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“ Life, Death, and that vast For-ever.”



(427-347 B.c.)

NURELY when the soul cannot be killed or destroyed

by its own depravity and its own evil, hardly will the evil, which is charged with the destruction of another thing, destroy a soul or anything else, beyond its own appropriate object. Hence, as it is destroyed by no evil at all, whether foreign to it or its own, it is clear that the soul must be always existing, and therefore immortal.

Shall we not agree that all things which come from the gods come in the best possible shape to the man whom they love, unless some past sin has already doomed him to a certain amount of suffering ? ... Hence, in the case of the just man, we must assume that, whether poverty be his lot, or sickness, or any other reputed evil, all will work for his final advantage, either in this life, or in the next.

For, unquestionably, the gods can never neglect a man who determines to strive earnestly to become just, and by the practice of virtue to grow as much like God as man is permitted to do.

If we follow my advice, believing the soul to be immortal, and to possess the power of entertaining all evil as well as all good, we shall ever hold fast the


upward road, and devotedly cultivate justice combined with wisdom, in order that we may be loved by one another and by the gods, not only during our stay on earth, but also when, like conquerors in the games collecting the presents of their admirers, we receive the prizes of virtue.1


(100–43 B.c.)


THE nearer death advances towards me, the more

clearly I seem to discern its real nature. ... The soul, during her confinement within this prison of the body, is doomed by fate to undergo a severe penance : for her native seat is in heaven; and it is with reluctance that she is forced down from those celestial mansions into these lower regions, where all is foreign and repugnant to her divine nature.

But the gods, I am persuaded, have thus widely disseminated immortal spirits, and clothed them with human bodies, that there might be a race of intelligent creatures, not only to have dominion over this our earth, but to contemplate the host of heaven, and imitate in their moral conduct the same beautiful order and uniformity, so conspicuous in those splendid orbs. This opinion I am induced to embrace, not only as agreeable to the best deductions of reason, but in just deference also to the authority of the noblest and most distinguished philosophers. When I consider the faculties with which the human mind is endued; its amazing celerity; its wonderful power in recollecting past events, and sagacity in 1 From the Republic, Bk. x. (trans. by Davies and Vaughan).

discerning future; together with its numberless discoveries in the several arts and sciences — I feel a conscious conviction that this active, comprehensive principle cannot possibly be of a mortal nature. And as this unceasing activity of the soul derives its

energy from its own innate powers without receiving it from any foreign or external impulse, it necessarily follows (as it is absurd to suppose the soul could ever desert itself) that its activity must continue for ever.

Tell me, my friends, whence is it that those men who have made the greatest advances in true wisdom and genuine philosophy are observed to meet death with the most perfect equanimity, while the ignorant and unimproved part of our species generally see its approach with the utmost discomposure and reluctance? Is it not because the more enlightened the mind is, and the farther it extends its view, the more clearly it discerns in the hour of its dissolution (what narrow and vulgar souls are too short - sighted to discover) that it is taking its flight into some happier region ? . . . The sincere truth is, if some divinity would confer on me a new grant of my life, and replace me once more in the cradle, I would utterly, and without the least hesitation, reject the offer : having wellnigh finished my race, I have no inclination to return to the goal. For what has life to recommend it? or rather, indeed, to what evils does it not expose us ? But admit that its satisfactions are many; yet surely there is a time when we have had a sufficient measure of its enjoyments, and may well depart contented with our share of the feast. For I mean not, in imitation of some very considerable philosophers, to represent

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