To start this exploration it is best to begin with the oldest cases of suicide, and work up to modern day to see both changes and similarities amongst them. Before doing so, the actual meaning of the word suicide needs to be established. Suicide translates to “self-murder” in English. The word suicide comes from the Latin word suicidium. Sui in the word means oneself, and cidium which means the killing. The Latin word translates to the “killing of oneself”.
When compared to the English translation, the Latin translation comes off as much more natural, or far less malicious than the English translation. The use of the word murder” gives the English translation a very negative perception of the action of suicide. Of course for this paper the English translation will be used, however it is both interesting and important to understand the change in the meaning of the word overtime. To begin the history of suicide, there is no better place to examine than that of ancient Greece.
There was a very important burial ritual practiced by the Greeks, a ritual that was stripped from those who committed suicide. According to the metropolitan museum of art, the ritual was the laying of the body on a bed so that friends and family could say their oodbyes, then the body would be cremated. However, this was not done for those that committed suicide. THE ACT OF SELF MURDER Suicide was considered an act of disrespect toward the Gods, whom gave them the lives that they chose to end. However, many Greeks defended the right for one to commit suicide under some circumstances.
These circumstances included the upholding of ones honor, to protect the fatherland, to keep oneself from being forced to do something illegal or morally wrong, or if poverty or disease is so bad that death seems more appealing (Retterstol, 1998). Although, even with the defense of hese specific circumstances by the few, the majority consensus in Greece was still that suicide was wrong under all circumstances, other than being directly told commit suicide by the Gods themselves. The next important place to look at was Ancient Rome. In Rome at the time suicide was considered both good and bad depending on the situation.
For example, if a slave was too much of an expense for the master, suicide was expected. Likewise, if someone lost a loved one it was not uncommon for the person to kill themselves at their loved ones funeral (Retterstol, 1998). Those are just a couple of the acceptable easons for suicide. The bad reasons include members of the roman army. It weakens the army by losing a soldier, and is considered desertion to the army officials. Ironically the punishment for desertion is death, and that is the punishment for those roman military men that tried to commit suicide.
It is very clear that suicide was for the most part an unselfish act in Rome. That is unless it hurts Rome as a whole. The Middle Ages were also particularly interesting when it comes to suicide. There were many mass suicides conducted during this time. Including the Albigenses of southern France, ho numbered around 5,000, all of which killed themselves in 1218 after being persecuted as heretics (Retterstol, 1998). However, due to the time and culture in most of the world at the time, suicide was considered bad. Once again being called an act against God.
Moving to more recent years, suicide has seen very similar reactions depending on the situation and the purpose for the individual committing suicide. According to AFSP’s latest data THE ACT OF SELF MURDER on suicide, suicide is currently the tenth leading cause for death in the United States. The elderly, or people 85 years or older commit suicide more than anyone else. A very reasonable explanation for this could be the loss of a long time spouse, or a possible nuisance to their caretakers. However, the elderly are not the only ones committing suicide. People of all ages commit this act often.
It is impossible to know the reason behind all of them, although it is safe to say that all or most of them suffer from at least some sort of mental disorder. Many things can lead to the development of depression, which can easily be linked to suicide. While not all people with depression commit suicide, studies show that nearly 2/3 of people who commit suicide were depressed at the time of their death. Suicide is an evolutionarily developed action that people have used throughout time. Before suicide can be understood from an evolutionary psychology perspective, it must be established what evolutionary psychology is.
Evolutionary psychology is the theory that suggests commonalities that continue in our population exist because of their ability to help our ancestors survive. This is called survival of the fittest. The phrase survival of the fittest was brought about by Charles Darwin, who came up with, and developed the theory of evolution. The theory which overtime was subdivided into different fields such as evolutionary sychology (Huffman, 2016). While suicide is initially an odd action to grasp when thinking about survival of the fittest, it fits nevertheless.
If one does not see themselves as one of the fittest, or one that will survive, suicide is surely a thought that passes through their head. For example, a homeless man with a drug addiction in most cases probably does not see themselves as fit enough to survive. While this by no means necessitates their suicide, that is an action they very well may take. Another example is an elderly person who maybe lost their spouse or their caretaker. Other than being cared for or caring for their oved one, they may not see any purpose for themselves.
THE ACT OF SELF MURDER The public perception of suicide is the real problem though. In ancient cultures one of the big reasons suicide was looked down upon was the perceived disrespect to the Gods or God. Aside from that, there were a few different discrepancies, although there was much more defense of the act. To honor ones family, or to no longer be a nuisance to others were amongst these defenses. In modern times suicide is still looked down upon as a selfish act by a lot of people. However today, like ancient civilizations, it still depends on the situation.
If a soldier throws himself on a grenade to save those around him it is praised, but if a depressed 25 year old kills themselves it is considered a selfish act. I do not believe one is more selfish than the other. While one may directly save others lives, the other may very well have ended long term despair. I by no means think anyone suffering from a mental illness such as depression should kill themselves. Although, I do not believe the ones that did, did it to be selfish. My theory, is that suicide is not a selfish act, and that suicide is a byproduct of evolutionary psychology.
Suicide as a whole brings n end to pain both physically and mentally. The soldier jumping on the grenade brought pain to them self, but saved the lives around them. An elderly person or younger person committing suicide may ease the worry about them from their loved ones, and let the people around them move on instead of just holding back to worry about them. The people that hold back to help the elderly person or younger depressed person may very well get them the help they need and avoid the act of suicide. However, in doing so it may have a huge impact on their life in a negative way.
Too much time away from work to help them could result in getting ired and not being able to provide for themselves. In conclusion, cultures throughout time have perceived suicide in different ways. They saw both negative and positive sides to the action. Suicide could maintain ones honor or the honor of their family, or save other peoples lives. These were praised in almost all cultures over the years. Yet, the same cultures also held very negative opinions towards suicide due to what THE ACT OF SELF MURDER they saw as a negative impact on the ones around them, and the disrespect to the deity or multiple deities of the culture.
The same perceptions are held today. Although suicide may have positive effects long term. While the grief of losing someone to suicide would surely remain, knowing that the pain they suffered is over helps ease the grief. People who commit suicide do not do it to be selfish or spiteful toward those around them or their God or Gods. They do it to protect those around them from dealing with their issue at hand. While they could’ve gotten help and fixed the issue, the deed is done for many, and instead of looking at it as a selfish choice, they should be celebrated for the lives they had, and the lives they effected before they were gone.