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    Unfortunately the subject of the gods is the one about which we have the greatest lack of source material. DeWitt (the Great Hypothesizer?) suggested that Lucretius' "lost" seventh book dealt with the gods at length. Epicurus wrote a scroll on the same, which really is lost, and we have two books from Philodemus on the Epicurean gods.

    Diogenes Laertius does not record that Metrodorus wrote on the question specifically, but he did write a response to Plato's Euthyphro, a dialogue in which Socrates attempts to understand the meaning of Piety.

    Lucretius, meanwhile, does give us in Book V a definition of Pietas which he contrasts with the Religio of Agamemnon in Book I;


    Theism is broadly defined as the belief in the existence of at least one deity.[1][2] In common parlance, or when contrasted with deism, the term often describes the classical conception of God that is found in monotheism (also referred to as classical theism) — or gods found in polytheistic religions — a belief in God or in gods without the rejection of revelation as is characteristic of deism.



    A deity or god is a supernatural being who is considered divine or sacred.

    I suppose you could argue about definitions, but not without wholly muddying the waters. Epicureanism in non-theistic.

    In another thread I made a post in which I compared a timeline of the Late Republic with Horace's literary output, and traced the inferred influence of politics on his Epicureanism;

    Since the post is very relevant to this subforum, I am linking to it here.


    Wasn't Epicurus's mother a purveyor of charms and oracles?

    That's the story--that his father was an itinerant teacher and his mother sold charms, both occupations suggesting low birth. Given that;

    1. They were unwanted colonizers in disputed territory and
    2. Metrodorus wrote a tract "On Noble Birth" defending Epicurus against the derision of his detractors,

    The story is probably true enough so far as it goes. As for the VS, I suspect that there is a touch of irony in it. When Alexander the Great went to an oracle at the Oasis of Siwa, the prophets told him that he was not the son of Philip, but the son of a God. How convenient for both parties--it cost the Oracles nothing to say this, and earned them the patronage of the most powerful man on earth. If only the High Priestess at Delphi had thought of it first!

    Oracles in the ancient world were flatterers; politically useful, the lent an air of pious gravitas to any worldly endeavor. DeWitt cited Demosthenes to this end;


    It is just and right and important, men of Athens, that we too should exercise care, as you are accustomed, that our relations with the gods shall be piously maintained. Therefore our commission has been duly discharged for you, for we have sacrificed to Zeus the Saviour and to Athena and to Victory, and these sacrifices have been auspicious and salutary for you. We have also sacrificed to Persuasion and to the Mother of the Gods and to Apollo, and here also we had favorable omens. And the sacrifices made to the other gods portended for you security and stability and prosperity and safety. Do you, therefore, accept the blessings which the gods bestow.

    In one of my favorite anecdotes, Heraclitus hid a scroll in a temple where it would be discovered and passed off as divine utterance.

    For every ten thousand seers, there is but one Lucy Harris to steal the pages from the "prophet", in her case Joseph Smith, and challenge him to reproduce the results.

    But now to the point. Whatever else he might be, Epicurus is not a prophet, an Oracle, or even (though he was given the title Soter) a Messiah or heavenly savior. But he was a voice, and he cried out in the metaphorical wilderness of ancient superstition. And those who were 'well disposed', as the inscription in Oenanda puts it, to hear his words may have thought that not everything they were hearing was good news.

    He offered pleasure, but it was pleasure only in this world; death, he said, was nothing to be feared, but neither was there hope for a life to come. The universe was infinite and eternal, and if that failed to cheer you up, there was more; neither our world nor our species was morally, physically, or theologically at the center of it. As for the gods, they do exist; and while they do not punish us, neither will they answer our prayers. Supplication is futile; there is no hope for intercession in times of need, and no justice for the victim of the evildoer in the judgment of the afterlife. Logic and dialectic, which had seemed the surest route to knowledge, truth, and virtue, in fact brought us no closer to the end that we sought for. And if divine friendship is the richest and deepest fountain of pleasure, what hope can we have that the fountain will not run dry tomorrow? Seeing that the utter finality of death will not only take our friends from us, but also poison our happiness with an impossible longing to be reunited.

