Changing Our Masks Everyday

Seneca, EM 120.21-22

“There’s not anyone who doesn’t change their plan and prayer every day. They want a spouse then a girlfriend, now to be kind and then next tries to act no better than a slave. Blow up so big to attract everyone’s contempt only to shrink and whittle back down to more humility than those who are barely there at all. Sometimes, you toss money around; other times, you steal it.

This is the foremost sign of a foolish mind: it tries to take this shape and that and is never equal to itself–a thing which I think is the most shameful quality. Trust me, it is a prize role, to play the part of a single person. But there’s no one who can be only one person except the wise one. The rest of us frequently change our shapes. Sometimes, you believe we are are frugal and serious, the rest of the time wasteful and silly. We keep changing our masks to take up the opposite character.

Instead, you should make yourself play that role up to the end of your life that you started at its beginning. Try to make people praise you, or, at the least, recognize who you are. As it is now, you can say about the person you saw yesterday, “who is this”, because that’s how much they’ve changed. Goodbye.”

Nemo non cotidie et consilium mutat et votum. Modo uxorem vult habere, modo amicam, modo regnare vult, modo id agit, ne quis sit officiosior servus, modo dilatat se usque ad invidiam, modo subsidit et contrahitur infra humilitatem vere iacentium, nunc pecuniam spargit, nunc rapit. 

Sic maxime coarguitur animus inprudens; alius prodit atque alius et, quo turpius nihil iudico, impar sibi est. Magnam rem puta unum hominem agere. Praeter sapientem autem nemo unum agit, ceteri multiformes sumus. Modo frugi tibi videbimur et graves, modo prodigi et vani. Mutamus subinde personam et contrariam ei sumimus, quam exuimus. Hoc ergo a te exige, ut, qualem institueris praestare te, talem usque ad exitum serves. Effice ut possis laudari, si minus, ut adgnosci. De aliquo, quem here vidisti, merito dici potest: “hic qui est?” Tanta mutatio est. Vale.

Mid third century
House of Masks, Sousse
Archeological Museum of Sousse

The Spirits of Death and the Choice Each Day Brings

For all those surrounded by ghosts each holiday season. CW, suicide

Simonides, fr. 1 = Stobaeus 4.34.15

“Child, Zeus the loud-thunderer maintains the end
Of everything in the world and makes it how he likes.

Humans have no plans, but we just live for each day
Like animals who know nothing about
How the god will bring each thing to pass.

Hope and belief feed everyone who is eager
For the impossible. Some wait for the day to come,
But others look for the next season;
There’s no mortal alive who doesn’t think
That the new year will make them a friend to wealth and good living.

But old age beats us to it and takes one person
Before they’re done and terrible diseases that
Torture mortals overtake others. In the meantime,
Hades sends others subdued by war under the dark earth.

Even more die tossed about on the sea by winds
And on the rising waves of purple brine,
Whenever they fail to make a living on land.
And some leave the life of the sun by choice,
Tying a noose in a loop for an awful end.

So nothing is free of troubles, and thousands
Of death spirits and unpredictable pains stand waiting for us.
If we listen to my advice, though, we won’t long for grief,
Nor will we give ourselves more, by feasting our hearts on pain.”

