Roman Calendar

Friday, January 18, 2013

Seneca on the fear of death

     In his third letter to Lucilius, Seneca discusses how silly it is to be afraid of death of all things! Death - the end of all misfortunes - cannot be a misfortune in itself, surely?

"Nullum malum est magnum, quod extremum est. Mors ad te venit; timenda erat, si tecum esse posset, sed necesse est aut non perveniat aut transeat."

"No evil is great which is the last one. Death comes to you - it would be a thing to be feared, if it could somehow stay with you, but it is necessary that either death not come to you, or that it both come and depart."

     Strictly speaking, to the sage, death is not an evil at all. Dying does not involve a moral choice in and of itself (although some choices leading to it might, like choosing to die before your time in some way). But even assuming that it is in some way an evil - e.g., because it can cause physical pain in the process - it must of necessity be a final one. You cannot undergo it again (normally). And if it is final, it brings an end to all other evils, too. Now if death were painful, and you were to continually suffer the pains of death for eternity, that might be considered a bad thing. But when death comes, it comes and leaves. The moment of death - a fraction of an eyeblink - is very short indeed. And if, once it comes, it may never come again . . . well, what then? Is it not silly to fear this one moment in time, that will liberate you from all evils, and which can never come again?

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