    Only a beast unfit to be called a philosopher could teach a way of thinking so unworthy of the human soul. But for the Epicureans themselves, it must have been Lucian of Samosata who best captured their feeling;


    The fellow had no conception of the blessings conferred by that book upon its readers, of the peace, tranquillity, and independence of mind it produces, of the protection it gives against terrors, phantoms, and marvels, vain hopes and inordinate desires, of the judgement and candour that it fosters, or of its true purging of the spirit, not with torches and squills and such rubbish, but with right reason, truth, and frankness.


    But secondly I was still more concerned (a preference which you will be very far from resenting) to strike a blow for Epicurus, that great man whose holiness and divinity of nature were not shams, who alone had and imparted true insight into the good, and who brought deliverance to all that consorted with him.

    Rousseau is sometimes called an Epicurean, and seldom more-so than by his contemporary critics.

    Here is a quote from one of the "Fragments to Emile";

    This passage was edited according to the footnote, where an earlier edition had the sentence "Every consistent Epicurean is necessarily a Stoic."

    I actually don't know anything about this book or these "Fragments", so take it with a grain of salt.

    I should also note that today is one of the "accepted" dates for the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. The Spartans were late to join the battle on account of a festival, and since the date of the festival is known in their lunisolar calendar (and we can calculate moon phases across a great stretch of time), a 19th century scholar worked out that same day in the Julian calendar.

    The Athenian victory at Marathon had several important consequences;

    • It proved that Athens could hold its own as a military power without Spartan aid.
    • It proved that the Greek civilization could drive Persia out of Greek territory.
    • In light of the above, the Battle of Marathon set the stage for the birth of the Classical period in Athens, which afterward began to draw the luminaries of Greece to itself, including Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Herodotus, Thucydides, Hippocrates, Plato and Socrates. This period culminated in the Age of Pericles, and came to an end with the fallout of the Pelopponesian War.

    Exoplanet's surface may be covered in oceans, James Webb Space Telescope finds
    The so-called Hycean planet K2–18 b is around twice the size of Earth and orbits in the habitable zone of a star located 120 light-years from our solar system.

    The results will be subjected to further testing, but an analysis of the light spectrum of this planet has indicated the presence of dimethyl sulfide, a molecule produced by phytoplankton. There could be a world-ocean under the atmosphere of this planet. Very cool!…pear%20without%20citation.

    I've long remembered this second quote from Albert Einstein, and had it in mind when we recorded this episode. I'm probably simplifying too much, but it seems to be saying an axiomatic mathematical discipline like geometry cannot be a perfect representation of the things in nature. This is a very nuanced and subtle argument, but for ancient thinkers like Pythagoras and his followers, geometry allowed them to deduce a priori that the number of the celestial spheres was 10 because 10 was the perfect number--it is the sum of a point (1), a line (2), a surface (3), and a volume (4).

    Epicurus admired Euclid's unadorned literary style, but found no value in the claim that reasoning deductively from geometry could actually give you new information about nature. And while these and other disciplines have their uses, they are not and cannot be Canonic because they are not primary sources of information about the world, they are secondary. Their value as cognitive tools depends on our ability to evaluate their premises and conclusions using the senses, the feelings, and the prolepsis.

    Quote from Henry David Thoreau

    The Grecian are youthful and erring and fallen gods, with the vices of men, but in many important respects essentially of the divine race. In my Pantheon, Pan still reigns in his pristine glory, with his ruddy face, his flowing beard, and his shaggy body, his pipe and his crook, his nymph Echo, and his chosen daughter Iambe; for the great god Pan is not dead, as was rumored. No god ever dies. Perhaps of all the gods of New England and of ancient Greece, I am most constant at his shrine.

    It's interesting that while Lucretius records that magnets were so named because they came from Magnesia, Pliny the Elder quotes Nicander of Colophon as suggesting that magnets got their name from a shepherd named Magnes, whose iron studded shoes stuck to the ground on Mount Ida.

    Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats is also good on this point, and he may have had some of these ideas in mind when he wrote it.

