2. Death is nothing to us, because that which is dead has no sensations, and that which cannot be sensed is nothing to us.
Alternate Translations: Bailey: Death is nothing to us: for that which is dissolved is without sensation; and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us. Yonge: Death is nothing to us: for that which is dissolved is without sensation; and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us. Strodach: Death means nothing to us, because that which has been broken down into atoms has no sensation, and that which has no sensation is no concern of ours.
Letter to Menoeceus : Next, accustom yourself to think that death is a matter with which we are not at all concerned. This is because all good and all evil come to us through sensation, and death brings the end of all our sensations. The correct understanding that death is no concern of ours allows us to take pleasure in our mortal lives, not because it adds to life an infinite span of time, but because it relieves us of the longing for immortality as a refuge from the fear of death. For there can be nothing terrible in living for a man who rightly comprehends that there is nothing terrible in ceasing to live. Seen in this way, it was a silly man who once said that he feared death, not because it would grieve him when it was present, but because it grieved him now to consider it to be coming in the future. But it is absurd that something that does not distress a man when it is present should afflict him when it has not yet arrived. Therefore the most terrifying of fears, death, is nothing to us, since so long as we exist death is not present with us, and when death comes, then we no longer exist. Death, then, is of no concern either to the living or to the dead – to the living, death has no existence, and to the dead, no concerns of any kind are possible.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: Observe that if one removes from mankind of all the faculties that Nature has provided, nothing remains.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus : Let us imagine a man who is living in the continuous enjoyment of numerous vivid pleasures, of both body and of mind, and who is undisturbed either by the presence or by the prospect of pain. What possible state of existence could we describe as being more excellent or more desirable? A man so situated must possess in the first place a strength of mind that is impregnable against all fear of death or of pain. He will have no fear of death because he will know that death only means complete unconsciousness, and he will have no fear of pain, because he will know that while he is alive, pain that is long is generally light, and pain that is strong is generally short. In other words, he will also know that the intensity of pain is alleviated by the briefness of its duration, and that continuing pain is bearable because it is generally of lesser severity. Let such a man moreover have no fear of any supernatural power; let him never allow the pleasures of the past to fade away, but let him constantly renew their enjoyment in his recollection, and his lot will be one which will not admit of further improvement.
Cicero’s Defense of Epicurus: The fear of death plays havoc with the calm and even tenor of life, and it is a pitiful thing to bow the head to pain and bear it abjectly and feebly. Such weakness has caused many men to betray their parents or their friends; some even betray their own country, and very many utterly fall to ruin themselves. On the other hand, a strong and lofty spirit is entirely free from anxiety and sorrow, and makes light of death, for the dead are only as they were before they were born. It is wise to recall that pains of great severity are ended by death, and slight pains have frequent intervals of respite; while pains of medium intensity lie within our ability to control. If pains are endurable then we can bear them, and if they are unendurable, we may choose ourselves to leave life’s theater serenely when the play has ceased to please us.
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book III : Death is nothing to us, concerning us not at all, since the nature of the mind is mortal. Think how in times gone by we felt no distress when the Carthaginians from all sides came together to do battle, and all things were shaken by war’s troubling uproar, shuddering and quaking beneath high heaven, and mortal men were in doubt which of the two peoples it would be whose empire would fall by land and sea. So the same applies when we ourselves shall be no more, when our body and soul are separated, out of the both of which we are formed into a single being. You may be sure that for us, who shall then be no more, nothing whatever can happen to excite sensation, not if earth itself should be overturned to mingle with the sea and the sea with heaven. And even supposing the nature of the mind and power of the soul do have feeling, after they have been severed from our body, that is still nothing to us, who by the marriage of body and soul are formed into one single being.
And even if time should gather up after our death that material from which we are made and put it once more into the position in which it now holds, and give the light of life to us again – even this result even would not concern us at all. This is because the chain of our self-consciousness has been snapped asunder, just as we now have no concern about any life which the material from which we are made might have held before our birth, nor do we feel any distress about that prior life. When you look back on the whole past course of immeasurable time, and think how many are the combinations which the motions of matter take, you may easily believe that the very same seeds from which we are now formed have often before been placed in the same order in which they now are. And yet we can recall no memory of this — a break in our existence has been interposed, and all the materials from which we are made have wandered to and fro, far astray from the sensations they once produced. For he to whom evil befalls must exist as his own person at the time that evil comes, if the misery and suffering are to happen to him at all. But since death precludes this, and takes away the existence of him on whom evil can be brought, you may be sure that we have nothing to fear after death. He who does not exist cannot become miserable, and once death has taken away his mortal life, it does not matter at all whether he has lived at any other time. Therefore when you see a man bemoaning his hard life, worrying that after death he shall either rot with his body laid in the grave, or be devoured by flames, or by the jaws of wild beasts, you may be sure that there lurks in his heart a secret fear, though he may declare that he does not believe that any sense will remain to him after death. Such a man does not really hold the conclusion which he professes to hold, nor believe the principle which he professes.
