Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Cicero on the fear of death.

I have again been walking with friends last weekend. I have disappointing news for those who think I am very much into sport and physical exercise: I walk on character and not on daily training at some gym. After a day walking and a good dinner we sit in our log cabin talking and philosophizing: the riddles of life and the world are easily solved, but alas! No one asks the opinion of three middle-aged theologians, even if we do it for far less money than management consultants…
May be we should record our conversations, type it out and sell it.
Treating philosophical topics in the form of a conversation is as old as Plato and copied many times since. In Roman literature Cicero comes to mind: in his Tusculanae Disputationes Cicero portrays imaginary conversations between him and his friends at his estate at Tusculum. The first book is devoted to the contempt of death. In the following section Cicero discusses what is fearful about death and tries to take away the fear and sorrow of departing.

Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes book 1, chapter 83:

 'Illud angit vel potius excruciat, discessus ab omnibus iis quae sunt bona in vita'. vide ne 'a malis' dici verius possit. quid ego nunc lugeam vitam hominum? vere et iure possum; sed quid necesse est, cum id agam ne post mortem miseros nos putemus fore, etiam vitam efficere deplorando miseriorem? fecimus hoc in eo libro, in quo nosmet ipsos, quantum potuimus, consolati sumus. a malis igitur mors abducit, non a bonis, verum si quaerimus. et quidem hoc a Cyrenaico Hegesia sic copiose disputatur, ut is a rege Ptolomaeo prohibitus esse dicatur illa in scholis dicere, quod multi is auditis mortem sibi ipsi consciscerent.

ango: to press, frighten (cf German Angst)
excrucio: to torment
discessus, -us (m.): departure
vide ne… potius: consider if not rather
lugeo luxi luctum: to bewail
quid necesse est… vitam efficere
cum id agam ne…putemus: while I am treating (ago) that we should not consider (+ aci)
fore: inf. fut. of esse
efficio effeci effectum: to make
deploro: to weep bitterly, moan
in eo libro: Cicero is referring to his book De Consolatione, of which only a few parts have survived. The Italian scholar Carlo Sigione claimed in 1583 to have discovered a complete manuscript, but it soon turned out that he himself was the writer…
nosmet: a strengthened nos
igitur: `I say’
quaero quaesivi quaesitum: to think over, meditate
Cyrenaicus Hegesias: The philosopher Hesegias of Cyrene, of whom nothing is known except what Cicero tells in this passage.
copiose: extensively
Ptolemeaus: king of Egypt (367-282 BC)
is.. dicitur: he is said (+aci)
schola: not a school in the modern sense, but a place where people came for listening to philosophers.
is auditis = iis auditis: having heard these things
conscisco conscivi: resolve upon (consciscere sibi morten: to commit suicide)

Translation by Charles Duke Yonge (1877)
What makes us uneasy, or rather gives us pain, is the leaving all the good things of life. But just consider if I might not more properly say, leaving the evils of life; only there is no reason for my now occupying myself in bewailing the life of man, and yet I might, with very good reason. But what occasion is there, when what I am laboring to prove is that no one is miserable after death, to make life more miserable by lamenting over it? I have done that in the book which I wrote, in order to comfort myself as well as I could. If, then, our inquiry is after truth, death withdraws us from evil, not from good. This subject is indeed so copiously handled by Hegesias, the Cyrenaic philosopher, that he is said to have been forbidden by Ptolemy from delivering his lectures in the schools, because some who heard him made away with themselves.

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