Missed Your Target But Hit Your Step-Mother? That’s Not So Bad

Plutarch, On The Tranquility of Mind, 467 C-D

“Thoughtful men–just as bees find honey in thyme, the most bitter and driest plants–extract something fitting and useful to themselves even from the most adverse situations.

It is necessary that we practice and take care of this first, like the man who missed a dog with a stone but struck his stepmother instead and said “That’s not so bad”. For it is possible to change our reception of chance from undesired outcomes. Diogenes was sent into exile? “That’s not so bad!” For he began to become a philosopher after his exile.”

οἱ δὲ φρόνιμοι, καθάπερ ταῖς μελίτταις μέλι φέρει τὸ δριμύτατον καὶ ξηρότατον ὁ θύμος, οὕτως ἀπὸ τῶν δυσχερεστάτων πολλάκις πραγμάτων οἰκεῖόν τι καὶ χρήσιμον αὑτοῖς λαμβάνουσι.

Τοῦτ’ οὖν δεῖ πρῶτον ἀσκεῖν καὶ μελετᾶν, ὥσπερ ὁ τῆς κυνὸς ἁμαρτὼν τῷ λίθῳ καὶ τὴν μητρυιὰν πατάξας ‘οὐδ’ οὕτως’ ἔφη ‘κακῶς· ’ ἔξεστι γὰρ μεθιστάναι τὴν τύχην ἐκ τῶν ἀβουλήτων. ἐφυγαδεύθη Διογένης· ‘οὐδ’ οὕτως κακῶς’·  ἤρξατο γὰρ φιλοσοφεῖν μετὰ τὴν φυγήν.

Fearing/loathing stepmothers is a bit of a thing in Ancient Greek Literature:

Callimachus, Epigram 8

“A boy was placing a garland on his stepmother’s grave
Believing that she had softened her ways after death
But the stone leaned and fell and killed the child.
Avoid your stepmother, even in death, first sons!”

Στήλην μητρυιῆς, μικρὰν λίθον, ἔστεφε κοῦρος,
ὡς βίον ἠλλάχθαι καὶ τρόπον οἰόμενος·
ἡ δὲ τάφῳ κλινθεῖσα κατέκτανε παῖδα πεσοῦσα.
φεύγετε μητρυιῆς καὶ τάφον οἱ πρόγονοι.

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Chance, Wealth and the Wise Man: More Maxims

More of Epicurus’ Maxims from Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

“Chance only briefly impedes the wise man—reason has selected for him what is most important, it guides him throughout his life and will guide him.”

XVI. Βραχέα σοφῷ τύχη παρεμπίπτει, τὰ δὲ μέγιστα καὶ κυριώτατα ὁ λογισμὸς διῴκηκε καὶ κατὰ τὸν συνεχῆ χρόνον τοῦ βίου διοικεῖ καὶ διοικήσει.

“The just man is the least agitated; the unjust full of the most trouble.”

XVII. ῾Ο δίκαιος ἀταρακτότατος, ὁ δ’ ἄδικος πλείστης ταραχῆς γέμων.

“Pleasure for the flesh will not increase once pain from want has been removed, but it can only be varied. The contemplation of these things [which bring pleasure] and their concomitants, however, produces the limit of pleasure for the mind, insofar as it is those very things that also bring the mind the greatest fears.”

XVIII. Οὐκ ἐπαύξεται ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ ἡ ἡδονὴ ἐπειδὰν ἅπαξ τὸ κατ’ ἔνδειαν ἀλγοῦν ἐξαιρεθῇ, ἀλλὰ μόνον ποικίλλεται. τῆς δὲ διανοίας τὸ πέρας τὸ κατὰ τὴν ἡδονὴν ἀπεγέννησεν ἥ τε τούτων αὐτῶν ἐκλόγισις καὶ τῶν ὁμογενῶν τούτοις ὅσα τοὺς μεγίστους φόβους παρεσκεύαζε τῇ διανοίᾳ.

“It is not possible that the man who has transgressed one of the laws we have in common—not harming or being harmed—to believe that he will get away with it, even if he already has ten thousand times to the present day. It will be unclear whether or not he will escape right up until he dies.”

