Empedocles Recognizes Genius

Empedocles Fr. 129

There was a man among them of unusual knowledge,
Who indeed possessed the greatest wealth of mind,
And was, most of all, master of all kinds of skillful works.
For whenever he exerted all of his mind,
He readily saw all that there is to see
In ten or twenty human lifetimes.

ἦν δέ τις ἐν κείνοισιν ἀνὴρ περιώσια εἰδώς,
ὃς δὴ μήκιστον πραπίδων ἐκτήσατο πλοῦτον
παντοίων τε μάλιστα σοφῶν ἐπιήρανος ἔργων·
ὁππότε γὰρ πάσῃσιν ὀρέξαιτο πραπίδεσσιν,
ῥεῖά γε τῶν ὄντων πάντων λεύσσεσκεν ἕκαστα
καί τε δέκ’ ἀνθρώπων καί τ’ εἴκοσιν αἰώνεσσιν.

Adam Sandler celebrates his 55th birthday today.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

From Numa to Nu Morals

Montesquieu, Dissertation on Roman Politics in Religion (Part 2):

The successors of Numa didn’t dare to do things which that prince himself hadn’t done. The people, who had lost much of its ferocity and its rudeness, became capable of a greater discipline. It was easy to add to the ceremonies of the religion the principles and moral rules which it was lacking. But the legislators of the Romans were too clearsighted not to see how dangerous such a reformation was: it was to concede that the religion was defective; it was to give ages to it, and to weaken its authority in wishing to establish it. The wisdom of those Romans was to take a better part in establishing new laws. Human institutions could well change, but the divine ought to remain immutable like the gods themselves.

And so, the senate of Rome, having charged the praetor Petilius to examine the writings of king Numa, which they had found in a stone chest four hundred years after his death, resolved to burn them upon hearing the report which the praetor made showing that the ceremonies which were ordained in Numa’s writings differed substantially from those which they practiced at that time. That fact could put scruples into the spirit of the simple, and could cause them to see that prescribed cult practice was not the same as that which was instituted by the first legislators and inspired by the nymph Egeria.

Claude Lorrain, Egeria Mourns Numa

Les successeurs de Numa n’osèrent point faire ce que ce prince n’avait point fait : le peuple, qui avait beaucoup perdu de sa férocité et de sa rudesse, était devenu capable d’une plus grande discipline. Il eût été facile d’ajouter aux cérémonies de la religion des principes et des règles de morale dont elle manquait ; mais les législateurs des Romains étaient trop clairvoyants pour ne point connaître combien une pareille réformation eût été dangereuse: c’eût été convenir que la religion était défectueuse ; c’était lui donner des âges, et affaiblir son autorité en voulant l’établir. La sagesse des Romains leur fit prendre un meilleur parti en établissant de nouvelles lois. Les institutions humaines peuvent bien changer, mais les divines doivent être immuables comme les dieux mêmes.

Ainsi le sénat de Rome, ayant chargé le préteur Pétilius d’examiner les écrits du roi Numa, qui avaient été trouvés dans un coffre de pierre, quatre cents ans après la mort de ce roi, résolut de les faire brûler, sur le rapport que lui fit ce préteur que les cérémonies qui étaient ordonnées dans ces écrits différaient beaucoup de celles qui se pratiquaient alors ; ce qui pouvait jeter des scrupules dans l’esprit des simples, et leur faire voir que le culte prescrit n’était pas le même que celui qui avait été institué par les premiers législateurs, et inspiré par la nymphe Égérie.

 

Wandering for Answers

Plato, Hippias Minor 376c

Hippias: “I can’t really agree with you on these things, Socrates.”

Socrates: “Huh, I can’t agree with myself either. But it seems like our current discussion must go there, at least.

This is what I haven been saying for a long time—I wander back and forth on these topics and they never seem the same to me. Really, it is not a surprise at all that I or any other normal person find ourselves adrift. But if you and the other experts get lost too, then it is pretty frightening for us since we can’t stop our wandering even after coming to you.”

