How To Die by Seneca

how to die

With a title like How to Die, I had to check it out. Also, it’s part of a series of books from Princeton University Press called Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers. They’re short, compact, very readable “How To” translations of ancient philosophical works. I’ve read four so far and this is my second by Seneca, a 1st century Stoic philosopher, (the first was How To Keep Your Cool which I highly recommend). One thing to note about the appearance of this book. The first half is in English and the last half is the original Latin. All the Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers books are sort of like this (some have the original Greek). Usually every left page is in Latin with the translation on the right side. So these books are half  the size they look. 

I read this mainly because I wanted to learn more about Stoic philosophy and because I want to read through all the Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers book series. 

The title grabbed me and I like Seneca after reading his How To Keep Your Cool (from his work De Ira). Although I have to say, I found that book to be much more inspiring. That’s probably good since How To Die literally teaches you how to die, to accept death and not fear it. This sounds good but for the fact that Seneca actually teaches the reader to openly welcome death if your life is so miserable. He sees suicide as a perfectly acceptable way to end suffering in this life. 

I appreciate Seneca’s consistency in his view. As Seneca has no belief in any sort of afterlife, good or bad, it’s consistent that he would think killing yourself is a perfectly fine exit. He gives no concern to how our loved ones might feel if we were to check ourselves out. But I get the impression that he wouldn’t recommend suicide to anyone with loved ones who would care if they were gone. 

As a Christian, of course, I wouldn’t agree with Seneca’s hopeless view of the other side of death. The truth is that this mortal coil is not all there ever is to our lives. We do have an eternal consciousness that will go on forever either in eternal life with Christ or eternal death in hell.  The precious little time we have on this earth is meant to be lived for the glory of God. In Philippians 1:21-24 says,  “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

We have work to do while we’re here. If our lives seem hopeless enough to kill ourselves the answer is not to slit our wrists as Seneca suggests, but rather to find our hope for eternal life in Christ, not only for when we finally do die, but for our lives on earth now as well.

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