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Agony ancients

April 26, 2011

Stephen Cave in Financial Times:

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79, spewing rock and ash high into the air, Pliny the Younger sat across the Bay of Naples watching with his family. His uncle, Pliny the Elder, insisted on sailing over to take a closer look at this extraordinary phenomenon and help rescue his friends on the other side. The young Pliny declined to come with him, on the grounds that he would rather continue reading Livy’s histories of Rome. As a consequence of his studiousness, he was spared the fate of his uncle, who was stranded at the volcano’s base and killed by the smoke and fumes. What do we learn from this story? Clearly that reading the classics can save your life.

Or at the very least it can change you for the better. At Easter time, non-believers can be left wondering where they should turn for something more meaningful than chocolate egg-laying spring bunnies. Fortunately there is a rich tradition of secular philosophy left to us by the ancients – complete with its own martyr, Socrates, who died not on the cross but through poison forced on him because he refused to give up what he called “the examined life”.  [More]

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