ΙΠ. Οὐκ ἔχω ὅπως σοι συγχωρήσω, ὦ Σώκρατες, ταῦτα.

ΣΩ. Οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐγὼ ἐμοί, ὦ Ἱππία· ἀλλ᾿ ἀναγκαῖον οὕτω φαίνεσθαι νῦν γε ἡμῖν ἐκ τοῦ λόγου. ὅπερ μέντοι πάλαι ἔλεγον, ἐγὼ περὶ ταῦτα ἄνω καὶ κάτω πλανῶμαι καὶ οὐδέποτε ταὐτά μοι δοκεῖ· καὶ ἐμὲ μὲν οὐδὲν θαυμαστὸν πλανᾶσθαι οὐδὲ ἄλλον ἰδιώτην· εἰ δὲ καὶ ὑμεῖς πλανήσεσθε οἱ σοφοί, τοῦτο ἤδη καὶ ἡμῖν δεινόν, εἰ μηδὲ παρ᾿ ὑμᾶς ἀφικόμενοι παυσόμεθα τῆς πλάνης.

Indigo Girls, Closer to Fine

“And I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
Got my paper and I was free”

For Those In the Know

Anonymous Epigram (Greek Anthology 7.128)

I am Heraclitus. Why do you buffoons
Wrestle with me? It was not for you
I labored, but for those in the know.
To me, one man is worth thirty thousand,
And an infinite number not worth one man.
This I would say even in Persephone’s house.

For those in the know, here are some fragments of Heraclitus to wrestle with:

Fr.7
If all that exists should become smoke, nostrils would pick out one thing from the other.

Fr.26
A man in the night kindles a light in himself after his sight is extinguished. A living man, but he engages with a dead man when he sleeps. And when he wakes, he understands sleeping man.

Fr.36
For souls, it’s death to become water, and for water, it’s death to become earth. But from earth water is born, and from water, a soul.

Fr.48
In any event, the name of the bow is life but its work is death

Fr.90
The exchange: all things for fire and fire for all things; and in like manner, goods for gold and gold for goods.

Epigram 7.128
Ἡράκλειτος ἐγώ: τί μ᾽ ἄνω κάτω ἕλκετ᾽ ἄμουσοι;
οὐχ ὑμῖν ἐπόνουν, τοῖς δ᾽ ἔμ᾽ ἐπισταμένοις.
εἷς ἐμοὶ ἄνθρωπος τρισμύριοι, οἱ δ᾽ ἀνάριθμοι
οὐδείς. ταῦτ᾽ αὐδῶ καὶ παρὰ Περσεφόνῃ.

Heraclitus:
Fr.7
εἰ πάντα τὰ ὄντα καπνὸς γένοιτο, ῥῖνες ἂν διαγνοῖεν

Fr.26
ἄνθρωπος ἐν εὐφρόνῃ φάος ἅπτεται ἑαυτῷ ἀποσβεσθείς ὄψεις, ζῶν δὲ ἅπτεται τεθνεῶτος εὕδων, ἐγρηγορὼς ἅπτεται εὕδοντος.

Fr.36
ψυχῇσιν θάνατος ὕδωρ γενέσθαι, ὕδατι δὲ θάνατος γῆν γενέσθαι, ἐκ γῆς δὲ ὕδωρ γίνεται, ἐξ ὕδατος δὲ ψυχή

Fr.48
τῷ οὖν τόξῳ ὄνομα βίος, ἔργον δὲ θάνατος

Fr.90
πυρός τε ἀνταμοιβὴ τὰ πάντα καὶ πῦρ ἁπάντων ὅκωσπερ χρυσοῦ χρήματα καὶ χρημάτων χρυσός.

Between Skepticism and Eclecticism

J.E. Sandys, A Companion to Latin Studies (§ 1047)

Philosophy, on its first introduction into Rome in the wake of Greek literature, art, and science, encountered fierce opposition, but the personal influence of the younger Scipio and his friends procured the new learning a hearing; and the teachers, notably Panaetius, had the tact to keep abstruse speculation out of sight and present their subject to their Roman pupils on its practical and literary side.