ὦ παῖ, τέλος μὲν Ζεὺς ἔχει βαρύκτυπος
πάντων ὅσ᾿ ἐστὶ καὶ τίθησ᾿ ὅκῃ θέλει,
νοῦς δ᾿ οὐκ ἐπ᾿ ἀνθρώποισιν, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπήμεροι
ἃ δὴ βοτὰ ζώομεν, οὐδὲν εἰδότες
5ὅκως ἕκαστον ἐκτελευτήσει θεός.
ἐλπὶς δὲ πάντας κἀπιπειθείη τρέφει
ἄπρηκτον ὁρμαίνοντας· οἱ μὲν ἡμέρην
μένουσιν ἐλθεῖν, οἱ δ᾿ ἐτέων περιτροπάς·
νέωτα δ᾿ οὐδεὶς ὅστις οὐ δοκεῖ βροτῶν
πλούτῳ τε κἀγαθοῖσιν ἵξεσθαι φίλος.
φθάνει δὲ τὸν μὲν γῆρας ἄζηλον λαβὸν
πρὶν τέρμ᾿ ἵκηται, τοὺς δὲ δύστηνοι βροτῶν
φθείρουσι νοῦσοι, τοὺς δ᾿ Ἄρει δεδμημένους
πέμπει μελαίνης Ἀΐδης ὑπὸ χθονός·
οἱ δ᾿ ἐν θαλάσσῃ λαίλαπι κλονεόμενοι
καὶ κύμασιν πολλοῖσι πορφυρῆς ἁλὸς
θνήσκουσιν, εὖτ᾿ ἂν μὴ δυνήσωνται ζόειν·
οἱ δ᾿ ἀγχόνην ἅψαντο δυστήνῳ μόρῳ
καὐτάγρετοι λείπουσιν ἡλίου φάος.
οὕτω κακῶν ἄπ᾿ οὐδέν, ἀλλὰ μυρίαι
βροτοῖσι κῆρες κἀνεπίφραστοι δύαι
καὶ πήματ᾿ ἐστίν. εἰ δ᾿ ἐμοὶ πιθοίατο,
οὐκ ἂν κακῶν ἐρῷμεν, οὐδ᾿ ἐπ᾿ ἄλγεσιν
κακοῖς ἔχοντες θυμὸν αἰκιζοίμεθα.

Mimnermus, 2 [=Stobaeus 4.34.12]5-8

“The dark spirits of death are standing beside us.
One holds eventual old age, in pain,
The other has death. The fruit of youth is brief,
As long as the sun’s light stretches across the earth.”

…Κῆρες δὲ παρεστήκασι μέλαιναι,
ἡ μὲν ἔχουσα τέλος γήραος ἀργαλέου,
ἡ δ᾿ ἑτέρη θανάτοιο· μίνυνθα δὲ γίνεται ἥβης
καρπός, ὅσον τ᾿ ἐπὶ γῆν κίδναται ἠέλιος.

Homer, Iliad 12.326-8

“But now, since the spirts of death stand fast around us
By the thousands, and there is no way any mortal can escape them,
Let us go and offer a reason to boast to someone else, or take it for ourselves”

νῦν δ’ ἔμπης γὰρ κῆρες ἐφεστᾶσιν θανάτοιο
μυρίαι, ἃς οὐκ ἔστι φυγεῖν βροτὸν οὐδ’ ὑπαλύξαι,
ἴομεν ἠέ τῳ εὖχος ὀρέξομεν ἠέ τις ἡμῖν.

Draweing of a main on a bed with one figure floating above him and another standing above him weeping while his spirit flees through a window

On Leaving

I can remember almost exactly when I decided to stop pursuing a University job. It was sometime around 8am on a nondescript Thursday in February 2018 – and I was in the back of an ambulance. I didn’t know at the time, but the impact of a van driving into me while I was cycling to the station an hour earlier had broken my pelvis in several places, and was about to mean 10 days in hospital and another 3 months on crutches. It also made me realise that even thinking about turning down the full-time, well-paid, likely-to-go-permanent, school teaching job put on a plate in front of me just a few days earlier was sheer madness. 

All this sounds very melodramatic – but it is absolutely true. For all the brilliant things about the still very new job which I was commuting to when the accident happened, I really did think it might have been in my best interests not to stick with it, but to take an enormous gamble on a lectureship coming up for the following September. How had it taken something as serious as hospitalisation to make me realise I’d had a genuinely very good deal already land in my lap, and that it was OK to stop pursuing the Elusive Permanent Academic Job which everyone kept telling me was within my grasp eight years after being awarded my PhD? 

