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Cicero on untimely deaths.

Cicero on untimely deaths (Philippica 2.46):

Etenim, si abhinc annos prope viginti hoc ipso in templo negavi posse mortem immaturam esse consulari, quanto verius non negabo seni!

Indeed, if nearly twenty years ago—in this very temple—I said there could be no such thing as death being premature for someone who has been consul, how much more truly will I say it for an old man!

The rank of consul was essentially the end of the cursus honorum; there were other high offices, but from Cicero here we can infer they were less highly valued. The old man being referred to is the ex-consul Cicero himself, asserting he is not afraid of what Mark Antony may do to him. (Senex ‘old’ here really refers to consularis ‘ex-consul’, i.e. if the death’s not early for an ex-consul, how much less for an old ex-consul; but I couldn’t really make it fit into the line well that way.)

The statement made twenty years before is actually more expansive (In Catilinam 4.2):

Nam neque turpis mors forti viro potest accidere neque immatura consulari nec misera sapienti.

For a disgraceful death cannot befall a brave man, nor an early one to an ex-consul, nor an unhappy one to a wise man.

The brave man’s death is an honor in itself; the ex-consul’s death happens to one who has already reached the peak of his career; the wise man’s death comes to one who has already achieved happiness, which many of the ancients associated with the pursuit of wisdom—Seneca, for example, writes (Epistulae 16.1):

Scio neminem posse beate vivere, ne tolerabiliter quidem, sine sapientiae studio, et beatam vitam perfecta sapientia effici.

I know that no one can live happily, or even tolerably, without the pursuit of wisdom, and that the happy life is brought about by the completion of wisdom.

We should call no one happy till he is dead, according to the ancient Greek dictum attributed to Solon. Fortunes and circumstances change for everyone through their whole lives; at any point, a happy life could become a happy past. But, if wisdom brings happiness, the man who dies wise dies happy.

[For abhinc.]

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