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Existentialism and the Absurd in Ancient Art and Culture

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Age Levels Elementary (9 to 12 years old), Middle School (13 to 15 years old), High School (16 to 18 years old), Post-Secondary, Adults

In this collection I explore the theme of Existential Philosophy and the Absurd in Ancient Cultures. I think this is interesting because I believe there are many aesthetic and cultural existential elements in Ancient Art that are central to many dilemmas and fundamental questions in modern Literature, Philosophy and Art: the right way to live, how to treat people,  the need for proving oneself, the character of justice, the search for meaning in life, the quest for immortality, the elusive nature of youth, our legacy after death etc. 

The main motivation for this theme comes from my reading of this article:

The Foundation of Existentialism in the Oldest Story Ever Told - The Epic of Gilgamesh by Micah Sadigh

In this work the author makes a compelling case for existentialist elements in Gilgamesh's story:

"In Gilgamesh, we see that the key to living life is to integrate the lower and the higher in order to gain the needed strength so as to deal with the great and ominous challenges of life. Indeed, this is a story that reveals much about the constant struggle between the intellect and the passions, and the transformation that emerges when the two are united. It is a story about arrogance, humility, life, ethics, love, friendship, the absurd, the meaning of life, or its meaninglessness, and death. The multitude of messages of this epic are just as poignant today as they were for Gilgamesh, or whoever told his story. In a way, I propose that Gilgamesh is the perplexed seeker, wanderer who lives within all of us, who has a timeless message. The message he shares with us was brought forth in the midst of uncertainty and despair when he had to learn to rely on his naked self to grapple with the absurd. It echoes the words of Sartre who once suggested that ‘...human life begins on the far side of despair’ (Sartre, 1955, p.123)."

Another important element in my collection is the Greek Myth of Sisyphus, the king of Corinth that was punished by Zeus to roll a rock uphill and then rolling it down and repeat this sequence for eternity. He was punished this way because of his avaricious and deceitful behavior. It represents an example of the Absurd Hero according to Albert Camus, a central figure in the Absurdist Movement which emphasizes the fleeting nature of human happiness and the inevitability of death. 

Camus wrote:

"The rock is still rolling. I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Through this collection I will explore those topics across cultures and link them with modern versions of them in contemporary Art and Culture.