Influential Teachers and the Meaning of the Good: Two Anecdotes Concerning Epicurus

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.

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Epicurus

A few maxims to round things out

 

 

  1. “If fear of the skies or about death had never afflicted us—along with the ignoring of the limits of pain and desires—we never would have needed natural science”

Εἰ μηθὲν ἡμᾶς αἱ τῶν μετεώρων ὑποψίαι ἠνώχλουν καὶ αἱ περὶ θανάτου, μή ποτε πρὸς ἡμᾶς ᾖ τι, ἔτι τε τὸ μὴ κατανοεῖν τοὺς ὅρους τῶν ἀλγηδόνων καὶ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, οὐκ ἂν προσεδεόμεθα φυσιολογίας.

  1. “It is not possible to eliminate fear about the most important things unless one understands the nature of everything—otherwise, we live fearing things we heard from myths. Therefore, it is not possible to enjoy unmixed pleasures without natural science.”

XII. Οὐκ ἦν τὸ φοβούμενον λύειν ὑπὲρ τῶν κυριωτάτων μὴ κατειδότα τίς ἡ τοῦ σύμπαντος φύσις, ἀλλ’ ὑποπτευόμενόν τι τῶν κατὰ τοὺς μύθους· ὥστε οὐκ ἦν ἄνευ φυσιολογίας ἀκεραίους τὰς ἡδονὰς ἀπολαμβάνειν.

A Philosopher’s Guide to Handling Insults in the Theater

Over the weekend there was a theatrical incident the interpretation of which depended almost entirely on political disposition and other biases. Anyone who knows about theater in the ancient world knows that authors like Aristophanes were effective because they were political. (And often very unsubtle.) When a public figure is a target of the show and is watching the show, his or her reaction becomes the show.

comedy-mask

Apparently there was a similar incident over 2000 years ago with the philosopher Cleanthes. It is not a perfect model, since Cleanthes was not about to be a heartbeat away from controlling the most powerful military arsenal in the history of mankind. (And, there are many other important character contrasts.) Yet, the example is interesting….

Thanks to twitter for telling me about this:

(if Mr. Duncan keeps making good suggestions, I am going to make him write for the site)

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

“Once when he was talking with a youth, he asked him if he could perceive something. When the youth nodded that he could, Kleanthes said, “Why, then, don’t I perceive that you perceive it?”

When he was present at the theater and the poet Sôsitheos addressed him, saying “[the men] whom Kleanthes’ foolishness herds away”. Kleanthes sat there in the same position. The audience was delighted at this and they applauded him, driving Sôsitheos out of the theater. He received the poet kindly later when he apologized for the insult, explaining that it would be strange for him to get angry at circumstantial abuse when Dionysus and Herakles never got angry at the poets talking nonsense about them.

It is reported that he used to say that the men of the peripatetic school suffered a fate similar to lyres: they sing sweet sounds, but never hear themselves…”

μειρακίῳ ποτὲ διαλεγόμενος ἐπύθετο εἰ αἰσθάνεται· τοῦ δ’ ἐπινεύσαντος, “διὰ τί οὖν,” εἶπεν, “ἐγὼ οὐκ αἰσθάνομαι ὅτι αἰσθάνῃ;”

Σωσιθέου τοῦ ποιητοῦ ἐν θεάτρῳ εἰπόντος πρὸς αὐτὸν παρόντα

(N2, p. 823),

οὓς ἡ Κλεάνθους μωρία βοηλατεῖ,

ἔμεινεν ἐπὶ ταὐτοῦ σχήματος· ἐφ’ ᾧ ἀγασθέντες οἱ ἀκροαταὶ τὸν μὲν ἐκρότησαν, τὸν δὲ Σωσίθεον ἐξέβαλον. μεταγινώσκοντα δ’ αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τῇ λοιδορίᾳ προσήκατο, εἰπὼν ἄτοπον εἶναι τὸν μὲν Διόνυσον καὶ τὸν ῾Ηρακλέα φλυαρουμένους ὑπὸ τῶν ποιητῶν μὴ ὀργίζεσθαι, αὐτὸν δ’ ἐπὶ τῇ τυχούσῃ βλασφημίᾳ δυσχεραίνειν. ἔλεγε δὲ καὶ τοὺς ἐκ τοῦ περιπάτου ὅμοιόν τι πάσχειν ταῖς λύραις, αἳ καλῶς φθεγξάμεναι αὑτῶν οὐκ ἀκούουσι.

“Don’t Be Empty-Minded or Rude” – Cleobolus of Caria

Cleobolus of Caria,  According to Diogenes Laertius 1.6 91-93

 

“These were the most famous of Cleobolus’ songs

Poor taste has the greater share among mortals, along with an excess of arguments: but timeliness is enough. Think about something good. Don’t be empty-minded or rude. He used to say that it was right to marry off daughters who were maidens in age but women in their minds—he showed in this that it was also right to have girls educated. He used to say that it was necessary to do good work for a friend so he might become a better friend and to make an enemy into a friend. For we should guard against the reproach of a friend and the plotting of an enemy. Whenever you leave your home, figure out first what you plan to do; when you return again, consider what you have done.

