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CONSOLATION TO APOLLONIUS. - Plutarch, The Morals, vol. 1 
Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878). Vol. 1.
Part of: Plutarch’s Morals, 5 vols.
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CONSOLATION TO APOLLONIUS.
1. As soon, Apollonius, as I heard the news of the untimely death of your son, who was very dear to us all, I fell sick of the same grief with you, and shared your misfortune with all the tenderness of sympathy. For he was a sweet and modest young man, devout towards the Gods, obedient to his parents, and obliging to his friends; indeed doing all things that were just. But when the tears of his funeral were scarcely dry, I thought it a time very improper to call upon you and put you in mind that you should bear this accident like a man; for when this unexpected affliction made you languish both in body and mind, I considered then that compassion was more seasonable than advice. For the most skilful physicians do not put a sudden stop to a flux of humors, but give them time to settle, and then foment the swelling by softening and bringing it to a head with medicines outwardly applied.
2. So now that a competent time is past — time which brings all things to maturity — since the first surprise of your calamity, I believed I should do an acceptable piece of friendship, if I should now comfort you with those reasons which may lessen your grief and silence your complaints.
Euripides hath said wisely to this purpose: —
For of all the passions which move and afflict the mind of man, sorrow in its nature is the most grievous; in some they say it hath produced madness, others have contracted incurable diseases, and some out of the vehemence of it have laid violent hands upon themselves.
3. Therefore to be sad, even to an indisposition, for the death of a son proceeds from a principle of nature, and it is out of our power to prevent it. I dislike those who boast so much of hard and inflexible temper which they call apathy, it being a disposition which never happens and never could be of use to us; for it would extinguish that sociable love we ought to have for one another, and which it is so necessary above all things to preserve. But to mourn excessively and to accumulate grief I do affirm to be altogether unnatural, and to result from a depraved opinion we have of things; therefore we ought to shun it as destructive in itself, and unworthy of a virtuous man; but to be moderately affected by grief we cannot condemn. It were to be wished, saith Crantor the Academic, that we could not be sick at all; but when a distemper seizeth us, it is requisite we should have sense and feeling in case any of our members be plucked or cut off. For that talked-of apathy can never happen to a man without great detriment; for as now the body, so soon the very mind would be wild and savage.
4. Therefore in such accidents, it is but reasonable that they who are in their right senses should avoid both extremes, of being without any passion at all and of having too much; for as the one argues a mind that is obstinate and fierce, so the other doth one that is soft and effeminate. He therefore hath cast up his accounts the best, who, confining himself within due bounds, hath such ascendant over his temper, as to bear prosperous and adverse fortune with the same equality, whichsoever it is that happens to him in this life. He puts on those resolutions as if he were in a popular government where magistracy is decided by lot; if it luckily falls to his share, he obeys his fortune, but if it passeth him, he doth not repine at it. So we must submit to the dispensation of human affairs, without being uneasy and querulous. Those who cannot do this want prudence and steadiness of mind to bear more happy circumstances; for amongst other things which are prettily said, this is one remarkable precept of Euripides: —
For it is the part of a wise and well-educated man, not to be transported beyond himself with any prosperous events, and so, when the scene of fortune changeth, to observe still the comeliness and decency of his morals. For it is the business of a man that lives by rule, either to prevent an evil that threatens him, or, when it is come, to qualify its malignity and make it as little as he can, or put on a masculine brave spirit and so resolve to endure it. For there are four ways that prudence concerns herself about any thing that is good; she is either industrious to acquire or careful to preserve, she either augments or useth it well. These are the measures of prudence, and consequently those of all other virtues, by which we ought to square ourselves in either fortune.
For no man lives who always happy is.*
And, by Jove, you should not hinder what ought to be done, —
Those things which in their nature ought to be.*
5. For, as amongst trees some are very thick with fruit, and some bear none at all; amongst living creatures some are very prolific, and some barren; and as in the sea there is alternate vicissitude of calms and tempests, so in human life there are many and various circumstances which distract a man into divers changes of fortune. One considering this matter hath not said much from the purpose: —
These verses are Menander’s.
But though this be the state of all sublunary things, yet such is the extravagant pride and folly of some men, that if they are raised above the common by the greatness of their riches or functions of magistracy, or if they arrive to any eminent charge in the commonwealth, they presently swell with the titles of their honor, and threaten and insult over their inferiors; never considering what a treacherous Goddess Fortune is, and how easy a revolution it is for things that are uppermost to be thrown down from their height and for humble things to be exalted, and that these changes of Fortune are performed quickly and in the swiftest moments of time. To seek for any certainty therefore in that which is uncertain is the part of those who judge not aright of things: —
6. But the most sovereign remedy against sorrow is our reason, and out of this arsenal we may arm ourselves with defence against all the casualties of life; for every one ought to lay down this as a maxim, that not only is he himself mortal in his nature, but life itself decays, and things are easily changed into quite the contrary to what they are; for our bodies are made up of perishing ingredients. Our fortunes and our passions too are subject to the same mortality; indeed all things in this world are in perpetual flux, —
Which no man can avoid with all his care.*
It is an expression of Pindar, that we are held to the dark bottom of hell by necessities as hard as iron. And Euripides says: —
And also: —
Demetrius Phalereus affirms that this was truly said, but that the poet had been more in the right if for a single day he had put only a moment of time.
And Pindar hath it in another place,
He used an artificial and very perspicuous hyperbole to draw human life in its genuine colors; for what is weaker than a shadow? Or what words can be found out whereby to express a shadow’s dream? Crantor hath something consonant to this, when, condoling Hippocles upon the loss of his children, he speaks after this manner: —
“These are the things which all the old philosophers talk of and have instructed us in; which though we do not agree to in every particular, yet this hath too sharp a truth in it, that our life is painful and full of difficulties; and if it doth not labor with them in its own nature, yet we ourselves have infected it with that corruption. For the inconstancy of Fortune joined us at the beginning of our journey, and hath accompanied us ever since; so that it can produce nothing that is sound or comfortable unto us; and the bitter potion was mingled for us as soon as we were born. For the principles of our nature being mortal is the cause that our judgment is depraved, that diseases, cares, and all those fatal inconveniences afflict mankind.”
