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10 - Philodemus and the fear of premature death

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 June 2011

Kirk R. Sanders
Affiliation:
University of Illinois
Jeffrey Fish
Affiliation:
Baylor University, Texas
Kirk R. Sanders
Affiliation:
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
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Summary

INTRODUCTION

Attempts to dispel fear of death by claiming that life continues on in some fashion post mortem are commonplace. Such was not, however, the approach adopted by the ancient Epicureans. On the contrary, Epicurus is frequently credited with originating the argument that death is not to be feared, precisely because it is the end of existence. That no person survives his own death is a proposition to which the Epicureans are unquestionably committed. It is also true that Epicurus and his followers consistently represent fear of death as one of the greatest impediments to human flourishing. Nevertheless, Epicurean attitudes toward death and its associated fears turn out to be considerably more nuanced than generally recognized.

To speak of the fear of death already risks obscuring the protean nature of the phenomenon in question. People in fact fear a diversity of things related to death for equally diverse reasons. The Epicureans are sometimes accused of failing to appreciate, or at least to have addressed, this actual multiplicity of death-related fears. Such accusations are unwarranted, as several recent commentators have convincingly demonstrated. Epicurean sources in fact contain arguments directed at many distinct fears of death. What has yet to be fully appreciated is the degree to which Epicureanism is able to countenance at least certain of these fears.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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