Fear of Death

Day 222 of A Year of War and Peace


Angry cries and plaintive groans, morally exhausted men contemplating the horrors of their situation. It’s either a Mets fan support group or the Battle of Borodino from the Russian perspective. As it turns out, this is Tolstoy after all, it is indeed the Battle of Borodino and here, in today’s chapter, Tolstoy treats one of the great fears of life: death.

Prince Andrei’s regiment is in trouble. They’re inoperative and stuck amid a massive concentration of enemy gun and cannon fire. Nothing can be done. They cannot move. They can only wait, hoping that death spares them just a moment longer. In an effort to calm themselves the men attempt to find relief in everyday, common occurrences. “Yells and shrieks of laughter rose from the whole regiment,” Tolstoy writes. “But such distractions lasted only a moment, and for eight hours the men had been inactive, without food, in constant fear of death, and their pale and gloomy faces grew every paler and gloomier.”

Prince Andrei is about to get a lot paler and a lot gloomier. A shell explodes right next to him, opening a giant wound in his stomach. As his body falls to the ground and he is transferred to the field hospital his soul is possessed by the fear of death. He feels a sudden urge to live, a profound love of and attachment to life.


He who fears death either fears to lose all sensation or fears new sensations. In reality, you will either feel nothing at all, and therefore nothing evil, or else, if you can feel any sensations, you will be a new creature, and so will not have ceased to have life.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

For my friends and family, love. For my enemies, durian fruit.

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