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 7.8

Τὰ μέλλοντα μὴ ταρασσέτω· ἥξεις γὰρ ἐπ᾿ αὐτά, ἐὰν δεήσῃ, φέρων τὸν αὐτὸν λόγον, ᾧ νῦν πρὸς τὰ παρόντα χρᾷ.

Don’t let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.

Just one more application, one more term, one more year…  I spent the next couple of days (it might have been more, or less – blame the morphine or oxycodone) idly following the UCU strike on Twitter and pondering my life choices. Maybe all this was a sign.  I don’t want these reflections to be another sad tale of the woes of academia. There are enough of those, and many far sadder and more upsetting than mine. I’m not after pity in writing this. Instead this is a cathartic warts-and-all tale about my experiences of finding a life outside the Ivory Tower, a life that can be just as fulfilling intellectually – if you want it to be. 

On paper I’d had a pretty good run: in 2010 from the September straight after the PhD three years at one place (actually a succession of three one-year jobs, because the Faceless Uni will commit as little long-term cash as possible), then a prestigious post-doc for three years, then a single semester job that then gave me another semester part time. This last job was actually in the city where I had been building a life with my partner for the previous 10 years or so: prior to this a lengthy weekly commute had been the norm. 

Apart from getting a book out – that’s a whole other tale of woe, tardy reviewers, crying, and email-management ineptitude at an Unnamed Publisher – I felt like I’d done everything right. I was now getting shortlisted for the permanent posts I was applying for, but never quite making first choice. And by September 2017 I had had enough. I wasn’t about to apply for a(nother) temporary job 400 miles from home. I felt by this point I was worth more than this. As a former Head of School once said to me, ‘it’s a war of attrition’, before regaling me with tales of his back-to-back postdocs. And in this war my nameless enemies were starting to win. 

So in November 2017 I went for, and got, a temporary, part-time school teaching job a short commute from home. And after a very short time, this place really felt like home. Maybe part of it is down to size: there are some 100-ish teaching staff, and I know most of them by name. I know who Senior Leadership are, the people actually making the decisions which affect me and my life. They speak to the staff – their colleagues – at least once a week. I have even spoken to them socially. At all of my other institutions I wouldn’t have been able to pick those running the University out of a line up. There is also as much free tea and coffee as you can drink, in actual pottery mugs rather than immediate landfill, and in the halcyon pre-COVID days, free cake and cheese straws: this was all far better than a sad brew in a paper cup from a soulless, expensively-branded University outlet – and you didn’t have to pay £1.50 a pop for it out of your own pocket.  This job made me realise how utterly expendable I had been to my employers for most of the last decade. This school made enormous efforts to get me back after the accident when I was ready, rather than simply replacing me to suit their own needs because it would have been easier. That is not to say that my immediate colleagues in Uni Land had never fought tooth and nail to keep me at the end of my six separate contracts – I’m certain some of them really did – but in the end there is only so much academic departments can do in the face of The System, and the Giant Balance Sheet which must exist in all Higher Education Establishments.  I’d simply been a faceless figure in the expenditure column. Here, I was Dr Coker, valued and respected Teacher of Classics, the one who keeps introducing herself by accident to students with her first name because old habits die hard. 

