Episode 581 – Edith Hall

Virtual Memories Show 581:
Edith Hall

“I was kept in ignorance of everything that made my mother who she was, by her. It was a sort of conspiracy of silence. I felt a little like Oedipus going out on a journey to find out who he was. . . . This book turned out to be a posthumous love song to my mother.”

Classicist Edith Hall joins the show to talk about her fantastic, important new book, FACING DOWN THE FURIES: Suicide, the Ancient Greeks, and Me (Yale University Press). We talk about the taboo of talking about suicide, how that taboo can lead to transgenerational damage, how that compares to the family curses in Greek tragedies, and what the Tragedians have to teach us about life (and death) today. We get into her grandmother’s suicide and her mother’s conspiracy of silence around it, her own suicidal ideation and how Heracles Mad helped her through her worst phase, the way Facing Down the Furies sprung from Edith’s previous book, Aristotle’s Way, the process of researching her family history after her mother’s death, and how Philoctetes embodies It Gets Better. We also get into the gender difference of existentialists and the crappy behavior of male philosophers, the gender difference in our readings of Alcestis, why she’s Team Iliad (and supports my reading of Achilles’ tragedy), the one Greek tragedy that she wishes survived to reach us, and a lot more. Also, I go LONG in the intro about some family stuff that came up in the lead-in to this episode. It should go without saying: content/trigger warning if discussions about suicide are a problem for you. Give it a listen! And go read FACING DOWN THE FURIES!

“Isn’t it interesting that these terrible times we’re living in make these mythical figures of revenge and memory such a potent metaphor for our times?”

“While my mother and I never got intimate, there’s a peculiar, vicarious intimacy about phone-calls about semicolons.”

“The Iliad is about how we’re all going to die, and death is horrible, as Achilles says. It’s the great human condition poem. “

“One of the most vulnerable groups are middle-aged men who have been passed over in one way or another, whose wives have left them, because men find it so much more difficult to ask for help, to admit vulnerability.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

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About our Guest

Edith Hall is a professor in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at Durham University. She is the author of more than thirty books, including Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life. She lives in Cambridgeshire, UK. Her new book is Facing Down The Furies: Suicide, The Ancient Greeks, and Me.

Follow Edith on Twitter and YouTube.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Edith by someone else. It’s on my instagram.

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