Saturday, March 03, 2007

Here's the latest posting from one of my other blogs: How To Die

Of Laughter, Watching a Donkey Eat Figs – Chrysippus

It's late in the afternoon. You've spent all day debating both sides of an argument and drinking to keep your strength up. You step out into the evening sun, which is a lot brighter and hotter than you remember it being. There's a tinny noise somewhere inside your ears you can't get rid of.

Look over there! There's your donkey! Stupid, old donkey. He eats grass. You know what, you bet the donkey would like some wine, too. Yes, good donkey. The donkey's so stupid it can't even stand up properly now. Ha! You didn't want to stand up properly either.

Figs! That's what always goes well on a stomach full of wine. Figs! Fi-i-igs! Must. Find Figs. Aha! You've got loads of figs, figs galore. It's figs all round. Some for you, and some for...hey! The donkey's asleep now. Probably all that grass it ate. What it needs is a kick in the head and some figs. Figs!

Go on, eat the figs.

Stupid donkey can't even eat figs properly. Look! Look at the way he's eating those figs! That's not the way you eat figs! Only a moron could possibly eat figs like that, you dumb donkey! Dumb ass! Ha! Dumb ass! That's the dumbest way in the world to eat...

As far as we can tell these were the last thoughts of one of the ancient world's most talented philosophers. Chrysippus was a man so supremely confident in his abilities that he used to argue both sides of a debate for fun, and said when asked who should instruct a friend's son: “Me; for if I thought any philosopher excelled me, I would myself become his pupil."

After the death of Cleanthes in 252 BC he was the foremost of the stoics. The Stoics placed a great emphasis on not being led by their passions, but by their reason.

The first of the Stoics was Zeno of Citium (who strangled himself to death because he had stubbed his toe, thus earning himself a post on this blog of his own), and the Stoics got their name from the porch ('stoa poikile') on which he used to teach. And from which he used to shoot varmints and critters.

The Stoics were ahead of their time in believing that all of mankind were expressions of the same universal spirit, and they stressed brotherly love and helping each other. They emphasised the individual's spiritual well-being, and were harsh critics of superstition. The philosopher most important in shaping Stoicism, after Zeno, was Chrysippus (who got into it after some sort of land deal had fallen through in Tarsus, meaning that he had to get a job as a philosopher in Athens).

Chrysippus wrote an enormous amount, reportedly, over 500 lines a day. He is meant to have written more than 700 works, but all of them are lost to us now, except for excerpts that were quoted by other people. He was perhaps the most voluble and eloquent exponent of the virtues of self-control.

And yet he died drunk, laughing at the stupid way a donkey ate figs.

I like this. I like the fact that a man who devoted his life to demonstrating how passion should never be allowed to control reason, died laughing.

Most people on this site dies grotesque and hideous deaths, notable mainly for the way they shock us into conceiving of our own mortality. Not Chrysippus. He had his amphora of wine in his hands, and a funny-looking animal in front of him. He could never have coped with Youtube, or being emailed attachments of kittens in pint glasses.

Here's to Chrysippus, and may we all die laughing.