Between Scylla and Charybdis

Scylla and CharybdisA distant person amongst my circles of friends chose to take his life last week.

I won’t be releasing any details about this person, but it has shaken up my friend who was closer to this person than I was. As I heard the news, the only relevant question we ask ourselves in any tragedy is “Why?”

In Greek mythology Ulysses, during his trip home, had to pass between the monsters Scylla and Charybdis.

Scylla was a beast with six heads and twelve limbs, long tentacles that ended with hands. Her ravenous hunger led her to feast on sailors who passed by her island, six at a time. Opposite of her was Charybdis, a beast that was little more than a titanic mouth, whose thirst led her to swallow the sea three times a time. This created a whirlpool that would destroy both ships and crew entirely.

While it’s easy to imagine Ulysses’ struggle to pass these beasts without arousing either, it’s less obvious to suspect an underlying metaphor for common human strife.

You see, I’ve often felt that depression is just a result of impotent rage. Anger is a sign that something is wrong in our lives, but what can one do when they cannot change or cure the source of their fury? That impotence can be a nullifying sorrow, a true pit one cannot escape.

And I’m left to wonder if maybe, all along, Scylla was the symbol of rage in that it can hurt one and those around us, but is less likely to destroy us than Charybdis. In the end of the tale, Ulysses had no choice but to choose Scylla over Charybdis. He had tried to sail the narrow line through both but failed, and chose to risk six men than all of them.

Perhaps all along, Ulysses fight was an internal one. Perhaps what might of really happened was Ulysses was encourage to fight his own men to release his anger than to succumb to self loathing in his failure to return home. Heroic tales have a tendency to make all struggles seem less mundane and more larger-than-life.

A healthy human being tries their hardest neither to feel either depression or fury. It’s only in the former that I could see a person taking their own life, in that hole of insurmountable desires that cannot be met. But I fear… I fear that as a society, our aversion to anger may leave many with no outlets for a critical emotion that needs appropriate expression. With no outward direction, it will turn inward. If we do not turn towards Scylla, Charybdis will swallow us.


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