For such a man may profess that his body is fully dead, but yet unconsciously imagine something of self to survive, and worry that birds and beasts will rend his body after death, moaning for his end. Such a man does not separate himself from what remains after he has died, and instead he fancies himself to be those remains, and he stands by and impregnates those remains with his own sensations. For this reason he makes much of bemoaning that he has been born mortal, and he does not see that after death there will be no other self to remain and lament to itself that he has met death, and to stand and grieve that he is lying there mangled or burnt. For if it is an evil to be pulled about by the devouring jaws of wild beasts after death, I cannot see why it should not be just as cruel a pain to be laid on fires and burn in hot flames, or to be placed in honey and stifled, or to stiffen with cold, stretched on the smooth surface of an icy slab of stone, or to be pressed down and crushed by a load of earth above.
Some men say to themselves: “No more shall my house admit me with glad welcome, nor a virtuous wife and sweet children run to be the first to snatch kisses and touch my heart with joy. No more may I be prosperous in my doings, a safeguard to my own. One disastrous day has taken from me, luckless man, all the many prizes of life.” But these men do not add: “And now no longer does any craving for these things beset me either.” For if these men could rightly perceive this in thought, and follow up the thought in words, they would release themselves from great distress and apprehension of mind: “You, even as you are now, sunk in the sleep of death, shall continue so to be so for all time to come, freed from all distressful pains. But we who remain, with a sorrow that could not be healed, wept for you when close you turned to an ashen heap on your funeral pile, and no length of days shall pluck from our hearts our ever-during grief.” To those who mourn for the dead, this question should be asked: “What is there in death so extremely bitter, if it comes in the end to sleep and rest, that anyone should pine over the dead in never-ending sorrow?” This too men often love to say, when they have reclined at table, cup in hand, and shaded their brows with crowns:” Short is this enjoyment for poor weak men; presently it will have passed and never after may it be called back!” Such men say this as if, after their death, their chief affliction will be thirst and parching drought, burning them up, luckless wretches, or craving for any thing else. What folly!
No one feels the need for himself and life when mind and body are together sunk in sleep. For all we care, this sleep might be everlasting, and no craving whatever for ourselves would move us. And yet those first beginnings throughout our frame wander far away from their sense-producing motions before a man starts up from sleep and collects himself. Death therefore must be thought to concern us much less than sleep, if less there can be than what we see to be nothing during sleep, for a greater dispersion of our first-beginnings follows after death, and no one wakes up once the chill cessation of life has come. If Nature could suddenly utter a voice and address us in person, she might use words such as these: “Why do you, O mortal, go on to such length in sickly sorrow? Why do you bemoan and bewail death? For have you had a good life, and do you say that the life you have lost has been welcome to you, and that your blessings have not all been poured as if into a perforated jar, from which they have run through and been lost to no avail? If your life has been so blessed, why not then depart from life like a guest filled with food and drink as if at the end of a party, and with relief that it is over enter upon untroubled rest?”
“But if on the other hand you have had a bad life, and all that you enjoyed has been squandered and lost, and if life is a grievance to you, why seek to continue that life any longer, to be wasted in its turn and utterly lost for nothing? Why not rather make an end of life and its troubles? For there is nothing more which I can contrive for you to give you pleasure. All things are always the same, and even if your body is not yet decayed with age nor worn out and exhausted, yet all things will remain the same, even if you should outlast all men now living – even if you should never die!” What answer could we give to Nature, but that her case is well-founded and that she pleads it honestly and well? If, however, a man more advanced in years should complain about his death more than is right, would Nature not with even greater cause raise her voice in words such as these: “Away with thy tears, rascal; a truce to your complaining. Your death comes after full enjoyment of all the prizes of life. Because you nevertheless yearn for what you do not have, and despise what you do have, life has slipped from your grasp unfinished and unsatisfied. And now, before you expected it, death has taken its stand at your bedside, before you can take your departure satisfied and filled with good things. Give up those things that are unsuited to your age, and with good grace and nobility get up and go: you must.”
