Voula Tsouna Zoom Presentation This Thursday, May 27, at 12 Noon EDT

  • The lecture handout:

    Handout of translated texts

    Hellenistic Forum

    20 May 2021



    THE EPICUREAN NOTION OF EPIBOLÊ

    Voula Tsouna


    T1


    ‘Those who have sufficiently advanced in the comprehensive survey (epiblepsis) of the entire system ought to fix in their memory the outline of the whole treatise, organised as it is under the headings of its principal elements. For we frequently are in need of a comprehensive grasp of the whole (athroa epibolê), whereas we seldom need to have a grasp of the details (kata meros epibolê)’ (Epicurus, H 35).


    T2


    ‘Thus we must continually return to those (principal elements) and must memorise them, so that we shall both acquire a comprehensive epibolê of things and discover all the details with precision when the general outlines have been correctly understood and remembered. For this is the privilege of the advanced student, to be able to make ready use of his epibolai by referring each of them to the basic elements and the (corresponding) terms. For it is impossible to contemplate the results of continuous diligent study of the totality of things unless we can summarise in simple expressions and hold in the mind all that might have been accurately expressed even to the most minute detail’ (H 36).


    T3


    ‘First, then, Herodotus, we must grasp the items which fall under the words, so that we may have them as a reference point against which to judge matters of opinion, enquiry and puzzlement, and not have everything undiscriminated for ourselves as we attempt infinite chains of proofs, or have words which are empty. For the primary concept corresponding to each word must be seen and need no additional proof, if we are going to have a reference point for matters of enquiry, puzzlement, and opinion. Furthermore, we should attend in every way to our sensations and, generally, to the present epibolai (tas parousas epibolas) whether of the mind or of anyone of the criteria, and similarly to our actual feelings, so that we may have the means of drawing sign-inferences about not yet confirmed or non-evident things’ (H 37-38).


    T4


    ‘And whatever representation (phantasian) we receive by way of epibolê (epiblêtikôs) through the mind or the sense-organs, whether it is a representation of shape or of some other property, this shape is the shape of the solid thing and has been constituted either in accordance with a close condensation of the film(s) of atoms as a whole or in accordance with what remains of it. On the other hand, falsehood and error always dwell in the additional element of opinion about <that which awaits> to be confirmed or remain uncontested but then receives no confirmation <or is contested>. [(This opinion is formed) following a certain movement in ourselves, which is attached to the representational epibolê (phantastikê epibolê) but distinct from it, and according to which falsehood occurs]. For the imaginary figments (phantasmôn) received, for instance, in a picture or arising in dreams or from certain other epibolai of the mind or of the other criteria would never have resembled the things that we call real and true, were there not certain actual things of the same kind as those that we compare them to. On the other hand, error would not have occurred, if we had not experienced also some other movement in ourselves conjoined with the representational epibolê but distinct from it. In relation to this movement, if it is not attested or is contested, falsehood arises, whereas if it is attested or not contested truth is established. We must closely adhere to this doctrine, if we are not to reject the criteria established on the basis of clear evidence (kata tas enargeias) nor throw everything into confusion by asserting falsehoods as if they were truths’ (H 50-52).


    T5


    ‘All these properties, I claim, merely give the body its own permanent nature. They all have their own epibolai and distinguishing features, but always along with body as a whole (tou athroou) and never in separation from it; and it is in accordance of this complete conception of body as a whole (kata tên athroan ennoian) that it is designated as such’ (H 69).


    T6


    ‘The exposition is of such a sort that those who have already tolerably or even perfectly mastered the details can, by analysing them into the corresponding sort of epibolai, pursue most of their investigations of nature in its totality. On the other hand, those who do not really belong to the category of mature students can rapidly and silently run over in their minds the cardinal doctrines of this exposition in order to gain peace of mind’ (H 83).


    T7


    ‘At a time when human life lay for all to see squalidly sprawled on the ground, crushed beneath the weight of institutional religion (religio) that reared its head from the regions of heaven, lowering over mortals and terrible to behold, it was a man from Greece who first dared to raise those mortal eyes against her and was the first to make a stand against her. Neither the fables of the gods nor thunderbolts nor the heaven with its threatening roar held him back, but these all the more stirred up the eager courage of his mind (acrem animi virtutem), making him desire, first of all men, to break open the tight-shut bars of natures’ gates. And so the energetic power of his mind (vivida vis animi) prevailed and issued forth (previcit et processit) far beyond the flaming walls of the world, as he roamed through the immeasurable universe with his mind and imagination (atque omne immensum peragravit mente animoque). Whence he returns victorious to relay to us what can occur and what cannot, and moreover how each thing has its power delimited and its deep-set boundary stone. As a result, religion is now in her turn trampled underfoot, while we by his victory are raised to the heights of heaven’ (Lucretius, DRN I.62-79).