He used to advise that we exercise our bodies well; that it is better to be fond of listening than fond of talking. Keep a righteous tongue. Be friendly to virtue and hostile to vice. Avoid injustice; advise the best to the city. Conquer pleasure. Do nothing by violence. Educate children. Resolve hatred.  Don’t be too kind or fight with your wife when strangers are around—the former shows stupidity; the latter is madness. Don’t chastise a servant over wine, for you will seem drunk. Marry an equal: if you take a spouse from a higher class, you get her relatives as masters.  Don’t laugh at men who are being mocked: they will hate you. Don’t be arrogant when you are lucky or wretched when you’re not. Learn how to endure luck’s changes with nobility.”

caria

Τῶν δὲ ᾀδομένων αὐτοῦ εὐδοκίμησε τάδε: Ἀμουσία τὸ πλέον μέρος ἐν βροτοῖσι, λόγων τε πλῆθος: ἀλλ᾽ ὁ καιρὸς ἀρκέσει. φρόνει τι κεδνόν. μὴ μάταιος ἄχαρις γινέσθω. ἔφη δὲ δεῖν συνοικίζειν τὰς θυγατέρας, παρθένους μὲν τὴν ἡλικίαν, τὸ δὲ φρονεῖν γυναῖκας: ὑποδεικνὺς ὅτι δεῖ παιδεύεσθαι καὶ τὰς παρθένους. ἔλεγέ τε τὸν φίλον δεῖν εὐεργετεῖν, ὅπως μᾶλλον ᾖ φίλος: τὸν δὲ ἐχθρὸν φίλον ποιεῖν. φυλάσσεσθαι γὰρ τῶν μὲν φίλων τὸν ψόγον, τῶν δὲ ἐχθρῶν τὴν ἐπιβουλήν. καὶ ὅταν τις ἐξίῃ τῆς οἰκίας, ζητείτω πρότερον τί μέλλει πράσσειν: καὶ ὅταν εἰσέλθῃ πάλιν, ζητείτω τί ἔπραξε. συνεβούλευέ τε εὖ τὸ σῶμα ἀσκεῖν: φιλήκοον εἶναι μᾶλλον ἢ φιλόλαλον: [φιλομαθῆ μᾶλλον ἢ ἀμαθῆ:] γλῶσσαν εὔφημον ἴσχειν: ἀρετῆς οἰκεῖον εἶναι, κακίας ἀλλότριον: ἀδικίαν φεύγειν: πόλει τὰ βέλτιστα συμβουλεύειν: ἡδονῆς κρατεῖν: βίᾳ μηδὲν πράττειν: τέκνα παιδεύειν: ἐχθρὰν διαλύειν. γυναικὶ μὴ φιλοφρονεῖσθαι, μηδὲ μάχεσθαι, ἀλλοτρίων παρόντων: τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἄνοιαν, τὸ δὲ μανίαν σημαίνειν. οἰκέτην παρ᾽ οἶνον μὴ κολάζειν, δοκεῖν γὰρ ἂν παροινεῖν. γαμεῖν ἐκ τῶν ὁμοίων: ἂν γὰρ ἐκ τῶν κρειττόνων λάβῃς, φησί, 5 [93] δεσπότας κτήσῃ τοὺς συγγενέας. μὴ ἐπεγγελᾶν τοῖς σκωπτομένοις: ἀπεχθήσεσθαι γὰρ τούτοις. εὐτυχῶν μὴ ἴσθι ὑπερήφανος: ἀπορήσας μὴ ταπεινοῦ. τὰς μεταβολὰς τῆς τύχης γενναίως ἐπίστασο φέρειν.

The Curious Case of Hermogenes of Tarsus: Philostratus on the Aphastic Aging Philosopher

from Philostratus’ Lives of the Philosophers, 577

“Hermogenes, whom the Tarsians produced, had advanced to so great a reputation among the sophists by the time he was fifteen years old that even Marcus [Aurelius] the Emperor had to hear him speak. So, Marcus went to listen to him and was delighted by his discourse, though he was amazed when he spoke extemporaneously and gave him valuable gifts.

But when Hermogenes reached adulthood, he lost his abilities without the cause of any obvious affliction—and this provided those who had envied him material for mockery. They used to say that words were simply “winged”, taking this up from Homer, and that Hermogenes had shed them like feathers. And Antiochus the sophist, once when he was insulting him, said “This Hermogenes was an elder among the boys, but is a child among the old men.”

Here is an example of the speech which he once cultivated. When he was speaking before Marcus, he said, “Look, I come before you, king, a speaker lacking a teacher, an orator waiting to come of age”. He said many other things in the same satirical manner. He died at an extreme old age, but was considered one of the masses, since they held him in contempt after his skill abandoned him.”

