The metaphor of sailors and voyages is a good one. It’s often hard to see how one could admit that a short life is just as valuable as a long one. Especially if the life in questions ends so quickly as to make the attainment of virtue unlikely. That seems to be one of the challenges our school faces.
I’m thinking indeed of the death of children. We do, of course, see examples of children bravely facing down debilitating and even terminal illnesses. One cannot but wonder though if this because they don’t quite understand what’s happening, or is the same sort (or a higher) of bravery one faces later in life under similar circumstance?
One of classic “Stoic paradoxes” are that attaining virtue for a moment is just as great as having it for a long time. We see others say that the Sage would never backslide, but those two statements seem in contradiction such that they can’t both be true unless it’s possible for one to be virtuous a little and not a Sage. But that would fly in the face of other Stoic doctrines, like the unity of virtue. Ah well, that’s question for others, I think.
I can easily accept the voyage metaphor. Especially when we come to accept that the only evil is our own moral evil. Then, the sorts of things which are sometimes called “natural evils” (a term the Stoics would take umbrage with), like illness, death, natural disasters, etc. are more akin to inclement weather on the voyage than the moral evils we are combating in ourselves.
If that’s the case, then maybe the childhood illness are like a rogue wave that sweeps a sailor overboard, and quickly pulls him out to sea? We might toss him a life-preserver, but the storm is surely stronger than the ship and its crew in the matter of disposing of their bodies and possessions. We, the crew, however have it in us to use our προαίρεσις well an in accordance with nature. Not even the meanest storm can touch that unless we will it so.
Thank you for the food for thought this morning.