Seneca wants us to eliminate the propensity to regret our mortality, “Before I became old, I took care to live well; in old age, I take care to die well.”5 No life is long and a life is long enough once one attains wisdom. He tells Lucilius, “Make haste to live…and think each of your days to be an individual life. The man who accustoms himself to this way of thought, for whom life is complete each day, if free of worry…”6 This is the paradox Seneca teaches, preparation for death entails living life to its fullest!
Seneca also speaks frequently of death as liberation or freedom, although in his letters, he is often referring to suicide – and in fact he died by his own hand at the command of the Roman Emperor, Nero. The lesson for our time, where human afflictions are treatable and politics is less bloodthirsty, is that death after terminal illness or fraility of advanced age is release from suffering. And even in our century we control to some extent the final time of death depending on how we face disease.
Last Seneca finds solace in the knowledge that we share death with all men, in fact with all life. We then are part of a whole, “there are fixed seasons by which all things progress; they must be born, grow, and perish.”7 And “Nature has this one particular point among other instances of its justice: when the time arrives to leave this world, we’re all in the same condition.”8
Preparation for death by living fully and following Seneca’s five steps is one of the fundamental lessons of the investigation of human mortality. Next we will juxtapose being and nonbeing to uncover a second key truth.
1Seneca, How to Die, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 2018. ISBN 978-0-691-17557-7, page ix-x.
2Ibid, page 2.
3Ibid, page 22.
5Ibid, page 38.
6Ibid, page 56.
7Ibid, page 100.
8Ibid, page 109.