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Thursday, January 02, 2014

"The next best thing... is, after being born, to die as quickly as possible"

"Reason therefore requires that men of understanding should be neither indifferent in such calamities nor extravagantly affected; for the one course is unfeeling and brutal, the other lax and effeminate. Sensible is he who keeps within appropriate bounds and is able to bear judiciously both the agreeable and the grievous in his lot...

Among the felicitous utterances the following piece of advice is to the point:

Let no success be so unusual
That it excite in you too great a pride,
Nor abject be in turn, if ill betide;
But ever be the same; preserve unchanged
Your nature, like to gold when tried by fire

It is the mark of educated and disciplined men to keep the same habit of mind toward seeming prosperity, and nobly to maintain a becoming attitude toward adversity. For it is the take of rational prudence, either to be on guard against evil as it approaches, or, if it have already happened, to rectify it or to minimize it or to provide oneself with a virile and noble patience to endure it...

Reason is the best remedy for the cure of grief, reason and the preparedness through reason for all the changes of life. For one ought to realize that, not merely that he himself is mortal by nature, but also that he is allotted to a life that is mortal and to conditions which readily reverse themselves. For men's bodies are indeed mortal, lasting but a day, and mortal is all they experience and suffer, and, in a word, everything in life; and all this

May not be escaped nor avoided by mortals
at all, but
The depths of unseen Tartarus hold you fast by hard-forged necessities

... elsewhere Pindar says:

Somebody? Nobody? Which is which?
A dream of a shadow is man.

... While Theramenes, who afterwards became one of the Thirty Tyrants at Athens, was dining with several others, the house, in which they were, collapsed, and he was the only one to escape death; but as he was being congratulated by everybody, he raised his voice and exclaimed in a loud tone, "O Fortune, for what occasion are you reserving me?" And not long afterward he came to his end by torture at the hands of his fellow tyrants...

Aeschylus seems admirably to rebuke those who think that death is an evil. He says:

Men are not right in hating Death, which is
The greatest succour from our many ills.

In imitation of Aeschylus some one else has said:

DO Death, healing physician, come.

For it is indeed true that

A harbour from all distress is Hades.

For it is a magnificent thing to be able to say with undaunted conviction:

What man who recks not death can be a slave?


With Hades' help shadows I do not fear.

For what is there cruel or so very distressing in being dead? It may be that the phenomenon of death, from being too familiar and natural to us, seems somehow, under changed circumstances, to be painful, though I know not why. For what wonder if the separable be separated, if the combustible be consumed, and the corruptible be corrupted? EFor at what time is death not existent in our very selves?...

Observe too the painfulness of life, and the exhaustion caused by many cares; if we should wish to enumerate all these, we should to readily condemn life, and we should confirm the opinion which now prevails in the minds of some that it is better to be dead than to live. Simonides41 at any rate says:

Petty indeed is men's strength;
All their strivings are vain;
Toil upon toil in a life of no length.
Death hovers over them all,
Death which is foreordained,
Equal the share by the brave is attained
In death with the base.

... not inelegantly did the man seem to put the case who called "sleep the Lesser Mysteries of death"; for sleep is really a preparatory rite for death...

If death indeed resembles a journey, even so it is not an evil. On the contrary, it may even be a good. For to pass one's time unenslaved by the flesh and its emotions, by which the mind is distracted and tainted with human folly, would be a blessed piece of good fortune...

in reality

No suffering affects the dead,


Not to be born I count the same as death

For the condition after the end of life is the same as that before birth. But do you imagine that there is a difference between not being born at all, and being born and then passing away? Surely not, unless you assume also that there is a difference in a house or a garment of ours after its destruction, as compared with the time when it had not yet been fashioned... As a matter of fact, many people, because of their utter fatuity and their false opinion regarding death, die in their effort to keep from dying...

In general everyone ought to hold the conviction, if he seriously reviews the facts both by himself and in the company of another, that not the longest life is the best, but the most efficient. For it is not the man who has played the lyre the most, or made the most speeches, or piloted the most ships, who is commended, but he who has done these things excellently. Excellence is not to be ascribed to length of time, but to worth and timely fitness. For these have come to be regarded as tokens of good fortune and of divine favour. It is for this reason, at any rate, that the poets have traditionally represented those of the heroes who were pre-eminent and sprung from the gods as quitting this life before old age...

Affection and love for the departed does not consist in distressing ourselves, but in benefiting the beloved one; and a benefit for those who have been taken away is Dthe honour paid to them through keeping their memory green. For no good man, after he is dead, is deserving of lamentations, but of hymns and songs of joy; not of mourning, but of an honourable memory; not of sorrowing tears, but of offerings of sacrifice...

Not merely now, but long ago, as Crantor says, the lot of man has been bewailed by many wise men, who have felt that life is a punishment and that for man to be born at all is the greatest calamity. Aristotle says that Silenus when he was captured declared this to Midas. It is better to quote the very words of the philosopher. He says, in the work which is entitled Eudemus, or Of the Soul, the following:

" 'Wherefore, O best and blessedest of all, in addition to believing that those who have ended this life are blessed and happy, we also think that to say anything false or slanderous against them is impious, from our feeling that it is directed against those who have already become our betters and superiors. And this is such an old and ancient belief with us that no one knows at all either the beginning of the time or the name of the person who first promulgated it, but it continues to be a fixed belief for all time. And in addition to this you observe how the saying, which is on the lips of all men, has been passed from mouth to mouth for many years.' 'What is this?' said he. And the other, again taking up the discourse, said: 'That not to be born is the best of all, and that to be dead is better than to live. And the proof that this is so has been given to many men by the deity. So, for example, they say that Silenus, after the hunt in which Midas of yore had captured him, when Midas questioned and inquired of him what is the best thing for mankind and what is the most preferable of all things, was at first unwilling to tell, but maintained a stubborn silence. But when at last, by employing every device, Midas induced him to say something to him, Silenus, forced to speak, said: "Ephemeral offspring of a travailing genius and of harsh fortune, why do you force me to speak what it were better for you men not to know? For a life spent in ignorance of one's own woes is most free from grief. But for men it is utterly impossible that they should obtain the best thing of all, or even have any share in its nature (for the best thing for all men and women is not to be born); however, the next best thing to this, and the first of those to which man can attain, but nevertheless only the second best, is, after being born, to die as quickly as possible." It is evident, therefore, that he made this declaration with the conviction that existence after death is better than that in life.' "

[Ed: emphasis mine]

One might cite thousands and thousands of examples under this same head, but there is no need to be prolix...

We therefore resemble men who have forgotten, not merely, as Euripides says, that

Mortals are not the owners of their wealth,

but also that they do not own a single one of human possessions. Wherefore we must say in regard to all things that

We keep and care for that which is the gods',
And when they will they take it back again.

... There are two of the inscriptions at Delphi which are most indispensable to living. These are: "Know thyself" and "Avoid extremes," for on these two commandments hang all the rest...

That which has been so well said by Menander:

Whom the gods love dies young.

Consolatio ad Apollonium / Plutarch (Loeb Classical Library edition)
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