But what need of this digression? Only that we may be made sensible that it is no unusual thing if a man be unfortunate; but we are all subject to the same calamity. For as Theophrastus saith, Fortune surpriseth us unawares, robs us of those things we have got by the sweat of our industry, and spoils the gaudy appearance of a prosperous condition; and this she doth when she pleaseth, not being stinted to any periods of time. These and things of the like nature it is easy for a man to ponder with himself, and to hearken to the sayings of ancient and wise men; among whom divine Homer is the chief, who sung after this manner: —
And in another place: —
How prettily he managed this image of human life appears from what he hath said in another place: —
When Pausanias the king of Sparta was frequently bragging of his performances, and bidding Simonides the lyric poet in raillery to give him some wise precept, he, knowing the vain-glory of him that spoke, admonished him to remember that he was a man. Philip the king of Macedon, when he had received three despatches of good news at the same time, of which the first was that his chariots had won the victory in the Olympic games, the second, that his general Parmenio had overcome the Dardanians in fight, and the third, that his wife Olympias had brought him forth an heir, — lifting up his eyes to heaven, he passionately cried out, Propitious Daemon! let the affliction be moderate by which thou intendest to be even with me for this complicated happiness. Theramenes, one of the thirty tyrants of Athens, when he alone was preserved from the ruins of a house that fell upon the rest of his friends as they were sitting at supper, and all came about him to congratulate him on his escape, — broke out in an emphatical accent, Fortune! for what calamity dost thou reserve me? And not long after, by the command of his fellow-tyrants, he was tormented to death.
7. But Homer seems to indicate a particular praise to himself, when he brings in Achilles speaking thus to Priam, who was come forth to ransom the body of Hector: —
Hesiod, who was the next to Homer both in respect of time and reputation, and who professed to be a disciple of the Muses, fancied that all evils were shut up in a box, and that Pandora opening it scattered all sorts of mischiefs through both the earth and seas: —
8. After these the comedian, talking of those who bear afflictions uneasily, speaks consonantly to this purpose: —
And Dictys comforts Danae, who was bitterly taking on, after this manner: —
He bids her consider the condition of those who have suffered equal or greater afflictions, and by such a parallel to comfort up her own distempered mind.
9. And here that opinion of Socrates comes in very pertinently, who thought that if all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap, whence every one must take an equal portion, most people would be contented to take their own and depart. After this manner Antimachus the poet allayed his grief when he lost his wife Lyde, whom he tenderly loved; for he writ an elegy upon her, which he called by her own name, and in it he numbered up all the calamities which have befallen great men; and so by the remembrance of other men’s sorrows he assuaged his own. By this it may appear, that he who comforts another who is macerating himself with grief, and demonstrates to him, by reckoning up their several misfortunes, that he suffers nothing but what is common to him with other men, takes the surest way to lessen the opinion he had of his condition, and brings him to believe that it is not altogether so bad as he took it to be.
10. Aeschylus also doth justly reprimand those who think death to be an evil, declaring after this manner: —
And he who spoke thus very nicely imitated him: —
And it is great to speak this sentence with courage: —
Where is the slave who never fears to die?*
Or this: —
And shadows never scare me, thanks to hell.
But what is it at length in death, that is so grievous and troublesome? For I know not how it comes to pass that, when it is so familiar and as it were related to us, it should seem so terrible. How can it be rational to wonder, if that cleaves asunder which is divisible, if that melts whose nature is liquefaction, if that burns which is combustible, and so, by a parity of reason, if that perisheth which by nature is perishable? For when is it that death is not in us? For, as Heraclitus saith, it is the same thing to be dead and alive, asleep and awake, a young man and decrepit; for these alternately are changed one into another. For as a potter can form the shape of an animal out of his clay and then as easily deface it, and can repeat this backwards and forwards as often as he pleaseth, so Nature too out of the same materials fashioned first our grandfathers, next our fathers, then us, and in process of time will engender others, and again others upon these. For as the flood of our generation glides on without any intermission and will never stop, so in the other direction the stream of our corruption flows eternally on, whether it be called Acheron or Cocytus by the poets. So that the same cause which first showed us the light of the sun carries us down to infernal darkness. And in my mind, the air which encompasseth us seems to be a lively image of the thing; for it brings on the vicissitudes of night and day, life and death, sleeping and waking. For this cause it is that life is called a fatal debt, which our fathers contracted and we are bound to pay; which is to be done calmly and without any complaint, when the creditor demands it; and by this means we shall show ourselves men of sedate passions.
11. And I believe Nature, knowing the confusion and shortness of our life, hath industriously concealed the end of it from us, this making for our advantage. For if we were sensible of it beforehand, some would pine away with untimely sorrow, and would die before their death came. For she saw the woes of this life, and with what a torrent of cares it is overflowed, — which if thou didst undertake to number, thou wouldst grow angry with it, and confirm that opinion which hath a vogue amongst some, that death is more desirable than life. Simonides hath glossed upon it after this manner: —
Pindar hath it so: —
Sophocles so: —
And Euripides so: —
If then the condition of human life is such as they speak of, why do we not rather applaud their good fortunes who are freed from the drudgery of it, than pity and deplore them, as some men’s folly prompts them to do?
12. Socrates said that death was like either to a very deep sleep, or to a journey taken a great way and for a long time, or else to the utter extinction of soul and body; and if we examine each of these comparisons, he said, we shall find that death is not an evil upon any account. For if death is sleep, and no hurt happens to those who are in that innocent condition, it is manifest that neither are the dead ill dealt with. To what purpose should I talk of that which is so tritely known amongst all, that the most profound sleep is always the sweetest? Homer‡ particularly attests it: —
And in many places he saith thus, —
She met Death’s brother, Sleep. —
And again, —
Twin brothers, Sleep and Death, —
thereby representing the similitude (as it were) to the sight, for twins especially indicate similarity. And in another place he saith, Death is brazen sleep, thereby intimating to us that it is insensible. Neither hath he spoken much amiss who calls sleep the lesser mysteries of death; for sleep is really the first initiation into the mysteries of death.
Diogenes the Cynic, when a little before his death he fell into a slumber, and his physician rousing him out of it asked him whether any thing ailed him, wisely answered, Nothing, sir, only one brother anticipates another, — Sleep before Death.
