Ovid’s Principle

“Praise not the day before the night!” is an old saying that is still often heard today. Its original form, which takes a still darker view, is perhaps to be found in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”:

“Nor should we say ‘he leads a happy life’

Till after death the funeral rites are paid’

(Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book 3, 1)

If we take this principle of Ovid’s seriously then a human life can only count as “happy” if the death that concludes it takes no catastrophic form – that is to say, if the person in question’s dying occurs in such a way that we may also call the person “happy” in respect of this dying. But how many people does such good fortune befall? One among 100,000?

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