The Wakeful Mind and Happiness

Cicero, De Finibus 5. 87

“For this reason we must examine whether or not it is possible for the study of the philosophers to bring us [happiness].”

Quare hoc videndum est, possitne nobis hoc ratio philosophorum dare.


Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, 2.1 (1219a25)

“Let the work of the mind be the performance of life—and what this means is using life and being awake (for sleep is some kind of a rest and cessation of life). As a result, since the work of the mind and its virtue are identical, then the work of virtue is an earnest life.

This, then, is the complete good, which is itself happiness. For it is clear from what we have argued—as we said that happiness was the best thing; the goals and the greatest of the goods are in the mind, but aspects of the mind are either a state of being or an action—it is clear that, since an action is better than a state and the best action is better than the best state, that the performance of virtue is the greatest good of the mind. Happiness, then, is the action of a good mind.”

Ἔτι ἔστω ψυχῆς ἔργον τὸ ζῆν ποιεῖν, τοῦτοχρῆσις καὶ ἐγρήγορσις (ὁ γὰρ ὕπνος ἀργία τις καὶ ἡσυχία)· ὥστ᾿ ἐπεὶ τὸ ἔργον ἀνάγκη ἓν καὶ ταὐτὸ εἶναι τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ τῆς ἀρετῆς, ἔργον ἂν εἴη τῆς ἀρετῆς ζωὴ σπουδαία.

τοῦτ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἐστὶ τὸ τέλεον ἀγαθόν, ὅπερ ἦν ἡ εὐδαιμονία. δῆλον δὲ ἐκ τῶν ὑποκειμένων (ἦν μὲν γὰρ ἡ εὐδαιμονία τὸ ἄριστον, τὰ δὲ τέλη ἐν ψυχῇ καὶ τὰ ἄριστα τῶν ἀγαθῶν, τὰ ἐν αὐτῇ δὲ ἢ ἕξις ἢ ἐνέργεια), ἐπεὶ βέλτιον ἡ ἐνέργεια τῆς διαθέσεως καὶ τῆς βελτίστης ἕξεως ἡ βελτίστη ἐνέργεια ἡ δ᾿ ἀρετὴ βελτίστη ἕξις, τὴν τῆς ἀρετῆς ἐνέργειαν τῆς ψυχῆς ἄριστον εἶναι. ἦν δὲ καὶ ἡ εὐδαιμονία τὸ ἄριστον· ἔστιν ἄρα ἡ εὐδαιμονία ψυχῆς ἀγαθῆς ἐνέργεια.

ψυχή: can be translated into English as “spirit” or “soul” instead of “mind”. I avoided the former to sidestep the implication that Aristotle is making some kind of a mystical argument; I avoided the latter because it has such strong religious associations in English.

Seneca De Beneficiis 22

“A just reason for happiness is seeing that a friend is happy—even better, is to make a friend happy.”

iusta enim causa laetitiae est laetum amicum videre, iustior fecisse

Image result for medieval manuscript philosophy happiness
Ms 3045 fol.22v Boethius with the Wheel of Fortune, from ‘De Consolatione Philosophiae’, translated by Jean de Meung

Critics of Poetry Are Just Too Critical

Lucian, A Conversation with Hesiod, 5 

[Hesiod speaks to his interlocutor in the following passage. We posted the opening of this dialogue a few weeks ago]

“Still, I will not avoid defending my poetry against you too. I believe that it is not right to expect precision from poems at the smallest level or to demand that each syllable spoken be perfect or, if any part should depart from the course of the composition, to focus on that bitterly. No, you must know what we include many things for the sake of the meter or euphony; and some things, which are smooth, the line itself admits (even though I am not sure how). But you would deprive us of one of the greatest advantages we have, by which I mean freedom and license in poetry—and you cannot see the other parts of a poem, how many are beautiful, when you pick out a few splinters and some thorns, and search for starting points for criticism. But you are not the only one to do these things and you don’t just do it to me—many others shred  my fellow-artisan Homer to pieces, pursuing such minor details, such especially small things.”