13. If death be like a journey, neither upon this account is it an evil, but rather the contrary; for certainly it is the emphasis of happiness to be freed from the incumbrances of the flesh and all those troublesome passions which attend it, which serve only to darken the understanding, and overspread it with all the folly that is incident to human nature.
“The very body,” saith Plato, “procures us infinite disquiet only to supply its daily necessities with food; but if any diseases are coincident, they hinder our contemplations, and stop us in our researches after truth. Besides, it distracts us with irregular desires, fears, and vain amours, setting before us so many fantastic images of things, that the common saying is here most true, that on account of the body we can never become wise. For wars, popular seditions, and shedding of blood by the sword are owing to no other original than this care of the body and gratifying its licentious appetites; for we fight only to get riches, and these we acquire only to please the body; so that those who are thus employed have not leisure to be philosophers. And after all, when we have retrieved an interval of time to seek after truth, the body officiously interrupts us, is so troublesome and importune, that we can by no means discern its nature. Therefore it is evident that, if we will clearly know any thing, we must divest ourselves of the body, and behold things as they are in themselves with the mind itself, that at last we may attain what we so much desire, and what we do profess ourselves the most partial admirers of, which is wisdom. And this we cannot consummately enjoy till after death, as reason teacheth us. For if so be that we can understand nothing clearly as long as we are clogged with flesh, one of these things must needs be, either that we shall never arrive at that knowledge at all, or only when we die; for then the soul will exist by itself, separate from the body; and whilst we are in this life, we shall make the nearest advances towards it, if we have no more to do with the body than what decency and necessity require, if we break off all commerce with it, and keep ourselves pure from its contagion, till God shall give us a final release, and then being pure and freed from all its follies, we shall converse (it is likely) with intelligences as pure as ourselves, with our unaided vision beholding perfect purity, — and this is truth itself. For it is not fit that what is pure should be apprehended by what is impure.”*
Therefore, if death only transports us to another place, it is not to be looked upon as an evil, but rather as an exceeding good, as Plato hath demonstrated. The words of Socrates to his judges seem to me to be spoken even with inspiration: “To fear death, gentlemen, is nothing else than to counterfeit the being wise, when we are not so. For he that fears death pretends to know what he is ignorant of; for no man is certain whether death be not the greatest good that can befall a man, but they positively dread it as if they were sure it was the greatest of evils.” Agreeably to this said one after this manner: —
Let no man fear what doth his labors end; —
and death sets us free even from the greatest evils.
14. The Gods themselves bear witness to the truth of this, for many have obtained death as a gratuity from them. The less famous instances I will pass by, that I may not be prolix, and only mention those who are the most celebrated and in all men’s mouths. And in the first place, I will relate what befell Biton and Cleobis, two young men of Argos. They report that their mother being the priestess of Juno, and the time being come that she was to go up to the temple to perform the rites of the Goddess, and those whose office it was to draw her chariot tarrying longer than usual, these two young men harnessed themselves and took it up, and so carried their mother to the temple. She, being extremely taken with the piety of her sons, petitioned the Goddess that she would bestow upon them the best present that could be given to men; accordingly she cast them into that deep sleep out of which they never awoke, taking this way to recompense their filial zeal with death. Pindar writes of Agamedes and Trophonius, that after they had built a temple at Delphi, they requested of Apollo a reward for their work. It was answered them that they should have it within seven days, but in the mean while they were commanded to live freely and indulge their genius; accordingly they obeyed the dictate, and the seventh night they died in their beds. It is said also of Pindar, that when the deputies of the Boeotians were sent to consult the oracle, he desired them to enquire of it which was the best thing amongst men, and that the Priestess of the tripod gave them this answer, — that he could not be ignorant of it, if he was the author of those writings concerning Agamedes and Trophonius; but if he desired personally to know, it should in a little time be made manifest to him; and that Pindar hearing this prepared himself for the stroke of Fate, and died in a short time after. Of Euthynous the Italian there is this memorable story, that he died suddenly, without anybody’s knowing the cause of his death. His father was Elysius the Terinean, who was a man of the first condition for his estate and virtue, being rich and honorable, and this being his only son and heir to all his fortune, which was very great, he had a strong jealousy upon him that he was poisoned, and not knowing how he should come to the information of it, he went into the vault where they invoke the dead, and after having offered sacrifice, as it is enjoined by the law, he slept in the place; when all things were in a midnight silence, he had this vision. His father appeared to him, to whom after having related his lamentable misfortune, he earnestly desired the ghost that he would assist him in finding out the cause. He answered that he was come on purpose to do it. But first, saith he, receive from this one what he hath brought thee, and thereby thou wilt understand the reason of all thy sorrow. The person that the father meant was very like to Euthynous both for years and stature; and the question being put to him who he was, he answered, I am the genius of thy son; and at the same time he reached out a book to him, which he opened and found these verses written therein: —
These are the stories which the ancients tell us.
15. But lastly, if death be the entire dissipation of soul and body (which was the third part of Socrates’s comparison), even then it cannot be an evil. For this would produce a privation of sense, and consequently a complete freedom from all solicitude and care; and if no good, so no evil would befall us. For good and evil alike must by nature inhere in that which has existence and essence; but to that which is nothing, and wholly abolished out of the nature of things, neither of the two can belong. Therefore, when men die, they return to the same condition they were in before they were born. For as, before we came into the world, we were neither sensible of good nor afflicted with evil, so it will be when we leave it; and as those things which preceded our birth did not concern us, so neither will those things which are subsequent to our death: —
For it is the same state of existence after death as it was before we were born. Unless perhaps you will make a difference between having no being at all and the utter extinction of it, after the same manner that you make a distinction between an house and a garment after they are ruined and worn out, and at the time before the one was built and the other made. And if in this case there is no difference, it is plain that there is none between the state before we were born and that after we are dead. It is elegantly said by Arcesilaus, that death, which is called an evil, hath this peculiarly distinct from all that are thought so, that when it is present it gives us no disturbance, but when remote and in expectation only, it is then that it afflicts us. And indeed many out of the poorness of their spirit, having entertained most injurious opinions of it, have died even to prevent death. Epicharmus hath said excellently to this purpose: “It was united, it is now dissolved; it returns back whence it came, — earth to earth, the spirit to regions above. What in all this is grievous? Nothing at all.” But that which Cresphontes in Euripides saith of Hercules, —
I would have changed into these words, —
This Laconic too is very noble: —
And again: —
But Euripides hath spoken incomparably well of those who labor under daily indispositions: —
But Merope moved the passion of the theatre with these masculine expressions: —
And we may not incongruously add these: —
Their riches have perished with their bodies.
