12 May 2009

you can live and die at peace

True, we men are assailed by grief in our lives, and we lament. But in the end lamentation must cease, giving way to peace and acceptance of our lot. Socrates sets the great example: where consuming sorrow seems in place, there springs the great, loving peace which opens the soul. Death has lost its meaning. It is not veiled over, but the authentic life is not a life toward death; it is a life toward the good.
 While Socrates, in his last moments, already seems far away from life, still, he is lovingly aware of every little human reality, such as the jailer's kind attentiveness. He has a thought for the proprieties: "Perhaps it will be well to bathe before drinking the poison, and so spare the women the trouble of washing my body."
 All pathos vanishes amid jests and such attention to practical matters. These betoken peace of mind. Democritus, who remained more on the surface of things, believed that to achieve peace of mind it sufficed to live with moderation and stick to the tasks that are within your capacities. He did not know the inner upheavals which once illuminated gave Socrates a deeper, wiser peace of mind. What made Socrates free was that in nonknowledge he had certainty of the goal toward which he had undertaken the venture of his whole life and now his death.
 The Phaedo, along with the Apology and the Crito, is among the few irreplaceable documents of mankind...
 The apparently cool equanimity of this attitude is, however, deceptive. Actually, we cannot read these dialogues without becoming engulfed by deep emotion which affects also our thinking. Here we find an imperative without fanaticism, the highest aspiration without ethical dogma. Keep yourself open for the one absolute. Until you achieve it, do not throw yourself away, for in it you can live and die at peace.

Karl Jaspers, Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus (1962: 15)