Other Ancient Epicureans

Cassius Longinus

Cassius Longinus to Cicero - at Rome- from Syria, 7 May, 46 BC, in camp.

If you are well, I am glad. I also am well. I have read your letter in which I recognized your uncommon affection for me. For you seemed not merely to wish me well — as you always have done on private and public grounds alike— but to have involved yourself in very grave responsibility and to be exceedingly anxious about us. Therefore, because in the first place I thought that you would believe that we could not remain inactive when the Republic was crushed: and in the second place because, as you suspected that we were moving, I thought you would be anxious as to our safety and the result of the operations, as soon as I received the legions brought by Aulus Allienus from Egypt, I wrote to you and sent a number of messengers to Rome. I also wrote a dispatch to the senate, which I said was not to be delivered until it had been read to you—if by any chance my messengers have chosen to obey me. If these letters have not reached you, I have no doubt that Dolabella, who seized the government of Asia after the abominable murder of Trebonius, has caught my letter-carriers and intercepted the dispatches.

I have now under me all the Roman forces in Syria. I have been delayed for a short time whilst providing the promised pay for the soldiers. I am only just free from that difficulty. I beg you to consider that the defense of my position is committed to you, as you know full well that I have declined no danger and no labor in the service of my country: as on your suggestion and advice I have taken up arms against the most unscrupulous outlaws: as I have not only collected armies to defend the Republic and liberty, but have also rescued them from the most bloodthirsty tyrants. If Dolabella had anticipated me in getting hold of these armies, he would have strengthened Antony’s hands, not only by their actual arrival, but also by giving him reason to think and expect that they were coming. For which achievements defend my soldiers, since you understand that they have done wonderfully good service to the state, and secure that they do not regret having preferred to make the Republic the object of their labors rather than the hope of booty and plunder.

Maintain also the position of the imperators Murcus and Crispus as far as lies in your power. For Bassus was desperately unwilling to hand over his legion to me. Had not his soldiers in spite of him sent agents to me, he would have kept Apamea closed until it had been stormed. I make these remarks to you not only in the name of the Republic, which has always been the object of your deepest affection, but also in the name of our friendship, which I feel sure has the greatest weight with you. Believe me that this army is at the service of the senate and all the most loyal citizens, and above all of yourself. For from continually being told of your patriotism they regard you with wonderful devotion and affection. And if they come to understand that their interests engage your attention, they will also regard themselves as owing you everything.

Since writing this letter I have been informed that Dolabella has arrived in Cilicia with his forces. I shall start for Cilicia. Whatever I succeed in doing I will take care to let you know promptly. I can only hope that we may be as fortunate as our services to the state deserve. Keep well, and love me.

In this remarkable subsequent letter from Cicero to Cassius, we see definite proof that Cassius’ conversion to Epicureanism is complete, with Cicero joking with Cassius about his new philosophy:

Cicero to C. Cassius Longinus - at Brundisium, January 45 BC

I think you must be a little ashamed at this being the third letter inflicted on you before I have a page or a syllable from you. But I will not press you: I shall expect, or rather exact, a longer letter. For my part, if I had a messenger always at hand, I should write even three an hour. For somehow it makes you seem almost present when I write anything to you, and that not “by way of phantoms of images,” as your new friends express it, who hold that “mental pictures” are caused by what Catius called “spectres”—for I must remind you that Catius Insuber the Epicurean, lately dead, calls “spectres” what the famous Gargettius, and before him Democritus, used to call “images.”

Well, even if my eyes were capable of being struck by these “spectres,” because they spontaneously run in upon them at your will, I do not see how the mind can be struck. You will be obliged to explain it to me, when you return safe and sound, whether the “spectre” of you is at my command, so as to occur to me as soon as I have taken the fancy to think about you; and not only about you, who are in my heart’s core, but supposing I begin thinking about the island of Britain—will its image fly at once into my mind? But of this later on.

I am just sounding you now to see how you take it. For if you are angry and annoyed, I shall say more and demand that you be restored to the sect from which you have been ejected by “violence and armed force.” In an injunction of this sort the words “within this year” are not usually added. Therefore, even if it is now two or three years since you divorced Virtue, seduced by the charms of Pleasure, it will still be open for me to do so. And yet to whom am I speaking? It is to you, the most gallant of men, who ever since you entered public life have done nothing that was not imbued to the utmost with the highest principle. In that very sect of yours I have a misgiving that there must be more stuff than I thought, if only because you accept it. “How did that come into your head?” you will say. Because I had nothing else to say. About politics I can write nothing: for I don’t choose to write down my real opinions.

In another remarkable letter, we see Cassius responding in kind to Cicero’s good-natured sparring and affirming his firm understanding of Epicureanism:

Cassius to Cicero - From Brundisium, January, 45 B.C. (Ad Familiares 15.19)

I hope that you are well. I assure you that on this tour of mine there is nothing that gives me more pleasure to do than to write to you; for I seem to be talking and joking with you face to face. And yet that does not come to pass because of those spectres; and, by way of retaliation for that, in my next letter I shall let loose upon you such a rabble of Stoic boors that you will proclaim Catius a true-born Athenian.