16. Yes, we may say, but an untimely death from many doth extort groans and passionate complaints. But the way to dry up these sorrows is so expedite and easy, that every vulgar poet hath prescribed it. Consider what consolation a comedian puts in the mouth of one who comforts another upon so sad an occasion: —
It therefore being uncertain whether it was for his advantage that he departed this life and was freed from all the miseries that attend it, we had thereby lost all that we fancied we could enjoy in him whilst he was living. And Amphiaraus in the poet doth not do amiss when he consoles the mother of Archemorus, who was even sick with grief for the untimely death of her infant son. He speaks: —
17. In general, every one should meditate seriously with himself, and have the concurrence of other men’s opinions with his own, that it is not the longest life which is the best, but that which is the most virtuous. For that musician is not to be commended who plays upon variety of instruments, nor that orator that makes multiplicity of speeches, nor the pilot that conducts many ships, but he of each faculty that doth one of them well; for the beauty of a thing doth not consist in length of time, but in the virtue and seasonable moderation wherewith it is transacted. This is that which is called happy and grateful to the Gods. And for this reason it is that poets celebrate those who have died before they have become old, and propose them for examples, as the most excellent men and of divine extraction, as him for instance,
And we see in every thing that preference is not given so much to age as to maturity. For amongst trees and plants, those are accounted the most generous which bring forth abundance of fruit, and that early ripe. And amongst living creatures too, those are the most valued which supply us with the accommodations of life in a short time. Besides, if we compare the space of our life with eternity, we shall find no difference betwixt long and short; for according to Simonides, thousands and millions of years are but as a point to what is infinite, or rather the smallest part of that point. They report that about Pontus there are some creatures of such an extempore being that the whole term of their life is confined within the space of a day; for they are brought forth in the morning, are in the prime of their existence at noon, grow old at night, and then die. Dost thou not think that if these had the soul and reason of a man, they would be so affected, and that things would happen to them after the same manner as to us? — that those who died before the meridian would be lamented with tears and groans? — and that we should call them happy who lived their day out? For the measure of a man’s life is the well spending of it, and not the length.
18. But such exclamations as this, “the young man ought not to be taken off so abruptly in the vigor of his years,” are very frivolous, and proceed from a great weakness of mind; for who is it that can say what a thing ought to be? But things have been, are, and will be done, which somebody or other will say ought not to be done. But we do not come into this life to be dogmatical and prescribe to it; but we must obey the dictates of the Gods who govern the world, and submit to the establishments of Fate and Providence.
19. But when they mourn over those who die so untimely, do they do it upon their own account, or upon that of the deceased? If upon their own, because they have lost that pleasure they thought they should have enjoyed in them, or are deprived of that profit they expected or that relief they flattered themselves they should receive from them in their old age, then self-love and personal interest prescribe the measures of their sorrow; so that upon the result they do not love the dead so much as themselves and their own interest. But if they lament upon the account of the deceased, that is a grief easily to be shaken off, if they only consider that by their very death they will be out of the sphere of any evil that can reach them, and believe the wise and ancient saying, that we should always augment what is good, and extenuate the evil. Therefore if grief is a good thing, let us enlarge and make it as great as we can; but if it is numbered amongst the evils, as in truth it ought to be, let us endeavor all we can to suppress it, make it as inconsiderable as we can, and at last utterly efface it. How easy this is to be done, I will make appear by an illustrious example of consolation. They say that an ancient philosopher came to the Queen Arsinoe, who was then sorrowful for the death of her son, and discoursed her after this manner: “At the time that Jupiter distributed honors amongst his under-deities, it happened that Grief was absent; but he came at last when all the dignities were disposed of, and then desired that he might have some share in the promotions. Jupiter, having no better vacancies left, bestowed upon him sorrow and funeral tears.” He made this inference from the story: “Therefore,” saith he, “as other daemons love and frequent those who give them hospitable reception, so sadness will never come near you, if you do not give it encouragement; but if you caress it with those particular honors which it challengeth as its due, which are sighs and tears, it will have an unlucky affection for you, and will always supply you with fresh occasion that the observance may be continued.” By this plausible speech he seems in a wonderful manner to have buoyed this great woman out of her tears, and to have made her cast off her veil.
20. In short, I would ask the mourner whether he designs to put an end to his grief, or to allow the anguish to have the same duration with his life. If this thou hast resolved, I must say thou hast cut out for thyself the most bitter infelicity in the world, and all through the stupidity and softness of thy mind; but if thou wilt ever make a change, why dost thou not make it now, and so free thyself from misery? Apply now the same reasons thou must use a great while hence, to unburden thy mind and ease thy afflictions; and as in bodily distempers the quickest remedy is the best, so bestow the advantage thou must otherwise allow to time upon reason and instruction, and so cease to be unhappy.
21. But it is objected, the calamity was sudden, and I did not expect it. But thou oughtest to have done it, and considered the vanity and uncertainty of human affairs, that thy enemies might not have come suddenly upon thee and taken thee unawares. Theseus in Euripides seems to be excellently well prepared for events of this nature, for he saith thus: —
But those who are of a degenerate and thoughtless spirit never apply their mind to any thing that is either useful or becoming; but they grow exorbitant in their sorrows, and afflict the innocent body, making it sick for company, as Achaeus expresseth it.
