Remember Death, and LIVE!

“Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven’t had that what HAVE you had?” – Lembert Strether in Henry James’ The Ambassadors

Pliny, Epistulae 5.5:

“Death always seems to me to be particularly bitter and unseasonable when it befalls those who are working on something immortal. Those wastrels who are given over to pleasure live as if for the day alone, and accomplish their reason for living every day. But for those who are always thinking on posterity and extending their fame through their works, there is no death which is not sudden, and which does not cut off some undertaking. Indeed, Gaius Fannius had a presentiment of his own death long before the event. He dreamt that he was laying in his bed in a moment of nocturnal tranquility, and was in the mode of a student with a scroll in front of him, as was his habit. Suddenly, Nero appears to have come before him and sat on the couch, and to have pulled out the first book which Fannius had written about Nero’s crimes. He read through to the end of the first book, and then did the same with the second and third volumes, after which he departed. Fannius paled at this, and interpreted the dream to mean that he would experience the same end to his writing which Nero had to his reading: and so it happened. Pity steals upon me as I recall how many waking nights, how much labor he expended in vain. My own mortality and my own writings often rush back to my mind. I do not doubt that you too are terrified by the same thought for the writings which you have in your hands. So, while life remains to us, let’s make it so that death discovers as little as possible to destroy.”

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Pieter Claesz – ‘Vanitas’

Mihi autem videtur acerba semper et immatura mors eorum, qui immortale aliquid parant. Nam qui voluptatibus dediti quasi in diem vivunt, vivendi causas cotidie finiunt; qui vero posteros cogitant, et memoriam sui operibus extendunt, his nulla mors non repentina est, ut quae semper incohatum aliquid abrumpat. Gaius quidem Fannius, quod accidit, multo ante praesensit. Visus est sibi per nocturnam quietem iacere in lectulo suo compositus in habitum studentis, habere ante se scrinium — ita solebat -; mox imaginatus est venisse Neronem, in toro resedisse, prompsisse primum librum quem de sceleribus eius ediderat, cumque ad extremum revolvisse; idem in secundo ac tertio fecisse, tunc abisse. Expavit et sic interpretatus est, tamquam idem sibi futurus esset scribendi finis, qui fuisset illi legendi: et fuit idem. Quod me recordantem miseratio subit, quantum vigiliarum quantum laboris exhauserit frustra. Occursant animo mea mortalitas mea scripta. Nec dubito te quoque eadem cogitatione terreri, pro istis quae inter manus habes. Proinde, dum suppetit vita, enitamur ut mors quam paucissima quae abolere possit inveniat.

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