    This is one episode of the podcast where we discussed Parmenides and Zeno of Elea on the proposition that motion is impossible as expressed by Zeno's Paradox.

    At about the 5:41 mark Cassius starts the conversation.

    Lucretius on time from Book I;

    Then, too, time in itself does not exist.

    From things themselves our senses comprehend [460]

    what has been accomplished in the past,

    what is present now, then what will follow

    afterwards. We must concede that no one

    has a sense of time in and of itself,

    apart from things in motion or at rest.

    What’s more, when people claim “the ravishment

    of Tyndareus’ daughter” or “the rout 650

    of Trojan races in the war” are real,

    we must take care they do not compel us

    to say perhaps that in and of themselves

    these things exist, when time, which cannot now

    be summoned back, has carried away

    men of that generation, those for whom

    events like these were merely accidents.(18)

    One could say that whatever things are done

    are accidents—in one case of the Trojans, [470]

    in another of the place itself. Furthermore, 660

    if there was no material stuff in things

    and no place or space in which all actions

    happen, then Helen’s beauty would never

    have lit the fire of love which then blazed through

    the Phrygian chest of Paris, igniting

    the glorious struggles of that savage war,

    nor would the wooden horse have secretly

    delivered in the night those sons of Greece

    born from its belly and then set on fire

    the citadel of Troy. Thus, you can see 670

    that each event has no being—does not,

    in any fundamental way, exist

    the way that corporeal matter does,

    nor can we describe it as existing [480]

    in the same way as empty space—instead

    you can with justice label all events

    accidents of the body and the place

    where each of them occurs.

    I should also use this occasion to recommend The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt, which touches on not only Thomas More but Lorenzo Valla, Michael Marullus, Montaigne, Thomas Jefferson, Gassendi, Giordano Bruno, and many many others. The controversy surrounding the book is in my opinion frequently absurd, generally overblown, and it comes to us from the kind of people who out of one side of their mouths praise the Medieval period as one of great learning and humanity, and who out of the other side heap accolades on men like Thomas Aquinas (who advocated murdering heretics), and who downplay the sanguinary history of Christianity as it concerns the Inquisition, the Witch-hunts, the Crusades, and much more besides.

    I personally prefer the audiobook, expertly read by Edoardo Ballerini and available on Audible--and I can say honestly that I return to it often and always with delight.

    Part Two (scroll to the " :!:" for the important part)

    It is worth noting that in his own lifetime, according to scholars here and elsewhere, Thomas More was known more for his part in translating Lucian of Samosata than he was for the book now under consideration. Lucian had prepared the ground for this kind of fictional travelogue in his True Story, and More may have been looking for an opportunity to explore certain contemporary European dilemmas by an analysis akin to that in Plato's Republic. In More's work, the analysis would take the turn of satire as it does in Lucian--this is an avowedly fictional and nonsensical tall tale, related to his readers with far more than just a wink.

    First, a link to the text at Project Gutenberg;

    The Project Gutenberg eBook of Utopia, by Thomas More

    As you may observe, More begins his story by explaining that King Henry VIII sent him on a diplomatic mission to the continent which led him to the city of Antwerp in Belgium. There he fell in with a fast friend named Peter Giles, who introduced him to a weatherbeaten old traveler;


    Said [More], “I did not guess amiss, for at first sight I took him for a seaman.” “But you are much mistaken,” said [Peter], “for he has not sailed as a seaman, but as a traveller, or rather a philosopher. This Raphael, who from his family carries the name of Hythloday, is not ignorant of the Latin tongue, but is eminently learned in the Greek, having applied himself more particularly to that than to the former, because he had given himself much to philosophy, in which he knew that the Romans have left us nothing that is valuable, except what is to be found in Seneca and Cicero. He is a Portuguese by birth, and was so desirous of seeing the world, that he divided his estate among his brothers, ran the same hazard as Americus Vesputius, and bore a share in three of his four voyages that are now published; only he did not return with him in his last, but obtained leave of him, almost by force, that he might be one of those twenty-four who were left at the farthest place at which they touched in their last voyage to New Castile. The leaving him thus did not a little gratify one that was more fond of travelling than of returning home to be buried in his own country; for he used often to say, that the way to heaven was the same from all places, and he that had no grave had the heavens still over him. Yet this disposition of mind had cost him dear, if God had not been very gracious to him; for after he, with five Castalians, had travelled over many countries, at last, by strange good fortune, he got to Ceylon, and from thence to Calicut, where he, very happily, found some Portuguese ships; and, beyond all men’s expectations, returned to his native country.”

