By Jennifer Michael Hecht

Around the globe, extra humans die via suicide than by way of homicide, and lots of extra are left at the back of to grieve. regardless of distressing information that exhibit suicide charges emerging, the topic, lengthy a taboo, is every so often pointed out. during this sweeping highbrow and cultural heritage, poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht channels her grief for 2 buddies misplaced to suicide right into a look for history’s such a lot persuasive arguments opposed to the irretrievable act, arguments she hopes to carry again into public consciousness. From the Stoics and the Bible to Dante, Shakespeare, Wittgenstein, and such twentieth-century writers as John Berryman, Hecht recasts the narrative of our “secular age” in new phrases. She exhibits how non secular prohibitions opposed to self-killing have been changed via the Enlightenment’s insistence at the rights of the person, even if these rights had troubling purposes. This transition, she movingly argues, ended in a profound cultural and ethical loss: the lack of shared, secular, logical arguments opposed to suicide. by means of interpreting how humans in different occasions have came upon strong purposes to stick alive while suicide turns out a tempting selection, she makes a persuasive highbrow and ethical case opposed to suicide.

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After the Romans surrounded and laid siege to the fortress Masada, the Jews had no prospect of escape. To avoid being conquered, the men agreed that each would kill his own wife and children. After tearful goodbyes, they dispatched their families, then drew lots to choose a squad who would kill their comrades, each man to be slain lying down and embracing the corpses of his family. At last a final executioner was chosen, again by lot, and he killed the killers, ultimately running himself through with his own sword.

Consider the daughters of Erechtheus. Having asked the oracle how Athens could win the war against Eleusis, Erechtheus was told that he must kill one of his daughters. ”2 They could not stand the loss. Similar is the story of Erigone. When the god of wine, Dionysus, taught viticulture and oenology to one Icarius, the man foolishly shared his newfound love of wine with his ­neighbors without sufficiently briefing them on the effects. Drunkenness convinced them that they’d been poisoned. Terrified and infuriated, they killed Icarius and buried him under a tree.

As one ancient chronicler tells it, Of course not one of the maidens in the city complied with the oracle until a servant-woman reported the answer of the oracle to the daughters of Orion. They were at work at their loom, and, as soon as they heard about this, they willingly accepted death on behalf of their fellow citizens before the plague epidemic had smitten them too. They cried out . . that they were willing sacrifices. 6 Other sources have one of the sisters cracking her loom over her skull.

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