Turning Pain into Art

Plato had friends in the literary community.  One time he was attending a festival on the island of Samos.  He was supporting a poet friend of his named Antimachus, from the nearby city of Colophon.

The festival was in honor of a Spartan general who had defeated the Athenians in a great war, Lysander. Antimachus wrote a poem in praise of Lysander, and entered it in a contest there.

He lost.  Lysander gave the prize to the other guy.  Antimachus, in his frustration, burned his poem.

Plato consoled him, however – it is the ignorant who suffer from their ignorance, and the blind from their blindness.

In other words: it’s Lysander’s loss, not yours.

We all need encouragement sometimes.  Antimachus kept at it, and he went on to become a famous poet in the Greek world.  One of his most popular poems was born of suffering.

His wife died.  Some say she was his girlfriend.  Either way, Antimachus was madly in love with her and distraught when she passed.  Her name was Lyde.

In order to console himself, Antimachus consulted the many stories of misfortunes of ancient heroes.  He compiled them all into an elegy, a long poem, and called it Lyde.   

“And thus he made his own grief less by means of others’ ills,” as Plutarch writes.

This is how a tragedy – like the Life of Pyrrhus – can actually ease our suffering, whether because it makes us grateful that we haven’t suffered that badly, or because it helps us internalize the fact that suffering is part of existence.

But you don’t have to be a poet to transform suffering into creative work.  You can be an IT systems architect, a teacher, an e-commerce side hustler, a mother, etc. 

The key is channeling your pain or loss into a determination to produce the best work you are capable of.