In a famous passage at the beginning of Book II of De Rerum Natura, Lucretius talks of the pleasure of watching other people endure dangerous situations. As Dryden rendered the passage:

’Tis pleasant, safely to behold from shore
The rolling ship, and hear the tempest roar.

It isn’t, Lucretius goes on to say, that we are pleased at the troubles of others, but that we take pleasure in realizing that these are troubles from which we’re not suffering. Nature, Lucretius observes, in an early probe into the modern horrors of stress, wants only two things—the absence of pain, and the absence of worry.

This is part of the Epicurean art of living, and the way you achieve equanimity of mind is by a philosophical discipline requiring you to follow long chains of reasoning (about the nature of death,...

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