The Undiscovered Country

When death appears an evil, we ought to have this rule in readiness, that it is fit to avoid evil things, and that death is a necessary thing. For what shall I do, and where shall I escape it? Suppose that I am not Sarpedon, the son of Zeus, nor able to speak in this noble way, "I will go, and I am resolved either to behave bravely myself or to give to another the opportunity of doing so. If I cannot succeed in doing anything myself, I will not grudge another the doing of something noble." Suppose that it is above our power to act thus. Is it not in our power to reason thus? Tell me where I can escape death. Discover for me the country, show me the men to whom I must go, whom death does not visit. Discover to me a charm against death. If I have not one, what do you wish me to do? I cannot escape from death. Shall I not escape from the fear of death, but shall I die lamenting and trembling? For the origin of perturbation is this: to wish for something, and that this should not happen.

"The Undiscovered Country" is not a place, but rather a state of being after death. It is undiscovered because no one other than Jesus has been there and then come back to tell us of it. Because we don't have direct knowledge of it we fear it. This is where Christian "precognition" comes in very handy. For a Christian the "undiscovered country" has been discovered. The New Testament is replete with quotes on what this country is like. For Christians death is merely a transitional state from one life to the next. Thus, the Christian should have no fear of death.

Epictetus uses the example of Sarpedon to illustrate his point. Sarpedon was King of Lycia during the Trojan War. When the Argives (read ancient Greeks) besieged Troy, he came to the aid of the Trojans. He was killed by the friend of Achilles, Patroclus. Before his death he proclaimed that he did not fear it because he was a son of Zeus. Because we are children of God we do not fear death. Epictetus thinks of death as the ultimate illusion. This is why it comes up in this discourse. It is viewed as the ultimate evil by the Epicureans. Yet for Stoics it is merely a part of the cycle of life. The evil for a Stoic is to fear death. Because of its inevitability it will come whether we will or no, the illusion of death is that it can somehow be avoided.

Chapter 27:

  1. On Appearances
  2. Bad Habits (27a)
  3. The Undiscovered Country (27b)
  4. Our Interests and Our Religion (27c)
  5. Epistemological Skepticism (27d)
Stoicism and Christianity Index

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This is a translation and explanation of the first book of the Discourses of Epictetus. His words are in regular text, comments are in bold.

Biographical Information on Epictetus

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