Vatican Saying 31

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This Saying combines aphoristically the Epicurean "1st-category" good that is personal safety and the inevitability of death: as regards all other matters pertaining to our lives, we usually can (and should certainly strive to) attain some adequate degree of security from harm; in the case of death, however, no such measures are relevant.

The author (perhaps Metrodorus, according to Stobaeus) deftly conjures the ideal image to illustrate this aspect of the human condition: the "city without a fortress" would have been a terrifying thought to an ancient reader. Other than belligerent, permanently militarized Sparta (whose citizens prided themselves with the claim that "their men were their fortress"), all other ancient cities stood behind heavy and complex fortifications. Athens certainly did, with the Makron Teichos leading all the way down to the harbor of Piraeus, and several layers of inner fortifications protecting the city from all sides. Thus the simile of human mortality as life unprotected from death is perfectly apt.

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