Characteristics of the Wise Man, 1-9 Rough Draft of Outline

  • Characteristics of an Epicurean Sage


    The following is a comparison of two translations of Diogenes Laertius’s exposition of “the views of Epicurus himself and his school concerning the wise man.” There are not a lot of male pronouns in the text and many of the verbs are 3rd-person-plural (“They” do this or that…), but “the sage” or “the wise one” is the translation of ὁ σοφός, a male noun. Many of the characteristics are also aimed at men. However, gender neutral language will be used when possible in the notes, because, in light of the inclusion of women in the Garden and writing philosophical treatises, being a σοφός should (theoretically) be open to both men and women.


    I undertook this to see what characteristics of someone considered a sage in Epicurean philosophy would be “outdated” and which ones could apply to our time.


    The two translation under consideration are the Hicks (1925) translation as provided by Wikisource https://en.wikisource.org/wiki…inent_Philosophers/Book_X and the Yonge (1895) translation available at Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/files…42-h/57342-h.htm#Page_424 of Diogenes Laertius, Lives, Book X:117-121 with notes on the original text. For the original text, I am using the Greek version on the Perseus Digital Library: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3atext%3a1999.01.0257.

    I have found that Yonge may have been using a different Greek text than the Hicks version on Perseus. This may account for some of the discrepancies. Also consulted was the digitized Oxford-held manuscript of DL online at http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/V…ref=arundel_ms_531_fs001r (page f171v) This is the page where section 117 begins.

    I will also be referring from time to time to the 2018 translation by Pamela Mensch from OUP.


    Format: Hicks translation is first, followed (indented) by Yonge. Article author’s notes come last in each bullet point.
    (Working on transferring the outline format from Google Docs to forum format)

    • There are three motives to injurious acts among men – hatred, envy, and contempt; and these the wise man overcomes by reason.
    1. He said that injuries existed among men, either in consequence of hatred, or of envy, or of contempt, all which the wise man overcomes by reason.
      1. NOTE: The three motives in the original (accusative case) are:
        1. Μῖσος: hate, hatred, grudge (LSJ)
          1. Trivia: origin of the mis- in misanthrope
        2. Φθόνον: ill-will or malice, esp. envy or jealousy of the good fortune of others (LSJ)
        3. Καταφρόνησιν: contempt, disdain (LSJ)

    Moreover, he who has once become wise never more assumes the opposite habit, not even in semblance, if he can help it.

    1. Also, that a man who has once been wise can never receive the contrary disposition, nor can he of his own accord invent such a state of things as that he should be subjected to the dominion of the passions; nor can he hinder himself in his progress towards wisdom.

    He will be more susceptible of emotion than other men: that will be no hindrance to his wisdom.

