Travels with Epicurus (Daniel Klein)
A journey to a Greek island in search of an authentic old age
Not exactly a wine book or a book about wine tasting, but it DOES relate to our wine experiences so worth placing in this category. I have just reread it for the second time with a different focus from my first reading. Originally I was more interested in the “travel” aspect, but now my focus was much more on Epicurus, his philosophy, and the authors experiences in Greece seen through an Epicurean lens. Here is an early paragraph from the book:
“I have returned to this Greek island on a personal quest: I am an old man myself now—seventy-three—and I want to figure out the most satisfying way to live this stage of my life. Having spent, over the years, several extended periods in Greece, I believe I may find some clues in the way old people live here. The old folks of Hydra have always struck me as uncommonly content with their stage in life.”
The book is very easy to read, you do not have to be an expert on Epicurus. It is not a theoretical textbook on Epicurean philosophy either. It is written as a series of day to day incidents and experiences of the author and a few locals on their island; playing cards, observing a beautiful young woman, a meal together, a walk in the hills. Each is interpreted within the Epicurean way of life and Epicurus’ time in The Garden.
One of the central themes that interested me and also made me laugh was the concept of “The Forever Young Brigade”, those who have entered old age but who are actually missing out on a fascinating and rewarding life-stage. Here is an excerpt from the book again, then I will explain:
“All around me, I saw many of my contemporaries remaining in their prime-of-life vocations, often working harder than ever. Others were setting off on expeditions to exotic destinations, copies of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die tucked in their backpacks. Some were enrolling in classes in conversational French, taking up jogging, and even signing up for cosmetic surgery and youth-enhancing hormone treatments. A friend of mine in her late sixties had not only undergone a face-lift but also elected to have breast implants. And one man my age told me that between his testosterone patch and seventy-two-hour Cialis, he felt like a young buck again. “Forever Young” was my generation’s theme song, and unreflectively I had been singing along with them.”
In the book, Klein is referring to the work of Erik Erikson (1959) who proposed 8 stages of life, with the final stage having Wisdom as its basic virtue, but with an internal psychological struggle taking place of Ego Integrity vs Despair! It is during this stage that we ALL need to reflect positively on our lives, have a strong sense of satisfaction and pride, accept our current physical limitations, and Klein senses this as revealed in his daily experiences on the Greek island of Hydra.
Klein now sees his life in terms of the final two stages without becoming trapped as a member of The Forever Young Brigade! But ….. I don’t want to spoil the book for you by totally revealing the details of this.
This book has stopped me in my tracks, made me reflect on a number of very positive aspects to our lives over the past 10 years we had previously viewed as negative. It has almost made time slow down and become Kairos instead of Chronos with a more existentialist-Epicurean savouring of every moment. Maybe the journey IS more important than the destination….. but that’s a heck of a leap in our case! As to The Forever Young Brigade, it’s become almost a game to spot them on our travels, whether on the beaches of Southern Spain, a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, at the Trevi Fountains in Rome, at the leisure club pool in our Budapest hotel ….. all denying themselves the mindfulness of the moment and their surroundings.
Whether you are approaching or entering old age …… or not …. I can highly recommend this book, so let’s end with a final quote:
“It certainly is not hard to see the appeal of the “forever young” movement. The prime of my life has been, on balance, pretty satisfying, so why stop now? Why not more of a good thing? And more? And more? But something about this new philosophy of old age does not sit right with me, and it took the prospect of those dental implants to prompt me to examine why. I suspect that if I were to take this popularly accepted route, I would miss out on something deeply significant: I would deny myself a unique and invaluable stage of life. I have deep-seated qualms about going directly from a protracted prime of life to old old age—the now-attenuated period of senility and extreme infirmity that precedes death.”