Nearly every art history class I have ever taken has begun with the Greeks, the fathers of Western culture. One of the greatest components of their society was the dramatic arts. Oratory, comedy, and tragedy, these were what the Greeks treasured. In the latter of these genres, the performance was considered successful if and only if the audience experienced catharsis.
To our modern sensibilities, catharsis resonates with the idea of healing and restoration. While this is true, the Greeks understood catharsis to be so much more. It was a process of purifying, purifying the soul through the exhuming of extreme emotions. Unlike a movie today that may make you cry, a cathartic Greek piece made you feel to the utmost. Grief, sorrow, pain, joy. After this, this period of purging, burning the soul, came renewal.
I have been undergoing this ancient tradition for over a week now through a piece of my own art. Buried knee-deep in old journal entries, letters, and stories, I tackled my current demons through those of my past. I reread much of what I have written over the past couple of years. It hurt. Physical pain consumed me for a couple of days as demons ripped at my heart.
After everything had been read, I cut it all up into little pieces. I reexamined it and the fragments of my soul suddenly made more sense. My heart felt, above all else, a renewed and strengthened capacity to love. Catharsis, my friends, is a horrendous, painful, therapeutic, rejuvenating, peace-inducing process.