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Posts Tagged ‘Socrates’

Death, and Other News

March 6, 2014 | by

frederik ruysch

A depiction of one of Frederik Ruysch’s anatomical displays. Image via the Public Domain Review.

  • Sherwin B. Nuland, the author of How We Die, is dead.
  • In Los Angeles, a group of ghost hunters are chasing the dead.
  • The punk ethos of the Lower East Side is dead.
  • The Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch died in 1731, but his deathly sketches still haunt us today: “not only did he exalt the human anatomy as a wondrous product of creation, but he presented himself as a veritable artist of death.”
  • On the eastern seaboard, the hemlock is dying out. Though the tree bears only a superficial resemblance to the plant that killed Socrates, “it seems impossible to separate the hemlock tree from the hemlock plant’s poison, for a poet to keep the death of Socrates out of the picture—for death is in the forest, especially a hemlock forest, especially now.”

 

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The Immortality Chronicles, Part 2

August 26, 2013 | by

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What have we not done to live forever? My research into the endless ways we’ve tried to avoid the unavoidable is out now as The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever. Every Monday for the next five weeks, this chronological crash course will examine how humankind has striven for, grappled with, and dreamed about immortality in different eras throughout history.

We all do and make to deal with oblivion. The conceit that art can ward off death is something we’ve been wrestling with since Greco-Roman times. The Theban lyric poet Pindar didn’t crave actual immortality, but still he wanted to reach out to the limits of the possible. Horace put it more bluntly in an ode: “I have finished a monument more lasting than bronze and loftier than the Pyramids’ royal pile, one that no wasting rain, no furious north wind can destroy … I shall not altogether die.” Ovid shared that aim, boasting of how his couplets would outlive his lifetime, “so that in every time and in every place I may be celebrated throughout the world.”

All creative efforts, what the ancient Greeks called poiesis, were done with immortality in mind, whether unconsciously or not. Socrates distinguished between three main forms of poiesis. The first is sexual reproduction, which provides immortality in the sense that a genetic lineage will survive the parent’s own bodily existence. The second category of poiesis is the attainment of fame through art or heroic accomplishment, which leaves a posthumous legacy. The third, and highest, expression of poiesis, according to Socrates, is philosophical, and it occurs when our pursuit of wisdom results in an experience of the soul’s indestructibility. Read More »

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