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The Difficulty and Joy of Dying

“The thought that my life could end at any moment frees me to fully appreciate the beauty and art and horror of everything this world has to offer.” – Hannibal Lecter

This may come as a surprise for some of you but before Nietzsche got caught up with Schopenhauer he used to read the Stoics a lot. In fact, much of his formal education focused on Stoicism. Scholarly findings reveal that the works of Seneca and Epictetus are among the most heavily read and annotated in his library. My reason for bringing this up here is because Hannibal’s above quote feels somewhat reminiscent of the Stoics. Coming up are passages by two influential Stoics  that may help to elucidate the logic behind Hannibal’s thinking and the reason for keeping our mortality in mind.

“Rehearse this every day, so that you will be able to let go of life with equanimity. Many people grasp and hold on to life, like those caught by a flash flood who grasp at weeds and brambles. Most are tossed about between the fear of death and the torments of life: they do not want to live but do not know how to die. Cast off your solicitude for life, then, and in doing so make life enjoyable for yourself. No good thing benefits us while we have it unless we are mentally prepared for the loss of it. And of all losses this is the easiest to bear, since once life is gone, you cannot miss it.” – Seneca, Letters on Ethics 4.5,6

So we come to appreciate the horror of everything this world has to offer by accepting it as being the natural course of events and by meditating upon it so as to better prepare ourselves to make light of the cold cruel reality that surrounds us and at any moment can drag us into its house of terror:

“We ourselves are beset by storms of the mind every day of our lives, and our vices bring us all the troubles that Ulysses faced. They are all here: beauty that beguiles the eye, enemies, savage monsters that delight in human gore, on one side the Sirens’ song, on the other shipwrecks and perils of every kind.” – Seneca, Letters on Ethics 88.7

The ancient Stoics recognized the significance of myth and how it works to help us bridge our reality with the unknown and perplexed. One great pre-Übermensch who forged one of the largest empires in the history of the world also understood the importance of taming the mind to embrace whatever fortune might send our way. Marcus Aurelius didn’t weaken himself with Christian sentiment but embodied the civic virtues in order to rule with authenticity and power.

“First, tragedies were brought on stage to remind you of what can happen, that these happenings are determined by nature, and that what moves you in the theatre should not burden you on the larger stage of life.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 11.6

Similarly, Hannibal has also embraced his own system of virtues—I make my own home be my gallows—albeit tempered with vice in a very sophisticated way. He is intimately familiar with all the layers of Dante’s Inferno and can pinpoint the location of each evil consequence with precision. A medieval mind map if you will and at its core the ever evolving eyes of perspectivism. Hannibal aligns his will with the most beautiful of creations and knows how to entrap and exploit the weaknesses of men. Our universal fear of death keeps the mouse wheel turning and each peculiar lust our soul a yearning.

So let us not talk falsely now, we are each taken in by the allurement of it all, what would be the point of it otherwise? Only those who have been beaten over the head too many times will attempt to tackle this question. Alas, the herd mentality continues to exist with the same brute force of a dinosaur. So let’s direct our attention elsewhere, easy enough; I for one would prefer not to return to our primitive state or remain blind to mankind’s Machiavellian ways of consuming each other.

About Philosopher Muse

An explorer of volition and soul, a song under a night sky and a dream that forever yearns to be.

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