Title

Dying to Die Right: A Look at Death in Ancient Rome

Authors

Jeff Eamon

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2010

Abstract

Valerie M. Hope explains in her book Death in Ancient Rome that many of us in the modern world have a ?hospitalized? relationship to death. With a nearly religious belief in the usage of Western medicine and advanced methods of prolonging life, it is not outrageous to claim that today many judge their lives based on the quantity, rather than quality, of their years. For my research, I examined the perspectives of various Roman philosophers and notables? on death to see the ways in which views on mortality have evolved. Some Ancient Romans conceived of death not as something to be feared and avoided, but rather as an inevitable fate that should be faced honorably, with the utmost degree of self-control and courage. Recognizing that the pain of life eclipsed the perils of death, one?s end was not viewed as terrible fate, but as a natural conclusion. The different schools of philosophy in Ancient Rome certainly had varying ideas about dying, but the commonality that united them was this view that death was to be embraced, or at least reckoned with, in life. I discovered that this fearless approach to death made the contemplative members of society fully conscious that, to use the words of Seneca, even "the dirtiest death is preferable to the daintiest slavery"[i.e., to a life obsessing or fearing death]. Ultimately, I was able to see how this commitment to contemplating one?s mortality eliminated much of the anxiety of living, allowing one to pass into death and whatever lay behind it with the highest degree of contentment and serenity.

Advisor

Kristi Upson-Saia

Department

religious_studies

Support

Ford Research Endowment

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