Destination: Hydra, Greece
More about philosophy than about travel, the little book Travels with Epicurus, grabbed my attention for a couple of reasons. First, the author is 73 and thinking of how to be old. Second, he travels to a Greek Island to do his thinking.
Daniel Klein, a Harvard-educated philosopher has not only read widely in philosophy, he’s also written several books of his own. Read his short bio on the book jacket. You can tell right away there is nothing stuffy about the musings of a guy who not only writes philosophy, but also a series of mysteries featuring Elvis Presley. And get this… he was a joke writer for Lily Tomlin and others.
Now the philosopher is 73 and he turns to the Greek teacher Epicurus for guidance on how to live because Epicurus believed old age was the “best it gets.” He quotes Epicurus from the “Vatican Sayings”:
It is not the young man who should be considered fortunate, but the old man who has lived well, because the young man in his prime wanders much by chance, vacillating in his beliefs, while the old man has docked in the harbor, having safeguarded his true happiness.
Not for this author the forever young, hormone shots, hair dye, continuation of a competitive professional life that he sees among his friends in the United States.
Klein admires the graceful aging of the people on this island and studies them as he studies Epicurus and other philosophers. He learns to appreciate, for instance, the slowness of old age as he climbs the stony paths in the island without cars. “Our rough terrain… is internal–fragile bones, failing muscles, weakened hearts,” Klein says. But he decides having a physical reason for slow movement does not make it a bad thing. Turning back to Epicurus, he says, “Epicurus would have us savor each moment of our lives to the maximum and fully savoring our experiences takes time.”
Klein has his own notion of a Bucket List. Some people put risky activities like sky diving or adventures like an African safari on the list because they feel they have nothing to lose. Klein reads Epicurus and Camus and Kierkegaard as he considers “philosophical risks.”
“Camus,” he says, “famously dared us” to consider suicide, which Klein says “is almost as scary as jumping out of an airplane fastened to a flimsy-looking canopy. Come to think of it, these risks are pretty closely related: they both demand us to stare death straight in the face.” He goes on to quote Kierkegaard, in what might be a mantra of adventure travelers.
To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.
In between his contemplation of philosophical concerns of aging, Klein talks about his daily life on Hydra and about the people he meets. Whether or not you enjoy philosophy, even leavened with wit and the breezy style of Daniel Klein, when you look at this book, you will wind up thinking that Hydra is a mighty appealing place to travel.
If merely thinking about old age depresses you, Travels with Epicurus may give you a different way of looking at things. There are, the author points out, two parts–old age and old old age. (He uses that italic stress). Increasingly, people live to old old age–that period when quality of life deteriorates significantly–and that can be a fearsome thought. However, once again ancient Greek philosophers had advice that helps. This time he turns to the Stoics. “Worrying about old old age before I get there,” writes Klein, “would be a waste of the time I have left.” Since he does not want to waste time on something beyond his control, he concludes, “I simply would rather try to figure out how to spend the time in the best possible way.”
As for me, I would simply like to figure out how to spend more of my old age in Greece. But meanwhile, as he says in a toast to his host family on Hydra, “It is a great privilege to be here. In fact, it is a great privilege simply to be.”
For more of Don Klein and his writing partner Tom Cathcarts’ light-hearted looks at serious subjects, see their site Plato and a Platypus (named for one of their books.) Note: This site was unavailable on January 22, 2014. I will leave the link in hopes that it will return to service.
The photo of Klein and the video are from his website. Photos by Bill Hughes. See more and order copies of Hughes photos at Hughes Studio.
The publisher provided this book for review, but my opinions, as always, are entirely my own. There are links in this article to Amazon that are affiliate links to the book page. The Kindle version of this book would be terrific, too. That means if you go to Amazon through those links (or the ads in the sidebars) and buy anything at all, although it costs you no more, it makes me a few cents. What a good idea for your holiday Amazon shopping!