Plato and the Music of Death. A talk in a time of crisis

Download MP3 here.

All the great wisdom traditions tell us that death is an opportunity to reflect on life. Leaning into death reveals more about life, including the perception that life is underpinned by what’s deathless.

Today, all around the world, death seems close. Many of the distractions that can keep us free of such existential anxieties have been eclipsed by the emergence of the coronavirus, Covid-19.

So the proximity of death provides a good moment to turn to one of the western tradition’s greatest meditations on death, which is a reflection on how death can reveal the eternity of life.

Plato’s dialogue, the Phaedo, is an account of the death of Socrates and his last hours. During the short hours he has left, he tries to show his closest friends what he perceives to be the truth about death, which is that it is not the end. Their reflections are a journey towards death, the nearness of which is precisely what enables life beyond death to be seen.

This talk draws directly on the dialogue and tries to convey its insights. Maybe the nearness of death today is a gift, as well as a crisis. It’s an opportunity to hear the deeper music of life, which death might not be able to quench.

If you wanted to read the dialogue for yourself, which is to gain the most from its genius, I’d recommend the edition in the Focus Philosophical Library, translated and introduced by Eva Brann, Peter Kalkavage and Eric Salem.