorus does not offer an an attractive narrative, being *almost* as terse as possible, but if you really want to know Greek mythology, he is unavoidable.

There are a couple of other annotated versions of the "Library" that aren't presently accessible to me. Over on Amazon I've reviewed those by Frazer, by Hard, and another by Simpson; I don't have a copy of the Aldrich translation to review, but its notes seemed excellent when I consulted a library copy many years ago. (See below for a translation without interpretive notes/commentary.)

A lot of stuff in, e.g., Bulfinch and Edith Hamilton, to mention only the most familiar names, is based on Apollodorus, usually with the serial numbers filed off, as seems to be acceptable for books aimed at students, or the general public....

The scholia to Homer (and some other works) are the (also) usually unmentioned source for many other details found in such retellings, and even for whole plots, of well-known myths, and also in dictionaries of classical mythology, the best of which (mainly, but not entirely, those addressed to scholars) do cite them.

Robert Graves' "The Greek Myths" does include Apollodorus and the scholia in its notes, but Graves is suspected of frequently relying on second-hand sources, like nineteenth-century classical dictionaries, for such information. (He was living on the island of Majorca, and had no access to the specialized works he would have needed to dig things up for himself. His interpretive commentary is not taken seriously by classicists.)

Another, less reliable, ancient source for many stories, including some very familiar ones, is the Latin works of Hyginus, who usually goes uncredited too, although this may be changing, as there are a couple of recent translations. He is generally thought to have been a learned contemporary of the Emperor Augustus, although the texts we have, especially the "Fabulae" (= "Myths," not Fables-as-by-Aesop) may be someone's digests of longer, better, books.

A translation of one of them is found in a bare-bones form in R. Scott Smith and Stephen M Trzaskoma, in "Apollodorus' Library and Hyginus' Fabulae: Two Handbooks of Greek Mythology" (2007), the Kindle edition of which I keep planning to review: the lack of notes is partly made up for by excellent indexes. (From which I found that Hyginus does mention Tithonus, but only as the husband of Eos/Aurora, with no further story about him.)

Hyginus, at least as we have him, does prove that Apollodorus was *not* being as terse as possible....

There are also recent translations with commentaries or notes, of his "(Poetic) Astronomy," one in Theony Condos' "Star Myths of the Greeks and Romans: A Sourcebook," and another by Robin Hard (once again) in the Oxford World's Classics volume, "Eratosthenes and Hyginus: Constellation Myths." However, it does not mention Tithonus, as he was not turned into a star or constellation. (Eos is also missing, as Dawn isn't part of the night sky.)

There are some things for which we are dependent largely on passing comments by Byzantine writers who had access to ancient texts since lost, and even on early medieval Latin collections, which are often quite confused. Other stories are pieced together from references in tragedies and comedies, from plot-synopses of lost plays, and from ancient art, besides the scholia I mentioned.

Returning to the Latin sources, there is an ancient commentary to the Aeneid, going under the name of "Servius" which tries to explicate, among other things, Virgil's allusions, and other uses of Greek sources. And, of course, there are the more artistic retellings in Ovid's "Metamorphoses," in which the Latin poet presents a lot of material he got from Hellenistic writers, whose works are now lost.

As for the "Homeric Hymns," already mentioned in an earlier post, I've reviewed on Amazon the modern translations by Jules Cashford, by Michael Crudden, by Diane Rayor, and by Susan C. Shelmerdine: I think I've covered everything I had to say about the collection there....

My apologies for not providing Goodreads or Amazon links to all (or any) of these titles: I gave up trying to search all of them, and decided to skip it for them all.


message 33: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 42 comments Ian I greatly appreciate your research and source references, many thanks!


message 34: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Ian wrote: "While I'm on the topic, I thought I would add some notes for those curious about the sources I used, or tried to use: the perpetual graduate student in me isn't happy if I don't include them. If yo..."

Thanks for the references. In the Homeric Hymns (but not by Homer, just called that because they are roughly of the time period of the Homeric epics) , perhaps the most pertinent one is the Hymn to Aphrodite. In this translation, scroll down to line 218. Though all of the hymn is really worth reading!

http://www.uh.edu/~cldue/texts/aphrod...


message 35: by David (new)

David | 2590 comments A brief survey of mortals who had the opportunity for immortality and how things turned out.
http://www.maicar.com/GML/Immortals.html


message 36: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 531 comments This reminds me of the epigraph to T. S. Eliot's Waste Land:

Epigraph:
“Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi
in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Σίβνλλα τί ϴέλεις; respondebat illa: άπο ϴανεΐν ϴέλω.”
Context:
From the Satyricon by Gaius Petronius. Eliot (1971) gives this translation:

I saw with my own eyes the Sibyl at Cumae hanging in a cage, and when the boys said to her: “Sibyl, what do you want?” she answered: “I want to die.”
The Satyricon tells of the misadventures of a former gladiator through the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. Only fragments of the story still exist. The scene Eliot quotes occurs during a feast at the villa of a wealthy buffoon named Trimalchio.

