Tikhon’s Caesarean Section and the Inevitability of Death
Day 299 of A Year of War and Peace
The Cilician pirates, according to Plutarch, were the most murderous of men. From about the time of the salting of Carthage to the ripening of the Pax Romana this bloodthirsty people plundered the Mediterranean Sea. One happy day their marauding yielded the lucrative prize of a Roman vessel among whose company was a young man named Julius Caesar. The Cilician pirates loved Julius Caesar. He was a funny little boy of The Ransom of Red Chiefian charm who entertained them with his poetry and his sport. They got a particular kick out of his indignant request that they raise the insultingly paltry price of his ransom to a point more befitting his station. And, oh, how they must have chuckled at his puppy-yelped threat to crucify them all once his ransom was met. They probably didn’t chuckle all that much though when his ransom was met and and he crucified them all. It’s Caesar’s fearless disdain of death that later inspired Shakespeare to provide him with the immortal lines, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”
The war sections of War and Peace present plenty of less gallant contemplations of death. Recall that both Nikolai and Pierre cower before death’s presence in the heat of battle. The stoics warn against this type of cowardice. They argue that a good life is, in part, preparation for an easy, welcoming death. Today Tikhon’s Caesarean approach to death lives up to their example.
Tikhon is fearless. Whenever Denisov needs someone for a dangerous mission he doesn’t even need to ask: Tikhon is there. And when Tikhon is injured during a mission, like the time a Frenchman shot him in the ass with a pistol, he just laughs it off with his good friends in the regiment and his best friend, vodka. In fact, Tikhon is the man who Denisov earlier dispatched to capture an officer from the French transport. Today Denisov happens upon the French transport. He watches as they first spot and then open fire on Tikhon who, with more frolic than fuss, sports away from them.
That’s the spirit of a man for whom taste of the necessary end will come only but once.
And I ask you, would you not say that one was the greatest of fools who believed that a lamp was worse off when it was extinguished than before it was lighted? We mortals also are lighted and extinguished; the period of suffering comes in between, but on either side there is a deep peace.
Seneca, Epistle LIV