BOOK I, CHAPTER XX
But it is madness to think of arriving where one desires by that road. Men go and come, they gad about and dance — of death, no thought. That is all very fine; but when death comes to them, or to their wives, children, or friends, surprising them suddenly and defenceless, what anguish, what shrieks, what frenzy, and what despair overwhelms them! Saw you ever any thing so cast down, so changed, so bewildered? We must provide against it earlier; and such brutish thoughtlessness, if it could lodge in the head of a man of intelligence, — which I deem altogether impossible, — sells us its merchandise too dear. If it were an enemy that could be avoided, I would advise borrowing the arms of cowardice; but since it is such a one as can not be avoided, (b) since it overtakes you running away and a coward, as it does a worthy man, —
(a) Nempe et fugacem persequitur virum,
Nec parcit imbellis juventæ
Poplitibus timidoque tergo;
(b) since the best cuirass does not protect you, —
Ille licet ferro cautus se condat ære,
Mors tamen inclusum protrahet inde caput, —
(a) let us learn to meet it firmly and to combat it; and, to begin by depriving it of its greatest advantage over us, let us adopt a course just contrary to the usual one. Let us deprive it of its unfamiliarity, let us live with it, let us habituate ourselves to it; let us think of nothing so often as of death; let us constantly place it before our imaginations and in all its aspects; at the stumbling of a horse, at the fall of a tile, at the slightest prick of a pin, let us immediately reflect: Well, what if this were death itself? and thereupon let us stiffen and strengthen ourselves. Amid
- En dessoude; from de and soude, a variant of soudain.
- And assuredly it pursues the man who flees and does not spare the hamstrings and the timid back of cowardly young men. — Horace, Odes, III, 2.14. The original has in the first line Mors instead of Nempe.
- He may protect himself prudently with iron and bronze; none the less death drags his head forth from its encasement. — Propertius, III, 18.25.
- Cf. Seneca, Epistle 4.