22. Therefore Plato† doth rightly instruct us to acquiesce in cases of this nature, when it is not manifest whether they be good or evil, and when we get nothing by being uneasy under them; for grief is the greatest obstacle to deliberation as to what is best to be done. Therefore he commands us, as in the casting of dice, to accommodate ourselves to what befalls us, in the way which reason shows us to be best; and when any thing ails us, not to imitate the folly of children, who presently cry out and clap their hands to the place affected, but to accustom our minds to seek at once for remedies which may restore the part that is diseased to its first tone of health, making lamentation give place to the healing art. He that instituted laws for the Lycians commanded the citizens that when they mourned they should put on women’s apparel, intimating thereby that sorrow was an effeminate thing, and therefore was not fit for men of temper and liberal education. For it is indeed a weak and unmanly passion, and women are more subject to it than men, the barbarians more than the Greeks, and the dregs of mankind more than the refined part of them; and even amongst the barbarians, the brave-spirited Celts and Gauls have not a propensity to it, or any that have generous sentiments; but the Egyptians, the Syrians, and the Lydians, and those who resemble them in the softness of their disposition. They report that some of these will hide themselves in retirements under ground, and refuse to behold that sun of which their lamented friend is deprived. Ion, the tragedian, who heard something of this extravagance, introduceth a person speaking after this manner: —
Some of these barbarians have deformed their bodies by cutting off their noses, ears, and other parts of themselves, thinking to gratify the dead by these mutilations, when in doing so they deviated excessively from that moderation which Nature prescribes us.
23. And, by Jove, we meet with some persons who affirm that the death of every one is not to be lamented, but only of those who die untimely; for they have not tasted of those things which we call enjoyments in the world, as a nuptial bed, proficiency in learning, the coming up to an height in any thing, the honor of magistracy and charges in the government. It is for the sake of these things that we condole with those who lose friends by untimely death, because they were frustrated of their hopes; but in the meanwhile we are ignorant that a sudden death doth not at all differ from any other, considering the condition of human nature. For as when a journey is enjoined into a remote country, and there is a necessity for every one to undertake it, and none hath liberty to refuse, though some go before and others follow, yet all must arrive at the same stage at last; so when we all lie under an obligation of discharging the same debt, it is not material whether we pay sooner or later. But if any one’s death may be called untimely, and consequently an evil, that appellation suits only with that of children and infants, and especially of those who are newly born. But this we bear steadfastly and with patience; but when those that are grown up die, we take on heavily, because we fondly hoped that when their years were full blown they would then have an uninterrupted state of health. Now if the age of man were limited to the space of twenty years, we should not think that he who had arrived to fifteen died an untimely death, but that he had filled up a just measure of living; but one that had attained twenty, or at least had approached very near it, we should applaud for his good fortune, as if he had enjoyed the most happy and perfect life in the world. So if life were prolonged to two hundred years as its fixed period, and any one died at a hundred, we should howl over him as if he had been hastily cut off.
24. It is manifest then, by what hath been said now and what hath been mentioned before, that the death we call untimely is capable of consolation; and the saying is true, that “Troilus wept less than Priam,”* perishing as he did in his youth, while his father’s kingdom flourished and his riches abounded, which Priam afterwards laments as most deplorably lost. For observe what he saith to his son Hector, when he entreats him to decline the battle he was going to fight against Achilles: —
Having then so many examples of this kind before thine eyes, thou oughtest to make thyself sensible that not a few have been saved by death from those calamities they would certainly have fallen into had they lived longer. Contenting myself with those I have related already, I will omit the rest, that I may not seem tedious; and these are sufficient to show that we ought not to abandon ourselves to violent sorrow, beyond temper and the bounds of nature.
25. Crantor saith, To be innocent is the greatest comfort in afflictions. I assent to him, and affirm that it is the noblest remedy. Besides, the indication of our love to the deceased consists not in grieving ourselves for him, but in paying respect to his fame by honorable remembrance. For no good man deserves elegies, but panegyrics; and we should rather celebrate his loss by an honorable remembrance, than lament it; and offer up rather first-fruits of joy to the Gods, and not tears which sorrow extorts from us. For he who ceaseth to be amongst men becomes partaker of a divine life, is free from the servitude of the body, and all those solicitous cares which they who are embarrassed with a mortal life of necessity must undergo till they have finished the course which Providence hath marked out for them; and this life Nature hath not given us as a perpetual possession, but hath clogged it with restrictions and conditions of fate.
26. Those therefore who are the masters of their reason ought not to be transported by the death of friends beyond the limits of nature and a just moderation unto unprofitable and barbarous complaints, and so wait till that comes upon them which hath happened to many, to have their vital moisture exhausted before their tears, and to be carried to their own graves in those mourning weeds they put on for others, where their sorrow must lie buried with those evils they provoked upon themselves by their own imprudence. To whom that of Homer may be appositely applied: —
Wherefore in this case we should often thus reason with ourselves: Shall we put an end to our sorrow, or shall we grieve all the days of our life? To make it infinite is the last degree of infatuation; for we have seen those who have been in the deepest circumstances of dejection to be so mitigated by time, that they have banqueted upon those tombs which before they could not endure the sight of without screeching out and beating their breasts, but which they can now dance round with music and all the postures of jollity. Therefore to be obstinate in our grief is the resolution of madness. If then thou hast purposed within thyself that it shall have an end, join this consideration with it, that time will assuage it too; for what is once done even the Deity himself cannot unravel; therefore that which hath happened to us beyond our hope and contrary to our opinion hath palpably shown us what is wont from the same causes to befall others. What’s the result then? Cannot any discipline teach us, nor cannot we reason with ourselves, that —
And thus likewise: —
27. For many, as Crantor tells us, and those very wise men, not now but long ago have deplored the condition of human nature, esteeming life a punishment, and to be born a man the highest pitch of calamity; this, Aristotle tells us, Silenus declared when he was brought captive to Midas. I think it best to quote the expressions of the philosopher himself, in his book entitled Eudemus, or Of the Soul, wherein he speaks after this manner: —
“Wherefore, thou best and happiest of mankind, if we think those blessed and happy who have departed this life, then it is not only unlawful but even blasphemy to speak any thing that is false or contumelious of them, since they are now changed into a better and more refined nature. And this my opinion is so old, that the original and author of it is utterly unknown; but it hath been derived down to us even from eternity, so established is the truth of it. Besides, thou seest what is so familiar in men’s mouths, and hath been for many years a trite expression. What is that, saith he? He answered him: It is best not to be born at all; and next to that, it is more eligible to die than to live; and this is confirmed even by divine testimony. Pertinently to this they say that Midas, after hunting, asked his captive Silenus somewhat urgently, what was the most desirable thing amongst men. At first he would return no answer, but was obstinately silent. At last, when Midas would not give over importuning him, he broke out into these words, though very unwillingly: ‘Thou seed of an evil genius and precarious offspring of hard fortune, whose life is but for a day, why dost thou compel me to tell thee those things it is better thou wert ignorant of? For those live the least disturbed who know not their misfortunes; but for men, the best for them is not to be born at all, nor to be made partakers of the most excellent nature; not to be is best for both sexes. This should have the first place in our choice; and the next to this is, when we are born, to die as soon as we can.’ It is plain therefore, that he declared the condition of the dead to be better than that of the living.”
