[lit-ideas] Re: Life leads to death

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 09 Sep 2009 13:22:24 -0700

Eric quotes RP

Robert: Never said it. [The happy man is dead.] .... Brief version: we can't judge a man's life happy until we have seen the whole of it, and we cannot see the whole of it until it's finished.

and comments

That's how I understood "The happy man is dead." I checked Herodotus and my translation reads, "Call no man happy until he is dead.” Aristotle quibbles with this somewhere in the _Nichomachean Ethics_.

Aristotle also believed that in order to call a man eudaimon one had to consider his complete life. When he considers what 'is said,' i.e., common opinion, he says some confusing things, at one point even speculating that what we say about the dead might be affected by the lives of their descendants.

The passage in Herotodus that we seem to be talking about, reads, in the de Sélincourt translation, revised several times, most recently in 1996, with minor changes in 2003, by John Marincola

<But whoever has the greatest number of the good things I have mentioned, and keeps them to the end, and dies a peaceful death, that man, Croesus, deserves to be called happy.

<Look to the end, no matter what it is you are considering. Often enough God gives a man a glimpse of happiness, and then utterly ruins him.>

Perseus (A. D. Godley) has

<Whoever passes through life with the most and then dies agreeably is the one who, in my opinion, O King, deserves to bear this name. It is necessary to see how the end of every affair turns out, for the god promises fortune to many people and then utterly ruins them.>

I'd suggest that it is a man's life that's being considered here: '...that man,' in 'that man, Croesus...' refers to a man's life from beginning to end, and not to some state of him that he somehow achieves only after death. That a man is dead now, allows us to judge his life in its entirety. It does not mean that in death a man is happy.

Robert Paul
Reed College

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