Selecting a Time for Death

CW: Suicide, self-harm

Seneca, Moral Epistles 70.10-12

“Scribonia, a serious woman, was the aunt of Drusus Libo, a young man as dumb as he was noble, possessing greater ambition than anyone could hope for at the time or that a person like him could expect in any era. When Libo was taken away sick from the senate on a litter, he began to wonder if he should take his own life or wait for death, although he had a rather small group of followers since most of his relatives had abandoned him wrongly not as a criminal but as a corpse.

Scribonia responded to him, “What attraction is there for you to do somebody else’s work?” She didn’t convince him–he turned his hands on himself and not without reason. When someone is going to die after two or three days by their enemy’s choice, they are really doing someone else’s work if they live.

You can’t make a general statement, then, about the question of whether, should power beyond our agency threaten death,  we should rush to meet it or merely await it. There are really many details that work for both sides. If one death comes with torture and the other is simple and easy, ought not the latter be grabbed? Just as I pick a ship for a journey or I choose a house when I want to live somewhere, I should choose my death when it is time to leave life.”

Scribonia, gravis femina, amita Drusi Libonis fuit, adulescentis tam stolidi quam nobilis, maiora sperantis quam illo saeculo quisquam sperare poterat aut ipse ullo. Cum aeger a senatu in lectica relatus esset non sane frequentibus exequiis, omnes enim necessarii deseruerant impie iam non reum, sed funus; habere coepit consilium, utrum conscisceret mortem an expectaret. Cui Scribonia: “Quid te,” inquit, “delectat alienum negotium agere?” Non persuasit illi; manus sibi attulit nec sine causa. Nam post diem tertium aut quartum inimici moriturus arbitrio si vivit, alienum negotium agit.

Non possis itaque de re in universum pronuntiare, cum mortem vis externa denuntiat, occupanda sit an expectanda. Multa enim sunt, quae in utramque partem trahere possunt. Si altera mors cum tormento, altera simplex et facilis est, quidni huic inicienda sit manus? Quemadmodum navem eligam navigaturus et domum habitaturus, sic mortem exiturus e vita.

Image of an analog clock with writing on it. ON the top: the perfect time. On the bottom "for seneca to talk about death"

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