    1. NOTE: Yonge seems to include the emotions and their non-hindrance with the above. i.e., the wise one will not let the passions hinder progress towards wisdom once they’ve become wise.
    2. NOTE: The original text (per Perseus) is: ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸν ἅπαξ γενόμενον σοφὸν μηκέτι τὴν ἐναντίαν λαμβάνειν διάθεσιν μηδὲ πλάττειν ἑκόντα: πάθεσι μᾶλλον συσχεθήσεσθαι: οὐκ ἂν ἐμποδίσαι πρὸς τὴν σοφίαν. Which is composed of three clauses:
      1. ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸν ἅπαξ γενόμενον σοφὸν μηκέτι τὴν ἐναντίαν λαμβάνειν διάθεσιν μηδὲ πλάττειν ἑκόντα:
        1. Literally: Also, the once-arisen sage will no longer fall back to the opposite disposition nor be put into that mold wittingly (on purpose).
      2. πάθεσι μᾶλλον συσχεθήσεσθαι:
        1. Literally: By the pathē they will exceedingly be affected...
      3. οὐκ ἂν ἐμποδίσαι πρὸς τὴν σοφίαν.
        1. Literally: This will not be a hindrance on the path to wisdom.
    3. NOTE: However, the digitized manuscript appears to have, (with punctuation as interpreted by me):
      1. αλλὰ καὶ τὸν ἅπαξ γενόμενον σοφὸν, μηκέτι τὴν ἐναντίαν λαμβάνειν διάθεσιν· μηδὲ πλάττειν ἑκόντα πάθεσι μᾶλλον συσχεθήσεσθαι· οὐκ ἂν ἐμποδίσαι πρὸς τὴν σοφίαν.
      2. The manuscript then gives five different clauses or phrase:
      3. αλλὰ καὶ τὸν ἅπαξ γενόμενον σοφὸν,
        1. Literally: Once one has become wise… (the once-arisen sage)
      4. μηκέτι τὴν ἐναντίαν λαμβάνειν διάθεσιν·
        1. Literally: ... will no longer fall back to the opposite disposition...
      5. μηδὲ πλάττειν ἑκόντα πάθεσι μᾶλλον συσχεθήσεσθαι·
        1. Literally: .. nor (μηδέ) be put into (that) mold readily/wittingly by the πάθη exceedingly to be affected…
          1. Συσχεθήσεσθαι: future infinitive “to be constrained, distressed, afflicted, and, generally, to be affected by anything whether in mind or body”
      6. οὐκ ἂν ἐμποδίσαι πρὸς τὴν σοφίαν.
        1. Literally: .. This would not impede/hamper/fetter (their way) toward wisdom.
      7. NOTE: This section appears to mean that the sage will not be exceedingly affected by the passions, emotions, etc., that they won't be overcome with emotion and this is not an impediment on the way to wisdom.
    4. NOTE: I am more inclined to take Hicks's interpretation as the text being two separate ideas. This appears to flow better:
      1. The sage, once wise, won't fall back into ignorance, nor will they willingly do this on purpose.
      2. Sages are greatly affected by the pathē (i.e., more so than other people) but this doesn't hinder their progress to wisdom.
    5. Trivia: ἐμποδίσαι literally means to have one's feet bound, to be put in fetters.

    However, not every bodily constitution nor every nationality would permit a man to become wise.

    1. That the wise man, however, cannot exist in every state of body, nor in every nation.
    2. Οὐδὲ μὴν ἐκ πάσης σώματος ἕξεως σοφὸν γενέσθαι· ἂν οὐδ᾽ ἐν παντὶ ἔθνει.
    3. NOTE: The key phrases here are:
      1. ἐκ πάσης σώματος: (neither) from every body
        1. σώματος "a body, one's life in the physical world"
      2. ἐν παντὶ ἔθνει: (nor) in every έθνος (tribe, nation; later referring to "barbarian" nation (non-Hellenic); class of people)
        1. Is this saying that a sage can't be found in every nation or is it saying not in certain classes? The meaning of έθνος is broad.
      3. ἕξεως "of a state, habit, condition (of a body)"
    4. NOTE: What does this mean? How does this connect with the evangelical nature of the philosophy? We know women were a part of the Garden and wrote treatises, so the "state of body" can't exclude women. And Epicurean communities were in "barbarian" lands. How to interpret this? Is this where DeWitt is getting that Epicurus said non-Greeks couldn't achieve wisdom? I can certainly see that if someone is incapable of studying and applying the philosophy due to mental illness, brain injury, or other condition. I can also see some "nations" not being conducive to allowing or encouraging study and application because of repression, culture, exposure to the philosophy, etc. I would be reluctant to say (for modern applications) anything akin to "women can't be sages" or "Russians can't be sages."

    Even on the rack the wise man is happy.

    1. That even if the wise man were to be put to the torture, he would still be happy.
    2. NOTE: It's important to remember that the original says εὐδαίμονα not "happy." There's a difference!
    3. Trivia: στρεβλωθῇ literally means "stretch on the wheel or rack, to rack, torture, applied to slaves for the purpose of extracting evidence" (LSJ)

    He alone will feel gratitude towards friends, present and absent alike, and show it by word and deed.

    1. That the wise man will only feel gratitude to his friends, but to them equally whether they are present or absent.
    2. NOTE: Is it Hicks's "he alone will feel" or Yonge's "only feel gratitude towards friends"?
    3. NOTE: I find it odd that this clause is sandwiched between two mentions of torture. Is this a scribal error? Does this one about friends reference something about the sage being tortured? The Perseus original text is identical to the digitized Oxford manuscript.