Each of the three Schools most prominent at the time, the Stoic, the Epicurean, and the New Academy, gained some adherents, but the influence of the first was undoubtedly the greatest and the most permanent. It has been well said that the heroes of the early Republic were unconscious Stoics, and no sooner was this system of moral philosophy made intelligible to cultivated Romans than it exercised an irresistible attraction. In a time when religious belief was decaying, the best intellects welcomed in its place a doctrine which had so strong an affinity with the national character: there was a sort of informal alliance between the public policy and the philosophic convictions of such a man as Cato.

But, though philosophy had its triumphs at Rome, it never quite shook off the national prejudice. Having been committed to the Republican cause by Cato, the Stoics were generally in opposition during the early Empire, and more than once the government, as a precautionary measure, banished philosophers from Rome. The educational value of philosophic study was, indeed, recognised, and its wide influence is attested by much of the best literature. But zeal on the part of the pupils never supplied the lack of initiative; they had no ambition to found new schools of thought, originality was confined either to the choice of a system (thus Varro selected the Old Academy out of 288 possible systems), or to the arbitrary fitting together of various parts from different systems, according to the individual’s own caprice.

In confining their attention to popular philosophy and to practical questions, the Roman students conformed to, and by their adhesion strengthened, a tendency already powerful in the later Greek schools, where the controversies of centuries had led to scepticism on one hand and eclecticism on the other.

Stoicism? That Sh*t’s Not What I’m About!

Bruce Duffy, The World as I Found It (pp. 116-117, NYRB edition):

Wittgenstein continued. I eat simply. Vegetables, mainly. Meat disagrees with my digestion.

A misstep, this; his mother carefully daubed her lips with her napkin, leaving it to his father to ask, There is something wrong with your digestion?

Wittgenstein waited three beats, then replied, Not if I eat as I should.

And the food here? asked his father pointedly. It is too rich for your digestion?

A pleasant change, replied the son agreeably, though he felt his smile curdle.

Resumed his father helpfully, A change before you go back to your bland fare, you mean – so you will know the difference. Barbishly, his father then quipped for the benefit of the table, Ever the philosopher – our latter-day Epictetus. Then, seeing his son’s withholding look, Karl Wittgenstein asked, You have not read the Stoics?

Wittgenstein froze, as if it were natural to expect that, as a student of philosophy, he must be conversant with every facet of the subject. Gathering his forces, Wittgenstein replied, I understand the basic outlines of the Stoic creed. That is enough.

His father stared at him. They don’t teach the Stoics at Cambridge? he asked, as if to say, The English are so debased?

They teach the Stoics, replied the son patiently. If one is reading philosophy in the Tripos or studying the classics. But that is not what I’m about.

When This is All Over, It Will Happen Again

Nemesius, De natura Hominis 37

“The stoics say that once the planets return into the same sign and location where each one was at the beginning when the universe first arose, in that appointed circuit of time there is a burning and purging of existence and everything returns necessarily to the same order. Each of the stars that travels again ends up indistinguishable from how they were in the previous cycle.

They say that Socrates will be there again along with Plato and each of the people with them and their friends, and their fellow citizens. They will experience the same things, do the same things, and try their hand at the same things; and every city, village, and field will be the same. This re-creation of everything happens not once but often

In the boundless space, the things turn out the same without this completion. The gods, because they do not submit to that destruction and have become away from just one cycle, know everything that is going to happen in subsequent eras from a single turn. There’s nothing different in what happens from before but everything is indistinguishable down to the smallest detail.”

 

οἱ δὲ Στωϊκοί φασιν ἀποκαθισταμένους τοὺς πλανήτας εἰς τὸ αὐτὸ σημεῖον κατά τε μῆκος καὶ πλάτος ἔνθα τὴν ἀρχὴν ἕκαστος ἦν ὅτε τὸ πρῶτον ὁ κόσμος συνέστη, ἐν ῥηταῖς χρόνων περιόδοις ἐκπύρωσιν καὶ φθορὰν τῶν ὄντων ἀπεργάζεσθαι, καὶ πάλιν ἐξ ὑπαρχῆς εἰς τὸ αὐτὸ τὸν κόσμον ἀποκαθίστασθαι, καὶ τῶν ἀστέρων ὁμοίως πάλιν φερομένων ἕκαστα τῶν ἐν τῇ προτέρᾳ περιόδῳ γενομένων ἀπαραλλάκτως ἀποτελεῖσθαι.

