Adjusting Your Horizon of Deathpectation

Seneca, Moral Epistles 61

“We should stop wanting what we used to. I am surely doing that. As an old man, I stopped wanting those things I did as a boy. My days, my nights, my labor are in this alone, this thought: to bring some end to long-lasting problems. I am acting as if each day is a whole life. By Heracles, I am not “seizing the day as if it is the last”, although I suspect that it is. I am writing this letter with that in mind–as if death might call me even as I write. it. I am ready to leave and I am enjoying life because I am not worrying too much about how long in the future this will be.

Before old age, I was dedicated to living well; now that I am old, it’s about dying well. Dying well is dying freely. Put a lot of effort into never doing something unwillingly. Something that is required should you refuse it is a choice if you want it. I mean this: whoever accepts orders freely avoids the worst part of slavery: doing what you don’t want to. Someone who is ordered to do something is not unhappy, but someone who works unwillingly is miserable.

So, Let us rearrange our thoughts to want whatever a matter asks of us and foremost that we may think about our death without sadness. We should be preparing for death before life. Life is well enough equipped, but we are too greedy for its accommodations. Something seems missing; something always seems missing.  Whether we have lived long enough isn’t about years or days but the mind. I have lived long enough, dearest Lucilius. I am awaiting death, full. Goodbye.

Desinamus, quod voluimus, velle. Ego certe id ago: senex ea desii velle quae puer volui. In hoc unum eunt dies, in hoc noctes, hoc opus meum est, haec cogitatio: inponere veteribus malis finem. Id ago, ut mihi instar totius vitae dies sit. Nec mehercules tamquam ultimum rapio, sed sic illum aspicio, tamquam esse vel ultimus possit. Hoc animo tibi hanc epistulam scribo, tamquam me cum maxime scribentem mors evocatura sit. Paratus exire sum et ideo fruar vita, quia quam diu futurum hoc sit, non nimis pendeo.

Ante senectutem curavi, ut bene viverem, in senectute, ut bene moriar; bene autem mori est libenter mori. Da operam, ne quid umquam invitus facias. Quicquid necesse futurum est repugnanti, volenti necessitas non est. Ita dico: qui imperia libens excipit, partem acerbissimam servitutis effugit, facere quod nolit. Non qui iussus aliquid facit, miser est, set qui invitus facit. Itaque sic animum conponamus, ut quicquid res exiget, id velimus et in primis ut finem nostri sine tristitia cogitemus. Ante ad mortem quam ad vitam praeparandi sumus. Satis instructa vita est, sed nos in instrumenta eius avidi sumus; deesse aliquid nobis videtur et semper videbitur. Ut satis vixerimus, nec anni nec dies faciunt, sed animus. Vixi, Lucili carissime, quantum satis erat; mortem plenus exspecto. Vale.

black and white photograph of a skull

A Serious Saturday: Epictetus on the Beginning of Philosophy

From Dissertationes ab Arriano Digestae, 2.11

What is the Beginning of Philosophy

The beginning of philosophy for those who approach it in the right way—by the front gate—is the acknowledgement of mankind’s weakness and inability to affect the most important things. We arrive in life possessing no inborn understanding of a right-angled triangle or a half-tone musical note, but we are taught these things through a specific technical approach; for this reason, those who do not know them do not think that they do. But, in contrast, who has arrived without some pre-implanted notion of right and wrong, noble and shameful, appropriate and inappropriate, what is fitting or chanced and what it is right to do or right not to do? This is why we all use this terms and try to harmonize our preconceptions with reality at each moment? “He has done well, as is right, or as not right. He has been unlucky, or lucky. He is unjust or just.” Who of us avoids these types of judgments? Who of us postpones their use until he has learned what they mean, as those who are ignorant of letters or syllables?….

….This is the beginning of philosophy—the acknowledgment of the struggle among men and the search for its origin and a condemnation and distrust of mere belief—a search of kinds whether a belief is kept correctly with the establishment of some kind of standard, as we have made for the balancing o weights or for figuring out whether a board is straight or crooked.”



ια′. Τίς ἀρχὴ φιλοσοφίας.

᾿Αρχὴ φιλοσοφίας παρά γε τοῖς ὡς δεῖ καὶ κατὰ θύραν ἁπτομένοις αὐτῆς συναίσθησις τῆς αὑτοῦ ἀσθενείας καὶ ἀδυναμίας περὶ τὰ ἀναγκαῖα. ὀρθογωνίου μὲν γὰρ τριγώνου ἢ διέσεως ἡμιτονίου οὐδεμίαν φύσει ἔννοιαν ἥκομεν ἔχοντες, ἀλλ’ ἔκ τινος τεχνικῆς παραλήψεως διδασκόμεθα ἕκαστον αὐτῶν καὶ διὰ τοῦτο οἱ μὴ εἰδότες αὐτὰ οὐδ’ οἴονται εἰδέναι. ἀγαθοῦ δὲ καὶ κακοῦ καὶ καλοῦ καὶ αἰσχροῦ καὶ πρέποντος καὶ ἀπρεποῦς καὶ εὐδαιμονίας καὶ προσήκοντος καὶ ἐπιβάλλοντος καὶ ὅ τι δεῖ ποιῆσαι καὶ ὅ τι οὐ δεῖ ποιῆσαι τίς  οὐκ ἔχων ἔμφυτον ἔννοιαν ἐλήλυθεν; διὰ τοῦτο πάντες χρώμεθα τοῖς ὀνόμασιν καὶ ἐφαρμόζειν πειρώμεθα τὰς προλήψεις ταῖς ἐπὶ μέρους οὐσίαις. καλῶς ἐποίησεν, δεόντως, οὐ δεόντως· ἠτύχησεν, εὐτύχησεν· ἄδικός ἐστιν, δίκαιός ἐστιν. τίς ἡμῶν φείδεται τούτων τῶν ὀνομάτων; τίς ἡμῶν ἀναβάλλεται τὴν χρῆσιν αὐτῶν μέχρι μάθῃ καθάπερ τῶν περὶ τὰς γραμμὰς ἢ τοὺς φθόγγους οἱ οὐκ εἰδότες;


῎Ιδ’ ἀρχὴ φιλοσοφίας· αἴσθησις μάχης τῆς πρὸς ἀλλήλους τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ ζήτησις τοῦ παρ’ ὃ γίνεται ἡ μάχη καὶ κατάγνωσις καὶ ἀπιστία πρὸς τὸ ψιλῶς δοκοῦν, ἔρευνα δέ τις περὶ τὸ δοκοῦν εἰ ὀρθῶς δοκεῖ καὶ εὕρεσις κανόνος τινός, οἷον ἐπὶ βαρῶν τὸν ζυγὸν εὕρομεν, οἷον ἐπὶ εὐθέων καὶ στρεβλῶν τὴν στάθμην.