    When on the rack, however, he will give vent to cries and groans.

    1. Nor will he groan and howl when he is put to the torture.
    2. NOTE: Will the σοφός groan or not? The original text runs ὅτε μέντοι στρεβλοῦται, ἔνθα καὶ μύζει καὶ οἰμώζει. There doesn't appear to be a "nor" here:
      1. ὅτε when
      2. μέντοι indeed, however, to be sure
      3. ἔνθα when
      4. μύζει I. (he) murmurs with closed lips, mutters, moans.
      5. (και) οἰμώζει
        1. (and) wails aloud, laments
    3. NOTE: So, Hicks seems to have the upper hand here. This also makes sense in the light of the sage being more affected by the emotions (#3) but also remaining content under torture (#5).

    As regards women, he will submit to the restrictions imposed by the law, as Diogenes says in his epitome of Epicurus' ethical doctrines.

    1. Nor will he marry a wife whom the laws forbid, as Diogenes says, in his epitome of the Ethical Maxims of Epicurus.
    2. Mensch's translation has: The wise man will not consort with women in any manner proscribed by law, as Diogenes says in his Epitome of Epicurus' Ethical Doctrines.
    3. NOTE: Does the original text talk about marriage? Sexual relations? Consorting? γυναικί τ᾽ οὐ μιγήσεσθαι τὸν σοφὸν ᾗ οἱ νόμοι ἀπαγορεύουσιν…
      1. Interestingly, γυναικί is the singular dative case "of, by, for (a) woman"
      2. (οὐ) μιγήσεσθαι - one definition is "to (not) have intercourse with, to be united to, of men and women" but another if simply "to (not) mingle with."
      3. οἱ νόμοι ἀπαγορεύουσιν "the laws/customs forbid"
    4. NOTE: For a modern application, consider what laws or customs dictate how men and women should behave in establishing a consensual, sexual relationship. This may be the best way to interpret this characteristic.

    Nor will he punish his servants; rather he will pity them and make allowance on occasion for those who are of good character.

    1. He will punish his servants, but also pity them, and show indulgence to any that are virtuous.
    2. Will the σοφός punish their servants or not? The original begins with ουδέ, a mark of negation, so it appears Hicks again has the upper hand here.
    3. Trivia: οἰκέτας = "household slaves". Neither translator wants to use the word "slave." Servants aren't the same as slaves.
    4. NOTE: It appears the Epicurean will be benevolent to "servants" and will be sure to encourage "good" ones by rewarding them.

    Only the first 9 and much revision to go. As a final product, it may end up being my own translation of the list of characteristics with something like the above as endnotes.

    Feel free to take a read through and provide comments.

  • Very promising! This has been a perennially thorny subject around here for some time, and much of it stems from most of us having so little Greek.

  • The numbering appears to be a bit odd.

    Other than that, I noticed only one bug: I guess that

    "..., the wise one will not let the passions hinder progress towards wisdom once they’ve become wise"

    should be

    "..., the wise one will not let the passions hinder progress towards wisdom once he has become wise".


    It seems at every corner, we encounter wrong translations or significant differences between translations. Thanks for exposing some more.

  • Thank you, Martin and JJElbert , for the comments.

    Martin , I fully agree about the numbering system on this outline ended up odd. I'm not sure what happened in my pasting from Google. The forum didn't like it and honestly it was late when I posted so I did what I could and called it "good enough" :) That'll definitely be fixed in any final version.

    Regarding "they", 3rd person singular "they" in that sentence.I was actually using the 3rd person singular "they" in that sentence.

  • Yes great work Don! Also, would you mind editing your post by blocking it all and selecting "remove color" from the menu? Pasting it from Google brought over hard-coded dark text which is hard to see using a dark forum style. Might be good to "remove font" too so that it looks best on all forum styles. I could do it myself but once you see how that works you ll know for the future.

  • Yes great work Don! Also, would you mind editing your post by blocking it all and selecting "remove color" from the menu? Pasting it from Google brought over hard-coded dark text which is hard to see using a dark forum style. Might be good to "remove font" too so that it looks best on all forum styles. I could do it myself but once you see how that works you ll know for the future.

