Kneeling Man

“All Italians, all the Oenotrian land,
Resorted to this place in baffling times,
Asking direction; here a priest brought gifts…”
Virgil, The Aeneid

What do I do now? I often stand in the paradoxical position of knowing that I alone am responsible for the decision I have to make even while I don’t have clarity on what I should do.

This is a formula for anguish. I will be responsible for the judgment I make–for we are responsible for what we knowingly or voluntarily do; but my knowledge is clearly insufficient for making a judgment with confidence. Often in trying to discern how to act, in our family, in our profession, or towards our friends, we experience such anguish.

Is there a solution? Virgil relates an approach that is surely as old as humanity itself. All Italians, he tells us, would resort to an oracle–a mouthpiece of the divine–seeking counsel in baffling times. They would go to sleep in the sacred woods, awaiting an answer in their slumber.

Baffling times. There are a few things that so unnerve a man. To whom do I turn? This decision must be mine, but I need help, insight beyond my reach. Surely one avenue is to turn to friends, or mentors. Such often can provide the needed angle of insight. As Aristotle says, what I can do with the help of a friend, I can do.

But sometimes that is simply not enough. We sense that need more; we need insight and assistance from a completely different horizon. It’s as though certain of our predicaments are custom designed to bring us to this realization.

Is there someone who sees things on a completely different level, with an all-encompassing vision? If so, we need to learn to ask. Interestingly, for the Greeks and Romans, the oracular responses were still often enigmatic, not making clear just what to do, or how to do it. But direction would come to them, even as they slumbered.

Their decisions were still theirs to make; nothing alters that. Yet people, especially those in authority, learned to ask. Perhaps learning to ask for direction is the hidden, and even the intended fruit of baffling times.

Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy he appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

Image credit: Speaking the Truth in Love blog.

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns

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John A. Cuddeback is a professor and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he has taught since 1995. He received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America under the direction of F. Russell Hittinger. He has lectured on various topics including virtue, culture, natural law, friendship, and household. His book Friendship: The Art of Happiness was republished in 2010 as True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. His writings have appeared in Nova et Vetera, The Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics, as well as in several volumes published by the American Maritain Association. Though raised in what he calls an ‘archetypical suburb,’ Columbia, Maryland, he and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. At the material center of their homesteading projects are heritage breed pigs, which like the pigs of Eumaeus are fattened on acorns, yielding a bacon that too few people ever enjoy. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is baconfromacorns.com.