ἔσεσθαι γὰρ πάλιν Σωκράτην καὶ Πλάτωνα καὶ ἕκαστον τῶν ἀνθρώπων σὺν τοῖς αὐτοῖς καὶ φίλοις καὶ πολίταις, καὶ τὰ αὐτὰ πείσεσθαι, καὶ τοῖς αὐτοῖς συντεύξεσθαι καὶ τὰ αὐτὰ μεταχειριεῖσθαι, καὶ πᾶσαν πόλιν καὶ κώμην καὶ ἀγρὸν ὁμοίως ἀποκαθίστασθαι· γίνεσθαι δὲ τὴν ἀποκατάστασιν τοῦ παντὸς οὐχ ἅπαξ ἀλλὰ πολλάκις·

μᾶλλον δὲ εἰς ἄπειρον, καὶ ἀτελευτήτως τὰ αὐτὰ ἀποκαθίστασθαι· τοὺς δὲ θεοὺς τοὺς μὴ ὑποκειμένους τῇ φθορᾷ ταύτῃ, παρακολουθήσαντας μιᾷ περιόδῳ γινώσκειν ἐκ ταύ- πάντα τὰ μέλλοντα ἔσεσθαι ἐν ταῖς ἑξῆς περιόδοις·  οὐδὲν γὰρ ξένον ἔσεσθαι παρὰ τὰ γενόμενα πρότερον, ἀλλὰ πάντα ὡσαύτως ἀπαραλλάκτως ἄχρι καὶ τῶν ἐλαχίστων.

or

Even Gods Need Vacations

Cicero Academica (Lucullus) 121

“You deny that anything is possible without god. Look, here Strato from Lampascus interrupts to grant immunity to that god of yours, however big the task. And, since the gods’ priests get a vacation, it is so much fairer that the gods do too!

Anyway, Strato denies that he needs to use divine actions to create the universe: whatever exists—he teaches—comes from natural causes. He does not, however, follow the one who argues that [the world] was put together out of rough and smooth, hook-shaped or crooked atoms separated by void. He believes that these are dreams of Democritus not as he teaches but as he imagines things. Strato himself, as he outlines the components of the universe in order, insists that whatever is or develops emerges from or was made by natural means, through gravity and motion.

Thus he frees the god of great labor and me of fear. For, once they imagine that some deity is worrying about them, who wouldn’t shudder at divine power day and night and, when anything bad happens—for who avoids such things?—wouldn’t fear that it happened because of some negative judgment? Still, I don’t agree with Strato nor, to be honest, with you. Sometimes his idea seems more likely, at other times yours does.”

 

[121] Negas sine deo posse quicquam: ecce tibi e transverso Lampsacenus Strato, qui det isti deo inmunitatem — magni quidem muneris; sed cum sacerdotes deorum vacationem habeant, quanto est aequius habere ipsos deos —: negat  opera deorum se uti ad fabricandum mundum, quaecumque sint docet omnia effecta esse natura, nec ut ille qui asperis et levibus et hamatis uncinatisque corporibus concreta haec esse dicat interiecto inani: somnia censet haec esse Democriti non docentis sed optantis, ipse autem singulas mundi partes persequens quidquid aut sit aut fiat naturalibus fieri aut factum esse docet ponderibus et motibus. ne ille et deum opere magno liberat et me timore. quis enim potest, cum existimet curari se a deo, non et dies et noctes divinum numen horrere et si quid adversi acciderit, quod cui non accidit, extimescere ne id iure evenerit? nee Stratoni tamen adsentior nec vero tibi; modo hoc modo illud probabilius videtur.’