῞Ομως δὲ οὐκ ἀπορήσω πρὸς σὲ καὶ ποιητικῆς ἀπολογίας. οὐ γάρ, οἶμαι, χρὴ παρὰ τῶν ποιητῶν ἐς τὸ λεπτότατον ἀκριβολογουμένους ἀπαιτεῖν κατὰ συλλαβὴν ἑκάστην ἐντελῆ πάντως τὰ εἰρημένα, κἂν εἴ τι ἐν τῷ τῆς ποιήσεως δρόμῳ παραρρυὲν λάθῃ, πικρῶς τοῦτο ἐξετάζειν, ἀλλ’ εἰδέναι ὅτι πολλὰ ἡμεῖς καὶ τῶν μέτρων ἕνεκα καὶ τῆς εὐφωνίας ἐπεμβάλλομεν· τὰ δὲ καὶ τὸ ἔπος αὐτὸ πολλάκις λεῖα ὄντα οὐκ οἶδ’ ὅπως παρεδέξατο. σὺ δὲ τὸ μέγιστον ὧν ἔχομεν ἀγαθῶν ἀφαιρῇ ἡμᾶς—λέγω δὲ τὴν ἐλευθερίαν καὶ τὴν ἐν τῷ ποιεῖν ἐξουσίαν, καὶ τὰ μὲν ἄλλα οὐχ ὁρᾷς ὅσα τῆς ποιήσεως καλά, σκινδαλάμους δὲ καὶ ἀκάνθας τινὰς ἐκλέγεις καὶ λαβὰς τῇ συκοφαντίᾳ ζητεῖς. ἀλλ’ οὐ μόνος ταῦτα σὺ οὐδὲ κατ’ ἐμοῦ μόνου, ἀλλὰ πολλοὶ καὶ ἄλλοι τὰ τοῦ ὁμοτέχνου τοῦ ἐμοῦ ῾Ομήρου κατακνίζουσι λεπτὰ οὕτω κομιδῇ καὶ μάλιστα μικρὰ ἄττα διεξιόντες.

Hesiod the Prophet? A Liar or a Cheat

Lucian, A Conversation with Hesiod, 1-2


“Hesiod, the fact that you are the best poet and that you obtained this title with the laurel from the Muses, you make clear yourself in your poetry, where everything is divinely inspired and reverent and we believe that it is true. But there is one thing that seems awry: since you claim in fact on your on part that you also received in that exchange the divine song from the gods in order that you may sing and praise events of past while also prophesying the future. Of these tasks, you fully complete narrating the births of the gods right up until the first beings, Chaos and Earth, Ouranos and Sex. Then you praised the virtues of women and advise farmers about the Pleiades, the right time for plowing and reaping, about sailing, and every other kind of thing. But the second half which would be far more useful to life and more appropriate for divine gifts—and in this I mean the prediction of the future, you did not begin. You have left this subject completely forgotten in your poetry, never playing the part of a Calchas, a Telemon, a Polyeidos or Phineus, all men who never obtained this gift from the muses but still prophesied anyway and were never reluctant to provide oracles to those who requested it.


Hence, it is necessary that you bear one of these three charges. Either you lie, which is a bit harsh to say, when you claim that the Muses promised you the power to tell the future. Or, the Muses gave what they promised, but you conceal it out of envy and guard such a gift in your pocket without sharing it with those who request it. Or, a great deal of prophecy has been written by you but you have not shared it with the world, perhaps preserving its use for a special time I know nothing about.”

᾿Αλλὰ ποιητὴν μὲν ἄριστον εἶναί σε, ὦ ῾Ησίοδε, καὶ τοῦτο παρὰ Μουσῶν λαβεῖν μετὰ τῆς δάφνης αὐτός τε δεικνύεις ἐν οἷς ποιεῖς—ἔνθεα γὰρ καὶ σεμνὰ πάντα—καὶ ἡμεῖς πιστεύομεν οὕτως ἔχειν. ἐκεῖνο δὲ ἀπορῆσαι ἄξιον, τί δήποτε προειπὼν ὑπὲρ σαυτοῦ ὡς διὰ τοῦτο λάβοις τὴν θεσπέσιον ἐκείνην ᾠδὴν παρὰ τῶν θεῶν ὅπως κλείοις καὶ ὑμνοίης τὰ παρεληλυθότα καὶ θεσπίζοις τὰ ἐσόμενα, θάτερον μὲν καὶ πάνυ ἐντελῶς ἐξενήνοχας θεῶν τε γενέσεις διηγούμενος ἄχρι καὶ τῶν πρώτων ἐκείνων, χάους καὶ γῆς καὶ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἔρωτος—ἔτι δὲ γυναικῶν ἀρετὰς καὶ παραινέσεις γεωργικάς, καὶ ὅσα περὶ Πλειάδων καὶ ὅσα περὶ καιρῶν ἀρότου καὶ ἀμήτου καὶ πλοῦ καὶ ὅλως τῶν ἄλλων ἁπάντων· θάτερον δὲ καὶ ὃ χρησιμώτερον ἦν τῷ βίῳ παρὰ πολὺ καὶ θεῶν δωρεαῖς μᾶλλον ἐοικός—λέγω δὲ τὴν τῶν μελλόντων προαγόρευσιν—, οὐδὲ τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐξαπέφηνας, ἀλλὰ τὸ μέρος τοῦτο πᾶν λήθῃ παραδέδωκας οὐδαμοῦ τῆς ποιήσεως ἢ τὸν Κάλχαντα ἢ τὸν Τήλεμον ἢ τὸν Πολύειδον ἢ καὶ Φινέα μιμησάμενος οἳ μηδὲ παρὰ Μουσῶν τούτου τυχόντες ὅμως προεθέσπιζον καὶ οὐκ ὤκνουν χρᾶν τοῖς δεομένοις.

