The wisdom of tragedy : contemporary American psychology and the ancient Greek tragedians.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Letters


Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides interspersed lines of commentary about the human condition throughout their tragedies. These lines take the form of advice, lament, or aphorism, but a common word unifies them: wisdom. They offer guidance on how to accept the tragedy that human life invariably brings. Moreover, the tragedians explore questions of what constitutes a flourishing and meaningful human life--in the wake of tragedy and in general. 2500 years later, in contemporary America, psychologists are conducting research on similar topics: What helps people recover from personal tragedy? How can overcoming tragedy lead to a "better" life? And, for that matter, what is a better life? The tragedians' and psychologists' methods of answering these questions may differ vastly, but they arrive at similar conclusions. Indeed, much of what the tragedians say about relationships, self-control, hope, and grief has been substantiated by psychologists. Such wisdom is timeless.