A short phrase in the first book of Virgil’s Aeneid has fascinated writers, academics, and thinkers down through the ages: ‘lacrimae rerum’. It could be translated as ‘the tears of things’.
The tears of things always bring home a sharp, painful reminder of the Human condition, the inevitable loss of the irrecoverable places, peoples, pleasures, and joys of the past that have left a void in the heart.
Man will suffer many defeats, lose many battles, and shed many tears. Courage, virtue, and honor often fail to achieve moral victories. Yet this sadness does not produce despair or cynicism.
Instead it concentrates the mind and will on the business of fulfilling obligations, promises, and vows rather than on the pursuit of pleasure, glory, and wealth. The Human condition always involves a heroic struggle to overcome adversities or enemies.
The melancholy that accompanies the knowledge of the tears of things cultivates sensitivity to the sufferings of others and awakens a sense of pity for the losses and afflictions of others. It develops and deepens humanity that identifies and commiserates with the broken hearts of all who suffer.
The tears of things lead to the heart of reality – to the inevitability of loss and grief; to a knowledge that a person’s life does not lie entirely in his own hands, but in divine powers; to a sense of the universal suffering of mankind in which much is to be endured in the battle of good and evil.
And to the discovery of all the inner resources of strength of mind, heart, and soul that show the way out of the valley of tears to a time when even losses and defeats can be remembered with equanimity, with the wisdom that courage, patience, and perseverance can overcome tragedy.
The tears of things unite all people, even enemies on the battlefield, as they mourn their dead and experience their common humanity.
When Virgil’s hero Aeneas contemplates the destruction of his home city Troy and the terrible deaths of so many of his countrymen and relatives, including the tragic death of his wife Creusa, he understandably experiences – and sometimes attempts to articulate – tremendous sadness.
As a defeated man stricken with the great tragedy of a devastating war, Aeneas continues his life with patience, perseverance, long-suffering and a seriousness of purpose and resolution to do his duty with a grave sense of responsibility.
He knows that the good is difficult and that fidelity and vocation require sacrifice. The cause of peace, justice, and civilization often demands war, and heroic leaders must confront evil and do battle to create a more human World for the common good of future generations.
The japanese concept of ‘mono no aware’ (the sadness of things) is the Awareness that everything in existence is temporary. While there is a sense of melancholy associated, it is not meant to be a general sadness, rather a deeply felt emotion that washes over the feeler as he realizes everything is transient and of its own time and place.
Virgil’s concept of ‘lacrimae rerum’ (the tears of things) speaks of a personified material universe which accompanies us, suffers with us and is even capable of pouring out the purest materialization of Human sadness, in tears.
The idea also approaches the age-old concept of ‘anima mundi’; namely, the ‘soul of the World‘. The World is a living spiritual being, the pure ethereal spirit diffused throughout all nature, the divine essence that embraces and energizes all life in the universe.