AotPE: Asthma


Another part of my series of "adventures" in the anthology, Art of the Personal Essay.


In reading Seneca’s essay “Asthma”, I learned three things. One, “asthma” is a Greek word. Two, “asthma” used to be a rarely used medical term before it became an ubiquitous word, understood by everyone. Three, death isn’t that scary.

Although Seneca’s essay, “Asthma” seems like it should be about asthma, or at least about breathing, the essay is more about death than breathing. Seneca writes, “Death is just not being… We too, are lit and put out. In the end of it there is deep tranquility.” We begin with life, the “lit” beginning. Then, we are afflicted with disease throughout our lives, and in the end, are “put out”, with death.
However, in Seneca’s essay, he shows death shouldn’t be feared. People tend to fear death. This much is reasonable. After all, when death comes, we cease to exist. Our life force, one that has sustained us for decades will one day go out in a second. Poof! However, Seneca takes on a different view on death as he writes, “Death is all that was before us. What does it matter, after all, whether you cease to be or never begin, when the result of either is that you do not exist?” Although Seneca’s view is a morbid one, it is quite true. Death means one ceases to be. If what Seneca says is true, death preceded us, then it is only fitting that death succeeds us.

Death isn’t as much being thrown out of “life” as it is leaving it. Seneca ends “Asthma” by saying that he’s already prepared for death. He writes, “I shall not be afraid when the last hour comes- I’m already prepared. For where’s the virtue in going out when you’re really being thrown out?” Seneca is an interesting person as he’s one step ahead of the game. He can’t be thrown out if he’s already prepared, right? Seneca ends the essay with, “And the reason why it never happens to a wise man is that being thrown out signifies expulsion from a place one is reluctant to depart from, and there is nothing the wise man does reluctantly. He escapes necessity because he wills what necessity is going to force on him.” I suppose Seneca is the “wise man” in this situation.

Fittingly, Seneca’s own death was not because he was “thrown” out by nature. I suppose he “went out” by himself as he committed suicide. (Seneca was Nero’s tutor, but Nero made Seneca go into exile. Then, Nero ordered Seneca to kill himself, which Seneca did.) In the end, Seneca was prepared when death came, an end he would have preferred. 

alice-jane

P.S My AotPE adventures are getting easier... [wipes sweat] Maybe... I won't be procrastinating in late August? [crosses fingers and toes]

P.P.S I really liked this essay. It was readable, and it made me think about life.. It was witty, too! ω)

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Maira Gall