Paul Eberwine (Princeton University)
As early as Homer, Greek literature treats lamentation as a controlled substance: an indulgence which must be approached with moderation. This may seem strange, considering the brutal and graphic terms in which lament is often described. Nevertheless, the affect most consistently associated with Homeric lament is not pain, but pleasure (Flatt 2017). The poems repeatedly deploy formulae which thematize the terpsis gooio, the peculiar pleasure of lamentation. This terpsis is often desirable: external triggers can induce a powerful “longing for lament” (himeros gooio). However, it is also treated with suspicion: after experiencing a profound moment of shared grief with Priam in Iliad 24, Achilles insists that they should stop. This suspicion is often expressed in terms of gluttony or indulgence: Menelaus tells Telemachus that while he sometimes grieves for the lost Odysseus, at other times he stops himself, since the koros of lamentation is quickly reached (Odyssey 4.103). I will argue that this fear is rooted in lamentation’s apparently addictive qualities. Mythological women such as Niobe and Procne, both condemned to an endless cycle of tears, figures prominently in the Greek literary imagination as negative exempla of excessive grief: someone who laments too much might find themselves unable to stop (Schmidt, Zagianaris). Later, tragic characters like Xerxes in Persians and Admetus in Alcestis declare their intentions to mourn forever, risking the stability of their respective kingdoms by doing so. These literary examples have historical parallels: most famously, Solon’s legislation to prohibit excessive lamentation, as well as the injunctions in Pericles’ funeral oration for the families of the deceased to grieve moderately (Alexiou 1974, Holst-Warhaft 1992, Loraux 1986).
In the aggregate, these examples describe lament in terms analogous to an addictive substance. It provides an intoxicating terpsis capable of inducing behavior which is both unseemly and self-destructive; in doing so, it risks severing the communicative bonds that tie the mourner to their community, isolating them until they risk losing either their humanity (Procne, Niobe) or their sovereignty (Xerxes, Admetus). In this paper, I will propose an analogy between excessive lamentation and substance abuse in archaic and classical Greek literature. Moreover, I will argue that this analogy sheds light on the relationship between various forms of regimen. Gorgias famously compared the effects of rhetoric on the psychē to those of pharmaka on the body, implying that discursive forms have capacities similar to those of material substances (Encomium of Helen 14-15). This comparison entails an analogy between the substances one consumes and the forms in which one expresses oneself. Viewed in this light, restrictions on lament appear as an attempt to enforce a particular kind of regimen on the mourning subject to limit dependency, showing the wide range of the discourse of addiction in the archaic and classical Greek world.