    Thanks, Cassius, for that hint! I do see <span style...> tags for the color in the html now that you mentioned it and removed them. Nope, no need to do it yourself! This was a good learning exercise!

  • Thanks and yes t hat looks much better. For the benefit of anyone else reading, it's not necessary to go into the code view if you just block select the text that is hard-coded, then select the Font Size, Font Family, or Font Color option in the editor menu. Click on that button and the last option at the bottom of each is "Remove....." and that lets you remove the hard-coding using the GUI. But either method works fine.

  • Thanks and yes t hat looks much better. For the benefit of anyone else reading, it's not necessary to go into the code view if you just block select the text that is hard-coded, then select the Font Size, Font Family, or Font Color option in the editor menu. Click on that button and the last option at the bottom of each is "Remove....." and that lets you remove the hard-coding using the GUI. But either method works fine.

    Sorry, just to let you know: I did eventually use the "Remove..." but I couldn't figure out what was wrong (since the font was already "black"... just hard-coded). When I went into the html I could see the tags and had the "eureka" moment of realizing what was going on. :) That GUI with the "Remove..." feature for font family, size, and color is *very* helpful! Thanks again!

  • "The sage, once wise, won't fall back into ignorance, nor will they willingly do this on purpose."


    Just now finding time to start detailed comment. That one has always caused me concern as being mangled, because I hear in it something that conflicts with the "free will" position. If it means that the wise man definitely won't fall back into ignorance, then it almost sounds to me like a Christian "once saved always saved" argument. If it means that the wise man probably won't fall back, then does that really mean anything other than a "truism"?


    I always presume that Epicurus either is saying something important, or he is repeating for emphasis and clarity something that he already has said that is important.


    So I am thinking there is more than meets the eye, or maybe I am really agreeing with what you indicate is one of the alternate translations in consolidating the passages into a point about the wise man not being generally susceptible to being overcome by emotion and pushed back into ignorance.


    Is there another alternative for meaning here?

  • My take is that once there sage roots out the causes of ignorance and fear and comes to realize the veracity of the "true philosophy", they can't go back to being ignorant.

  • Sorry we just crossposted and I elaborated on my earlier post....


    But I think your comment emphasizes my question. "Can't"? What does "can't" mean with a human nature possessing agency, and absence of fate?

  • NOTE: What does this mean? How does this connect with the evangelical nature of the philosophy? We know women were a part of the Garden and wrote treatises, so the "state of body" can't exclude women. And Epicurean communities were in "barbarian" lands. How to interpret this? Is this where DeWitt is getting that Epicurus said non-Greeks couldn't achieve wisdom? I can certainly see that if someone is incapable of studying and applying the philosophy due to mental illness, brain injury, or other condition. I can also see some "nations" not being conducive to allowing or encouraging study and application because of repression, culture, exposure to the philosophy, etc. I would be reluctant to say (for modern applications) anything akin to "women can't be sages" or "Russians can't be sages."

    On this one, which i also agree is important, I don't think there is a conflict between (1) we are evangelical toward those who either are or could be our friends, but also (2) we acknowledge that some people just aren't and arent' going to be our friends. I agree with you that mental illness and brain injury are two categories , but there are probably lots of other circumstantial categories, at least at particular times, like age, health, culture etc. That's why I would definitely agree with you that Epicurus would not say "women can't be sages" (though he might generalize more than we would prefer, in the same way he might say that "children" or "the very aged" or someone else who due to personal circumstance would be facing an emergency or some obstacle that infringed on their freedom of action or thought).


    But again , what is a "sage"? Do we limit "sagehood" to "teachers" or "leaders of schools"? If we did that, then it would probably be possible to say that there are a wider variety of obstacles toward being such a leader, such as personality issues.


    But I still tend to think that "sage" in this context means more like "any human acting wisely under their circumstances" so I personally would draw a much tighter circle on who is "incapable" of it. I would say today that "incapable" would mean mostly just some mental or physical handicap that we'd agree would have to be significant. However if we used "incapable" more broadly to mean "incapable under their current circumstances" then the net would be much wider and contain all sorts of people who due to personal circumstances have been hindered or brought to a point where they just can't see their way past the problems of the moment to a wider perspective.


