Xerxes and Artabanos on Life and Death

As [Xerxes] looked out over the whole Hellespont, whose water was completely hidden by all his ships, and at all the shores of the plains of Abydos, now so full of people, Xerxes congratulated himself for being so blessed. But then he suddenly burst into tears and wept.

Now his uncle Artabanos . . . noticed that Xerxes was weeping and said to him, “Sire, what a great divergence there is between your behavior now and that of just a moment ago: then you deemed yourself a blessed man, but now you are weeping!”

And Xerxes replied, “That is because I was suddenly overcome by pity as I considered the brevity of human life, since not one of all these people here will be alive one hundred years from now.”

Artabanos responded, “But even more pitiable than that are the experiences we suffer as we pass through life. For even in such a short span of life, no human being is born so fortunate–neither these men nor any others–that the wish to be dead rather than alive will not occur to him, and not just once, but often. For the misfortunes that befall us and the illnesses that harass us make even a short life seem long. And so because life is a hardship, death proves to be a human being’s most welcome escape, and the god, who gives us merely a taste of sweetness in life, is revealed to be a jealous deity.”

Herodotus, 7.46

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