The Skull Beneath the Skin


This week is Stoic Week.

Since Stoicism is relevant to Escapology (equal in relevance perhaps to Epicureanism), we’ll make a little post with a Stoical theme each day.

So let’s kick off with this quote from great Stoic Marcus Aurelius:

Do not act as if you were going to live for a thousand years… while you are alive, while it is still possible, become a good person. — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.17

As it happens, I’ve just finished reading Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by mortician Caitlin Doughty. It’s ostensibly a memoir of her first years working with the dead but contains all manner of wisdom about death-acceptance and its significance to what you might call life-acceptance. Every birth contains a death, she says, and it’s an awareness of our mortality that drives us to create and to live well.

Here’s Caitlin:

Death might appear to destroy the meaning in our lives, but in fact it is the very source of our creativity. As Kafka said, “The meaning of life is that it ends.” Death is the engine that keeps us running, giving us the motivation to achieve, learn, love, and create.

Doesn’t this remind you of Escapology’s other totem animal, the Bohemian? The Bohemians of history would often keep a human skull around the home as a memento mori: to remind them of death so that they don’t forget to live vigorously.

Of course, this is all just one way of looking at it. Here’s another post about overcoming the fear of death using Stoicism in which he says:

Everything is borrowed, [Stoic Philosopher] Epictetus tells us. And indeed it is. When we lose someone – they are returned to the giver, the universe. And so we, too – are handed back over into the hands of the logos.

Happy Stoic Week!

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

3 Responses to “The Skull Beneath the Skin”

  1. Spoonman says:

    I like it! I look forward to reading the next entries.

    Although I don’t agree with everything Marcus Aurelius wrote (just the bit about sex), I think he’s my favorite Stoic philosopher. He’s well documented and there’s lots of busts of the man. One other cool thing about him is that his hair style was substantially different from the usual Roman one…he knew how to rock the curly hair.

  2. One thing we should point out is that the Stoic Week 2015 Handbook is downloadable in pdf form here So if readers didn’t manage to sign up for Stoic Week, they could still peruse the course outline and do their own Stoic experiment at a later time.

  3. Quite right. I’ll try and sneak it into tomorrow’s post and again (more prominently) in the final one.

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