XXXV. Οὐκ ἔστι τὸν λάθρᾳ τι ποιοῦντα ὧν συνέθεντο πρὸς ἀλλήλους εἰς τὸ μὴ βλάπτειν μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι πιστεύειν ὅτι λήσει, κἂν μυριάκις ἐπὶ τοῦ παρόντος λανθάνῃ. μέχρι μὲν καταστροφῆς ἄδηλον εἰ καὶ λήσει.

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Diogenes Laertius 10.2

“Apollodorus the Epicurian writes in his first book of On the Life of Epicurus that the philosopher turned to the study of philosophy when he noted that his teachers could not explain to him the meaning of Chaos in Hesiod.”

᾿Απολλόδωρος δ’ ὁ ᾿Επικούρειος ἐν τῷ πρώτῳ περὶ τοῦ ᾿Επικούρου βίου φησὶν ἐλθεῖν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν καταγνόντα τῶν γραμματιστῶν ἐπειδὴ μὴ ἐδυνήθησαν ἑρμηνεῦσαι αὐτῷ τὰ περὶ τοῦ παρ’ ῾Ησιόδῳ χάους.

10.6

“I cannot conceive what the good is if I separate it from the pleasures of taste, from the pleasures of sex, from the pleasures of sound, or those of beautiful bodies.”

Οὐ γὰρ ἔγωγε ἔχω τί νοήσω τἀγαθόν, ἀφαιρῶν μὲν τὰς διὰ χυλῶν ἡδονάς, ἀφαιρῶν δὲ τὰς δι᾽ ἀφροδισίων καὶ τὰς δι᾽ ἀκροαμάτων καὶ τὰς διὰ μορφῆς.

“What is this insanity in anticipating your troubles?!”

Seneca, Moral Epistle 98

“Therefore I do not suggest that you be indifferent. Rather, you should avoid whatever makes you fear. Whatever can be anticipated through planning, anticipate. Whatever would do you harm, spot it and avoid it long before it happens. In this, confidence and a mind hardened enough to tolerate everything will bring you the greatest aid. Whoever can endure fortune, can also beware of it. Certainly, there are no rolling waves on tranquil waters. Nothing is more pitiful or foolish than fearing things ahead of time! What is this insanity in anticipating your troubles!

Finally, to summarize briefly what I believe and to outline for you those troublemakers and self-abusers—for they are as intemperate in their misfortunes as they were before them. The person suffers more than is needed who suffers before it is needed. This kind of a person does not put his sorrow in perspective for the same reason he does not expect it—because of the same intemperance he imagines that his own happiness will last forever and that whatever he encounters will continue to improve as long as they last. Forgetful of the balance upon which all human affairs are chanced, one safeguards for himself only the consistency of chance.”

Nec ideo praecipio tibi neglegentiam. Tu vero metuenda declina. Quidquid consilio prospici potest, prospice. Quodcumque laesurum est, multo ante quam accidat, speculare et averte. In hoc ipsum tibi plurimum conferet fiducia et ad tolerandum omne obfirmata mens. Potest fortunam cavere, qui potest ferre. Certe in tranquillo non tumultuatur. Nihil est nec miserius nec stultius quam praetimere. Quae ista dementia est malum suum antecedere? Denique ut breviter includam quod sentio, et istos satagios ac sibi molestos describam tibi, tam intemperantes in ipsis miseriis quam sunt ante illas. Plus dolet quam necesse est, qui ante dolet quam necesse est; eadem enim infirmitate dolorem non aestimat, qua non exspectat; eadem intemperantia fingit sibi perpetuam felicitatem suam, fingit crescere debere quaecumque contigerunt, non tantum durare; et oblitus huius petauri, quo humana iactantur, sibi uni fortuitorum constantiam spondet.

Image result for Ancient Roman Shipwreck frieze
Marble Relief on the Copenhagen Sarcophagus, 3rd Century CE

Chance, Wealth and the Wise Man: More Maxims

More of Epicurus’ Maxims from Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

“Chance only briefly impedes the wise man—reason has selected for him what is most important, it guides him throughout his life and will guide him.”

XVI. Βραχέα σοφῷ τύχη παρεμπίπτει, τὰ δὲ μέγιστα καὶ κυριώτατα ὁ λογισμὸς διῴκηκε καὶ κατὰ τὸν συνεχῆ χρόνον τοῦ βίου διοικεῖ καὶ διοικήσει.

“The just man is the least agitated; the unjust full of the most trouble.”

