13 March 2016

The Greek philosopher Epicurus lived a very long time ago (he was born 2357 years ago on the beautiful island of Samos where people fleeing war and persecution and poverty are arriving everyday, if they survive the short crossing in these overloaded rubber boats having paid several thousand euros for the privilege. Should you ever find yourself in one of the many harbour bars in, say, Kusadasi in Turkey, and you fancy a quick trip to one of the Greek island so enticingly shimmering on the horizon while you sip your sweet chai, all you need to do is walk down to the pier and pay 40 euros for a round trip ticket. You get on to the shiny white ferry and let the wind ruffle your hair while you look at the blue sea and the fading Turkish coastline. That's your privilege because you own the world.). 
Anyway, Epicurus, he wrote lots of wise stuff. I know of him because my father insisted on a classical grammar school where the bored teenager I was then - dreaming of Woodstock and Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones - would spend hours translating and reciting and interpreting ancient Greek literature. I may give you a run down of Plato's cave allegory one day. But that's another story.

A friend of a friend died last week. Suddenly and quite avoidably. He thought he was strong and invincible and he never really needed to see a doctor before. Men tend to be like that in my experience.
He was wrong or maybe fate was waiting. Who knows. It is dreadfully sad, one way or another. 
And we who knew him, we who hear of his unexpected death, we are all now silently contemplating our health, our plans, our futures, our children's futures, our lives stretching in front of us.
Ten more summers? Fifteen? Two? Or is this it?

In his Letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus wrote:

For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly understood that there are no terrors for him in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.


  1. for me my own death holds no fear,
    it is the death of others that does
    for then they are gone, and I'm still here and so is grief and despair.

    Whataboutthat Epicurus?

  2. It's something about the way pour brains are wired though, that makes this self evident truth so hard to absorb.

    Or, you believe that when death is come we still are, but in another mode... Even then people are often scared...

  3. Death has preoccupied philosopher and poets for centuries - and it seems that every generation has to think about it anew, make a personal peace with it.

  4. Unexpected deaths do have a powerful effect on our sense of time, as does death in general.

    Thank you for the link to "Letter to Menoeceus." Reading it, I began to hear poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Sure enough:


    It turns out that Jeffers' philosophy of life and death is seen as similar to that of Epicurus.

    ... And we know
    that the enormous invulnerable beauty of things
    Is the face of God, to live gladly in its presence, and die without
    grief or fear knowing it survives us.

    Robinson Jeffers (from "Nova")

    Here's the entire "Nova," one of my all-time favorite poems:


    Amazing that you were translating and reciting and interpreting ancient Greek literature as a teenager in the late 1960s.

  5. I think that quote is perfect and agrees with my philosophy very closely. I just don't want to be in a lot of pain before I go. But once I do...I will be gone.

  6. I am reading this on the 24th anniversary of my father's death. He is gone, but oh how we remember him. We will each make our exits, and our hopes are that it be painless, without regret, and with the peace of knowing someone will remember us with love.

  7. A park near my house, where I run my dog frequently, had an unexpected death on Saturday. We had a huge wind storm and a man and his 2 year old child were parked in their SUV when a tree fell on the car, killing the man.

    How random. How tragic. And when will it happen for each of us?

    My friend Jude and I have been talking about advanced directives and living wills. She is recovering from cancer but still has diseased lungs which will only worsen with time. Oddly comforting to talk about death openly and honestly...