    In fact that approach is probably the key to what I would propose as the answer. Given enough time and education and resources virtually everyone has great potential. But if you focus on the immediate present, which is probably a very valid way to look at it since we're trying to stay away from idealism, then you have to be more practical about the question of who is capable of "being a sage" now, or next week, or next month, or next year.

    So maybe I am thinking that we are sensitive about this analysis because we are looking to avoid overgeneralizing, but maybe Epicurus was just looking at the relative near term and judging more practically based on experience, and that he was in fact totally talking without reference to categories or overgeneralizing. Every time I think about Epicurus' approach to "categories" I think (Hey, that sounds like Aristotle and Plato, there are no "natural categories" in an atomist natural universe) -- and I tend to then think that Epicurus is saying "don't get caught up in categories, just look at the facts of the present and the foreseeable future."

  • More on that issue of "incapable" --


    Somewhere I recently saw a variation of this picture from one of the Planet of the Apes movies:



    The reason it comes to mind is that I think is would be core to Epicurus that despite the talk about the gods speaking Greek, there was ultimately nothing "special" to Epicurus about Greeks or humans or any other animals or things. At least if "special" means "ordained by God" or "ordained by the Universe" then that just doesn't comport with Epicurus' system, in my view. Things are as they are without any blessing that it is "right" that they be that way, and within the limits of nature things can change dramatically over time, since there is no "fate" or "hard determinism" that things must be the way they are now, at least among "higher animals" that have agency.


    Ha - I hope my graphic there isn't inappropriate. I am not really a planet of the apes fan and don't remember much of anything about those movies except the statue of liberty on the beach scene! But to me the photo has that kind of "shock" effect that maybe helps make the point that there is no divine order. We get caught up in our idealized categories when there really isn't any higher justification for them at all, other than the facts of experience as they exist today. And that can easily change quickly.

  • Quote

    That the wise man, however, cannot exist in every state of body, nor in every nation.

    When I read this I think of indoctrination, personality, disability and hierarchy of needs. For example:


    A person raised in a culture (or nation) that devoutly follows a particular religion is going to have a difficult time becoming an Epicurean sage.


    I know people who honestly believe that reason is the goal of man, and this complements their personality. They will never accept the primacy of the faculties and consider such an idea ridiculous.


    Mental disability might present a condition where one is like a newborn or an animal, so while full comprehension wouldn't be available, one might have access to the faculties on some level.


    Hierarchically (a la Maslow), lack of access to food, shelter and safety might preclude a focus on philosophy.


    I don't think of any of these absolutely preventing sagehood but making it highly unlikely. Also I'm looking at this from a 21st century perspective which might relate to the "outdated" issue.

  • Sorry we just crossposted and I elaborated on my earlier post....


    But I think your comment emphasizes my question. "Can't"? What does "can't" mean with a human nature possessing agency, and absence of fate?

    Diogenes Laertius was compiling from who knows how many sources. Was this characteristic referring to Epicurus himself as written by one of his admiring students ("The Founder *can't* fall back into...")? Was it hyperbole ("Sages of *our* school *can't* fall back....")? The original original source could shed light on the issue you're bringing up... and, of course, we can't know that.

    Your question made me go back and take another look at the text:

    ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸν ἅπαξ γενόμενον σοφὸν μηκέτι τὴν ἐναντίαν λαμβάνειν διάθεσιν μηδὲ πλάττειν ἑκόντα:

    Those words are fairly adamant that it's a one-and-done (at least according to whatever source DL was using):

    • ἅπαξ once, once only, once for all
    • μηκέτι no more, no longer, no further
    • μηδέ and not

    That's a lot of "no, nay, never, no more" as far as falling back to the opposite disposition (opposite to being a sage).


    I would also say that once you know something, you can't unknow it. Once you know the truth of the "true philosophy" you can't un-know it. It's part of your knowledge. So, while someone may behave as if they were ignorant or choose to act in ways contrary to their well-being or contrary to the truth, they can't do it (or say they're doing it) from a place of ignorance.