And it’s not that I hadn’t felt good at my job before, but I was good at this job, and I enjoyed it. I even started to dare to have fun at work, discovering that there is almost nothing 15 year olds won’t do for a Party Ring (= type of cheap UK biscuit), and that there can be immense joy in teaching younger students. Nothing gives you more instant feedback than a room of teenagers, and nothing also says appreciation like a hand-made card with a drawing of a pelvis on it with a pink heart, seven weeks after you start your new job. Weird, absolutely, but also peculiarly endearing. It’s not that students of 18+ are incapable of such displays of affection – nor indeed those University staff who teach them  – but there is a genuine sense of community at my workplace which I had not realised I had been missing. I’m not in need of constant praise, but more positivity in the previous decade would have been nice.  I think of myself as mostly pretty emotionally robust, but my experience of academia is that it is fundamentally set up to make you feel like a failure, regardless of your status. Got a PhD? Well done, but you need to publish it.  Got a your first temp job? Great, but, you know, it finishes in 10 months so get writing that postdoc application, sort your publications out, and then get applying again. Finished that article and sent it off? Good news! If you are really lucky, you’ll get some feedback within a year, and Reviewer B won’t question the entirety of your knowledge base with his (and I think the pronoun is more likely correct there than not) anonymous acerbic vitriol. 

Four years on and for all the positive things about the now not-new job, the truth is I’ve only recently stopped feeling like a failure because I’m not in The Club any more. This change in status has been the hardest part of the transition, such is the way in which academia wraps up your own personal identity with that of your intellectual achievements.  I’m still invited to give papers or public talks from time to time, and do various kinds of reviewing for well-known journals which definitely helps me prove to myself I have what it would have taken. I submit the odd conference abstract, and am beavering away when time allows on various publications including The Thesis Book (a.k.a. The Millstone Round My Neck). I’m doing this now because I want to, because there is a reason I went back to Uni to do an MA, and then a PhD, which was because the Real Jobs I had in between my studies were boring and unfulfilling. 

But what am I now, what label do I put on myself? I have an Honorary Research Fellowship at my nearest University, which keeps me an academic email, unfettered library access and perhaps some small amount of kudos. ‘Independent Scholar’ sounds like I am deliberately claiming some kind of maverick autonomy which I’m not sure I am. ‘Gentleman Scholar’ of course is even worse, not least because I don’t define myself as a man, gentle or otherwise. I take heart from the acknowledgements which fill the early pages of LSJ (the big lexicon of ancient Greek) to all the ‘non-professional Classicists’ in non-University settings whose own expertise was invaluable to this monolith of scholarship. I’ll just have to be me, and pick my own way through this identity crisis. We’re beyond labels now, right…?

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations  8.16

Μέμνησο, ὅτι καὶ τὸ μετατίθεσθαι καὶ ἕπεσθαι τῷ διορθοῦντι ὁμοίως ἐλεύθερόν ἐστιν. σὴ γὰρ ἐνέργεια κατὰ τὴν σὴν ὁρμὴν καὶ κρίσιν καὶ δὴ καὶ κατὰ νοῦν τὸν σὸν περαινομένη.

Remember that to change your mind and to follow a new direction is not to sacrifice your independence. It’s your own action which brings this about, through your own impulse and judgement, and your own mind.

Most importantly, and this shouldn’t be unsurprising but somehow I feel I need to say it, loudly enough that those those who are thinking about jumping ship and doing something beyond academia can hear: I Am Ok. I haven’t lost all my intelligence and experience.  I still have Dr in front of my name, which perhaps ironically is used far more now I’ve left HE than when I was in it. My publications still count – though just for me and some higher ideal of the search for knowledge, not for any bureaucratic exercise (UK-based folks will know all about REF) or because I need them for a promotion.

My friends and family still love me, and am proud of me, even my friends who still work in the sector (of course!). Some of them are actually more proud of me now for having had the confidence of my convictions to decide to follow a different route than one which is, let’s face it, not always what it is cracked up to be.  What’s really empowering is that once you’ve escaped the Ivory Tower, you may well be invited back in from time time, but you don’t have to say yes unless you want to. Leaving academia teaches you that it’s ok to say no – and incidentally makes you realise how much of the academic discipline operates through good will and favours beyond formal contracts of employment. 