The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel (Vatican City) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Creaci%C3%B3n_de_Ad%C3%A1n.jpg

Feeling Sad? Just Think of All the Famous Dead People

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6.47

“Always keep in mind that all sorts of people from all kinds of occupations and from every country on earth have died. And take this thought to Philistion and Phoibos and Origanion. Turn to the rest of the peoples on earth too.

We have to cross over to the same place where all those clever speakers and so many serious philosophers have gone—Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates—and where those great heroes of old, the brave generals and tyrants have gone too. Among them are Eudoxos, Hipparchus, Archimedes,  and other sharp natures, big minds, tireless men, bold men, and those who mock the temporary and disposable nature of life itself, like Menippus and the rest.

Think about all these people, that they have been dead for a long time. Why is this terrible for them? Why worry about those who are no longer named? This one thing is worth much: to keep on living with truth and justice and in good will even among liars and unjust men.”

Ἐννόει συνεχῶς παντοίους ἀνθρώπους καὶ παντοίων μὲν ἐπιτηδευμάτων, παντοδαπῶν δὲ ἐθνῶν, τεθνεῶτας· ὥστε κατιέναι τοῦτο μέχρι Φιλιστίωνος καὶ Φοίβου καὶ Ὀριγανίωνος. μέτιθι νῦν ἐπὶ τὰ ἄλλα φῦλα. ἐκεῖ δὴ μεταβαλεῖν ἡμᾶς δεῖ, ὅπου τοσοῦτοι μὲν δεινοὶ ῥήτορες, τοσοῦτοι δὲ σεμνοὶ φιλόσοφοι, Ἡράκλειτος, Πυθαγόρας, Σωκράτης· τοσοῦτοι δὲ ἥρωες πρότερον, τοσοῦτοι δὲ ὕστερον στρατηγοί, τύραννοι· ἐπὶ τούτοις δὲ Εὔδοξος, Ἵππαρχος, Ἀρχιμήδης, ἄλλαι φύσεις ὀξεῖαι, μεγαλόφρονες, φιλόπονοι, πανοῦργοι, αὐθάδεις, αὐτῆς τῆς ἐπικήρου καὶ ἐφημέρου τῶν ἀνθρώπων ζωῆς χλευασταί, οἶον Μένιππος καὶ ὅσοι τοιοῦτοι. περὶ πάντων τούτων ἐννόει, ὅτι πάλαι κεῖνται. τί οὖν τοῦτο δεινὸν αὐτοῖς; τί δαὶ τοῖς μηδ᾿ ὀνομαζομένοις ὅλως; Ἓν ὧδε πολλοῦ ἄξιον, τὸ μετ᾿ ἀληθείας καὶ δικαιοσύνης εὐμενῆ τοῖς ψεύσταις καὶ ἀδίκοις διαβιοῦν.

File:David - The Death of Socrates.jpg

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Socrates 1787

Chance, Virtue, and Evil Deeds

Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 4 145-155

“It does often turn out that the conduct of the most important affairs is entrusted to good people, that overwhelming corruption may be restrained. Chance apportions a proper mix of bad and good luck to some people based on the quality of their souls so they don’t exult in excess thanks to prolonged happiness. It lets other people suffer more, so that their minds’ virtues gain strength from the use and habit of patience.

Some people fear more than they need to about how much they can take while others are not serious enough about what they cannot. No few purchase a name the world honors at the price of a glorious death; others provide in their tortures an example to the rest of human kind that virtue cannot be conquered by evil deeds.”

Fit autem saepe, uti bonis summa rerum regenda deferatur, ut exuberans retundatur improbitas. Aliis mixta quaedam pro animorum qualitate distribuit; quosdam remordet ne longa felicitate luxurient, alios duris agitari ut virtutes animi patientiae usu atque exercitatione confirment. Alii plus aequo metuunt quod ferre possunt, alii plus aequo despiciunt quod ferre non possunt; hos in experimentum sui tristibus ducit. Nonnulli venerandum saeculi nomen gloriosae pretio mortis emerunt: quidam suppliciis inexpugnabiles exemplum ceteris praetulerunt invictam malis

Boethius Imprisoned
%d bloggers like this: