Saturday, October 31, 2020

Letters from a Stoic 30 - On Conquering the Conqueror

On Conquering the Conqueror

Another letter on death.  This letter gets into the specifics of someone who is really old and therefore really near death.

I'm not going to commentate much on this letter, other than copy a few quotes from it and make a remark.

Seneca says,

Philosophy bestows this boon upon us; it makes us joyful in the very sight of death, strong and brave no matter in what state the body may be, cheerful and never failing though the body fail us.

This quote is a rift on Socrates who said that philosophy is nothing but preparation for death.

Seneca admires the subject of this letter (the man named Aufidius Bassus).  Bassus' courage is so great, he can observe and contemplate his own death as if it were simply the death of another. 

[He] contemplates his own end with the courage and countenance which you would regard as undue indifference in a man who so contemplated another's.

There is this gem, embedded in the letter, which serves as a good reminder of what is not good and evil.  We may think that the tumultuous ocean is bad and unsafe because we could drown in it.  But that is not necessarily the right perspective.

the sea has cast ashore unharmed those whom it had engulfed, by the same force through which it drew them down.

Seneca thinks that the nearer one is to death, the more courage they must muster.

I hold that one is braver at the very moment of death than when one is approaching death. ... an end that is near at hand, and is bound to come, calls for tenacious courage of soul; this is a rarer thing, and none but the wise man can manifest it.

Facing death - truly, deeply contemplating it - is something we must all face.  The longer we avoid facing death, the more slavish we can become.  For once you face death and not fear it, then you can truly begin to live.

He who does not wish to die cannot have wished to live. For life is granted to us with the reservation that we shall die; to this end our path leads. Therefore, how foolish it is to fear it, since men simply await that which is sure, but fear only that which is uncertain!  Death has its fixed rule, – equitable and unavoidable.

Seneca admires those who are comfortable with death and let it happen as fate happens.  Those who rush head-long into danger, hoping for death (loathing their life) seem to be less respectable.

those have more weight with me who approach death without any loathing for life, letting death in, so to speak, and not pulling it towards them.

Lastly, and precisely, "We do not fear death; we fear the thought of death. For death itself is always the same distance from us."

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