“All Italians, all the Oenotrian land,
Resorted to this place in baffling times,
Asking direction; here a priest brought gifts…”
Virgil, The Aeneid

What do I do now? I often stand in the paradoxical position of knowing that I alone am responsible for the decision I have to make even while I don’t have clarity on what I should do.

This is a formula for anguish. I will be responsible for the judgment I make–for we are responsible for what we knowingly or voluntarily do; but my knowledge is clearly insufficient for making a judgment with confidence. Often in trying to discern how to act, in our family, in our profession, or towards our friends, we experience such anguish.

Is there a solution? Virgil relates an approach that is surely as old as humanity itself. All Italians, he tells us, would resort to an oracle–a mouthpiece of the divine–seeking counsel in baffling times. They would go to sleep in the sacred woods, awaiting an answer in their slumber.

Baffling times. There are a few things that so unnerve a man. To whom do I turn? This decision must be mine, but I need help, insight beyond my reach. Surely one avenue is to turn to friends, or mentors. Such often can provide the needed angle of insight. As Aristotle says, what I can do with the help of a friend, I can do.

But sometimes that is simply not enough. We sense that need more; we need insight and assistance from a completely different horizon. It’s as though certain of our predicaments are custom designed to bring us to this realization.

Is there someone who sees things on a completely different level, with an all-encompassing vision? If so, we need to learn to ask. Interestingly, for the Greeks and Romans, the oracular responses were still often enigmatic, not making clear just what to do, or how to do it. But direction would come to them, even as they slumbered.

Their decisions were still theirs to make; nothing alters that. Yet people, especially those in authority, learned to ask. Perhaps learning to ask for direction is the hidden, and even the intended fruit of baffling times.

Virgil (70-19 B.C.) is the great Roman poet, author of The Aeneid and The Georgics. In the Divine Comedy he appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

Image credit: Speaking the Truth in Love blog.

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