Approaching death in the classical tradition
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The thesis consists of five chapters: the first functions as an overture; the second, third and fourth deal with Plato, Cicero and Montaigne respectively; and the fifth raises some questions. The overture explores the ways in which Odysseus, Lucretius and Seneca approached death, and in the process introduces some obvious distinctions - between death viewed as the act of dying and death viewed as the state of being dead, between the death which comes to everyone and the death which comes to me, between our own death and the death of others - and anticipates certain recurring themes. The second chapter, on Plato, is concerned chiefly with the Phaedo and the question of what is involved in "the practice of death". This entails an examination of related concepts and terminology in the Gorgias and the Republic, and of the whole subject of Platonic myth. The third chapter discusses Cicero's views on death and immortality - both the considered reflections of the philosopher and the spontaneous reactions of the bereaved father - principally as these emerge from the Tusculan Disputations and the letters to Atticus. The fourth chapter approaches Montaigne - his own experiences of death, the relationship between his earlier and later approaches, the tension between his professed Catholicism and his pagan inclinations, the difficulty and perhaps undesirability of extracting a 'message' from the Essais on this or any other subject. The conclusion asks to what extent these various approaches succeed in what they set out to do, and whether any generalised, objective approach to death can ever successfully address the individual predicament, either in relation to one's own death or in facing bereavement.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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