Monday, April 29, 2013
Travels with Epicurus
Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life
This is a delightful little book! A well-written and witty travelogue, it captures the idyllic character of a Greek island. But it is much more than a travelogue; it captures the essence of life itself.
Armed with a bag of philosophy books, the 73-year-old Klein returns to Greece and to the island of Hydra to contemplate life in old age. Here, he is able to peruse the writings of Epicurus and other philosophers, both ancient and modern, as he attempts to find answers to guide him through his remaining years, to become “a fulfilled old man.”
Epicurus (341 to 270 BCE) considered that the highest good of life is pleasure, and that old age is the pinnacle of life, providing a unique chance for unbounded, wide-ranging thought. “When a man is old he may be young in good things through the pleasing recollection of the past.”
But Epicurus was no hedonist. He was convinced that mental pleasures exceed physical pleasures. His views on sex can only be described as prudish.
He did not believe in an afterlife, and was not afraid of death. “Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not. Death is no more alarming than the nothingness before birth."
Klein’s favourite haunt on Hydra is Dimitri’s Taverna, where he loves to eavesdrop on the conversations among an interesting group of older Greek men sitting at Tasso’s table. And he ends his month on Hydra enjoying Easter dinner with Tasso and his family.
On a visit to an old age home on the mountainside above the town, he meets Spyros, a senile and incontinent old man in his 90s, an encounter that affects Klein deeply. He falls back on the Roman philosopher Seneca: “Dying well means escape from the danger of living ill.” But, Klein asks, how do we know when we must “escape?”
- D’Arcy McGee