    It is, then, this Raphael Hythloday who will be our conductor to the island of Utopia--a man who sailed with Amerigo Vespucci to the New World, and remained there for several years. This is our first implicit connection with Epicurus.


    I ordered my servants to take care that none might come and interrupt us, and both Peter and I desired Raphael to be as good as his word. When he saw that we were very intent upon it he paused a little to recollect himself, and began in this manner:—

    “The island of Utopia is in the middle two hundred miles broad, and holds almost at the same breadth over a great part of it, but it grows narrower towards both ends. Its figure is not unlike a crescent. Between its horns the sea comes in eleven miles broad, and spreads itself into a great bay, which is environed with land to the compass of about five hundred miles, and is well secured from winds. In this bay there is no great current; the whole coast is, as it were, one continued harbour, which gives all that live in the island great convenience for mutual commerce.

    Let me pause there, and simply observe the description that Homer gives of the island of Pharos in the Iliad:


    “In Egypt, eager though I was to journey hither, the gods still held me back, because I offered not to them hecatombs that bring fulfillment, and the gods ever wished that men should be mindful of their commands. Now there is an island in the surging sea in front of Egypt, and men call it Pharos, distant as far as a hollow ship runs in a whole day when the shrill wind blows fair behind her. Therein is a harbor with good anchorage, whence men launch the shapely ships into the sea, when they have drawn supplies of water.

    It was this passage that led Alexander the Great to choose Pharos and the coast opposite as the site of Alexandria, the greatest city and commercial hub in the ancient world. Unlike Alexandria, Utopia after its great king was governed in a manner something like a Republic;


    “There are fifty-four cities in the island, all large and well built, the manners, customs, and laws of which are the same, and they are all contrived as near in the same manner as the ground on which they stand will allow. The nearest lie at least twenty-four miles’ distance from one another, and the most remote are not so far distant but that a man can go on foot in one day from it to that which lies next it. Every city sends three of their wisest senators once a year to Amaurot, to consult about their common concerns; for that is the chief town of the island, being situated near the centre of it, so that it is the most convenient place for their assemblies.

    Here follows a great deal about their manners and modes and life, and I will be liberally skipping over most of it. He describes that Utopians labor for only six hours a day, and by keeping their wants few (and not being asked to support idle priests, monks, and nobility) they are able to spend there time in healthful leisure and improving their minds.


    dividing the day and night into twenty-four hours, appoint six of these for work, three of which are before dinner and three after; they then sup, and at eight o’clock, counting from noon, go to bed and sleep eight hours: the rest of their time, besides that taken up in work, eating, and sleeping, is left to every man’s discretion; yet they are not to abuse that interval to luxury and idleness, but must employ it in some proper exercise, according to their various inclinations, which is, for the most part, reading. It is ordinary to have public lectures every morning before daybreak, at which none are obliged to appear but those who are marked out for literature; yet a great many, both men and women, of all ranks, go to hear lectures of one sort or other, according to their inclinations:

    The similarities between the Utopians and the monastic orders of Europe in how they spend their time is often noted by scholars. Actually, they are claimed to have managed this six hour work day by the simplicity of their societies in contrast to Europe;


    It is so far from being true that this time is not sufficient for supplying them with plenty of all things, either necessary or convenient, that it is rather too much; and this you will easily apprehend if you consider how great a part of all other nations is quite idle. First, women generally do little, who are the half of mankind; and if some few women are diligent, their husbands are idle: then consider the great company of idle priests, and of those that are called religious men; add to these all rich men, chiefly those that have estates in land, who are called noblemen and gentlemen, together with their families, made up of idle persons, that are kept more for show than use; add to these all those strong and lusty beggars that go about pretending some disease in excuse for their begging; and upon the whole account you will find that the number of those by whose labours mankind is supplied is much less than you perhaps imagined.

