EPICURUS’ SECOND REMEDY: “DEATH IS NOTHING TO US”

P.E. Bjarnason

Abstract


Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
(Shakespeare, Julius Caesar II, ii, 32-37)

That death is complete extinction is the message forcefully driven home by the Epicurean analysis of the soul as a temporary amalgam of atomic particles . . . The moral corollary, that you should not let the fear of death ruin your life, is a cardinal tenet of Epicurean ethics. (Long and Sedley 1987:153)

The second remedy of the tetrapharmakos concerns the second of the two great fears to which man is subject: death. Frischer (1982:208) observes that the Epicureans regarded death as “more damaging to peace of mind than all other fears except fear of the gods”. The Epicurean position is stated clearly in the surviving writings of the Master, and it is necessary to go directly to the ipsissima verba as our starting point, and then to augment our understanding of Epicurus’ words with further passages from later Epicureans and other philosophers. In these writings we shall see that death, as the material dissolution of body and soul, is a process at once natural, inevitable, and final.


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7445/48-0-97

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