I am glad that our friend Pansa was sped on his way by universal goodwill when he left the city in military uniform, and that not only on my own account, but also, most assuredly, on that of all our friends. For I hope that men generally will come to understand how much all the world hates cruelty, and how much it loves integrity and clemency, and that the blessings most eagerly sought and coveted by the bad ultimately find their way to the good. For it is hard to convince men that “the good is to be chosen for its own sake”; but that pleasure and tranquility of mind is acquired by virtue, justice, and the good is both true and demonstrable. Why, Epicurus himself, from whom all the Catiuses and Amafiniuses in the world, incompetent translators of terms as they are, derive their origin, lays it down that “to live a life of pleasure is impossible without living a life of virtue and justice”.

Consequently Pansa, who follows pleasure, keeps his hold on virtue, and those also whom you call pleasure-lovers are lovers of what is good and lovers of justice, and cultivate and keep all the virtues. And so Sulla, whose judgment we ought to accept, when he saw that the philosophers were at sixes and sevens, did not investigate the Nature of the good, but bought up all the goods there were; and I frankly confess that I bore his death without flinching. Caesar, however, will not let us feel his loss too long; for he has a lot of condemned men to restore to us in his stead, nor will he himself feel the lack of someone to bid at his auctions when once he has cast his eye on Sulla junior.

And now to return to politics; please write back and tell me what is being done in the two Spains. I am terribly full of anxiety, and I would sooner have the old and lenient master [Caesar], than make trial of a new and cruel one. You know what an idiot Gnaeus is; you know how he deems cruelty a virtue; you know how he thinks that we have always scoffed at him. I fear that in his boorish way he will be inclined to reply by wiping our turned-up noses with the sword. Write back as you love me, and tell me what is doing. Ah! how I should like to know whether you read all this with an anxious mind or a mind at ease! For I should know at the same time what it is my duty to do. Not to be too long-winded, I bid you farewell. Continue to love me as you do. If Caesar has conquered, expect me to return quickly.

Cassius In Plutarch's Life of Brutus (excerpt)

About the time that they were going to pass out of Asia into Europe, it is said that a wonderful sign was seen by Brutus. He was naturally given to much watching, and by practice and moderation in his diet had reduced his allowance of sleep to a very small amount of time. He never slept in the daytime, and in the night then only when all his business was finished, and when, every one else being gone to rest, he had nobody to discourse with him. But at this time, the war being begun, having the whole state of it to consider, and being solicitous of the event, after his first sleep, which he let himself take after his supper, he spent all the rest of the night in settling his most urgent affairs; which if he could despatch early and so make a saving of any leisure, he employed himself in reading until the third watch, at which time the centurions and tribunes were used to come to him for orders. Thus one night before he passed out of Asia, he was very late all alone in his tent, with a dim light burning by him, all the rest of the camp being bushed and silent; and reasoning about something with himself and very thoughtful, he fancied some one came in, and, looking up towards the door, he saw a terrible and strange appearance of an unnatural and frightful body standing by him without speaking. Brutus boldly asked it, “What are you, of men or gods, and upon what business come to me?” The figure answered “I am your evil genius, Brutus; you shall see me at Philippi.” To which Brutus, not at all disturbed, replied, “Then I shall see you.”

As soon as the apparition vanished, he called his servants to him, who all told him that they had neither heard any voice nor seen any vision. So then he continued watching till the morning, when he went to Cassius, and told him of what he had seen. He, who followed the principles of Epicurus’s philosophy, and often used to dispute with Brutus concerning matters of this nature, spoke to him thus upon this occasion:

“It is the opinion of our sect, Brutus, that not all that we feel or see is real and true; but that the sense is a most slippery and deceitful thing, and the mind yet more quick and subtle to put the sense in motion and affect it with every kind of change upon no real occasion of fact; just as an impression is made upon wax; and the soul of man, which has in itself both what imprints, and what is imprinted on, may most easily, by its own operations, produce and assume every variety of shape and figure. This is evident from the sudden changes of our dreams; in which the imaginative principle, once started by any trifling matter, goes through a whole series of most diverse emotions and appearances. It is its nature to be ever in motion, and its motion is fantasy or conception. But besides all this, in your case, the body, being tired and distressed with continual toil, naturally works upon the mind and keeps it in an excited and unusual condition. But that there should be any such thing as supernatural beings, or, if there were, that they should have human shape or voice or power that can reach to us, there is no reason for believing; though I confess I could wish that there were such beings, that we might not rely upon our arms only, and our horses and our navy, all which are so numerous and powerful, but might be confident of the assistance of gods also, in this our most sacred and honourable attempt.”

With such discourses as these Cassius soothed the mind of Brutus.


Fragment 1 Source: "Limit and Variation in Epicurean Philosophy" by Philip De Lacy

“It is possible only for those who have studied the science of nature in the right way to have a comprehensive view of the truth about all these things. For only in this way is one able to apprehend the things that are possible and impossible, whether in respect to existence or power or any activity whatever, and the extent to which they can or cannot exist or do or not do something, and to apprehend the errors of the things transmitted through myths or through popular belief or by any unsound means. * * * It removes every fear or (and?) every vain suspicion, and similarly all the other affections of the soul which arise in it through unsound or false beliefs; and it alone provides the life of freedom, when the mind has become confident and has escaped from all the causes that bring empty anxiety, and from all ignorance and error and false belief; and this is precisely the end of the best life.”