The Sibyl of Cumae was a prophetess in service to Apollo and a great beauty. Apollo wished to take her as his lover and offered her anything she desired. She asked to live for as many years as there were grains in a handful of dust. Apollo granted her wish, but still she refused to become his lover. In time, the sibyl came to regret her boon as she grew old but did not die. She lived for hundreds of years, each year becoming smaller and frailer, Apollo having given her long life but not eternal youth. When Trimalchio speaks of her in the Satyricon, she is little more than a tourist attraction, tiny, ancient, confined, and longing to die.

http://wasteland.windingway.org/epigr...


message 37: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Everyman wrote: "And, one wonders, are the dead happier than happy men? We recall the warning of Solon to Croesus: count no man happy until the end is known. ."

Solon says that until that time, consider him only lucky. Croesus does not like this answer, but then Croesus, like Tithonus, lacks self-knowledge. Croesus poses a hypothetical limit on a man's life at 25,250 days, and says that every one of those days brings something different. Therefore, he says, "human life is pure chance." Life and happiness, and birth and death, are not within our control. This reminds me a little of Plotinus' explanation for how souls come into the world: A soul gets careless and gets born. It's a matter of luck and good fortune, or at least fortune.


message 38: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes
A glimpse of that dark world where I was born.


The "dark world" reminds me of the Zen koan: "Who were you before you were born?"

It also strikes me that what Tithonus yearns for is extinction, which in Buddhism is one way of translating "nirvana."


message 39: by Tamara (last edited Mar 25, 2018 05:41AM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1457 comments Thomas wrote: "It also strikes me that what Tithonus yearns for is extinction, which in Buddhism is one way of translating "nirvana." ..."

Your mention of Buddhism prompted me to dig up my notes on Buddhism for the text I wrote for women in religion. Briefly, there are Four Noble Truths in Buddhism:

The First Noble Truth is life consists of suffering or dukkha. Life is saturated with pain at every level, causing disruption and dislocation.

The Second Noble Truth locates the source of pain and suffering in the unenlightened pursuit for the unattainable and in the desire (tanha) to satisfy the ego by distinguishing ourselves from the rest of humanity.

The Third Noble Truth extends logically from the second one: to overcome pain and suffering, we must deny the ego.

The Fourth Noble Truth promotes the Eightfold Path as the means to overcome egotistical desires and to achieve enlightenment. The Eightfold Path consists of right knowledge, right aspiration, right speech, right behavior, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right absorption.

Tithonus seems to be stuck on the Second Noble Truth. His pain and suffering are caused by his desire to rise above the rest of humanity. By the time he recognizes the Third Noble Truth, it is too late for him to save himself.

I very much enjoy seeing and making connections. So I appreciate the prompt. Thanks.


message 40: by David (last edited Mar 25, 2018 07:15AM) (new)

David | 2590 comments Tamara wrote: "The Second Noble Truth locates the source of pain and suffering in the unenlightened pursuit for the unattainable. . ."

But in attaining it, he proved it was not unattainable. (o; Nice connection Tamara, I just have a problem with this limiting part of the philosophy in the same way I have a problem with the quip; "If man were meant to fly, he would have been born with wings."

Maybe it also goes against stoic teachings and serves as consequence of trying to control something he could not control, i.e., he could not grant himself immortality, or how it was applied to him. Come to think of it, we did not grant ourselves mortality or how it is applied to us, so a bit of acceptance is required, we just don't need to completely resign ourselves to it.

We tend to think that if he was granted ageless body that he would have been happy in his immortality. Maybe it can also serve as a cautionary tale on thinking things through; along with saying, "careful what you wish for, we should also add, "and be careful how you wish for it. While we are at it we can who, where, and why and probably some others, to that.

I am not sure of the premise that Tithonus would have remained happy even in an ageless and immortal body and I wonder if even the gods would have eventually tire of it, too.


message 41: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 328 comments I am not reading it, but your comments made me remember Oscar Wilde's quote: “When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”


message 42: by Lily (last edited Mar 26, 2018 02:51PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments You all and this poem remind me of Ecclesiastes, especially chapters 1-3.

http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Eccl...

Here is an excerpt: (view spoiler)


message 43: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1717 comments As a side note, it was refreshing to read a poem that actually made sense. When I try to read a piece of modern poetry, as often as not I find a jumble of words I can make no sense of, and I am not even sure what it's about.


message 44: by Ignacio (new)

Ignacio | 139 comments I really enjoyed reading this poem, thank you for choosing it as interim reading. I had only read Tennyson's "Ulysses" before (which is very well known, of course).

"Tithonus" is a beautiful poem, and the comments on here have helped me to see so many nuances of meaning I did not perceive on a first reading. What an amazing poet Tennyson is!


message 45: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Ignacio wrote: "I really enjoyed reading this poem, thank you for choosing it as interim reading. I had only read Tennyson's "Ulysses" before (which is very well known, of course).

"Tithonus" is a beautiful poem,..."


Glad you enjoyed it. I appreciate it when members here find the sometimes a bit unusual interim reads to be enjoyable and rewarding.


message 46: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 9 comments Ignacio wrote: "I really enjoyed reading this poem, thank you for choosing it as interim reading. I had only read Tennyson's "Ulysses" before (which is very well known, of course).

"Tithonus" is a beautiful poem,..."



Well, you said everything I was going to say. Thanks to each of you for sharing.


message 47: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments Leslie wrote: "Ignacio wrote: "I really enjoyed reading this poem, thank you for choosing it as interim reading. I had only read Tennyson's "Ulysses" before (which is very well known, of course).

"Tithonus" is a..."


Leslie -- thanks for pulling this thread up to our attention at this point in time....


back to top