Saturday, June 12, 2004


Final Hours

In his tribute to Kurt Huber, Bill Vallicella reminds us that Huber spent the days before his execution by the Nazis working on a book about Leibniz. In like manner Boethius wrote his Consolation of Philosophy in prison before his execution, and Socrates, condemned to death, spent his final days in conversations with his friends, recorded in Plato's immortal dialogues Crito and Phaedo.

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (tr. Thomas P. Whitney), describes the last days of some prison camp inmates:
At the Samarka Camp in 1946 a group of intellectuals had reached the very brink of death: They were worn down by hunger, cold, and work beyond their powers. And they were even deprived of sleep. They had nowhere to lie down. Dugout barracks had not yet been built. Did they go and steal? Or squeal? Or whimper about their ruined lives? No! Foreseeing the approach of death in days rather than weeks, this is how they spent their last sleepless leisure, sitting up against the wall: Timofeyev-Ressovsky gathered them into a "seminar," and they hastened to share with one another what one of them knew and the others did not -- they delivered their last lectures to each other.
In a letter from prison to his brother Carlo (December 19, 1929), Antonio Gramsci wrote:
Even if I were condemned to die, I think that I might be serene. The night before the execution I might even study a bit of Chinese!
Pascal, Pensees 203, exhorts:
That passion may not harm us, let us act as if we had only eight hours to live.
A question to ponder: If you knew your death was imminent, how would you spend your last eight hours on earth?

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