Four years on, do I regret any of my time in academia? Absolutely not. Do I think it’s a ‘waste’ not having ended up in Uni-world? No, no education or experience is a waste. And, I mean, it’s not like I didn’t try my best. If it is a waste, then that’s not on me. At the very least, those jobs all paid the rent ,then the mortgage, and led me to see places I would never otherwise have been. I’ve also picked up some wonderful people along the way, whom with any luck I will keep by my side for the rest of my life. 

But let’s not pretend academia is peopled entirely with the great and good, since we all know absolutely that it is not. There are plenty of low-level miscreants alongside the infamous headline cases. I’ve met some people who should never be in charge of anything, yet somehow are running the show, and regardless of this a few of these people will probably end up with buildings named after them.  I’ve sat in front of interviewers who were on their phones under the table (I’m pretty sure this guy does now have a building named after him, or at least moved on with a massive promotion), and others who genuinely nodded off during interviews.

I’m sorry, I’m really not that boring: if you have so much work to do that you can’t stay awake in my interview – and by the way, I’m sure that work didn’t involve reading the course materials you requested I painstakingly prepare for this interview which you clearly haven’t even bothered to open – then the system really is broken. And also, by the way, as someone in charge of that system or at the very least complicit in it, maybe you should try leading from the top and enacting change? Earn your massive salary by thinking about those who might need you to represent them for once. Has academia has left me bitter? Yes, and disappointed that my experience of working in it was not what I had hoped it would be. 

I still occasionally look at adverts for positions when they come round, but with an odd mixture of masochistic voyeurism and relief. The job market has only got worse in the last four years, compounded now of course by the uncertainties of Brexit and COVID-19, which in all honesty makes me realise that my decision in the back of that ambulance four years ago was undeniably the right one. Never say never, but at the moment I’m glad to be out of it all. 

As I sit here at my desk at home in my very comfortable study pondering the last decade or so, the story of the last decade doesn’t look like failure, even though from time to time the pangs of self-doubt whisper in my ear that it is. Carving your own path is hard, but untrodden ways can come with their own sometimes-unexpected rewards, and be absolutely worth it.

Amy Coker has a PhD in Classics from the University of Manchester, UK. She taught and held research positions in University-land for the best part of a decade after her PhD, before jumping ship to school teaching (11-18 year olds) in 2018. She still manages to find time to think and write about Ancient Greek offensive words, pragmatics, and historical linguistics, and to do what she can to make Classics a better place. She can be found on Twitter at @AECoker.

Changing Our Masks Everyday

Seneca, EM 120.21-22

“There’s not anyone who doesn’t change their plan and prayer every day. They want a spouse then a girlfriend, now to be kind and then next tries to act no better than a slave. Blow up so big to attract everyone’s contempt only to shrink and whittle back down to more humility than those who are barely there at all. Sometimes, you toss money around; other times, you steal it.

This is the foremost sign of a foolish mind: it tries to take this shape and that and is never equal to itself–a thing which I think is the most shameful quality. Trust me, it is a prize role, to play the part of a single person. But there’s no one who can be only one person except the wise one. The rest of us frequently change our shapes. Sometimes, you believe we are are frugal and serious, the rest of the time wasteful and silly. We keep changing our masks to take up the opposite character.

Instead, you should make yourself play that role up to the end of your life that you started at its beginning. Try to make people praise you, or, at the least, recognize who you are. As it is now, you can say about the person you saw yesterday, “who is this”, because that’s how much they’ve changed. Goodbye.”

Nemo non cotidie et consilium mutat et votum. Modo uxorem vult habere, modo amicam, modo regnare vult, modo id agit, ne quis sit officiosior servus, modo dilatat se usque ad invidiam, modo subsidit et contrahitur infra humilitatem vere iacentium, nunc pecuniam spargit, nunc rapit. 