    Other aspects of their lives;


    They despatch their dinners quickly, but sit long at supper, because they go to work after the one, and are to sleep after the other, during which they think the stomach carries on the concoction more vigorously. They never sup without music, and there is always fruit served up after meat; while they are at table some burn perfumes and sprinkle about fragrant ointments and sweet waters—in short, they want nothing that may cheer up their spirits; they give themselves a large allowance that way, and indulge themselves in all such pleasures as are attended with no inconvenience.


    So that it is plain they must prefer iron either to gold or silver, for men can no more live without iron than without fire or water; but Nature has marked out no use for the other metals so essential as not easily to be dispensed with. The folly of men has enhanced the value of gold and silver because of their scarcity; whereas, on the contrary, it is their opinion that Nature, as an indulgent parent, has freely given us all the best things in great abundance, such as water and earth, but has laid up and hid from us the things that are vain and useless.


    They had never so much as heard of the names of any of those philosophers that are so famous in these parts of the world, before we went among them; and yet they had made the same discoveries as the Greeks, both in music, logic, arithmetic, and geometry. But as they are almost in everything equal to the ancient philosophers, so they far exceed our modern logicians for they have never yet fallen upon the barbarous niceties that our youth are forced to learn in those trifling logical schools that are among us. They are so far from minding chimeras and fantastical images made in the mind that none of them could comprehend what we meant when we talked to them of a man in the abstract as common to all men in particular (so that though we spoke of him as a thing that we could point at with our fingers, yet none of them could perceive him) and yet distinct from every one, as if he were some monstrous Colossus or giant; yet, for all this ignorance of these empty notions, they knew astronomy, and were perfectly acquainted with the motions of the heavenly bodies; and have many instruments, well contrived and divided, by which they very accurately compute the course and positions of the sun, moon, and stars. But for the cheat of divining by the stars, by their oppositions or conjunctions, it has not so much as entered into their thoughts. They have a particular sagacity, founded upon much observation, in judging of the weather, by which they know when they may look for rain, wind, or other alterations in the air; but as to the philosophy of these things, the cause of the saltness of the sea, of its ebbing and flowing, and of the original and nature both of the heavens and the earth, they dispute of them partly as our ancient philosophers have done, and partly upon some new hypothesis, in which, as they differ from them, so they do not in all things agree among themselves.

    :!: :!: :!: And here is the most important part--a discussion of the philosophy of the Utopians, of their understanding of the chief good, and of the end toward which nature persuades us in all things.

    And finally, the fatal flaw:


    [Utopus] made a solemn and severe law against such as should so far degenerate from the dignity of human nature, as to think that our souls died with our bodies, or that the world was governed by chance, without a wise overruling Providence: for they all formerly believed that there was a state of rewards and punishments to the good and bad after this life; and they now look on those that think otherwise as scarce fit to be counted men, since they degrade so noble a being as the soul, and reckon it no better than a beast’s: thus they are far from looking on such men as fit for human society, or to be citizens of a well-ordered commonwealth; since a man of such principles must needs, as oft as he dares do it, despise all their laws and customs: for there is no doubt to be made, that a man who is afraid of nothing but the law, and apprehends nothing after death, will not scruple to break through all the laws of his country, either by fraud or force, when by this means he may satisfy his appetites.

    Utopia is far from perfect in it's treatment of Epicureanism, but it has gone some way. The author's motives in writing this book are hotly contested still today, and yet as resource for understanding the reception of Epicureanism in England we would be hard pressed to find much better. His anticipation of a socialist state in Utopia foreshadows the coming of English Utilitarianism and also of Karl Marx, who wrote his dissertation on Epicurus.

    An maybe the most important takeaway is that Epicurus was none of these things. If we wish to understand how we should go about reviving Epicurean Philosophy, we cannot escape the necessity of trying to understand where previous efforts have failed. And that conversation starts with Thomas More.