  • I would also say that once you know something, you can't unknow it. Once you know the truth of the "true philosophy" you can't un-know it. It's part of your knowledge. So, while someone may behave as if they were ignorant or choose to act in ways contrary to their well-being or contrary to the truth, they can't do it (or say they're doing it) from a place of ignorance.

    Yes that's a good way of looking at the issue, and doesn't conflict with the positions on agency and fate. And that's a good linkeage to to the text we know was said about how once an Epicurean always an Epicurean, so the "can't" might be hyperbole.

  • In response to Cassius 's asking

    Quote

    what is a "sage"? Do we limit "sagehood" to "teachers" or "leaders of schools"?

    I'd say that the sage, ὁ σοφός, the wise one, is anyone - from a classical Epicurean perspective - who has achieved a level of mastery over their choices and rejections that allows them to continually experience the fullness of pleasure in their life. By virtue of this, one would hope that these are the teachers and leaders of Epicurean communities but it could theoretically be anyone on the Epicurean path.

  • who has achieved a level of mastery over their choices and rejections that allows them to continually experience the fullness of pleasure in their life.

    That last part is the issue for me. If anyone deserved the title of "sage" it would be Epicurus, but at the end of his life he was himself in great pain, and I would not think he was any less a sage then than earlier. I therefore tend to think that there is always a difference between the concept and the reality in words like this, and I don't think I would say someone is not a sage simply because there are events that are impinging on their ability to experiencing nothing but pleasure at any particular time. And yet that is the reality for virtually anyone I am familiar with, so it would seem harmful to me to use a word as an indicia of a goal that cannot be fully reached all the time.


    I can certainly see he usefulness of terms like "wise man" and so forth, but the closer those terms seem to get to idealized states, the less likely do I think that Epicurus would have agreed that the terms are helpful rather than harmful.


    I think this is an area where I sense the tension between conceptualization and reality, and I sense that Epicurus would have been at war with words that set false expectations. Kind of like the quote about walking around uselessly talking about he meaning of "good." That's the sense in which a word like "sage" would bother me unless strictly limited in meaning. Another analogy: Living as "gods among men" being a useful term while strictly defining "gods" as real rather than supernatural beings.

  • He was in pain, but there's no way to avoid physical pain if one is in a material body. We get sick. We get injured. But remember what Epicurus wrote:

    Quote

    "On this blissful day, which is also the last of my life, I write this to you. My continual sufferings from strangury and dysentery are so great that nothing could augment them ; but over against them all I set gladness of mind at the remembrance of our past conversations."

    So even in the midst of severe physical pain, Epicurus was able to apply his philosophy and experience pleasure. He remained a sage even to the last.

    From my perspective, experiencing the fullness of pleasure doesn't mean one is blissed out all the time. That's what I meant about having mastery over your choices and rejections to maximize long-term pleasure. You may be experiencing pain right now, but the sage can - so to speak - keep their eyes on the prize of long-term pleasure. They have an expansive view of their life and aren't bogged down in their present suffering... even though it might be severe (e.g., the response to "torture" characteristics). The sage keeps in mind that severe pain is short, chronic pain has moments of pleasure (at least according to the Principal Doctrines).

  • From my perspective, experiencing the fullness of pleasure doesn't mean one is blissed out all the time

    Not sure if you have got to this part of the DeWitt book where he discusses "Fullness of pleasure" but DEFINITELY this is a term that deserves a lot of discussion. I agree with your statement there that I quoted from you, but I don't think we have a clear definition of what "sage" means or "fullness of pleasure" means in this context.


    And AH-- Here I think we have to modify: "That's what I meant about having mastery over your choices and rejections to maximize long-term pleasure." I think you will agree with me on careful thought that "long-term" is a term that has to be handled carefully, as it seems to imply that the long-term is always the most desirable outlook, when the letter to Menoeceus makes pretty clear that that is NOT a complete statement of the proper measure.

    "And just as with food he does not seek simply the larger share and nothing else, but rather the most pleasant, so he seeks to enjoy not the longest period of time, but the most pleasant."

    I know I have many times myself described the goal as "long-term pleasure" but I don't think that is tenable in light of the sentence quoted.