XVII. ῾Ο δίκαιος ἀταρακτότατος, ὁ δ’ ἄδικος πλείστης ταραχῆς γέμων.

“Pleasure for the flesh will not increase once pain from want has been removed, but it can only be varied. The contemplation of these things [which bring pleasure] and their concomitants, however, produces the limit of pleasure for the mind, insofar as it is those very things that also bring the mind the greatest fears.”

XVIII. Οὐκ ἐπαύξεται ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ ἡ ἡδονὴ ἐπειδὰν ἅπαξ τὸ κατ’ ἔνδειαν ἀλγοῦν ἐξαιρεθῇ, ἀλλὰ μόνον ποικίλλεται. τῆς δὲ διανοίας τὸ πέρας τὸ κατὰ τὴν ἡδονὴν ἀπεγέννησεν ἥ τε τούτων αὐτῶν ἐκλόγισις καὶ τῶν ὁμογενῶν τούτοις ὅσα τοὺς μεγίστους φόβους παρεσκεύαζε τῇ διανοίᾳ.

“It is not possible that the man who has transgressed one of the laws we have in common—not harming or being harmed—to believe that he will get away with it, even if he already has ten thousand times to the present day. It will be unclear whether or not he will escape right up until he dies.”

XXXV. Οὐκ ἔστι τὸν λάθρᾳ τι ποιοῦντα ὧν συνέθεντο πρὸς ἀλλήλους εἰς τὸ μὴ βλάπτειν μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι πιστεύειν ὅτι λήσει, κἂν μυριάκις ἐπὶ τοῦ παρόντος λανθάνῃ. μέχρι μὲν καταστροφῆς ἄδηλον εἰ καὶ λήσει.

Image result for Ancient Greek Epicurus fear

Diogenes Laertius 10.2

“Apollodorus the Epicurian writes in his first book of On the Life of Epicurus that the philosopher turned to the study of philosophy when he noted that his teachers could not explain to him the meaning of Chaos in Hesiod.”

᾿Απολλόδωρος δ’ ὁ ᾿Επικούρειος ἐν τῷ πρώτῳ περὶ τοῦ ᾿Επικούρου βίου φησὶν ἐλθεῖν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν καταγνόντα τῶν γραμματιστῶν ἐπειδὴ μὴ ἐδυνήθησαν ἑρμηνεῦσαι αὐτῷ τὰ περὶ τοῦ παρ’ ῾Ησιόδῳ χάους.

10.6

“I cannot conceive what the good is if I separate it from the pleasures of taste, from the pleasures of sex, from the pleasures of sound, or those of beautiful bodies.”

Οὐ γὰρ ἔγωγε ἔχω τί νοήσω τἀγαθόν, ἀφαιρῶν μὲν τὰς διὰ χυλῶν ἡδονάς, ἀφαιρῶν δὲ τὰς δι᾽ ἀφροδισίων καὶ τὰς δι᾽ ἀκροαμάτων καὶ τὰς διὰ μορφῆς.

Life’s Like Craps, but it Needn’t Be Crap: Plutarch and Plato

Plutarch, De Tranquilitate Animi 467b

“Plato likened life to a dice-game in which we need both to throw what is advantageous and to use the dice well after we’ve thrown them. And when we are subject to chance, if we take good advice, this is our task: though we cannot control the toss, we can accept the outcome luck gives us properly and allot to each event a place in which what is good for us helps the most and what was unplanned aggrieves the least.”

Κυβείᾳ γὰρ ὁ Πλάτων (Resp. 604c) τὸν βίον ἀπείκασεν, ἐν ᾧ καὶ βάλλειν δεῖ τὰ πρόσφορα, καὶ βαλόντα χρῆσθαι καλῶς τοῖς πεσοῦσι. τούτων δὲ τὸ μὲν βάλλειν οὐκ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν, τὸ δὲ προσηκόντως δέχεσθαι τὰ γινόμενα παρὰ τῆς τύχης καὶ νέμειν ἑκάστῳ τόπον, ἐν ᾧ καὶ τὸ οἰκεῖον ὠφελήσει μάλιστα καὶ τὸ ἀβούλητον ἥκιστα λυπήσει τοὺς ἐπιτυγχάνοντας, ἡμέτερον ἔργον ἐστίν, ἂν εὖ φρονῶμεν.

