Lucian: The Case of Porch vs. Pleasure

  • The following text is from Lucian's "The Double Indictment" as translated by H.W. Fowler and H.G. Fowler, as displayed at Of particular note is that Lucian summarizes Epicurus' doctrine of pleasure in very simple terms, with no reference to "absence of pain," "katastematic" or "static" pleasures, and the argument is cut off as soon as attempts to introduce alleged logical distinctions ("word-chopping") by the Stoics begins:

    Her. I am not surprised to find that Drink has one adherent. Jurors in the case of Porch v. Pleasure re Dionysius take their seats! The lady of the frescoes may begin; her time is noted.

    Porch. I am not ignorant, gentlemen, of the attractions of my adversary. I see how your eyes turn in her direction; she has your smiles, I your contempt, because my hair is close-cropped, and my expression stern and masculine. Yet if you will give me a fair hearing, I fear her not; for justice is on my side. Nay, it is with these same meretricious attractions of hers that my accusation is concerned: it was by her specious appearance that she beguiled the virtuous Dionysius, my lover, and drew him to herself. The present case is in fact closely allied with that of Drink and the Academy, with which your colleagues have just dealt. The question now before you is this: are men to live the lives of swine, wallowing in voluptuousness, with never a high or noble thought: or are they to set virtue above enjoyment, and follow the dictates of freedom and philosophy, fearing not to grapple with pain, nor seeking the degrading service of pleasure, as though happiness were to be found in a pot of honey or a cake of figs? These are the baits my adversary throws out for fools, and toil the bugbear with which she frightens them: her artifices seldom fail; and among her victims is this unfortunate whom she has constrained to rebel against my authority. She had to wait till she found him on a sick-bed; never while he was himself would he have listened to her proposals. Yet what right have I to complain? She spares not even the Gods; she impugns the wisdom of Providence; she is guilty of blasphemy; you have a double penalty to impose, if you would be wise. I hear that she has not even been at the pains of preparing a defence: Epicurus is to speak for her! She does not stand upon ceremony with you, gentlemen.--Ask her what Heracles would have been, what your own Theseus would have been, if they had listened to the voice of pleasure, and shrunk back from toil: their toils were the only check upon wickedness, which else must have overrun the whole Earth. And now I have done; I am no lover of long speeches. Yet if my adversary would consent to answer a few questions, her worthlessness would soon appear. Let me remind you, gentlemen, of your oath: give your votes in accordance with that oath, and believe not Epicurus, when he tells you that the Gods take no thought for the things of Earth.

    Her. Stand down, madam. Epicurus will now speak on behalf of pleasure.

    Epi. I shall not detain you long, gentlemen of the jury; there is no occasion for me to do so. If it were true, as the plaintiff asserts, that Dionysius was her lover, and that my client by means of drugs or incantations had constrained him to withdraw his affections from the plaintiff and transfer them to herself, --if this were true, then my client might fairly be accused of witchcraft, nor could her wicked practices upon her rival's admirers escape condemnation. On the other hand, if a free citizen of a free state, deciding for himself in a matter where the law is silent, takes a violent aversion to this lady's person, concludes that the blessedness with which she promises to crown his labours is neither more nor less than moonshine, and accordingly makes the best of his way out of her labyrinthine maze of argument into the attractive arms of Pleasure, bursts the bonds of verbal subtlety, exchanges credulity for common sense, and pronounces, with great justice, that toil is toilsome, and that pleasure is pleasant,--I ask, is this shipwrecked mariner to be excluded from the calm haven of his desire, and hurled back headlong into a sea of toil? is this poor suppliant at the altar of Mercy--in other words of Pleasure--is he to be delivered over into the power of perplexity,--and all on the chance that his hot climb up the steep hill of Virtue may be rewarded with a glimpse of that celebrated lady on the top, and his life of toil followed by a hereafter of happiness? We could scarcely ask for a better judge of the matter than Dionysius himself. He was as familiar with the Stoic doctrines as any man, and held at one time that virtue was the only Good: but he presently discovered that toil was an evil: he then chose what seemed to him the better course. He would no doubt observe that those philosophers who had so much to say on the subject of patience and endurance under toil were secretly the servants of Pleasure, carefully abiding by her laws in their own homes, though they made so free with her name in their discourses. They cannot bear to be detected in any relaxation, or any departure from their principles: but, poor men, they lead a Tantalus life of it in consequence, and when they do get a chance of sinning without being found out, they drink down pleasure by the bucketful. Depend on it, if some one would make them a present of Gyges's ring of invisibility, or Hades's cap, they would cut the acquaintance of toil without further ceremony, and elbow their way into the presence of Pleasure; they would all be Dionysiuses then. As long as Dionysius was well, he thought that there was some good in all this talk about endurance; but when he fell ill, and found out what pain really was, he perceived that his body was of another school than the Porch, and held quite other tenets: he was converted, realized that he was flesh and blood, and from that day ceased to behave as if he were made of marble; he knew now that the man who talks nonsense about the iniquity of pleasure But toys with words: his thoughts are bent elsewhither. And now, gentlemen, I leave you to your vote.

    Porch. Not yet! Let me ask him a few questions.

    Epi. Yes? I am ready.

    Porch. You hold toil to be an evil?

    Epi. I do.

    Porch. And pleasure a good?

    Epi. Unquestionably.

    Porch. Do you recognize the distinction between differentia and indifferentia? between praeposita and rejecta?

    Epi. Why, certainly.

    Her. Madam, this discussion must cease; the jury say they do not understand word-chopping. They will now give their votes.

    Porch. Ah; I should have won, if I could have tried him with my third figure of self-evidents.

    Just. Who wins?

    Her. Unanimous verdict for Pleasure.

    Porch. I appeal to Zeus.

    Just. By all means. Next case, Hermes.