Threads of Epicureanism in Art and Literature

  • I forgot to put Sade's Lucretian poem in here.

    Marquis de Sade; "La Verite" 1787. My thread and translation of it is here.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • Erasmus Darwin; "The Temple of Nature Or, The Origin of Society: A Poem, With Philosophical Notes" 1803 (posth.)

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • John of Salisbury; "Policraticus" c. 1159. The first work of political theory in the Middle Ages, a mirror book for Princes. He advocates for divine right and necessary tyrannicide from the will of the people

    [In reference to the four rivers of Eden] 'four rivers which spring for Epicureans from the fount of lustfulness'.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • Huge find.


    Peter Abelard; "Dialogue Between a Philosopher, a Jew,and a Christian" c. 1136/1139


    Will cover more tomorrow as I read the text.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • George Santayana; Three Philosophical Poets;1910. Contrasts Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe.


    John Tyndall; The Belfast Address; 1874. A history of atomism, and an argument against the 'God of the Gaps'.


    James Parks Caldwell; Diary; 1863-1864. Prison diary of a Confederate soldier, praises Lucretius.

  • I hope you don't mind, but I couldn't resist trying to find the books you mentioned online. The Tyndall one of far more detailed about Epicurus than I expected.

    John Tyndall; The Belfast Address; 1874. A history of atomism, and an argument against the 'God of the Gaps'.

    Address delivered before the British association assembled at Belfast.


    George Santayana; Three Philosophical Poets;1910. Contrasts Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe.

    Three philosophical poets: Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe, by George Santayana...


    James Parks Caldwell; Diary; 1863-1864. Prison diary of a Confederate soldier, praises Lucretius.

    I wasn't able to find this one freely available. It appears the diary was first published in book form in A Northern Confederate at Johnson's Island Prison: The Civil War Diaries of James Parks Caldwell, George H. Jones, Ed. 2010. 277 pages.

    "A college graduate at 16 and a founder of the Sigma Chi fraternity, Caldwell entered the Confederate Army as an artillery lieutenant. He fought at Shiloh, Port Hudson and other campaigns before being captured in 1863 and imprisoned on Johnson's Island, in Lake Erie, near Sandusky, Ohio. He kept a daily diary for 18 months, describing the prison food and conditions, as well as his classical and intellectual interests. The book features letters, a poem, notes, and an index."

  • I would particularly like to track down the Lucretius excepts from the prison diary as I have a number of friends with whom those would be very useful.

  • I have never read the Belfast address and will try to do so today. It would be a lot easier for me personally if we had audio copies read by someone sympathetic - I wonder who that might be? :)


    Failing that (and no doubt for good reason) we can always run some of these through one of the better text-to-speech engines, but that probably means have it in good "text" form from which an engine can translate.


    I downloaded from Don's link several different formats. The PDF version is a series of images and this likely unusable. The Epub and txt versions are in decent shape, but will need editing to correct errors where the scanning and OCR failed.


    I have done one run-through and uploaded a cleaner TXT version here: Tyndal - Address at Belfast


    I also placed a copy here where collaborative editing can be done:



    That's not efficient to have two copies, but I realize that for someone who knows what they are doing, having the TXT file for use in a Text editor is a lot easier than trying to edit online.


    I will work with this today and find a way forward.


    Already the version in the lexicon might be usable if someone calls up that page and has a "text reader" application on their telephone.

  • If someone wants to try listening to this, here is an effort:

    it's not great, but it's better than nothing, and can be improved.


    Wow that was a terrible first effort. I will improve it and repost

  • Joshua after quickly scanning through what Don sent I think I am going to have to defer to you to assess the significance of it. Please let me know what you think whenever you get around to it. I want to get that text from Tyndal into better shape for an mp3 version and i will upload a new effort soon.

  • Joshua after quickly scanning through what Don sent I think I am going to have to defer to you to assess the significance of it. Please let me know what you think whenever you get around to it. I want to get that text from Tyndal into better shape for an mp3 version and i will upload a new effort soon.

    I got the impression while I was scanning that this would be more of a curiosity than anything. He certainly didn't seem to have any great insights, just wanted to read the poem.

  • Quote

    I got the impression while I was scanning that this would be more of a curiosity than anything. He certainly didn't seem to have any great insights, just wanted to read the poem.

    ^This is reasonable appraisal, and I'm not certain I wholly disagree with it.



    However, if I can be permitted to step out onto a limb or two, I do see a few features of interest.


    First, this quote;



    Is it not somewhat remarkable how closely this opinion maps onto Thomas Jefferson's? To wit:


    Quote

    I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing every thing rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us.

    Perhaps more than coincidence? I wonder when Jefferson's letters became public.


    I also personally find it fascinating that he was a staggeringly voracious reader, with a clear and powerful intellect, who gave in his diary the impression of total devotion to the Confederate cause. Cassius has made the point elsewhere that there were Epicureans on both sides of the Roman civil war; it's unclear to me from these fragments how deep Caldwell's interest was in Epicurean philosophy, but he does represent an interesting, if uncertain, data point here.


    Thoreau was one of the great abolitionists of the antebellum period; like Caldwell, he also kept a journal. Like Caldwell, he approached Lucretius in the Latin text.


    But unlike Caldwell, he stopped reading after the first hundred lines—he had absorbed the image of Epicurus 'traversing the flaming ramparts of the world' and returning with a boon for mankind, but he curiously identifies him not as Epicurus, but as Prometheus!


    This strikes me as hugely important—is there something about the Epicurean conception of justice (as not morally absolute) that appeals to the slaveholder, but repulses the abolitionist?


    As I suggested, I'm out on limb.


    And while Don was very helpful with his scans, I think he missed this one;



    High praise here—but "Poet of the Garden"?


    Caldwell must have read Cicero, and possibly even the Torquatus; he read Bulwer, who evidently wrote on the subject (put a pin in that thought...).


    I begin to suspect that Mr. Caldwell knew rather more than his diary lets on.

  • Quote

    As for this particular writer/prisoner, what else do we know about him? Was he sympathetic to slaveholding? Did I read something about him being a northerner, or was he just in a northern prison?

    Born and educated in Ohio. Moved to Mississippi as an educator, joined the Confederate army, imprisoned (ironically) in Ohio, offered his freedom in exchange for a renunciation of the Confederate cause; refused, and after the war returned to Mississippi where he died.


    Quote

    So probably the same observation about the Roman Civil War applies to the American version. You had people on both sides who were moral absolutists appealing to divine right (the South's Deo Vindice and the North's "Battle Hymn")

    I see upon rereading my post that I never got around to stating this point, but ^this is where I was going with that.


    I don't think Caldwell is going to revolutionize our understanding of anything, but here's another point I neglected to make; if not for the war, his interest in Lucretius would likely not even be remembered. He's a fragment from the wreckage, swept up with the tide of a particular moment in history. It will take more work to dig up the references that are even more obscure.

  • Probably we're bearing too close for comfort to politics, at least without knowing where some of the answers lead -- if you do discover more about his philosophic dispositions let us know!