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In the Greco-Roman world, various conceptions of death are found in different philosophical and religious sects. Parmenides, in line with his assertion of the existence of the sole Being and not of Non-Being, in fact denied death; he refused to admit the existence of birth and death and the transformations entailed by the idea of becoming. To this effect, he even assigned a form of senseperception and knowledge to corpses. Columbus Subway Map The Heraclitean perspective was dialectic: the death of each individual being is but a moment in the whole universal rhythm, in the perpetual renewal of life frags. 22B26, 36, 48, 77 Diels-Kranz. In Orphism, Pythagoreanism and Platonism, physical death is the liberation of the soul from the bonds of matter Plato, Phaedr. 64Aff.; Plutarch, De facie 28, although this liberation may be continually challenged by the danger of a reincarnation, which is avoided only by the pure and wise.
The atomist Democritus and his followers, Epicurus and the Epicureans, embraced a materialistic perspective according to which death is the dissolution of the atomic compounds of our body and our soul, the latter too being material and made of atoms. This is why, according to Epicurus, As long as we are, death is not, and when death is, we no longer are Ep. ad Men. 4,124-125, and Lucretius repeats: Death is nothing for us, nor does it touch us at all DRN 3,924-925. Cicero understood this claim, but he objected: I am not without my fears that this itself is an evil: I do not mean the immediate deprivation of sense, but the fact that we shall hereafter suffer deprivation Tusc. 1,12.
The Stoic perspective is also materialistic: the soul is material just as every other existing being, and it will dissolve in the universal Logos at the end of each cosmic cycle, thus totally losing its individuality. But each being and each event will return, identical, over and over again in each cosmic cycle, in infinitum. Rather soon, Stoicism seems to have accepted the theory of astral immortality at least for the virtuous, as, e.g., Hercules Oetaeus, ascribed to Seneca, attests. But already in Greek pagan philosophy the notion of a moral and spiritual life and death began to appear, e.g., in the Middle-Platonist Philo and in the Stoics Seneca and Juvenal: indeed, in the imperial period Stoicism was receptive of Middle-Platonic motifs. In Satire 8, 85-86, in reference to a dissolute man, Juvenal says: dignus morte periit, coenet licet ostrea centum Gaurana, He who is worthy of death is already dead, even though he may have a hundred prized oysters at dinner. He is distinguishing between physical and spiritual life: a dissolute person may be alive bodily, but spiritually dead. Seneca, shortly after Juvenal, likewise affirmed that the otiosi, affected by existential emptiness, even if they are still alive, are in fact spiritually dead: aeger est, immo mortuus est Brev. Vit. 12,19.
Philo of Alexandria in Heres 293 similarly asserts: According to the legislator Moses, only the wise person enjoys a good old age and a very long life, whereas the fool has an extremely short life, and is always learning to die, or rather is already dead h;dh teteleuthko,ta to life according to virtue th.n avrethj zwh,n. Similar reflections on true life and true death are expressed by Philo also in Det. 49, Praem. 70 and Fug. 55. In Praem. 79 Philo clarifies the difference between the two kinds of death: physical, which is an indifferent avdia,foron and may even be a good, and spiritual, which is an evil, and states that one may endure for long, and even forever, in spiritual death, which is the punishment timwri,a for sins. In Fug. 55 Philo states again that one can be apparently alive but spiritually dead zwntej teqnh,kasi, which is the case with vicious and foolish persons, even when they live very long.
He calls them dead nekrou,j, because they are deprived of the virtuous life. The wise and virtuous, on the contrary, live forever zhn eivsaei,, even though their earthly life is very short or they have already died teqnhko,tej zwsi. A sentence ascribed to the Pythagorean Sextus, 7, also refers to the same notion of being apparently alive but spiritually dead nekro.j a;nqrwpoj evn sw,mati zwnti. Of course, the gist of this conception goes back at least to Socrates in Plato’s Apology, e.g., 40C-41D and 42A, and, even more, Phaedo. Indeed, it has its roots in the Orphic, Pythagorean and Platonic notion that the life of the soul is opposed to that of the body and is perfected after death, i.e., after the liberation of the soul from the body, as is precisely expressed in Plato’s Phaedo, e.g., 80C-81B; 114Cff.; 118A and passim. That the idea of being physically alive but spiritually dead is basically Platonic is indicated by its presence not only in Plato and Philo and the Pythagorean tradition, but also in the Neo-Academic Cicero, Ad Att. 12,2: Is not life all over with a man who makes only pleasure, and not right, his aim?