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

  • I agree with Joshua, although as to his point 2 I think that we have to decide whether Epicurus is talking in this entire section about wise men in general (ordinary people who want to be wise) or figures like himself who are primarily devoted to philosophical revolution. As far as I can tell we don't think that Epicurus was married, but we really have no information that I am aware of about any of the other Epicurean founding leaders, or about self-styled Epicureans later. Probably we'll never know the answer to that but my own expectation would be that most of them were probably married at least at times in their lives, and choosing to remain unmarried on principle was probably the exception. That's just my opinion and expectation of course, but I see no reason to presume that any other Epicurean other than Epicurus himself remained unmarried, and as to Epicurus I admit that only because we have a stronger historical record, while at the same time he was apparently accused of relationships with one or more women of the garden, and of course famously stated that he would not know the good but for the pleasures of sex, etc. But of course what we are really talking about here is not sex, but marriage and children, with the pleasures of sex being universally obvious, while the pleasures of marriage and children are much more contextual.

    I would add that even in regard to Lucretius and his section on the perils of romance, there are passages where he refers to "our wives" (at least in some translations) and at the end of book four he talks about the benefits of things that we pursue by habit, which has a pretty clear analogy with long term relationships.

  • Let me see if I can post the full article, but in the meantime here is the opening page of one well-researched one, and Mike you'll find the section in red of particular interest -- if Chilton is correct this IS an example of the reworking of the text to fit pre-conceived (negative) stereotypes! Unfortunately, Chilton follows the stereotype himself, and tosses out what the manuscript clearly says!


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  • So in my view while Chilton's conclusion is wrong, his info on what the text really says is helpful, and it is easy to explain why he is so eager to follow Gassendi and emend the text. Why? Here it is! Chilton is a devotee of the "freedom from pain" through a life lived as a minimalist school!!!


    Mike this is the never-ending theme. if you think Epicurus was a coward leading the charge to escape all pain, then you will interpret him one way. If you think he was a courageous conqueror leading the charge against false religion in the pursuit of pleasure as nature teaches it, then you interpret him totally differently.


    Scratch the surface of any negative portrayal of Epicurus and you'll find this 'absence of pain' / ataraxia analysis. Of course in the eyes of the people making this argument, they think this is a Positive! How do we take sides? How can we logically decide which course of life is correct? The answer isn't found in logic - the answer is found in feeling!


    But here is Chilton taking the same old minimalist perspective calculated to appeal to the stoic-minded disposition:



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    I am aware of another article on this point by Tad Brennan, of King's college, London (he is a Brit so you know where this is going - toward the Stoic view). Brennan follows Gassendi and says the text should be changed to suit his disposition toward Epicurus, but here is the final paragraph, where he admits that even though he agrees that the first sentence should be changed so as to have Epicurus advise against marriage and children generally, he (Brennan) also admits that "nothing in the structure of Epicurean hedonism could justify the blanket prohibition." Too bad he didn't follow that observation in the rest of his article!


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    So he ends up realizing that nothing in the structure of Epicurean hedonism could justify a blanket prohibition on marriage and children, yet he is willing to change the text to put virtually exactly those words in the mouth of Epicurus!


    THIS, Mike, is what we are facing, and why we have to dig into the text background ourselves.

  • Of course, an alternative consideration is that the translations are correct and that Diogenes Laertius got something wrong.


    I read Frontinus yesterday on The Aqueducts of Rome. The early portions of the text are badly preserved; I continue to marvel that we were so lucky with what survived, and above all with Lucretius.

  • Of course, an alternative consideration is that the translations are correct and that Diogenes Laertius got something wrong.

    Yes definitely, it's always a possibility that Laertius got something wrong, and in fact DeWitt argues that that's exactly what happened on why Laertius' comments on preconceptions do not seem to match what Cicero recorded Velleius as saying in "On the Nature of the Gods." And it's kind of confusing but true that even though Laertius captured much more detail than Cicero did, Cicero is actually much closer in time to Epicurus than was Laertius, so it's probably necessary not to take either one as absolutely right on all issues, but to consider each issues separately.

  • The weight of the biographical evidence suggests to me that the Bailey translation is less accurate.

    As far I learned, DeWitt, with similar views as yours, also used the Bailey translation as I read on the bibliography:

    "Meanwhile a return to moderation becomes observable in R. D. Hicks' Stoic

    and Epicurean (London, 1910), and to this virtue urbanity was added by Cyril Bailey

    in his Epicurus and his Greek Atomists (Oxford, 1925 and 1928); but the amplification of fallacy still went on, culminating in the ascription to Epicurus of belief in

    "the infallibility of sensation.""


    Does it affect the credibility of his book Epicurus and His Philosophy?

    Mike this is the never-ending theme. if you think Epicurus was a coward leading the charge to escape all pain, then you will interpret him one way. If you think he was a courageous conqueror leading the charge against false religion in the pursuit of pleasure as nature teaches it, then you interpret him totally differently.

    That is actually my dilemma since I am still unaware which translation is authoritative. If I resort to DeWitt's interpretation, I am also unaware if the translation he used was authoritative, too.

    "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."

