Autocheiria

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Cave at Yodfat

This is part 2 of 3. Part 1 is here. Part 3 is here.

“Τί δὲ καὶ δεδοικότες πρὸς Ῥωμαίους οὐκ ἄνιμεν; ἆρ’ οὐχὶ θάνατον; εἶθ’ ὃν δεδοίκαμεν ἐκ τῶν ἐχθρῶν ὑποπτευόμενον ἑαυτοῖς βέβαιον ἐπιστήσομεν; ‘ἀλλὰ δουλείαν’, ἐρεῖ τις. πάνυ γοῦν νῦν ἐσμὲν ἐλεύθεροι. ‘γενναῖον γὰρ ἀνελεῖν ἑαυτόν’, φήσει τις. οὐ μὲν οὖν, ἀλλ’ ἀγενέστατον, ὡς ἔγωγε καὶ κυβερνήτην ἡγοῦμαι δειλότατον, ὅστις χειμῶνα δεδοικὼς πρὸ τῆς θυέλλης ἐβάπτισεν ἑκὼν τὸ σκάφος. ἀλλὰ μὴν ἡ αὐτοχειρία καὶ τῆς κοινῆς ἁπάντων ζῴων φύσεως ἀλλότριον καὶ πρὸς τὸν κτίσαντα θεὸν ἡμᾶς ἐστιν ἀσέβεια. τῶν μέν γε ζῴων οὐδέν ἐστιν ὃ θνήσκει μετὰ προνοίας ἢ δι’ αὐτοῦ· φύσεως γὰρ νόμος ἰσχυρὸς ἐν ἅπασιν τὸ ζῆν ἐθέλειν· διὰ τοῦτο καὶ τοὺς φανερῶς ἀφαιρουμένους ἡμᾶς τούτου πολεμίους ἡγούμεθα καὶ τοὺς ἐξ ἐνέδρας τιμωρούμεθα. τὸν δὲ θεὸν οὐκ οἴεσθε ἀγανακτεῖν, ὅταν ἄνθρωπος αὐτοῦ τὸ δῶρον ὑβρίζῃ; καὶ γὰρ εἰλήφαμεν παρ’ ἐκείνου τὸ εἶναι καὶ τὸ μηκέτι εἶναι πάλιν ἐκείνῳ διδῶμεν. τὰ μέν γε σώματα θνητὰ πᾶσιν καὶ ἐκ φθαρτῆς ὕλης δεδημιούργηται, ψυχὴ δὲ ἀθάνατος ἀεὶ καὶ θεοῦ μοῖρα τοῖς σώμασιν ἐνοικίζεται· εἶτ’ ἐὰν μὲν ἀφανίσῃ τις ἀνθρώπου παρακαταθήκην ἢ διαθῆται κακῶς, πονηρὸς εἶναι δοκεῖ καὶ ἄπιστος, εἰ δέ τις τοῦ σφετέρου σώματος ἐκβάλλει τὴν παρακαταθήκην τοῦ θεοῦ, λεληθέναι δοκεῖ τὸν ἀδικούμενον; καὶ κολάζειν μὲν τοὺς ἀποδράντας οἰκέτας δίκαιον νενόμισται κἂν πονηροὺς καταλείπωσι δεσπότας, αὐτοὶ δὲ κάλλιστον δεσπότην ἀποδιδράσκοντες τὸν θεὸν οὐ δοκοῦμεν ἀσεβεῖν;”
(Josephus, Bell. Iud. 3.366-373)

What is it we fear that prevents us from surrendering to the Romans? Is it not death? And shall we then inflict up an ourselves certain death, to avoid an uncertain death, which we fear, at the hands of our foes? ‘No, it is slavery we fear,’ I shall be told. Much liberty we enjoy at present! ‘It is noble to destroy oneself,’ another will say. Not so, I retort, but most ignoble; in my opinion there could be no more arrant coward than the pilot who, for fear of a tempest, deliberately sinks his ship before the storm. No; suicide is alike repugnant to that nature which all creatures share, and an act of impiety towards God who created us. Among the animals there is not one that deliberately seeks death or kills itself; so firmly rooted in all is nature’s law—the will to live. That is why we account as enemies those who would openly take our lives and punish as assassins those who clandestinely attempt to do so. And God—think you not that He is indignant when man treats His gift with scorn? For it is from Him that we have received our being, and it is to Him that we should leave the decision to take it away. All of us, it is true, have mortal bodies, composed of perishable matter, but the soul lives forever, immortal: it is a portion of the Deity housed in our bodies. If, then, one who makes away with or misapplies a deposit entrusted to him by a fellow-man is reckoned a perjured villain, how can he who casts out from his own body the deposit which God has placed there, hope to elude Him whom he has thus wronged? It is considered right to punish a fugitive slave, even though the master he leaves be a scoundrel; and shall we fly from the best of masters, from God Himself, and not be deemed impious? (tr. Henry St. John Thackeray)

3 thoughts on “Autocheiria”

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