Greco-Roman Noble Death
Seneca offers a wide range of figures who approach injury or death in a ‘manly’ manner: from Cato who resisted others’ control over his fate by taking his own life to Mucius, whom stuck his own hand in a brazier to admonish himself for a failure. In every case the exemplar-figure of the brief account is shown by Seneca to face pain and death with a complete lack of fear and, in some cases, rather heroic stoicism. Seneca goes on to explain that death alleviates all the worldly agonies a person must go through, though at the same time he also stresses that a brave/wise man does not flee from life, but steps out of it: he does not end his life on instinct, but rather in a more noble, calm fashion.
If Seneca focuses on how a good, wise, and brave man dies, then Dio Chrysostom’s concern is with how such a man lives. He lists off several concept ‘antagonists’ such hunger, thirst, cold, exile, and human brutality and states that the strong man simply endures, facing such hardship without fear. However, he mentions a bigger, more important struggle: one against pleasure. Dio Chrysostom’s ideal man resist the lure of pleasure just as he resist the force of pain. A man caught by pleasure’s spell “goes on living as a pig or wolf,” as Dio Chrysostom warns. Thus, his ideal ‘manly man’ seems very much a calm, stoic figure detached from the distractions of life, be they good or bad.
Euripides’ account of Iphigenia’s sacrifice shows an account of an idealise death for a woman. At first glance it seems quite similar to men facing their deaths: Iphigenia embraces the necessity of her sacrifice, resigned to die for what she perceives as the greater good. However, it differs from the idealised male deaths in two very key ways. Firstly, whereas the doomed men of Seneca’s examples seem to be mute as pieces on a chessboard to their fate, Iphigenia gives a very emotional speech, describing the lasting victory her sacrifice will bring as her “children” and her “husband.” Secondly, Iphigenia does not stride to her fate on her own terms. Her father (a man, obviously), has arranged for this to happen: her death is not the ideal man’s ‘stepping out of life,’ but rather a dutiful acceptance of a fate decided for her.