Are You Speaking With the Dead?

Are You Speaking With the Dead? Zeno was a young man when he was given a cryptic piece of advice; one that has an extra bit of resonance today, since it’s Halloween. “To live the best life,” the Oracle told Zeno, “you should have conversations with the dead.” What does that mean? Like with ghosts and goblins? Go spend time chatting in a cemetery? No, of course not. The Oracle was talking about reading. Because it’s through books that we really talk to people who are no longer with us. Their bodies may be rotting in the ground, or long since turned to dust, but in the pages of a book, they are alive and well.  Harry Truman was one of the greatest readers to ever occupy the White House. As a friend observed, to Harry “history was the men who made it, and he spoke of Marcus Aurelius or Henry of Navarre or old Tom Jefferson or old Andy Jackson as if they were friends and neighbors with whom he had only recently discussed the affairs of the day, their day.”  When Truman said that “not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers,” we felt like he was talking to us. We built our Daily Stoic Read to Lead Challenge around that piece of advice from him, as if he was still here, not dead for nearly fifty years. That’s the beauty and the power of books—they can bring the past to life, they can annex, as Seneca said, all ages into your own. 

Are You Speaking With the Dead?