SLRP: LXI. On Meeting Death Cheerfully



What we have of the Stoics seems to present a paradox to the modern reader.  Of course, the Stoics often did (and do) go against the popular opinions of the times, so it’s really not all that surprising.  How is it then, that a school of thought which tells its students to accept what life brings you, not passively, but actively to desire that things are the way they are does not produce herds of slavish followers?  Instead, it seems to produce bold men of action.  Cato, Marcus, Musonius, Epictetus, and (yes, even yourself), Seneca.  All of these either lived boldly and/or died well.

That’s remarkable.

“The man who does something under orders is not unhappy; he is unhappy who does something against his will.”

There is a certain psychological boon to having a mental conception of an outside presence.  For modern monotheists of the Abrahamic stripe this means very specific things.  Theologians may debate the “economics” of the passion, death, and resurrection of their savior and precisely what that means; but it is much harder to doubt the balm that such an “off putting” of responsibility can provide.

Stoics are in a tighter spot.  Of course, the atheists are right out of the frying pan an into the fire:  it’s all on you, best of luck.  But the theist/deist Stoics are not necessarily in a much better position.  The Stoic divinity, Nature, Providence, Logos, what have you, isn’t a personal force there to provide you with some sort of reconciliation or amelioration with the world and your life.

The Stoic divinity will not pull you out of the ground and plop you into a cushy afterlife to hang out and bask in the presence of the one.  Ain’t happening.

In fact, unless you be a Sage, your soul won’t live on after death.  And even if you were a Sage, you wouldn’t make it past the ἐκπύρωσις.  So tough luck there, mate. 

The only chance for Stoic salvation, if I may, is in the here and now.  Heaven or Hell is what we make it, this life.  With every choice we train our moral will, and we produce either virtue or vice.

We may not have the emotional, psychological bandage that others do, but we sure as hell (pun intended) have an urgency, a motivation.


Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.

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