Observation About The Opening Of The Letter To Menoeceus vs The Letters To Pythocles and Herodotus

  • Observation: Both the letter to Pythocles and the letter to Herodotus start out with a specific detailed greeting explaining the purpose of the letter and saying that these people are being provided a summary of a part of Epicurus' philosophy.


    The letter to Menoeceus, in contrast, does not start the same way. It does not identify the reason that prompted the letter, state the purpose of the letter, or refer to it being a summary of the principles of ethics.


    The second paragraph does imply that what follows is in explanation of the things Epicurus "used unceasingly to commend to you..." but this is after an introductory paragraph that seems to be floating out of context. Is something missing, or was there something about the rationale of the letter to Menoeceus, or about Menoecus himself ("that I used to commend to you"), that is relevant for us to keep in mind?

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    This is in contrast to the letter to Herodotus:


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    And the letter to Pythocles in particular mentions this context, and even refers to the letter to Herodotus - but does not refer to the letter to Menoeceus:


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  • DeWitt on page 12 holds up the letter to Menoeceus as (alone of the extant letters) "composed according to the rules of rhythmical prose". Epicurus in this one letter is writing artfully. Perhaps that includes eschewing his customary synoptic introduction?


    Regarding the same letter on page 46-47 he says this;


    "Were it not for the survival of this piece we could not be so sure of his ability to write artfully, but possessing this we are justified in believing that other writings of similar merit existed."


    So there's something about this letter in Greek that sets it apart stylistically, though if course it surpasses my power to say what that is exactly.

  • Yes that is an excellent observation too -- something is different about this letter. I wonder if elli has any insight into the stylistic issues involved? Or whether the name "Menoeceus" has any background meaning?


    So we know from the other two major letters that Epicurus used the standard format of beginning his letters with an explanation of why he was writing, yet in this one he apparently just launches into a discourse with no context.


    And we know (or think we know) that this one as written in a very different style.


    The other letters give us at least a small amount of information about the recipient, in telling us why they were written. I wish we know anything at all about who "Menoeceus" was, other than that he was someone who apparently had had prior direct dealings with Epicurus.

  • Is there any information showing that the Menoeceus letter could have been written significantly earlier or later than the other two, reflecting a development in Epicurus' writing style?

  • I have never seen any, Godfrey. I have never seen any information whatsoever about who Menoeceus was, or anything about its context. I am not aware that there is any information about it at all other than what is in Diogenes Laertius, which gives very little.


    There is this comment, after the letter to Pythocles:


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    And then this, before and after the letter, which Bailey represents here by the line of dots so he can pull out the letter and highlight it separately from the biography:


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    As far as I know, that is the extent of our knowledge about the letter to Menoeceus.

  • Menoeceus in greek "Μενοικεύς" derives from the verb (μένω) & the noun (oικεύς), and means the one who stays/lives at his family's house.


    Meneoceus, as it is said, was a pupil of Epicurus. For sending him a letter, maybe Meneoceus lived in the city of Lampsacus, when Epicurus was teaching there. In Lampsacus there were many of the friends of Epicurus. :)

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • It seems to be that the letters to Herodotus and Pythocles, were after their request, and maybe they were teachers in an epicurean school of philosophy that had been established by them in Lampsacus. So, the only need they had, was for a good summary of the works on Physics and celestial phenomena, by Epicurus. The letter to Meneoceus looks like to be addressed in a young man that Epicurus cared for him, as he also lived him behind in Lampsacus with the other friends.


    Because who needs more wise exhortations on ethics : a young man or a middle-aged man that was also to Epicurus a very known friend, and for a long life period of time?


    And imo here is the answer :


    ES 17. It is not the young man who should be thought happy, but the old man who has lived a good life. For the young man at the height of his powers is unstable and meets up (on his way) many coincidentally opinions (i.e. empty beliefs), like a headlong stream. But the old man has come to anchor in old age as though in port, and the good things for which before he hardly hoped he has brought into safe harbor in his grateful recollections.


    On the above saying, for caring for and supportive of youth as Epicurus may have been, he also recognized that the young are unstable in their beliefs (unlike, presumably, mature Epicureans), and are therefore dragged in all sorts of directions by the whims of chance or cunning persons. This sort of vacillation and instability, Epicurus implies, is not conducive to bliss and pleasure.


    The old man, on the contrary, who has lived out his life well, is presented in a beautiful simile: he is like a sailor who has let down anchor in old age, as if in a safe harbor. He is to wander no more. Better yet, all those "goods" i.e. his experiences that made him also to be prudent and happy that once seemed to him hard to attain, he now guards safely in the repository of his own grateful memory of good times past.

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • Elli -- As quoted by Joshua above, DeWitt says that the letter to Menoeceus is composed in a different "style" of Greek writing than are the other two letters. Do you agree that the letter to Meneoceus seems more "elegant" or is written in a different style of grammar?


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    DeWitt on page 12 holds up the letter to Menoeceus as (alone of the extant letters) "composed according to the rules of rhythmical prose". Epicurus in this one letter is writing artfully.

  • Yes, when we write to someone for humans' fears, desires, feelings etc the style seems to be more emotional. I do not find it "artful". The style of writing "artfully" was only by Plato. I found it that is written emotionally and with clarity. Moreover, in all Epicurus letters the words, the grammar and the syntax are in accordance with the Attic greek language.

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • In addition: Scientific papers and works have nothing to do with letters that are addressed to some of our young friends that within we exhort them on some wise thoughts and on how they shall live for the achievement of the goal of pleasure and eudaemonia. :)

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!