Roman Calendar

Friday, February 1, 2013

Seneca on the fear of death - Part II

     In his 4th letter to Lucilius, Seneca deals with the objection that non-Stoics tend to raise when told that Stoics believe that one should have no fear of death, that one must be ready to embrace death when it comes, and hold life in sufficient contempt that one does not attempt to "cling" to it - the common objection is "But it is difficult to bring the mind to the point of the contempt of life!" ("Difficile est . . . animum perducere ad contemptionem animae!").

     Seneca's response is to point out that is, in fact, easy to hold life in contempt, for so many people do so for bad reasons (or did so in Seneca's time) - they kill themselves over girlfriends who reject them, they kill themselves because they have been bullied by people with the power to get away with it, they kill themselves to avoid arrest . . . "Don't you think that virtue will have an effect, when fear has had too much success?" ("Non putas virtutem hoc effecturam, quod efficit nimia formido?") . . . Seneca says that no one can have a truly peaceful life who is excessively obsessed with having a long life - "Rehearse this thought every day, that you may be able to depart from life contentedly ("Hoc cotidie meditare, ut possis aequo animo vitam relinquere"); for many men clutch and cling to life, even as those who are carried down a rushing stream clutch and cling to briars and sharp rocks."

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