    T8


    ‘You (sc. the Stoics) on the contrary cannot see how nature can achieve all this without the aid of some (cosmic) intelligence, and so, like the tragic poets, being unable to bring the plot of your drama to a solution, you have recourse to a god. You certainly wouldn’t have needed his intervention if you contemplated the measureless magnitude of space stretching in every direction, by projecting and focusing itself (se iniciens ... et intendens) into which the mind travels far and wide without ever seeing a boundary of its extremities at which it could stop’ (Cicero, ND I.53-54).


    T9


    ‘The construction of inferences from signs (did not happen) by contraposition of ‘if this is [this’ but was apprehended] through the [appearances providing uses] for it. Indeed the person who is puzzled about how [representations] of the mind [will be judged thinks] that inferences from signs [should be constructed] if they are verified by observation and do not [conflict] with all the things that are called criteria of non-evident things - with sensations, preconceptions, representational [epibolai of the mind], and feelings’ (Philodemus, De sign. fr. 1 De Lacy and De Lacy).


    T10


    ‘And because of an attachment to life, not due to the fact that they (sc. foolish old men) live pleasantly but resulting from their terror of death, they appear to push away even the epibolai focusing on it (tas epibolas tas ep’auton). Then, when the sight of it becomes clearly evident (enargês theôria), it strikes them as something paradoxical. For this reason, unable to bring themselves even to the point of writing a will, they are overtaken and surrounded and, as Democritus says, are forced to bear a double misfortune. Sensible men, on the other hand, [even if for] some compelling reason they did not suspect that the paragraph and limit of their life was already approaching, when it comes into actual view, after they have surveyed in their thought systematically and with the greatest clarity, in a way that cannot be explained to the ignorant, their perfect enjoyment of every thing and the utter unconsciousness that will come over them, they breathe their last as calmly as if they never had lost their epibolê even for an instant’ (De mort. XXXIX.6-25).

  • Worthy of note. - Anthony "A.A. Long," writer of some of my favorite articles on Epicurus.


    Also present were David Konstan, Julian Annas, and a couple of other names I recognized. Didn't see David Sedley or MF Smith however.



    Did anyone else see the presentation? Comments on it?


    Unfortunately I don't see a way to watch a replay. And I don't immediately see a link to the full paper.

  • Quote

    T10


    ‘And because of an attachment to life, not due to the fact that they (sc. foolish old men) live pleasantly but resulting from their terror of death, they appear to push away even the epibolai focusing on it (tas epibolas tas ep’auton). Then, when the sight of it becomes clearly evident (enargês theôria), it strikes them as something paradoxical. For this reason, unable to bring themselves even to the point of writing a will, they are overtaken and surrounded and, as Democritus says, are forced to bear a double misfortune. Sensible men, on the other hand, [even if for] some compelling reason they did not suspect that the paragraph and limit of their life was already approaching, when it comes into actual view, after they have surveyed in their thought systematically and with the greatest clarity, in a way that cannot be explained to the ignorant, their perfect enjoyment of every thing and the utter unconsciousness that will come over them, they breathe their last as calmly as if they never had lost their epibolê even for an instant’ (De mort. XXXIX.6-25).


    I am really impressed by this excerpt, which I don't think I have seen before. To me the thrust of this sentiment seems to go along with considering the whole issue of epibole to be summarized in English as "grasp." I read this as saying that we need a grasp of the big picture of what life is all about, along with a grasp of the details as we live minute by minute, and we need a command of the subject that allows us to move back and forth between the big picture and the details to allow us to see how both fit together. If we get lost either in the big picture, or in the details, we equally "get lost" and fail to have a command over what is necessary in life to live as happily as possible. If we keep that command, then even as we age and approach death, and actually die, we keep with us to the end the best possible experience of living, which ought always to be our goal. Nothing mystical or mysterious about any of this and all perfectly translatable into ordinary English.

  • Quote

    In Part Three I pursue the aforementioned distinction in late Epicureanism, in particular Lucretius and Philodemus. I try to show how, during that period, epibolê enjoys the status of a criterion and also acquires paramount moral importance. I conclude with a few general remarks.

    If she got around to discussing this in the Zoom presentation I must have missed it. I heard a few comments about it, but it seemed to me that most of the presentation ended up revolving around the issue of what the epibole word means, rather than how it fits into the Epicurean canon of truth.


    Did anyone pick up her position in any greater clarity than what is written above? I remain unclear on Tsouna's own view as to whether any form of grasp should be considered a criteria of truth. I didn't hear anything to persuade me that it should be counted a fourth leg, and much that I heard continue to motivate me that it shouldn't.

