The closing of this letter is very a good piece of rhetoric. I don’t mean to diminish it, I’m just noting it’s well composed, and the ferver is appropriate to the corrective nature it.
“Will you not borrow that [Spartan] boy’s courage, and say: “I am no slave!”? Unhappy fellow, you are a slave to men, you are a slave to your business, you are a slave to life. For life, if courage to die be lacking, is slavery.”
I do wonder if Epictetus was familiar at all with Seneca. I always assumed that Epictetus’ calling his students “Slave!” whenever he was making a severe correction was due to his own training under Musonius, and also his life in slave condition before philosophy. I wonder if he might have heard this story about the Spartan boy, too, though?
You are afraid of death; but how can you scorn it in the midst of a mushroom supper?
I’m personally not a fan of mushrooms, so that supper might be more conducive to me to dispise the perils of death… but in all seriousness, this harkens back to the ascetic training which we need to undergo (Link 1, Link 2, Link 3, Link 4). We might talk a good game while living in a palace, but the possibility for self-deception is too high there.
You wish to live; well, do you know how lo live?
That’s the rub, isn’t it? Mostly our worry over life and death is based in a fundamental fear. The fear of the unknown. The fear of missing out. The fear of what’s to come. The fear of nothing. The one thought that recently has been mildly helpful in this regard comes from Marcus, and viewing what came before life as death as also. Such a great span of time in this universe unravelled and unspun while we did not exist. The same void, the same nothing that existed then might exist after. That parallel is oddly comforting. Also from Marcus, if there are gods, and if there is life after death, it will be towards the good. And if there is not, that too is towards the good. This is becoming a better cause of a surcease of those worries for me.
You are afraid to die. But come now: is this life of yours anything but death?
Hmm. There’s an almost Buddhist feel to this question. Life as dukkha.
That is the answer which should be given to men to whom death would come as a relief. “You are afraid to die; what! are you alive now?”