I could bring millions of examples to justify this topic, but I will not be long.
28. We are not therefore to lament those who die in the bloom of their years, as if they were spoiled of things which we call enjoyments in a longer life; for it is uncertain, as we have often said, whether they are deprived of good or evil, for the evil in the world far exceeds the good. The good we obtain hardly and with anxious endeavor, but the evil easily befalls us; for they say evils are linked together, and by a mutual dependence of causes follow one another, but the good lie scattered and disjoined, and with great difficulty are brought within the compass of our life. Therefore we seem to have forgot our condition; for not only is it true, as Euripides hath it, that
The things we do possess are not our own;*
but in general no man can claim a strict propriety in any thing he hath: —
We ought not therefore to take it amiss if they demand those things which they lent us only for a small time; for even your common brokers, unless they are unjust, will not be displeased if they are called upon to refund their pawns, and if one of them is not altogether so ready to deliver them, thou mayst say to him without any injury, Hast thou forgot that thou receivedst them upon the condition to restore them? The same parity of reason holds amongst all men. The Gods have put life into our hands by a fatal necessity, and there is no prefixed time when what is so deposited will be required of us, as the brokers know not when their pawns will be demanded. If therefore any one is angry when he is dying himself, or resents the death of his children, is it not very plain, that he hath forgot that he himself is a man and that he hath begotten children as frail as himself? For a man that is in his wits cannot be ignorant that he is a mortal creature, and born to this very end that he must die. If Niobe, as it is in the fable, had had this sentence always at hand, that she must at length die, and could not
she would never have sunk to such a degree of desperation as to desire to throw off her life to ease the burthen of her sorrow, and call upon the Gods to hurry her into the utmost destruction. There are two sentences inscribed upon the Delphic oracle, hugely accommodated to the usages of man’s life, Know thyself, and Nothing too much; and upon these all other precepts depend. And they themselves accord and harmonize with each other, and each seems to illustrate the energy of the other; for in Know thyself is included Nothing too much; and so again in the latter is comprised Know thyself. And Ion hath spoken of it thus: —
And thus Pindar: —
29. He therefore that hath these impressed upon his mind as the precepts of the Pythian oracle, can easily conform himself to all the affairs of life, and bear them handsomely; considering his nature, so that he is neither lifted up to arrogance upon a prosperous event, nor when an adverse happens, is dejected into complaint through pusillanimity and that fear of death which is so congenial to us; both which proceed from the ignorance of those things which fall out in human life by necessity and fatal decree. The Pythagoreans speak handsomely to this purpose: —
Thus the tragedian Aeschylus: —
Euripides thus: —
In another place so: —
30. But many there are who blame all things; and whatsoever unexpectedly happens to them, they think is procured them by the malignity of Fortune and the spite of some evil genius. Wherefore they are querulous and cry out upon every occasion, inveighing against the bitterness of their mishaps. Their complaints we may not unfitly obviate with this expression, —
The Gods do hurt thee not, but thou thyself, —
even thou thyself through perverseness and want of good instruction. And by reason of this false and deceiving opinion they accuse any kind of death; for if one die upon his travel, they exclaim after this manner: —
If he die in his own country, with his parents about him, they lament that he is ravished out of their hands, and hath left them nothing but regret for his loss. If he die silent, giving them no instructions at parting, they complain thus: —
If he spoke any thing before he breathed out his soul, they keep those last accents as fuel to maintain their sorrow still kindled. If he die a sudden death, they cry out that he is snatched away; if chronical pains waste him, they will tell you that the slow distemper hath emaciated him to death. Thus every appearance, take it which way you will, is sufficient to stir up your complaints. These things the poets have introduced, and the chiefest among them, Homer, who sung after this manner: —
And whether these things are justly lamented doth not yet appear. But see what he elsewhere sings: —
31. Who knows but that the Deity, with a fatherly providence and out of tenderness to mankind, foreseeing what would happen, hath taken some purposely out of this life by an untimely death? So we should think that nothing has befallen them which they should have sought to shun, —
For nought that cometh by necessity is hard,∥
neither of those things which fall out by a precedent ratiocination or a subsequent. And many by a timely death have been withdrawn from greater calamities; so that it hath been good for some never to have been born at all; for others, that as soon as life hath been blown in it should be extinguished; for some, that they should live a little longer; and for others again, that they should be cropped in the prime of their youth. These several sorts of deaths should be taken in good part, since Fate is inevitable. Therefore it becomes men well educated to consider that those who have paid their debt to mortality have only gone before us a little time; that the longest life is but as a point in respect of eternity, and that many who have indulged their sorrow to excess have themselves followed in a small while those that they have lamented, having reaped no profit out of their complaints, but macerated themselves with voluntary afflictions. Since then the time of our pilgrimage in this life is but short, we ought not to consume ourselves with sordid grief, and so render ourselves unhappy by afflicting our minds and tormenting our bodies; but we should endeavor after a more manly and rational sort of life, and not associate ourselves with those who will be companions in grief and by flattering our tears will only excite them the more, but rather with those who will diminish our grief by solemn and generous consolation. And we ought to hear and keep in our remembrance those words of Homer wherewith Hector answers Andromache, comforting her after this manner: —
Which the poet expresseth in another place thus:
The thread which at his birth for him was spun.†
32. Having these things fixed in our minds, all vain and fruitless sorrow will be superseded; the time that we have all to live being but very short, we ought to spare and husband it, and not lay it out too prodigally upon sorrow, but rather spend it in tranquillity, deserting the mournful colors, and so take care of our own bodies, and consult the safety of those who live with us. It is requisite that we should call to mind what reasons we urged to our kinsmen and friends when they were in the like calamities, when we exhorted them to suffer these usual accidents of life with a common patience, and bear mortal things with humanity; lest being prepared with instructions for other men’s misfortunes, we reap no benefit ourselves out of the remembrance of those consolations, and so do not cure our minds by the sovereign application of reason. For in any thing a delay is less dangerous than in sorrow; and when by every one it is so tritely said, that he that procrastinates in an affair contests with destruction, I think the character will more fitly sit upon him who defers the removing his troubles and the perturbations of his mind.