Sic maxime coarguitur animus inprudens; alius prodit atque alius et, quo turpius nihil iudico, impar sibi est. Magnam rem puta unum hominem agere. Praeter sapientem autem nemo unum agit, ceteri multiformes sumus. Modo frugi tibi videbimur et graves, modo prodigi et vani. Mutamus subinde personam et contrariam ei sumimus, quam exuimus. Hoc ergo a te exige, ut, qualem institueris praestare te, talem usque ad exitum serves. Effice ut possis laudari, si minus, ut adgnosci. De aliquo, quem here vidisti, merito dici potest: “hic qui est?” Tanta mutatio est. Vale.

Mid third century
House of Masks, Sousse
Archeological Museum of Sousse

Some Timely Advice on Judging People from Theognis

Theognis, 117-118

“Nothing is harder than recognizing a counterfeit.
But, Kurnos, there is nothing more urgent than guarding against one.”

κιβδήλου δ᾿ ἀνδρὸς γνῶναι χαλεπώτερον οὐδέν,
Κύρν᾿, οὐδ᾿ εὐλαβίης ἐστὶ περὶ πλέονος.

119-128

“One can survive the ruin from counterfeit silver and gold
Kurnos—and a wise person can easily uncover it.
But if a dear friend’s mind is hidden in his chest
When he is false and he has a deceptive heart,
Well, this the most counterfeit thing god has made for mortals
And it is the most painful thing of all to recognize.

For you cannot know the mind of a man or a woman
Before you investigate them, like an animal under a yoke—
And you cannot imagine what they are like at the right time
Since appearances often mislead your judgement.”

Χρυσοῦ κιβδήλοιο καὶ ἀργύρου ἀνσχετὸς ἄτη,
Κύρνε, καὶ ἐξευρεῖν ῥάιδιον ἀνδρὶ σοφῶι.
εἰ δὲ φίλου νόος ἀνδρὸς ἐνὶ στήθεσσι λελήθηι
ψυδρὸς ἐών, δόλιον δ’ ἐν φρεσὶν ἦτορ ἔχηι,
τοῦτο θεὸς κιβδηλότατον ποίησε βροτοῖσιν,
καὶ γνῶναι πάντων τοῦτ’ ἀνιηρότατον.
οὐδὲ γὰρ εἰδείης ἀνδρὸς νόον οὐδὲ γυναικός,
πρὶν πειρηθείης ὥσπερ ὑποζυγίου,
οὐδέ κεν εἰκάσσαις ὥσπερ ποτ’ ἐς ὥριον ἐλθών·
πολλάκι γὰρ γνώμην ἐξαπατῶσ’ ἰδέαι.

unoferswīðed
British Library, Royal 20 B XX, fol. 51v

“The Course Fortune Gave Me”: Cicero and Seneca on Suicide

Ibykos, Fr. 32

“It is not possible to find medicine to bring life to the dead.”

οὐκ ἔστιν ἀποφθιμένοις ζωᾶς ἔτι φάρμακον εὑρεῖν

Basil, Letter 131

“Since we both need consolation, may we be solace to one another.”

ἐπεὶ οὖν ἀμφότεροι χρῄζομεν παρακλήσεως, ἀλλήλοις γενώμεθα παραμυθία

Attributed to Socrates (in Stobaeus)

“The sick need doctors; the unlucky need encouragement from friends.”

Τοῖς μὲν νοσοῦσιν ἰατρούς, τοῖς δ’ ἀτυχοῦσι φίλους δεῖ παραινεῖν.

Prior to the spread of Christianity, Romans and Greeks had somewhat different attitudes on suicide from our own, but they were by no means consistent and harmonious. Some–like Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics–viewed suicide as cowardly. Roman authors like Cicero and Seneca go far to the other direction, seeming to glorify it at times while granting the act far greater complexity on other occasions.

For those of us who have suffered from depression or have lost loved ones to substance abuse or suicide, ancient comments on suicide and mental health can provide little comfort. Greek and Roman attitudes on the subject are important to reckon with, however, for the very reason that they can seem so different from our own.