῞Ωστε ἀνάγκη σοι τῶν τριῶν τούτων αἰτιῶν μιᾷ γε πάντως ἐνέχεσθαι· ἢ γὰρ ἐψεύσω, εἰ καὶ πικρὸν εἰπεῖν, ὡς ὑποσχομένων σοι τῶν Μουσῶν καὶ τὰ μέλλοντα προλέγειν δύνασθαι· ἢ αἱ μὲν ἔδοσαν ὥσπερ ὑπέσχοντο, σὺ δὲ ὑπὸ φθόνου ἀποκρύπτεις καὶ ὑπὸ κόλπου φυλάττεις τὴν δωρεὰν οὐ μεταδιδοὺς αὐτῆς τοῖς δεομένοις· ἢ γέγραπται μέν σοι καὶ τοιαῦτα πολλά, οὐδέπω δὲ αὐτὰ τῷ βίῳ παραδέδωκας οὐκ οἶδα εἰς ὃν καιρόν τινα ἄλλον ταμιευόμενος τὴν χρῆσιν αὐτῶν.

Lucian here is referring to Theogony lines 26-34

“Rustic shepherds, shameless reproaches, nothing more than bellies,
We know how to speak many lies that ring of the truth,
But we can utter true things when we want to.”
So the eloquent daughters of great Zeus spoke
And they gave me a scepter, an offshoot of blooming laurel
To carry, so that I might sing the things that will be and were before
And they ordered me to praise the race of the blessed gods who always are
And to sing of them both at the first and the last.”

“ποιμένες ἄγραυλοι, κάκ’ ἐλέγχεα, γαστέρες οἶον,
ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ’ εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι.”
ὣς ἔφασαν κοῦραι μεγάλου Διὸς ἀρτιέπειαι,
καί μοι σκῆπτρον ἔδον δάφνης ἐριθηλέος ὄζον
δρέψασαι, θηητόν· ἐνέπνευσαν δέ μοι αὐδὴν
θέσπιν, ἵνα κλείοιμι τά τ’ ἐσσόμενα πρό τ’ ἐόντα,
καί μ’ ἐκέλονθ’ ὑμνεῖν μακάρων γένος αἰὲν ἐόντων,
σφᾶς δ’ αὐτὰς πρῶτόν τε καὶ ὕστατον αἰὲν ἀείδειν.

Lucian, Dialogues of the Dead 13.3: Alexander Plays the Fool

“Shouldn’t I laugh, Alexander, when I see you still acting like a fool even in Hades, believing that you are Anubis or Osiris? Don’t hope too much about these things, most divine man: it is not permitted that anyone who has sailed into our harbor once and passed into our anchorage should return.”

Μὴ γελάσω οὖν, ὦ ᾿Αλέξανδρε, ὁρῶν καὶ ἐν ᾅδου ἔτι σε μωραίνοντα καὶ ἐλπίζοντα ῎Ανουβιν ἢ ῎Οσιριν γενήσεσθαι; πλὴν ἀλλὰ ταῦτα μέν, ὦ θειότατε, μὴ ἐλπίσῃς· οὐ γὰρ θέμις ἀνελθεῖν τινα τῶν ἅπαξ διαπλευσάντων τὴν λίμνην καὶ εἰς τὸ εἴσω τοῦ στομίου παρελθόντων·

(Yes, reading the Dialogues of the Dead around a birthday is not necessarily the most uplifting experience. But it is an experience. And, to paraphrase Alcman, an experience is the first step of learning…or something like that.)

Alcman, fr. 125 (Schol ad Pind. Isthm 1.56)

“Trying is the first step of learning”

πῆρά τοι μαθήσιος ἀρχά

I was always a little partial to one of the first lessons to be learned in graduate school (and life):

“Learn by Suffering”

… πάθει μάθος

(Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 177)

Plato, Protagoras, 338e-339a


“I consider facility with poetry the greatest part of a man’s education, that he should be able to understand what the poets have said correctly or incorrectly and to know how to analyze them and provide an explanation when questioned.”

ἡγοῦμαι, ἔφη, ὦ Σώκρατες, ἐγὼ ἀνδρὶ παιδείας μέγιστον μέρος εἶναι περὶ ἐπῶν δεινὸν εἶναι: ἔστιν δὲ τοῦτο τὰ ὑπὸ τῶν ποιητῶν λεγόμενα οἷόν τ᾽ εἶναι συνιέναι ἅ τε ὀρθῶς πεποίηται καὶ ἃ μή, καὶ ἐπίστασθαι διελεῖν τε καὶ ἐρωτώμενον λόγον δοῦναι.