    Part One

    I will do as much as I can in a reasonable amount of time to draw together the Epicurean aspects of More's project in writing Utopia. The first thing to observe is the title, which is a clever play on words--the prefix ου- is a term of negation, while εὐ- in Greek means well or good, as in words like εὐδαιμονία (good spirit) and εὐάγγελος (good news, and the origin of evangelism). "Good Place" and "No Place" all in one breath--and for Thomas More it was certainly "No Place". For Thomas More, no culture on Earth could possibly sustain the kind of society described in this book.

    The setting for this story is the early sixteenth century. The followers of John Wycliffe, a dissident fourteenth century English priest, were circulating a version of the Bible translated into Middle English (the English of Chaucer) in the teeth of Catholic orthodoxy. One of the men he inspired, a Czech theologian named Jan Hus, was executed at the Council of Constance in 1415 two years before the rediscovery of the manuscript of Lucretius. Utopia was published in 1516, about 15 years before the final break with Rome over the issue (or should I say, the lack of any male issue) of Henry VIII, and while the author was a hardline Catholic who likely wanted nothing more than a thoroughgoing return of England and Europe to the Catholic faith, it was increasingly apparent that the Vatican's hold on Northern Europe was becoming tenuous at best. The church was breaking apart--Thomas More was, evidently, wistful for a solution through compromise--a solution seemingly out of reach. The solution when it finally did come was religious toleration, as expressed by John Locke in his Letter Concerning Religious Toleration in 1689;

    Two more detours; the first, a letter from Poggio Bracciolini to Niccolo Niccoli in 1417--the year Lucretius was discovered--about his experience of the Baths of the German town of Baden;

    I cite this letter merely to demonstrate that in learned circles in the Renaissance, the Epicureans were beginning to get the kind of reputation which they deserved and not one that was surreptitiously foist upon them. A reputation for enjoying innocent pleasure, not burdening oneself by fear of the future and of death, and of considering themselves rich in they enjoyment of what they have and not spoiling it by lusting for what they lack. It's not perfect, but it's not a bad start--Epicurus the inveterate glutton is falling away, and his fall reveals far more accurately (if not completely) his real nature--Epicurus the Philosopher.

    The second necessary excursion in prelude to Utopia is into the travelogues of the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci, born 1451. There are two sets of documents relating to Vespucci's voyages to the New World; the first is a letter addressed to Piero Soderini, and it was published in Florence in 1505. The second set of documents contains several letters written to the Medici family--and here's the thing; no one knows for sure if the first letter, the "Soderini Letter" was genuine or a forgery. The Soderini letter describes four voyages; the Medici letters only describe two. According the Soderini Letter, Vespucci arrived on the continents that still bear his name before Christopher Columbus! The Medici letters put him there after; no one knows for sure.

    What does matter is that these letters were enormously popular reading all over Europe. Think of how many people around the world tuned into the Apollo 11 moon landing--now imagine if instead of barren rock, Neil Armstrong had stumbled into an inhabited world thriving with strange life and strange people--people no European had ever contacted before. The discovery of the New World was without exception the most startling and mind-altering occurrence to have happened since the fall of Rome. There was stuff here, interesting stuff, that neither the Hebrews nor the Greeks had ever encountered, never written about, never left reams of advice and council on what to do with it all. When Lucretius wrote eloquently about an infinity of inhabited worlds, no one in the Renaissance could possibly have taken his words so thoroughly to heart as to imagine that that very century would put them into contact with one of these other worlds, though right here on Earth.

    So I don't know if the Soderini Letter was a clever patriotic forgery meant to secure the palm for Florence in discovering the New World--the point is that the ideas that letter contained were at the core of a momentous change in European affairs. And it is this letter, this strange, alien document, which pulls the name of Epicurus out of the mists of the far distant past and places it squarely in a hesitant and uncertain future.

    That will have to serve as part one of this story. Tomorrow we shall enter Utopia.

    Here it is, as quoted in Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve and translated by Ingrid D. Rowland;