Recent / New Edition of Diogenes Laertius - And Problems With it!

  • Martin and I were talking a few minutes ago about Diogenes Laertius and I just discovered that there is a new 2018 translation by someone I have never heard of - Pamela Mensch. Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Lives-E…es-Laertius/dp/0190862173


    I don't see an "about the author" section, and this gives me pause that she is leaning heavily on other people, as indicated here. In the following posts, on the other hand, I'll indicate some ways that she might not have leaned heavily enough, because she departs from some well-established versions of key sections:


    TRANSLATOR’S NOTE


    Pamela Mensch


    Close translation, with all its unsolvable difficulties, is the only method by which most translators can hope to do justice to an author’s work. The challenge is to respect, capture, and convey the elements of a writer’s style—diction, tone, rhythm, and flow—knowing all the while that compromise in each of these areas is inevitable, and that each compromise, no matter how minute, increases the distance between the reader and the original work. That distance can never be eliminated, which is why all translators are bound to revere their intrepid predecessors, whose efforts become a lasting source of moral support. Thus it is a great pleasure to acknowledge the debt I owe to Robert Drew Hicks, Diogenes’ Loeb Classical Library translator, and to the seven translators of the French edition published in 1999 by Livre de Poche. The ingenuity of Richard Goulet deserves special mention.


    Two of our consulting editors gave me extensive help with the doctrinal material in Books 7 and 10: A. A. Long elucidated the Stoic doxography, and James Allen the letters of Epicurus. I am beholden to them for their expertise and generosity. Jay Elliott reviewed the entire translation; his responses, always astute, prompted a great many improvements. James Romm reviewed all the biographical passages, offered me an invaluable trove of suggestions, and showed himself willing to discuss and debate them to my heart’s content, a gift for friendship being among his foremost. And for her unerring grasp of how to make a sentence fulfill its promise, all honor to Prudence Crowther.


    Our translation is based on Tiziano Dorandi’s edition of the Greek text, published in 2013 by Cambridge University Press.

  • Also it is disappointing to me to see her take the side of the flat assertion that the wise man will not marry and have children, without even noting any possibility of ambiguity:


    pasted-from-clipboard.png


    Hereis the Bailey version, which takes the opposite view of the main phrase:


    pasted-from-clipboard.png



    And note also the Inwood and Gerson "Epicurus Reader" version below, which follows Bailey.

  • And as for this photo, how does she know it is an Epicurean philosopher?

    That definitely looks like Metrodorus, but I've never seen that statue before and she offers no citation below it.

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

  • Regarding the statue;


    There is a whole 'grammar' in these old statues that can carry meaning that most of us will miss. The crop of hair and beard, the gesture of the arms, the drape of the cloth, the orientation of the hands and fingers, etc. A general will have a different hand position than a philosopher, as an example.


    So I don't know anything about this statue, but an expert might be able to infer quite a lot.

  • I'm at work so I can't quite take the time to inspect every single detail, but I'd start with the clothing, to determine if its a chiton or toga, or any variation of the former. After that, it's onto the sandals, from there its discernible that its either a Greek or Roman figure, and that should narrow it down.


    My bets for Roman are: Zeno of Sidon or Philodemus


    For Greek: Hermarchus or Polyenus, if not, then Metrodorus based off of the figure alone.

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

  • This, from the description, strikes me as more than a little slanderous of the Epicureans, if not of the statue


    "By the late first century BC, the Epicurean attainment of pleasure applied mostly to eating and drinking, and the principle of moderation was less significant, as is evident in the proudly displayed fat belly and uninhibited self-satisfied demeanor of this portrait"



    EDIT: OK I was at lunch when I typed that and I was far too mild. It's not "more than a little slanderous" it's absolute BS!


    So "the Epiurean attainment of pleasure applied mostly to eating and drinking, did it??????? I guess that's why Epicurus churned out all those books on natural philosophy!


    Well it/he/she is probably right about "the principle of moderation" being "less significant" because "moderation" is largely BS too! Epicurus teaches focusing on a goal and seeking to attain it, not "moderating" either in goal or in method. Leave the moderation to Aristotle and his "golden mean" BS!


    OK as to "fat belly" so maybe that is consistent with Horace after the civil war was over. I will not presume that Horace had a fat belly when he was fighting on the side of Cassius and Brutus, but if he did then he quickly saw how disadvantageous a fat belly can be at times, and he wasn't devoted to it in every situation.


    As to his"self-satisfied demeanor" -- NO ONE can hold a candle to the arrogance of a Platonist or a Stoic! If that would be the test and this image is "self-satisfied" then this must be a spitting image Socrates or Plato or Zeno the Stoic!



  • Also it is disappointing to me to see her take the side of the flat assertion that the wise man will not marry and have children, without even noting any possibility of ambiguity:

    Yes. This is very alarming especially to newbies like me who are only beginning to ascertain which are authoritative sources and which are not. I'm not a linguist, but I find it strange that a translation (or transliteration) could have been either affirmative or negative statement. Moreover, I learned many times from several Youtube lectures and series of podcast that Epicurus discourages marriages and even having children since he himself exercised such teaching. I heard it said by some known philosophy figures like Alain De Botton and Dr. Gregory Sadler. But by seeing Bailey's translation for the first time that presents an opposite truth, I feel like I am suffering from cognitive dissonance. Which is true? Is there any other way for newbies like me to determine which translation is correct especially for non-linguists? Is marrying and having children discouraged by Epicurus? I'm not just curious. I'm getting confused as well.