  • Mike as far as I can tell DeWitt did his own personal review of the texts since he was a classical language expert. Bailey was also an expert and did his own translation with extensive notes. I have his full set of detailed notes on his Lucretius translation. Munro also did his own full translation with extensive notes. There are significant differences too in the 1743 edition that I quote from, which differ from the others too.


    Therefore when you say -

    since I am still unaware which translation is authoritative.

    I would say that there IS no single authoritative translation because no one in a position to know for sure has been alive for close to 2000 years. In every case we are going to have to compare the editions with notes and do our own analysis based on all the evidence we have to determine which one we agree with most.


    Truly, however, in most cases, the basic position taken in most translations is essentially the same, and even in the case of this marriage issue the texts can be largely reconciled by pointing to the circumstances clause.


    Unfortunately this is something we just have to deal with, but I think it's very manageable, especially since we have Lucretius in very good form, and Lucretius' latin is something that is much more accessible to many more of us than is even the Greek.


    Does that address your question because I am not quite sure what part you think calls into question DeWitt's credibility.


    If you are commenting on DeWitt's quotes on Bailey, there are many references in Bailey's texts as to how much he disagrees with Epicurean positions, so that in itself is a warning flag about Bailey, but when you know his viewpoint you can factor that in. Here, on the marriage issue, he might even think that he was setting Epicurus to look contradictory, but in doing so he simply followed the text and that helps us expose those who would change it.

  • Gee WIZ this is such an obvious point and I don't know that I have seen it made very often - thanks to Charles for making it:


    So Metrodorus had at least one son and a daughter!


    "And let Amynomachus and Timocrates take care of Epicurus, the son of Metrodorus, and of the son of Polyaenus, so long as they study and live with Hermarchus. Let them likewise provide for he maintenance of Metrodorus's daughters so long as she is well-ordered and obedient to Hermarchus; and, when she comes of age, give her in marriage to a husband selected by Hermarchus from among the members of the School; and out of the revenues accruing to me let Amynomachus and Timocrates in consultation with Hermarchus give to them as much as they think proper for their maintenance year by year.



    Why would we not presume that Metrodorus was following Epicurus' opinion even on this, as he did so much else? And unless Metrodorus was just sleeping around, and there is no real reason to think that other than slanders against the Epicureans, he presumably had at least one marriage to go with the children.


  • Does that address your question because I am not quite sure what part you think calls into question DeWitt's credibility.

    Yes. Thanks Cassius. I find it more comfortable focusing on DeWitt to lessen the complexity of my learning. I only raised this question so the confirmation can make me go on and have complete confidence on the material I have.

    "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."

  • Thanks for the clarification. I have tremendous respect for DeWitt's scholarship and have found no reason to doubt him on fundamental issues even after many years of additional reading. On the issues where doubt is warranted DeWitt makes very clear that he is reconstructing or challenging the consensus so you can easily know when to hold an issue in your mind as something to pay special attention to. The reason he is cited so little today is mostly because he disagrees with the consensus on things like anticipations and "all senses are true" but you'll have no trouble sorting out those issues and deciding who has the most persuasive argument.


    I think part of the reason DeWitt is so good is that he not only clearly has a lot of affection and respect for Epicurus, but he was also primarily a classical languages expert rather than primarily a philosopher. To me that helped him stay focused on the main issues of how Epicurus differed from Plato and the others without getting too bogged down in the philosophical minutiae and unanswerable questions that seem to bog down so many writers into paralysis.

  • Thanks for the clarification. I have tremendous respect for DeWitt's scholarship and have found no reason to doubt him on fundamental issues even after many years of additional reading.

    I also have high respect on your estimation of him as I know you have dedicated years of studying and investigating Epicureanism deeply as much as I respect the rest of you guys here. My aim is simple - to understand Epicurean philosophy correctly and bring it to lay audience in a down-to-earth language that can be understood and be applied by ordinary people the way I apply it in my practical daily life.

    "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."

    Edited once, last by Mike Anyayahan ().

  • This is not to say that you should rely on me for the time of day, much less anything else, but I can say this:


    I started studying up on Epicurean philosophy intensely in 2009, and have made the study of Epicurus my number one "hobby" since then. I have some personal differences with a few of DeWitt's interpretations, but I have not over that time found any single work that comes anywhere close to "Epicurus and His Philosophy" in presenting an understandable, well documented, and perceptive presentation of the big picture of Epicurean philosophy.


    I don't want to oversell it because a lot more work needs to be done to expand on what DeWitt has started, but there's really nothing like EAHP in terms of an overall understandable introduction to and presentation of every major branch of the philosophy.


    I give "A Few Days In Athens" high marks as well in the "sympathetic to Epicurus" department, but that is a much more narrowly-targeted work. Other than EAHP I am not aware of any book that I can wholeheartedly recommend to the average reader who says "I want to know what Epicurus was all about."


    For professional philosophers and people who have a lot of background, there are many other good books with many other details, but not of a general nature like EAHP. And I would not dare send someone new to a collection of Epicurean works, even "The Epiurus Reader" or Bailey's "Epicurus The Extant Remains," until they have the general introduction that DeWitt provides.


    Even starting with the Principal Doctrines, or the Vatican Sayings, or any of Epicurus' letters, is in my experience going to lead to too much confusion to start off with reading those.

  • Thanks Cassius. I'll keep that in mind. I just want to make my learning process as simple as I wish to apply it. :)

    "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."