As I wrote in my article on the West’s rejection of beauty, beauty is an incredibly important idea. In fact, it’s a critical piece of our society and culture; without the bright light of beauty, all that remains is darkness.
One of the best ways to find beauty is to read the works of the past, which I did by reading Shelley’s translation of Aeschylus’s Oresteia.
The Oresteia is a series of three plays about King Agamemnon’s return to his kingdom after the conclusion of the Trojan War, his wife’s murder of him, his son’s revenge, and the creation of the legal system of Athens.
In few short works, Aeschylus is able to dissect the many vagaries of human nature, propound on how the gods view even justified matricide, and even introduce the idea of why trials could be conducted in a specific manner.
It’s a brilliant work beautifully written that tells a tale of evil acts, just revenge, and justice served. Lust, fate, treachery, and vengeance are the critical ingredients and Aeschylus uses them to serve up the perfect story.
Because the plays are so short, I can’t say much more without ruining the stories. Just know that each play’s climax is exceptionally tense, the themes that run through them will surely touch your soul, and the action, despite being two and a half millennia old, is as good, if not better, as the action in any modern thriller.
Some might question why we should still read such tales from the past.
I believe Shelly says it best in this quotation:
We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece. But for Greece n Rome, the instructor, the conqueror, or the metropolis of our ancestors, would have spread no illumination with her arms, and we might still have been savages and idolaters; or, what is worse, might have arrived at such a stagnant and miserable state of social institution as China and Japan possess. The human form and the human mind attained to a perfection in Greece which has impressed its image on those faultless productions, whose very fragments are the despair of modern art, and has propagated impulses which cannot cease, through a thousand channels of manifest or imperceptible operation, to ennoble and delight mankind until the extinction of the race.
We in the West stand at the end of a long line of beauty and greatness. The Greeks and the Romans at their respective heights, those titans of classical days long gone, were not the same as the base men that inhabit the dark pages of history. They were different.
Whereas the others lusted after only power for a few greedy, vainglorious, and corrupt leeches at the top, Greece at its height and Rome during its republican heyday and again during the reigns of the good emperors were societies that strove toward something greater. It’s thanks to them that we can still stare at the Pantheon and Parthenon in awe, because of their toils that we can imagine ourselves sailing the seas with Odysseus or fighting from a chariot with Achilles, and because they took the time to sit and write, to compose plays, tales, and histories that would last for the ages that we can understand their cultures and learn from them. There was something more than the usual virtues of pride, honor, and fighting prowess, and I believe that “something” is beauty. Why else would men like Aeschylus have remained bent over their scrolls, pen in hand, working tirelessly to compose such passages as this:
First Argos, as is meet, my own dear land Do I salute, and all my country’s gods, That closed my toils, and granted my return, And in their justice by my arm avenged The crime of Troy: nor do I thank them less That they were justly deaf to all her prayers, When in the bloody urn they threw the votes That sealed her final doom; when Hope, to save, Stretched forth her hand in vain. Ilion yet smokes, Yet do misfortune’s tempests o’er her rage; And with her ashes, but to die with them. Does a rich stream of her burnt wealth arise. Such tribute am I bound to pay the gods In grateful memory of their kindnesses, And that by snares inevitably spread For an adulterous woman’s sake, we took, Crumbling to dust the city, by the birth Of that disaster-bearing horse, that beast Of Argos fed with an armed multitude, That at the setting of the Pleiades, Cleared at a mighty leap the citadel; And, furious as a famished lion, lapped More than enough of royal blood…….
Such great words are not the norm. As Ayn Rand puts it in Atlas Shrugged, the norm of human existence is far darker:
Then she saw the answer; she saw the secret premise behind their words. With all of their noisy devotion to the age of science, their hysterically technological jargon, their cyclotrons, their sound rays, these men were moved forward, not by the image of an industrial skyline, but by the vision of that form of existence which the industrialists had swept away—the vision of a fat, unhygienic rajah of India, with vacant eyes staring in indolent stupor out of stagnant layers of flesh, with nothing to do but run precious gems through his fingers and, once in a while, stick a knife into the body of a starved, toil-dazed, germ-eaten creature, as a claim to a few grains of the creature’s rice, then claim it from hundreds of millions of such creatures and thus let the rice grains gather into gems.
Such is the vision that we’re fighting against. Reviving the classical spirit recorded for us by men like Aeschylus, Homer, and Virgil is the winning strategy. Theirs is the vision of beauty and a life well lived at the heart of every true western man. It is the vision we must fight for, die for, and ultimately recover so that it beats in every man’s heart. Without it, we’re lost. That’s why you should read The Oresteia.