    "It is not the pretended but the real pursuit of philosophy that is needed; for we do not need the appearance of good health but to enjoy it in truth."

  • This reliability issue is a huge issue for me too Mike. I firmly believe that in a case like this, Bailey is the preferred translation. I'm not going to go so far as to say that I respect scholarship in classical matters 100 years ago across-the-board more than i do today, but I get the strong idea that standards in the academy in social sciences have fallen dramatically.


    Now sometimes there will be more recent discoveries that can justify a change, but so far as I know there is absolutely no claim whatsoever that anything new was discovered to make the older versions untrustworthy.


    This is why I defer to Bailey and even more so to Munro whenever possible - I believe that especially Munro to be much more "in tune" with Lucretius than modern scholars.


    Now as to this version, I know I have seen notes saying that this text appears to be corrupted, but at the very least the translators ought to say so rather than leave it unnoted.


    Yonge said the opposite of Bailey, here: https://archive.org/stream/The…Philos#page/n477/mode/2up


    Hicks agreed with Yonge, here: https://archive.org/stream/liv…ioguoft#page/644/mode/2up


    Now which is correct? To me the answer has to come from putting yourself in the place of Epicurus and rigourously applying his views from the ground up, with a view of pleasure uncorrupted by Stoicism. I will go on record saying that even though I have no children myself, and even though I am fully aware that raising children can go awfully wrong, from a general perspective the raising of children is something that can be one of the most rewarding things (in terms of pleasure, the only real meaning of "reward") in life, and therefore it is something that Epicurus would never flatly rule out.


    Even if we read these "wise man" passages narrowly as if he intended them to apply only to dedicated teachers like himself (which I don't think is likely to be what he intended) it's inconceivable to me that he would lay down a flat rule against marriage.


    Much more likely is that marriage, like any other human activity, is something that he would judge entirely by its practical results, as even the Yonge and Hicks versions appear to admit when you read the passage in its entirety and consider the reference to circumstances.


    I am being called away so can't write longer right now, but my view is that in general whenever a translator or commentator is pushing the idea that Epicurus held a "bright line" rule against any type of pleasure, that commentator is letting their Stoicism show, because Epicurus has clearly stated that all pleasure is good and therefore desirable, and the choice of whether to engage in any activity is always going to come down to individual circumstances.


    So while I do doubt Bailey's support of Epicurus in a significant number of instances - he was very clear that he thought Epicurean ethics were deficient - I think that this is one passage that Bailey's version is to be preferred.

  • I think there are other threads here on this topic that ought to be linked to this discusssion (or we should point to them here in this one) but I know that one of the best arguments for Epicurean marriage is the Will of Epicurus, where he provided for Metrodorus' daughter to be married to a member of the school. This would be inconceivable if Epicurus had been flatly against marriage.


    This is probably another time to remember the opening advice from DeWitt's book - to always remember that Epicurus was at the same time one of the most revered and REVILED of the Greek philosophers. And it is the REVILERS who won the culture wars, and who wrote almost all the books and commentaries that are left to us.


    Here is my longest series of notes on this topic: https://newepicurean.com/love-…rean-in-the-modern-world/

  • This is probably another time to remember the opening advice from DeWitt's book - to always remember that Epicurus was at the same time one of the most revered and REVILED of the Greek philosophers. And it is the REVILERS who won the culture wars, and who wrote almost all the books and commentaries that are left to us.

    Well...I think that's the safest way for me to endeavor now. I have started reading it but still at the very beginning part which is the synopsis. Speaking of synopsis, that I think is the method to handle all such contradictions - by going back to the basic map that is crystal clear.

    "It is not the pretended but the real pursuit of philosophy that is needed; for we do not need the appearance of good health but to enjoy it in truth."

  • I am still at a stalemate between these two statements:


    The wise man will not marry....Occasionally, under certain circumstances in his life, he may marry.

    (absolute but with exception)


    Moreover, the wise man will marry and have children....But he will marry according to the circumstances of his life.(relative but with condition)

    "It is not the pretended but the real pursuit of philosophy that is needed; for we do not need the appearance of good health but to enjoy it in truth."

  • Probably if we can find a source that digs into the Greek we can find the source of the ambiguity, but in either case they are saying that circumstances may allow for marriage, plus we can easily feel the pleasures of marriage, so I would think the bottom line even for the Mensch version would be that if you can find a compatible mate and have children, do it --- or else Epicurus was cursing Metrodorus Daughter and a male member of the school - which he certainly was not.


    My personal conclusion is that this is a great example about how ones attitude toward Epicurus colors the way one tends to understand his meaning.


    If you see Epicurus as a brave liberator who embraces the joys of nature and life then you interpret him one way, but if you see him as a timid hermit fleeing from all pain, you interpret him in quite another.

  • There are other threads in which we've discussed this that Mike might find interesting. I don't have time this morning to go find them, but I can briefly outline my own argument:


    1. The confusion between translations arises because of a wholly reasonable confusion among the translators over the Greek system of conjunctions. It's interesting that a language capable of such nuances as Ancient Greek also has such a poverty of conjunctions. We have a thread somewhere where I explain this problem in depth.


    2. The weight of the biographical evidence suggests to me that the Bailey translation is less accurate. It's true that Metrodorus married and had kids. But did Epicurus? Hermarchus? Polyaenus?


    3. Whichever translation one prefers, the qualifying clause in the following sentence renders the two translations nearly equivalent logically. Sometimes it is wise to marry; and sometimes it is not.