Whittaker Chambers and Oedipus at Colonus

Not long before he was to die on 9 July 1961, at sixty years of age, Whittaker Chambers unknowingly wrote what was to be his final letter to his friend William F. Buckley. Dated 9 April 1961, this letter of a longsuffering man and courageous public witness to uncomfortable truths was meditative and quite candid about his protracted sufferings and his own growing weariness; and he gave some of the reasons why. (“For it is not sympathy that the mind craves, but understanding of its purposes.”) Thankfully, Chambers has also conveyed to us in this brief, but compact, letter, his final glimpses and brief tastes of peacefulness, and he thus becomes poignantly allusive.

Chambers eloquently alludes to Oedipus’ own protracted sufferings and his final consolations–especially with his two daughters (Antigonê and Ismene) — as Sophocles has so movingly depicted these combined consolations in his own final play, Oedipus at Colonus (416 B.C.). The village of Colonus, located only one mile to the northwest of Athens, was also the village where Sophocles himself was gratefully born and raised. Near the end of his own long life, Sophocles also presents a final homecoming.

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  • yerfackingmammy

    death by punctuation.

  • I very much enjoyed the essay on Chambers and Oedipus at Colonus. Their mutual “weariness” i.e., “battle fatigue.” How tragic that, as far as we know, Chambers did not convert. If only he had let Our Lord “do it”, carry the yoke for him. As Oedipus said to his daughters: “Love frees us from all the weight and pain.” What courage Chambers had! I have not read Witness or Cold Friday. Now I shall. I’ll check out Witness today and see if we have it.

    I liked the description of Oedipus’ place of exile at Colonus, as it drew on the theme of retributive justice, sacred to the Furies who “must be treated with tact.” Can I say that the angels, our Guardian angel, helps us to bear our crosses, even with joy, to fulfill justice. There is no mercy without justice nor justice without mercy. And, as that Polish philosopher put it: ” Suffering is a mark of manhood . . . its pain a hope of felicity like a jewel set in iron.” So, Solomon was inspired to write:”Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation.” (Eccles 2:1).

    I appreciated most the quote from Chamber’s Cold Friday “For it is not sympathy that the mind craves, but understanding of its purposes.” Indeed, to be understood, as only a friend can outside of God. Who was it that said: “To be great is to be misunderstood.” ?

    Your Coda at the end was perfect. Fitzgerald’s address at Annapolis: “Gifts From We Know Not Where”. And his true experiences in Greece! The little girl from Camden of all places, “I’m Athena” rather than “My name is Athena” and that her real name, too. Then, the old man, who seemed to read Fitzgerald’s mind and heart, saying out of the blue in English: “You know,we say, he never died.” It must have been a beautiful address and from one who was dying in hope.

  • Dr. Hickson: That is too long a quote and represents a copyright violation: please remove the document from online and desist from distributing it further. If you have any questions, please contact me through https://whittakerchambers.org/

  • Mr. Chambers: As I asked on the other Internet forum where you said we need to take the piece down, please specify: Which passage was too long an excerpt? I need to page number. I will have to communicate this to Dr. Hickson.

    Also: Are you the copyright holder on the material you claim Dr. Hickson has used inappropriately?

  • I may become copyright holder soon – meantime, shall I fetch the current copyright holder for you? Meantime, the solution is simple: quote sparingly

  • You did not answer my other question, which was “Which passage was too long an excerpt?”

  • You know, looking more carefully at the document, I’d say it skirts the edge of acceptable. The quotes from my grandfather seem to hold under two pages – excessive, given the length of the total (11) but probably legal.

    The point, of course, is not to reproduce copyrighted works and plagiarize.

    Quote a line, a sentence, a paragraph – but a page or pages?

    It’s common sense, really.

    If you’re asking for opinion, I still think the author should limit quotes to very short passages, using those where the phrases are too good not to quote.

    Authors should make more effort and do the (re)writing themselves….