Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 1.284-285: Epicurus’ Claim that “Death is Nothing…”

“’ Death is nothing to us’ was likely said by Sophron, but Epicurus proved it; and it is not the claiming of a thing but the proving that is a wonder. And, for that matter, Epicurus did not say that ‘death is nothing to us’ because there is no difference in living or not living—-life is preferable by far because what is good belongs to the world of perception. But where there is no perception, there is neither good nor evil. The fact that corpses do not feel is something the poet knows along with the rest of creation.”

τό τε τὸν θάνατον [μὲν] μηδὲν εἶναι πρὸς ἡμᾶς εἴρηται μὲν ἴσως τῷ Σώφρονι, ἀποδέδεικται δὲ ᾿Επικούρῳ, καὶ ἔστιν οὐ τὸ εἰπεῖν ἀλλὰ τὸ ἀποδεῖξαι θαυμαστόν. εἶτα οὐδὲ κατὰ τοῦτο ἔφησεν ὁ ᾿Επίκουρος τὸν θάνατον μηδὲν εἶναι πρὸς ἡμᾶς, καθὸ ἀδιάφορόν ἐστιν ἢ ζῆν ἢ μή• πολλῷ γὰρ αἱρετώτερον τὸ ζῆν διὰ τὸ αἰσθανομένων εἶναι τὸ ἀγαθόν• ἀλλ’ ἐν ἀναισθησίᾳ οὔτε κακόν τι εἶναι οὔτε ἀγαθόν. τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἀναισθητεῖν τὰ νεκρὰ τῶν σωμάτων οὐχ ὁ ποιητὴς μόνος οἶδεν ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ σύμπας βίος.

Sophron? Probably less of a household name than Sextus Empiricus.

One thought on “Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 1.284-285: Epicurus’ Claim that “Death is Nothing…”

  1. I love the use of ‘ἀναισθησίᾳ’ as the lack of perception. We could argue, today, that a state of ‘anesthesia,’ in which we feel nothing, is still indeed a state of life, not of death. It could very well be that the ancients were being deceived by Sleep, cousin of Death. If sleep was a state of anesthesia, then it was also a state of death. I wonder what they would have thought of that.

    Only another note, the contrast between κακόν and ἀγαθόν is also fascinating. One would expect καλὀς to oppose its usual nemesis, but ἀγαθόν widens the spectrum of what is good, also polarizing the nothingness that κακόν brings. I am certain ‘black bodies’ (τὰ νεκρὰ τῶν σωμάτων) did not feel, the nothingness, not so much.

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