  • Quote

    This is the first zoom presentation I have watched involving presentation of a paper. She's basically reading large sections of it, but this will hopefully be followed by question and answer. What's the best format using zoom? Is it ok to basically read a paper as the main presentation? (thinking out loud)

    I didn't watch any of this, but this question strikes me as interesting. I went to several book readings in college, mostly of poetry and nonfiction/essays. I always enjoyed the author reading selections from their own work, but the key word is selections! With poetry this is easy, but one essayist in particular does stand out in mind as having been totally captivating; but of course he was writing about his life, his students, his dying father...


    An academic work must be more taxing to listen to, as well as to present.


    The very best reading I ever attended was one of my professors'. I've never seen a man so completely alive to the power of language. He was also a jazz musician, and he enlisted a few students from that category for accompaniment, so the thematic range of the evening was truly powerful.


    So how might we take this concept and make it more approachable... :/

  • Pardon my tardiness in posting: I attended the presentation but am only now able to weigh in.


    I got the impression that this was not a finished paper but a work in progress. She seemed to be working with athroa epibole versus kata meros epibole in order to draw some conclusions. Basically, is there a difference between a "big picture" epibole and an epibole of a detail or details? Is memory involved in one but not the other? Is memory involved at all in an epibole? Is attention?


    Also she was examining whether epibole are projections from outside things, projections outward from the mind, or projections inward into the mind.


    Again, my impression is that she's still grappling with all of this. I think at one point she said that at this point her main goal was to catalog the occurrences of epibole being mentioned in the sources. She also mentioned that grammar doesn't seem to be the main guide, theory is.


    In the Q&A she or somebody said that one needs to attend to epibolai in order to do epistemology. This would be different from "attending" being part of an epibole.


    Tony Long pointed out that epibolai are not acts of the mind, but how it's being affected. At least as he grasps the idea ;)

  • Thanks godfrey! What was going through my mind in a lot of my comments is how we might use a zoom format for projects of our own. No doubt there is a value in seeing people online ask questions, but I find as i get older that I have ever less tolerance for what I consider to be grandstanding by questioners - and questions in philosophic contexts tend to turn out to be mini-sermons in themselves very frequently.


    And ha - i laugh as I think this to myself - it also seems to me that the people who make a beeline to the microphone first tend to be the oddest of the oddballs, and the people with the most intelligent and thoughtful questions tend to be the most polite and retiring and thereby generally end up at the end of the line.


    i thought the overall result was very worthwhile even though there was a good bit of reading, and I really don't know if or whether there should be a way to avoid that. i tend to think that some kind of visuals during a presentation makes them easier for everyone to appreciate, while at the same time the facial expressions do add a very valuable element.

  • This seemed much less "formal" than something we might do... almost like if someone wanted to read a paper they were working on during our monthly Skype call. I don't know anything about the Forum that put this on: was it a regular meeting of some sort?


    I think, at a minimum, for a "presentation" it would be better for the speaker to put their script next to their camera so they at least seem to be more engaged; kind of like a low tech teleprompter.

  • Yes that's a good idea, and a good comparison. I haven't looked at other broadcasts from the forum, but I gathered this was probably pretty typical.


    It didn't help in my case that the zoom call kept breaking up, especially in the QA session at the end. Did you experience that Godfrey?


    and yes either the script itself, or at least a list of bullet points so we would know where we were in the presentation.


    I think a major point that this discussion of grasping is reinforcing with me is the issue that Epicurus has right on the surface of the text we're reading most from:


    There's both a "big picture" and a "detailed picture" and if we want to be most proficient in living we have to be able to have a command of both, and be able to constantly flip back and forth between them without skipping a beat. I don't see that as a particularly blinding insight but maybe I'm overlooking it because it seems so obviously true - and yet I think the failure to do that (have command of both levels) is what we see time and time again. People get obsessed with details (like the meaning of ataraxia or epibole) and they get fixated for long periods of times on details while the rest of their lives is totally at odds with the Epicurean big picture (absence of gods, absence of absolute standards of virtue, absence of life after death). Or the get fixated on the very highest level picture (that same absence of gods, absence of absolute standards of virtue, and absence of life after death) and they never offer ordinary people any level of detailed advice about how that high-level insight is to be applied moment by moment.


    I think if we could find a way to drive that lesson home, with a limited number of core examples of both the big picture and the details, we'd be 90% or more of the way to providing a solid Epicurean program without ever once mentioning 'ataraxia" or "aponia" or "epibole" or any greek or latin word whatsoever.


    I'll close with the caveat that I love Latin in particular, and I also honor the Greek, and for those who find it interesting I am all for explaining it to them. But when I look around at day to day life outside my office i think I see fewer and fewer people who seem interested in that. Were it not for Charles and Nate being with us, our average age is probably not having us all on Social Security, so the clock is ticking on our work! ;-)