Dice

And here is the passage Plutarch is drawing on from the tenth book of the Republic (Plato, Republic 604c-d)

“The best way to deliberate about what has happened is just as we might in the fall of dice: to order our affairs in reference to how the dice have fallen where reason dictates the best place would be, and not to stumble forward like children shocked at the outcome wasting time with crying. Instead, we should always prepare our mind towards addressing what has happened as quickly as possible and to redress what has fallen and what ails, erasing lament [lit. threnody] with treatment*.”

Τῷ βουλεύεσθαι, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, περὶ τὸ γεγονὸς καὶ ὥσπερ ἐν πτώσει κύβων πρὸς τὰ πεπτωκότα τίθεσθαι τὰ αὑτοῦ πράγματα, ὅπῃ ὁ λόγος αἱρεῖ βέλτιστ’ ἂν ἔχειν, ἀλλὰ μὴ προσπταίσαντας καθάπερ παῖδας ἐχομένους τοῦ πληγέντος ἐν τῷ βοᾶν διατρίβειν, ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ ἐθίζειν τὴν ψυχὴν ὅτι τάχιστα γίγνεσθαι πρὸς τὸ ἰᾶσθαί τε καὶ ἐπανορθοῦν τὸ πεσόν τε καὶ νοσῆσαν, ἰατρικῇ θρηνῳδίαν ἀφανίζοντα.

*ἰατρικῇ: lit. “art of medicine”; some translations use “therapy”.

Missed Your Target But Hit Your Step-Mother? That’s Not So Bad: Plutarch on Adapting to Chance

Plutarch, On The Tranquility of Mind, 467 C-D

“Thoughtful men–just as bees find honey in thyme, the most bitter and driest plants–extract something fitting and useful to themselves even from the most adverse situations.

It is necessary that we practice and take care of this first, like the man who missed a dog with a stone but struck his step-mother instead and said “That’s not so bad”. For it is possible to change our reception of chance from undesired outcomes. Diogenes was sent into exile? “That’s not so bad!” For he began to become a philosopher after his exile.”

οἱ δὲ φρόνιμοι, καθάπερ ταῖς μελίτταις μέλι φέρει τὸ δριμύτατον καὶ ξηρότατον ὁ θύμος, οὕτως ἀπὸ τῶν δυσχερεστάτων πολλάκις πραγμάτων οἰκεῖόν τι καὶ χρήσιμον αὑτοῖς λαμβάνουσι.

Τοῦτ’ οὖν δεῖ πρῶτον ἀσκεῖν καὶ μελετᾶν, ὥσπερ ὁ τῆς κυνὸς ἁμαρτὼν τῷ λίθῳ καὶ τὴν μητρυιὰν πατάξας ‘οὐδ’ οὕτως’ ἔφη ‘κακῶς•’ ἔξεστι γὰρ μεθιστάναι τὴν τύχην ἐκ τῶν ἀβουλήτων. ἐφυγαδεύθη Διογένης• ‘οὐδ’ οὕτως κακῶς’• ἤρξατο γὰρ φιλοσοφεῖν μετὰ τὴν φυγήν.

Some Advice on Starting the Year Anew from Macrobius

Macrobius, 1.11.8-11

 

“Some are slaves to desire, others to greed, others to ambition; all are enthralled to hope, all to fear. To be sure, there is no slavery more base than one voluntarily undertaken. But we walk all over the man subjected to the yoke imposed by fortune as though he were a wretched and worthless character, but we do not suffer the yoke which we place upon our own necks to be jeered at. You will find among servants one with a deeper purse than the others, you will even find a lord himself kissing the hands of another man’s servants in the hope of financial gain; I do not, therefore, form my opinion of people based on their fortune, but on their character. Chance assigns you a condition, but you give yourself a character.”

alius libidini servit, alius avaritiae, alius ambitioni, omnes spei, omnes timori. et certe nulla servitus turpior quam voluntaria. at nos iugo a fortuna imposito subiacentem tamquam miserum vilemque calcamus, quod vero nos nostris cervicibus inserimus non patimur reprehendi. invenies inter servos aliquem pecunia fortiorem, invenies dominum spe lucri oscula alienorum servorum manibus infigentem: non ergo fortuna homines aestimabo sed moribus. sibi quisque dat mores, condicionem casus adsignat.