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Seneca recognized grief as presenting an emotion that trumped reason and remarked that one had to allow grief its claims of nature. Fear, jealousy, anger, self-indulgence, and all other kinds of negative or excessive emotion he considered subject to reason, but not sorrow, which he called “stubborn.” Poets have called grief “useless,” and whereas some emotions have some purpose, even if they are frequently in superabundance and need to be curtailed, grief lacks any evolutionary purpose. Researchers in anthropology, psychology, and sociology have concluded that it is indeed “maladaptive.” If anyone knows how Darwin might explain this pointless and painful emotion that plagues not only the human species, but also other species, please divulge! Perhaps an explanation would help us exercise our powers of reason to assuage somewhat the devastation of loss.
One can even find a purpose in death itself. One writer penned that “death makes life beautiful.” One can see it functioning in the natural order of things, so why must this sickening sensation of sorrow not only weigh upon us, but also create in a way an even stronger tie in death than was forged in life? As Byron wrote: “Time tempers love, but not removes, / more hallowed once its hopes are fled. / What are a thousand living loves / to that which will not quit the dead?” John Donne addressed death in a poem and declared, “Death be not proud though some have called thee mighty and dreadful…” I think Death can be pretty proud of the job that his progeny Sorrow does so frequently and powerfully.
Seneca did not despair of reason’s aid entirely and, like a modern-day grief counselor, urged thinking of what remains and valuing it and putting the loss in perspective of other losses. He, however, unlike the typical consoler, also advocated as some eventual solace the liberal arts : reading literature and studying philosophy.