33. We ought also to cast our eyes upon those conspicuous examples who have borne the deaths of their sons generously and with a great spirit; such as were Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, Demosthenes of Athens, Dion of Syracuse, King Antigonus, and many others who have lived either in our times or in the memory of our fathers. They report of Anaxagoras that, when he was reading natural philosophy to his pupils and reasoning with them, sudden news was brought him of the death of his son. He presently stopped short in his lecture, and said this to his auditors, I knew that I begot my son mortal. And of Pericles, who was surnamed Olympius for his wisdom and the strength of his eloquence, when he heard that both his sons were dead, Paralus and Xanthippus, how he behaved himself upon this accident Protagoras tells us in these words. “When his sons,” saith he, “being in the first verdure of their youth and handsome lads, died within eight days, he bore the calamity without any repining; for he was of a pacific temper, from whence there was every day an accession of advantages towards the making him happy, the being free from grief, and thereby acquiring a great reputation amongst his fellow-citizens. For every one that saw him bear this calamity with so brave a resolution thought him magnanimous, and indeed entertained an higher opinion of him than he strictly deserved; for he was conscious to himself of some weakness and defects in cases of this nature.” Now after he had received the news of the death of his sons, he put on a garland according to the custom of his country, and being clothed in white, he made an harangue to the people, was the author of safe and rational counsels, and stirred up the courage of his Athenians to warlike expeditions. Chronicles tell us, that when an express came out of the field to Xenophon the Socratic as he was sacrificing, which acquainted him that his son perished in the fight, he pulled the garland from his head, and enquired after what manner he fell; and it being told him that he died gallantly, making a great slaughter of his enemies, after he had paused awhile to recollect his thoughts and quiet his first emotion of concern with reason, he adorned his head again, finished the sacrifice, and spoke thus to the messengers: I did not make it my request to the Gods, that my son might be immortal or long-lived, for it is not manifest whether this was convenient for him or not, but that he might have integrity in his principles and be a lover of his country; and now I have my desire. Dion of Syracuse, as he was consulting with his friends concerning some affairs, heard a great noise; and crying out and asking what was the matter, he was told the accident, that his son was killed with a fall from the top of the house. He was not at all surprised or astonished at the disaster, but commanded the dead body to be delivered to the women, that they might bury it according to custom. But he went on with his first deliberations, and re-assumed his discourse in that part where this accident had broken it off. It is said that Demosthenes the orator imitated him upon the loss of his only and dearest daughter; about which Aeschines, thinking to upbraid him, spoke after this manner: Within seven days after the death of his daughter, before he had performed the decencies of sorrow, and paid those common rites to the memory of the deceased, he put on a garland, clothed himself in white, and sacrificed, thereby outraging decency, though he had lost his only daughter, the one which had first called him father.* Thus did Aeschines with the strokes of his oratory accuse Demosthenes, not knowing that he rather deserved a panegyric upon this occasion, when he rejected his sorrow and preferred the love of his country to the tenderness and compassion he ought to have for his relations. King Antigonus, when he heard the death of his son Alcyoneus who was slain in battle, looking steadily upon the messengers of these sad tidings, after a little interval of silence and with a modest countenance, spoke thus: O Alcyoneus, thou hast fallen later than I thought thou wouldst, so brisk wast thou to run upon the thickest of thy enemies, having no regard either to thy own safety or to my admonitions. Every one praiseth these men for the bravery of their spirit, but none can imitate what they have done, through the weakness of their minds which proceeds from want of good instruction. But although there are many examples extant, both in the Greek and Roman stories, of those who have borne the death of their relations not only with decency but courage, I think these that I have related to be a sufficient motive to thee to keep tormenting grief at a distance, and so ease thyself of that labor which hath no profit in it and is all in vain.
34. For that virtuous men die in the prime of their years by the kindness of the Gods, to whom they are peculiarly dear, I have already told thee in the former part of my discourse, and will give a short hint of it now, bearing witness to that which is so prettily said by Menander: —
He whom the Gods do love dies young.
But perhaps, my dear Apollonius, thou wilt thus object to me: My young Apollonius was blessed by fortune in his life, and I ought first to have died that he might bury me; for this is according to nature. According to our human nature, I confess; but Providence hath other measures, and that supreme order which governs the world is very different; for thy son being now made happy, it was not requisite according to nature that he should tarry in this life longer than the time prefixed him, but that, having consummated the term of his duration, he should perform his fatal journey, Nature recalling him to herself. But he died untimely, you may say. Upon that account he is the happier, not having been sensible of those evils which are incident to life. For Euripides said truly: —
Thy Apollonius died in the beautiful flower of his years, a youth in all points perfect, who gained the love, and provoked the emulation of all his contemporaries He was dutiful to his father and mother, obliging to his domestics, was a scholar, and (to comprehend all in a word) he was a lover of mankind. He had a veneration for the old men that were his friends, as if they had been his parents, had an affection for his companions and equals, reverenced his instructors, was hospitable and mild to his guests and strangers, gracious to all, and beloved by all, as well for his attractive countenance as for his lovely affability. Therefore, being accompanied with the applauses of thy piety and his own, he hath only made a digression from this mortal life to eternity, as if he had withdrawn from the entertainment before he grew absurd, and before the staggerings of drunkenness came upon him, which are incident to a long old age. Now if the sayings of the old philosophers and poets are true, as there is probability to think, that honors and high seats of dignity are conferred upon the righteous after they are departed this life, and if, as it is said, a particular region is appointed for their souls to dwell in, you ought to cherish very fair hopes that your son stands numbered amongst those blest inhabitants.
