Happy Twentieth! – The Havamal, on Isolation

Happy Twentieth to Epicureans everywhere. Over the last month, Philosophy Now published a piece titled The Epicurean option, which gives a glimpse into how Epicurus’ upbringing made him particularly attuned to the spiritual and psychological needs of common folk, and I published an introductory piece on the Counter-History of Philosophy and on French hedonist intellectual Michel Onfray on SocietyofEpicurus.com. I even delved into the counter-history of Aromas. These articles are the beginning of an attempt to get closer to the French-speaking hedonists and their way of doing philosophy, as many of Onfray’s works are unavailable in English.

This month my new Spanish-language blog Arte de vivir finally went live on the El Nuevo Día webpage. END is the most visited webpage and the most widely-read mainstream daily paper in Puerto Rico. My inaugural blog article was published on the fifth anniversary of the imprisonment of the humanist blogger Raif Badawi, who had made repeated calls to secularize Saudi Arabia. He was later publicly tortured by flogging, and has since become a symbol of the tyranny of the Islamic-fascist Saudi regime, and inspired the rallying cry #FreeRaif. The blog was written in solidarity, and includes a few quotes by Raif.

Haris Dimitriadis recently published Epicurus and the pleasant life: Living by the philosophy of nature in book and e-book formats, and even has a new youtube channel promoting a life of pleasure and philosophy.

Two members of the Society of Friends of Epicurus have created new groups on facebook: Epicurean Theology is for people who have an interest in exploring theology from the perspective of the Epicureans and EH+ is for people who wish to explore themes related to transhumanism from the perspective of Epicurean philosophy. We also have a new SoFE member, Nate, who came up with his own version of the Four Cures in the process of writing the essays that make up part of our membership request process. Together with Yoda’s Four Cures, produced in celebration of this year’s Star Wars Day (May the 4th Be With You!), Nate’s Four Cures join the growing constellation of online SoFE memes:

“The gods are all cheesy
and ‘Hell’ is a laugh;
The best things are easy,
The worst things don’t last.”

The Havamal belongs to one of the wisdom traditions that have nourished me over the years. It contains the advise of the Scandinavian elders as preserved by a caste of ancient and medieval bards known as skalds, who used rhyme and music to memorize the wise advise given by old people.

In it, mixed with some other folklore, we find one of the most complete and ennobling wisdom teachings on the human values associated with true friendship and loyalty. Some other wisdom traditions, like the oral scripture of Ifá and the proverbs of the Yoruba people which have been preserved orally even in places like Cuba and Brasil, give fragments of this wisdom: “One tree does not a forest make”, the Yoruba elders say. But the Havamal coherently treats the subject of friendship at length–which is why I cite heavily from it in my book‘s chapter on friendship: it tells us in specific detail how to identify true and false friends, how to honor true ones, how we should nurture our most important friendships and not let the love of friends turn cold, and finally–the subject that I wish to focus on today–it reminds us of the reasons why our nature seeks and needs friends.

The pine tree wastes which is perched on the hill,
nor bark nor needles shelter it;
such is the man whom none doth love;
for what should he longer live?

Havamal, Stanza 50

“The pine tree wastes …” We are given the image of a dried out tree wasting and dying: fit metaphor for a man who has no friends. This verse is interesting for many reasons: it gives an image that resonates with the real, proven detrimental health effects of chronic solitude. Research has demonstrated that loneliness increases the risk of premature death and damages health as much as obesity and smoking. There are even studies that show the physiological effects of solitude: it feels cold. The human body–literally, not metaphorically–needs the warmth, the embrace, the hugs, the affection of another.

The stanza also describes the sorry existential reality of such a man, and insinuates that friendship is one of the things that makes life worth living and gives meaning and purpose to life: “For what should he longer live?”.

“For what should we longer live?” – If we ever know anyone who is asking himself or herself this question, we should remind them of the pleasure of companionship and reach out to all their friends and loved ones to make sure that their presence is available in that person’s life. People need people.

While some people from time to time may desire or even need temporary solitude, it is clear that we are not built for long-term solitude. Confucius made the argument that we become truly human–and humanized–by association. With no friends, we become dehumanized and misanthropic.

I am reminded of a fellow Epicurean from Greece who told an anecdote of how, while her mother was dying, she found solace in the company of her daughter and this made her terminal cancer a bit more bearable. The anecdote was shared within the context of discussion around my recent piece for The Humanist on euthanasia, which was inspired in Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. The argument being made was that, while the option of euthanasia deserves to be discussed, the importance of being a loving presence in the lives of those we love–particularly in their most vulnerable times–makes all the difference in their quality of life, and it may even help to avoid having to make the bitter choice of “death with dignity”. Holding the hand of a loved one can counteract even the worst physical pain to the point where we can gain the strength and willpower to live another day.

Last Year’s Twentieth Message: Better Be a Subject and at Peace

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014), 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and Epicurus of Samos – His Philosophy and Life: All the principal Classical texts Compiled and Introduced by Hiram Crespo (Ukemi Audiobooks, 2020). He's the founder of societyofepicurus.com, and has written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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