The Ancient touches upon ours but does not necessarily need to define it. The boundaries of life and death cannot be crossed again. If you or someone you know feel alone, uncertain, depressed or for any reason cannot find enough joy and hope to think life is worth it, please reach out to someone. The suicide prevention hotline has a website, a phone number (1-800-273-8255), and a chat line. And if we can help you find some tether to the continuity of human experience through the Classics or a word, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Cicero, De Officiis 1.112-113

“This diversity of charactertistics has so much power that it may be required for one person to bring about his own death but forbidden for another. For wasn’t Marcus Cato in one kind of need and others were in different situations when he gave himself up to Caesar in Africa? Perhaps there would have been condemnation of the others if they had killed themselves because their style of life and their habits had been easier while life granted Cato an unbelievable seriousness which he himself strengthened through unending dedication as he remained always persistent in his plans and his decisions. He had to die before gazing upon the face of a tyrant.

Think of how much Odysseus endured on his prolonged journey when he even served women—if Cicero and Calypso must be called women—and he labored to be likable and pleasant to everyone in every speech! Indeed, once at home he even put up with the insults of slaves and slave-girls so that he might finally come to the end he desired. But Ajax—thanks to the spirit he is given—would have preferred a thousand deaths to such indignity.”

 Atque haec differentia naturarum tantam habet vim, ut non numquam mortem sibi ipse consciscere alius debeat, alius [in eadem causa] non debeat. Num enim alia in causa M. Cato fuit, alia ceteri, qui se in Africa Caesari tradiderunt? Atqui ceteris forsitan vitio datum esset, si se interemissent, propterea quod lenior eorum vita et mores fuerant faciliores, Catoni cum incredibilem tribuisset natura gravitatem eamque ipse perpetua constantia roboravisset semperque in proposito susceptoque consilio permansisset, moriendum potius quam tyranni vultus aspiciendus fuit.

Quam multa passus est Ulixes in illo errore diuturno, cum et mulieribus, si Circe et Calypso mulieres appellandae sunt, inserviret et in omni sermone omnibus affabilem [et iucundum]3esse se vellet! domi vero etiam contumelias servorum ancillarumque pertulit, ut ad id aliquando, quod cupiebat, veniret. At Aiax, quo animo traditur, milies oppetere mortem quam illa perpeti maluisset.

Seneca, De Beata Vita 19

“They deny that Diodorus the Epicuruean philosopher who in recent days took his own life with his own hand was not obedient to Epicurus when he cut his own throat. Some would wish that this deed be seen as insanity, others as fear—but he, at the same time, announced that he was happy and full with good conscience as he left life. He praised the time of life spent peaceful in port at anchor and spoke words which you have heard unwillingly as if you must do the same: “I have lived and I have completed the course fortune gave me.”

Diodorum, Epicureum philosophum, qui intra paucos dies finem vitae suae manu sua imposuit, negant ex decreto Epicuri fecisse, quod sibi gulam praesecuit. Alii dementiam videri volunt factum hoc eius, alii temeritatem; ille interim beatus ac plenus bona conscientia reddidit sibi testimonium vita excedens laudavitque aetatis in portu et ad ancoram actae quietem et dixit, quod vos inviti audistis, quasi vobis quoque faciendum sit:

Vixi et quem dederat cursum fortuna peregi.

Image result for ancient greek ajax
Ajax’s earlier burden

Pindar, Nemean 8. 37-38

 

“Some men pray for gold, others for a field with no boundary, but I pray to be pleasing to my countrymen until the earth covers my limbs.”

χρυσὸν εὔχοται, πεδίον δ’ ἕτεροι

ἀπέραντον, ἐγὼ δ’ ἀστοῖς ἁδὼν καὶ χθονὶ γυῖα καλύψαι,

 

And Pindar was pleasing much longer than that--even Alexander wouldn’t destroy his house!

(There may not be that much nobility in this statement: pleasing singers get meat, wine and gold!)