Book Review: Travels With Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life by Daniel Klein

Lately I have come to realize that I am getting old. I should have known it already for some time now because numbers don’t lie, but I have been able to ignore my age so far because of my excellent genes and the exercise regimen that I have kept up for decades. I’m well into my sixties and I hardly have any gray hair yet. However, I’m tired almost all the time now, my muscles and joints ache more that they used to, and I simply don’t have the endurance I once had. There was a time I could best my sons not only at running, but at any other sport we attempted together. Alas, those days are long gone. Every one of them except the youngest is bigger and stronger than me. The youngest is stronger too; he just doesn’t tower over me quite yet.

These are the realities of life. People age. It’s inevitable. In the viewpoint of the young, it’ll never happen. It’s only when the deterioration begins that one realizes that yes, it will happen to me too, and the vicissitudes of time have already begun to reap their toll.

This brings me to the book Travels With Epicurus, which is a meditation on old age. The writer, an American, took off for a period of time to a remote Greek island without roads or motor vehicles to contemplate old age and what one’s attitude should be towards it. In a nutshell, he is of the opinion that old people should adopt the philosophy of Epicurus, who believed that life was meant to be lived as simply and pleasurably as possible. Epicurus’s recipe for happiness was doing as little work as possible, growing your own food in a garden, and spending most of your time in conversation with friends.

Ah, if only…

It’s a nice idea, but for many people it falls apart under analysis. If I had a plot of land on which I could live and grow food and an abundance of compatriots with which to share leisure time, I would probably be content enough. However, that’s not how it usually works. The weakness of this book is its presumption that all old people own their own homes and have enough free time to be able to relax and enjoy life. The author was able to take off alone on an extended trip to an idyllic Greek island, get by during this time without working, and then return to a wife, house, and enough income to continue living comfortably.

Okay, that’s the downside to the book. However, I don’t want to give you the impression that this is a negative review. In fact, I loved this book. It’s just that despite its wonderful thoughts on old age and what aging means in a metaphysical context, it’s not really a practical guide to how anyone might actually live except for the small percentage of affluent people who can afford to relax, contemplate their existence, and do nothing else but write their life story.

I have to admit that I daydream frequently about circumstances such as the author suggests in this book: a modest quiet place in which to write, free time in which to leisurely compose my thoughts, and enough income to meet my needs. Instead, due to circumstances about which I have written much in the past, I struggle daily for survival, work long hours seven days a week, and breathe a deep sigh of relief when I once again manage to pay the rent and bills at the end of the month.

Still, I appreciate this book, impractical though it is. It’s like comfort food for old folks. I sincerely enjoy reading the predigested philosophy and hearing about Klein’s simple existence on the Greek island of Hydra. I have lived in Greece and I have visited several of the islands, and I would love to put in some writing time in a situation similar to what Klein describes in this book. Just thinking about it brings back the quietness, the simplicity, the warm breeze bearing the aroma of the ocean, the hot sand underfoot, and the feel of the cool clear waters.

If only… If only… Maybe someday.

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