35. Of the state of the pious after death, Pindar discourseth after this manner: —
And proceeding farther, in another lamentation he spake thus concerning the soul: —
36. Divine Plato hath spoken many things of the immortality of the soul in that book which he calls his Phaedo; not a few in his Republic, his Menon, and his Gorgias; and hath some scattered expressions in the rest of his dialogues. The things which are written by him in his Dialogue concerning the Soul I will send you by themselves, illustrated with my commentaries upon them, according to your request. I will now only quote those which are opportune and to the present purpose, and they are the words of Socrates to Callicles the Athenian, who was the companion and scholar of Gorgias the rhetorician. For so saith Socrates in Plato: —
“Hear then,” saith he, “a most elegant story, which you, I fancy, will think to be a fable, but I take it to be a truth, for the things which I shall tell you have nothing but reality in them. Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto, as Homer tells us, divided amongst themselves the kingdom which they received by inheritance from their father; but there was a law established concerning men in the reign of Saturn, which was then valid and still remains in force amongst the Gods, that that mortal which had led a just and pious life should go, when he died, into the fortunate islands of the blest, and there dwell in happiness, free from all misery; but he that had lived impiously and in contempt of the Gods should be shackled with vengeance, and be thrust into that prison which they call Tartarus. In the time of Saturn, and in the first beginning of Jove’s empire, the living judged the living, and that the same day that they were to die; whereupon the decisions of the bench were not rightly managed. Therefore Pluto and his curators under him came out of these fortunate islands, and complained to Jupiter that men were sent to both places who were not worthy. I, saith Jupiter, will take care that this thing be not practised for the future; for the reason that the sentences are now unjustly passed is that the guilty come clothed to the tribunal, and whilst they are yet alive. For some of profligate dispositions are yet palliated with a beautiful outside, with riches, and titles of nobility; and so when they come to be arraigned, many will offer themselves as witnesses to swear that they have lived very pious lives. The judges are dazzled with these appearances, and they sit upon them too in their robes; so that their minds are (as it were) covered and obscured with eyes and ears, and indeed with the encumbrance of the whole body. The judges and the prisoners being clothed is thus a very great impediment. Therefore in the first place the foreknowledge of death is to be taken away; for now they see the end of their line, and Prometheus has been commanded to see that this be no longer allowed. Next they ought to be divested of all dress and ornament, and come dead to the tribunal. The judge himself is to be naked and dead too, that with his own soul he may view the naked soul of each one so soon as he is dead, when he is now forsaken of his relations, and has left behind him all his gayeties in the other world; and so justice will be impartially pronounced. Deliberating on this with myself before I received your advice, I have constituted my sons judges, Minos and Rhadamanthus from Asia, and Aeacus from Europe; these therefore, after they have departed this life, shall assume their character, and exercise it in the field, and in the road where two ways divide themselves, the one leading to the fortunate islands, and the other to the deep abyss; so Rhadamanthus shall judge the Asians, and Aeacus the Europeans. But to Minos I will grant the authority of a final appeal, that if any thing hath escaped the notice of the others, it shall be subjected to his cognizance, as to the last resort of a supreme judge; that so it may be rightly decided what journey every one ought to take. These are the things, Callicles, which I have heard and think to be true; and I draw this rational inference from them, that death in my opinion is nothing else but the separation of two things nearly united, which are soul and body.”*
37. These collections, my dear Apollonius, I have joined together with all the accuracy I could, and out of them composed this consolatory letter I now send thee, which is very necessary to dispel thy melancholy humor and put a period to thy sighs. I have paid likewise that deference which became me to the ashes of thy son, who is the darling of the Gods, such an honor being most acceptable to those whom fame hath consecrated to immortality. Thou wilt therefore do handsomely to believe the reasons I have urged to thee, and gratify thy deceased son, by shaking off this unprofitable sorrow, which eats into thy mind and afflicts thy body, and again returning to that course of humor which nature hath chalked out and the former customs of thy life have made familiar to thee. For as, when thy son lived amongst us, he could not without the deepest regret see thee or his mother sad, so now that he is amongst the Gods enjoying the intimacy of their conversation, such a prospect from thence must be much more displeasing. Therefore take up the resolutions of a good and generous man and of one who loved his son, and so extricate thyself, the mother of the lad, thy kinsmen and friends at once from this great infelicity. Betake thyself to a more tranquil sort of life; which, as it will be acceptable to thy son, will also be extremely pleasing to all of us who have that concern for thee that we ought to have.
[* ]Aesch. Prom. 378.
[* ]From the Stheneboea of Euripides, Frag. 662.
[* ]From Euripides.
[† ]Eurip. Iph. Aul. 29.
[* ]Il. XII. 327.
[† ]Eurip. Phoeniss. 558.
[‡ ]From the Ino of Euripides.
[* ]From the Ino of Euripides.
[† ]Pindar, Pyth. VIII. 135.
[* ]Odyss. XVIII. 130.
[† ]Il. VI. 145.
[‡ ]Il. XXI. 463.
[* ]Il. XXIV. 522.
[* ]Hesiod, Works and Days, 94.
[† ]From the Danae of Euripides.
[* ]From Euripides.
[* ]Pindar, Pyth. III. 145.
[† ]Eurip. Alcestis, 792.
[‡ ]See Odyss. XIII. 80; and Il. XIV. 231; XVI. 672; XI. 241.
[* ]Plat. Phaed. pp. 66 B — 67 B.
[* ]From Aeschylus.
[* ]Eurip. Suppliants, 1109.
[† ]From the Cresphontes of Euripides.
[* ]From the Hypsipyle of Euripides.
[* ]Odyss. XV. 245.
[* ]See the Latin version in Cicero, Tusc. III. 14, 29.
[† ]Plato, Repub. X. p. 604 B.
[* ]Μεῖον Τρωίλος ἐδάκρυσεν ἢ Πρίαμος is a saying of Callimachus, as we learn from Cicero, Tusc. I. 39: Quanquam non male ait Callimachus, multo saepius lacrimasse Priamum quam Troilum. (G.)
[* ]Il. XXII. 56
[* ]See Il. XXIII. 109; Odyss. I. 423.
[† ]Hesiod, Works and Days, 94.
[* ]Eurip. Phoeniss. 555.
[* ]Il. XI. 452.
[* ]Il. XXIV. 744.
[† ]Il. XXIII. 222; XVII. 37
[‡ ]Il. IX. 482.
[∥ ]From Euripides.
[* ]Il. VI. 486.
[† ]Il. XX. 128.
[* ]Aeschines against Ctesiphon, § 77.
[* ]Plat Gorg. 523 A — 524 B.