ζ′. ῾Ερμογένης δέ, ὃν Ταρσοὶ ἤνεγκαν, πεντεκαίδεκα ἔτη γεγονὼς ἐφ’ οὕτω μέγα προὔβη τῆς τῶν σοφιστῶν δόξης, ὡς καὶ Μάρκῳ βασιλεῖ παρασχεῖν ἔρωτα ἀκροάσεως· ἐβάδιζε γοῦν ἐπὶ τὴν ἀκρόασιν αὐτοῦ ὁ Μάρκος καὶ ἥσθη μὲν διαλεγομένου, ἐθαύμαζε δὲ σχεδιάζοντος, δωρεὰς δὲ λαμπρὰς ἔδωκεν. ἐς δὲ ἄνδρας ἥκων ἀφῃρέθη τὴν ἕξιν ὑπ’ οὐδεμιᾶς φανερᾶς νόσου, ὅθεν ἀστεισμοῦ λόγον παρέδωκε τοῖς βασκάνοις, ἔφασαν γὰρ τοὺς λόγους ἀτεχνῶς καθ’ ῞Ομηρον πτερόεντας εἶναι, ἀποβεβληκέναι γὰρ αὐτοὺς τὸν ῾Ερμογένην καθάπερ πτερά. καὶ ᾿Αντίοχος δὲ ὁ σοφιστὴς ἀποσκώπτων ποτὲ ἐς αὐτὸν „οὗτος” ἔφη „῾Ερμογένης, ὁ ἐν παισὶ μὲν γέρων, ἐν δὲ γηράσκουσι παῖς.” ἡ δὲ ἰδέα τοῦ λόγου, ἣν ἐπετήδευε, τοιάδε τις ἦν· ἐπὶ γὰρ τοῦ Μάρκου διαλεγόμενος „ἰδοὺ ἥκω σοι”, ἔφη „βασιλεῦ, ῥήτωρ παιδαγωγοῦ δεόμενος, ῥήτωρ ἡλικίαν περιμένων” καὶ πλείω ἕτερα διελέχθη καὶ ὧδε βωμόλοχα. ἐτελεύτα μὲν οὖν ἐν βαθεῖ γήρᾳ, εἷς δὲ τῶν πολλῶν νομιζόμενος, κατεφρονήθη γὰρ ἀπολιπούσης αὐτὸν τῆς τέχνης.

Dio Quotes Homer and Trajan Loves Him as Himself (Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists, 1.488)

“[Dio] frequently visited military encampments dressed poorly according to his custom. When he noticed that the troops turning to revolt after the assassination of Domitian, he could not restrain himself as he looked upon the churning disorder. So he leapt naked onto the high rostrum and began his speech like this:

“Then very-clever Odysseus was stripped of his rags..” (Od. 22.1)

And after he said this and made clear that he was not a beggar nor who they thought he was, but instead was Dio the wise man, then he produced a great indictment of the tyrant Domitian and he persuaded the soldiers that it was better to act with the interests of the Roman people in mind. Truly, the persuasiveness of this man was such that it bewitched even those who had no great knowledge of Hellenic matters. For example, when the emperor Trajan seated him beside himself in the golden chariot in which the emperors join the victory procession of a triumph, he often turned to Dio and said: “I don’t know what you’re saying, but I love you as I love myself.”

θαμίζων δὲ ἐς τὰ στρατόπεδα, ἐν οἷσπερ εἰώθει τρύχεσθαι, καὶ τοὺς στρατιώτας ὁρῶν ἐς νεώτερα ὁρμῶντας ἐπὶ Δομετιανῷ ἀπεσφαγμένῳ οὐκ ἐφείσατο ἀταξίαν ἰδὼν ἐκραγεῖσαν, ἀλλὰ γυμνὸς ἀναπηδήσας ἐπὶ βωμὸν ὑψηλὸν ἤρξατο τοῦ λόγου ὧδε•

„αὐτὰρ ὁ γυμνώθη ῥακέων πολύμητις ᾿Οδυσσεύς,”

καὶ εἰπὼν ταῦτα καὶ δηλώσας ἑαυτόν, ὅτι μὴ πτωχός, μηδὲ ὃν ᾤοντο, Δίων δὲ εἴη ὁ σοφός, ἐπὶ μὲν τὴν κατηγορίαν τοῦ τυράννου πολὺς ἔπνευσεν, τοὺς δὲ στρατιώτας ἐδίδαξεν ἀμείνω φρονεῖν τὰ δοκοῦντα ῾Ρωμαίοις πράττοντας. καὶ γὰρ ἡ πειθὼ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς οἵα καταθέλξαι καὶ τοὺς μὴ τὰ ῾Ελλήνων ἀκριβοῦντας• Τραιανὸς γοῦν ὁ αὐτοκράτωρ ἀναθέμενος αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τῆς ῾Ρώμης ἐς τὴν χρυσῆν ἅμαξαν, ἐφ’ ἧς οἱ βασιλεῖς τὰς ἐκ τῶν πολέμων πομπὰς πομπεύουσιν, ἔλεγε θαμὰ ἐπιστρεφόμενος ἐς τὸν Δίωνα „τί μὲν λέγεις, οὐκ οἶδα, φιλῶ δέ σε ὡς ἐμαυτόν”.

Dio? Dio of Prusa, AKA Dio Chyrsostom, friend of philosophy, exiled under Domitian. Champion of Nerva.