Nature’s charge would be brought with good reason, for old things must give way and be supplanted by the new, and new things must ever be replenished out of old things. No one is delivered over to the pit and black Tartarus to be utterly destroyed – matter is needed for future generations to grow. All of these, too, will follow you when you have finished your term of life, just as all those that have come before and after, no less than you, have and always will come to their own ends. Thus one thing will never cease to rise out of another – life is granted to none to possess forever, to all it is only a loan. Think how the bygone antiquity of everlasting time before our birth was nothing to us. Nature holds those ancient days up to us as a mirror of the time yet to come after our death. Is there anything in this that looks appalling, anything that appears gloomy? Is this not a rest more untroubled than any sleep?
Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book III : This too you may sometimes say to yourself, “Even worthy Ancus has seen his eyes close to the light, and he was a far better man than you. And since then many other kings and potentates have been laid low. Even that great king who once paved a way over the sea as a path for his legions to march, and taught them to pass on foot over the roaring of the sea, trampling on it with his horses, had the light taken from him and shed forth his soul from his dying body. Even the son of the Scipios, thunderbolt of war, terror of Carthage, yielded his bones to earth just as if he were the lowest laborer. Think, too, of the inventors of all sciences and arts, think of those such as Homer, who was without a peer, but yet now sleeps the same sleep as the others. Then there was Democritus who, when he found that his memory was failing him in old age, offered up himself to death. Even Epicurus himself, who surpassed in intellect all other men and quenched the light of all rivals, as the sun quenches the stars, passed away when his light of life had run its course. Will you then hesitate and think it a hardship for you to die? You for whom life is not far from death even while you yet live and see the light of day? You, who spends the greater part of your time in sleep, and snore even when you are wide awake, and never cease seeing visions? You, who have a mind troubled with groundless terrors, and cannot discover what it is that troubles you? You, pitiful man that you are, pressed on all sides with many cares, who constantly stray due to the tumbled wanderings of your mind?
If, just as men feel the weight of the load on their minds which oppresses them, they would understand from what causes this load is produced, and why such a weight lies on their hearts, they would not spend their lives as we see most of them do. Such men never know – any one of them – what they want, and thus always seek a change of place as though they might there lay down their burdens. Men who are sick of being home often issue forth from their mansions, but just as suddenly come back to it, once they find that they are no better off abroad. Such men race to their country-house, driving his horses in headlong haste as if hurrying to bring help to a house on fire. But then the moment he reaches the door of his house he yawns, and sinks heavily into sleep, seeking forgetfulness, or even in haste goes back again to town. In this way each man flies from himself, but as you may be sure is commonly the case, he cannot escape from himself, which always clings to him against his wishes. Such a man hates himself because he is sick, but does not know not the cause of his sickness. For if he could rightly see into these matters, giving up all other distractions, he would study to learn the Nature of things, since the point at stake is his condition – not for one hour – but for eternity: the state in which all mortals must pass all the time which remains after death.
Once more, what evil lust for life is this which constrains us with such force to be so troubled by doubt and danger? A set term of life is fixed for all mortals, and death cannot be avoided – meet it we must. Moreover, we are always engaged in the same pursuits, and no new pleasure is available by living on. But so long as we crave what we lack, that desire seems to transcend all the rest. When once it is obtained, we then crave something else, and ever does the same thirst for life possess us, as we gape for with open mouth. It is quite doubtful what fortune the future will bring with it, or what chance will bring us, or what end is at hand. Nor, by prolonging life, do we take one moment from the time we pass in death, nor can we by worrying spend a moment less in the eternity of death. You may live as many generations as you please during your life, but nonetheless everlasting death will await you. For the man who ended his life today will be no less time in nonexistence than the man who died many months or many years ago.
NewEpicurean Commentary: In regard to death, we must keep in mind that we are conscious that we are alive only because we experience life through our eyes, ears, and our other sensations. When we die, these sensations come to an end, and thus so does our ability to experience anything. For that reason, death is not to be feared, because once you are dead, your sensations end, and thus your consciousness ends. Even if the components which made up your consciousness continue to exist in some form, in such a state whatever is left of you has no sensation and therefore no ability to feel any kind of pain. Further, do not allow yourself to feel any regret that your consciousness will not live forever. You do not now worry about your condition during all the time that passed before you were born, and in the same way there is no need for you to worry about the eternity that will pass after your death. All the things that will happen after your death are simply a mirror of all that happened before you were born — neither should cause you to fear to live today to its fullest potential. This is not to say that death is of no significance to us. Death is a part of our nature as human beings, but Nature has designed us to live, and our natural goal is to live a life of happiness. A life of good health and happiness is to be pursued with all our strength, and the ending of that life is certainly of very great significance. What is referred to here is simply that death is the end of our consciousness, and we have no continued state after death to be concerned about, and so in that context, indeed, death is nothing to us.