by Jean Roberta
Guilt was personified for people in ancient cultures. The ancient Greeks feared the Furies, a trio of supernatural beings that were old even in the “Golden Age” of Athenian culture (approximately 500-400 BCE). They haunted anyone who broke their moral laws.
In the 1970s, I was married to a Nigerian from the old city-state of Kalabari (reminiscent of Greek city-states, IMO), traditionally presided over by a goddess named Akaso, who drove evil-doers to madness. I sometimes dreamed that she was tormenting him.
At this moment, I feel guilty because, in the craziness of end-of-semester grading (and chasing plagiarists), holiday parties, and exchanging emails with the young man who offered to set up a website for me (yes!), I forgot that December 6 was my day to post. Ack. I like to think I uphold my commitments.
Like Amanda (probably on a milder level), I also feel guilty for having a health problem that has forced my spouse to go out of her way to help me. This is my broken wrist, which is now healing nicely after surgery on November 5, though I’m still wearing a sexy-looking removable lace-up cast, like a corset for my hand and forearm. This all happened because I slipped on snow-covered ice in early November. I probably wasn’t careful enough, and I hadn’t learned how to fall on less-vulnerable parts of my body. I was obviously lacking in useful survival skills, even though slip-and-fall accidents in winter are very predictable in mid-Canada, where I've lived for most of my life.
The truly scary thing about personified Guilt in ancient cultures is the implacable nature of them, or her. (And is guilt considered female because she is imagined as an angry mother, or several? I wonder.) According to the myths, you couldn’t talk your way around her/them, or apologize, offer a few “Hail Heras,” and be absolved. The Furies would hound you to the grave because something about your transgression, no matter how minor, upset the grand scheme of the universe, and they were its original guardians.
Sometimes the worst guilt is the most irrational. I feel guilty because I didn't send Christmas presents to my grandchildren since their mother told me to stay out of her life (and theirs) in summer 2010. (This means that they heard nothing from me for 3 Christmases. Each year, I sent my daughter and her husband an email asking if they would let their children receive presents from me. I got no answers.) This year, I mailed a box of toys in time to get there before December 25, even though I have no way of knowing if the box will be intercepted, re-labelled, or given to charity. I might never find out.
According to the Greeks, the crime of killing one's mother (e.g. what Orestes does to Clytemnestra, according to a famous cycle of tragedies) is unforgiveable. Simply banishing her from one's life is clearly a lesser crime, but it would probably attract attention from the Furies, those upholders of traditional respect within blood families. Would I want my family of blood kin to fall like the House of Atreus? Hell, no. I would have nothing to gain from that, even if I were spared.
Conflict in general tends to make me feel guilty, even if I can't imagine what I could have done to prevent it.
I feel guilty about former friends (and friendly acquaintances who might have become something more) that I've lost track of over the years. While not posting here on Friday, I invited a very long-term friend at the university to lunch with me in the Faculty Club next week (she's not a faculty member, and could only go as my guest). Her religious views sometimes grate on me, but her good qualities compensate for that.
I do what I can to fend off the Furies.