Video: How to grieve

How to Grieve: From Cicero and Stoicism to Modern practices, How can philosophy help us handle loss? A panel discussion.

In 45 BCE, the Roman statesman Cicero fell to pieces when his beloved daughter, Tullia, died from complications of childbirth. But from the depths of despair, Cicero fought his way back. In an effort to cope with his loss, he wrote a consolation speech―not for others, as had always been done, but for himself.

And it worked. Cicero’s Consolation was something new in literature, equal parts philosophy and motivational speech. Drawing on the full range of Greek philosophy and Roman history, Cicero convinced himself that death and loss are part of life, and that if others have survived them, we can, too; resilience, endurance, and fortitude are the way forward.

This panel discusses the revelations of Cicero’s consolation and how they relate to both the ancient philosophy of Stoicism and modern behavioral cognitive therapy. All with the aim of finding a better understanding on how to grieve.

Watch eminent professors and authors, Michael Fontaine, Massimo Pigliucci, and Donald Robertson for this thought-provoking, important conversation. Hosted by Anya Leonard of Classical Wisdom.

About the Speakers: Michael Fontaine is Professor in the Department of Classics at Cornell University, New York and author of many books and articles. His work has been reviewed in countless publications including Forbes, The Spectator, The Daily Beast, The Times Literary Supplement, The Daily Mail, and The Wine Spectator. He is the author of several books including: How to tell a Joke, The Pig War, How to Drink: A classical Guide to Imbibing, and most recently, How to Grieve: An Ancient Guide to the Lost Art of Consolation.

Massimo Pigliucci is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York and author of many books, including How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life, and most recently, How to Be Good: What Socrates Can Teach Us About the Art of Living Well. Pigliucci has a PhD in Evolutionary Biology and Philosophy and his research interests include the philosophy of science and the practical application of ancient philosophies.

Donald Robertson is a writer, cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist and trainer, specializing in teaching evidence-based psychological skills and is the president of Plato’s Academy Center. He is known as an expert on the relationship between modern psychotherapy (CBT) and classical Greek and Roman philosophy. Donald is the author of several books and many articles on philosophy, psychotherapy, and psychological skills training, including How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, and his most recent project, Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, a graphic novel has just been released.

Anya Leonard is the Founder and Director of Classical Wisdom, a site dedicated to bringing ancient wisdom to modern minds. Co-founded in 2013 with Bill Bonner, in conjunction with Les Belles Lettres, the French publishing house. Since inception, Classical Wisdom has grown into one of the largest online independent publishers dedicated to the ancient world. Anya studied philosophy and comparative literature at St. John’s College in Annapolis, a Great Books program, and received her MA in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. She has recently published a children’s book, Sappho: The Lost Poetess, dedicated to the life, works and remarkable recent discovery of a poem written by the 7th century Poetess, Sappho.

2 Comments

  1. This was fascinating. Well done. As you know, I have described my own journey through grief so I won’t enlarge on how to deal with this. This is a personal journey that each person must make.

    I do have some observations touching on what was said.

    1) Writing a narrative. Looking back now on my own process I see that writing my narrative was the final and decisive chapter of my journey through grief.

    2) Role models. When my son died suddenly at the age of 41. I confronted not only my own grief but the grief of a family unimaginably devastated by this. I had to take control and lead by example. For this to happen I had to become the role model that would lead them out of the devastation. From this I have learned that an important part of life is to learn how to be the role model for others in dealing with challenges and that my final act as a role model will play out in the way I deal with my own death. Once you see your life as in part becoming a beneficial role model it fundamentally changes how you think and act. The grace and courage my wife showed when confronting her own death was a most powerful lesson for me.

    3) Preparation/emotional resilience. The problem here is the unique and overwhelming intensity of the experience. When it happens it so far exceeds anything that you could have imagined that all your preparation seems for nothing.

    4) The nature of the bond. Grief is occasioned by the irreparable fracturing of a vital and very strong bond. The stronger and more vital the bond, the stronger the grief. This important aspect was not taken into account in the conversation. This would explain Cicero’s reaction to the death of Tullia.

    5) Involuntary and voluntary emotions. This was an important point that Don Roberson made. I believe that time and space must be made for the involuntary emotions to play out so that the intellect can take control over the voluntary emotions. Feel it then deal with it.

    6) Catholics who grieve(your point Massimo). Of course they grieve. A vital bond has been broken and this is very painful. The pain of the other person has ended but my pain has just begun. We should not conflate these two things. Of course, in time, as my own pain diminishes I will have the opportunity to see things in a larger and better perspective. That will happen much later than the funeral.

    7) The larger perspective. As I reflect on my own experiences I have learned what is, I think, the most important lesson. And my experiences have been tough. I have lost my brother, my son, my wife, my mother, my father and all of my best friends, without exception. One would think such a toll is overwhelming. At first it is.

    But I have reached a paradoxical conclusion. Death is right, just and necessary. It is only through dying that we can release the resources necessary for others. Our death allows others to take our places, carrying progress and innovation further forward than we have or could have done. Death is necessary for renewal and progress. At the same time it is our struggle for life that provides the impetus for progress. Thus we must struggle and die. This is something to be celebrated and it is my final conclusion from my own journey through grief.

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