The Twelve Fundamentals - Discussion on Lucretius Today Podcast

  • This coming Sunday we are going to swerve away briefly from the Letter to Pythocles for one week only, and we thought a good one week topic would be a general overview of the "Twelve Fundamentals," a now lost text of Epicurus focused on summarizing the most key aspects of Epicurean physics.


    Our text will be two main sources - DeWitts reconstruction in our "Texts" section, and the differing list compiled by Diskin Clay in his article "Epicurus' Last Will and Testament."


    If you have any comments or suggestions of points to include, please add them in this thread.

  • Clay provides at least two lists of ΣΤΟΙΧΕΙΩΜΑΤΑ (STOIKHEIOMATA), with very minor differences. Also, I note that Clay does not try to reconstruct the same ΔΩΔEKA ΣTOIXEIΩΣEIΣ (DODEKA STOIKHEIOSEIS) that De Witt does (the "Twelve"). He omits the Propositions about uniform atomic motion and the atomic swerve.


    In Paradosis and Survival (12), he writes:


    1. “Nothing comes into being out of nothing.” (EH 38.8-39.1, DRN I 145-150, 159-160)

    2. “Nothing is reduced to nothing.” (EH 39.1-2, DRN I 215-218, 237)

    3. “The universe always was as it is and always will be.” (EH 39.1-2, DRN II 294-307; V 359-363) (Atomic Theory; Quantum Field Theory)

    4. “The universe is made up of bodies and void.” (EH 39.6-40.2, DRN I 418-428)

    5. “Bodies are atoms and their compounds.” (EH 40.7-9, DRN I 483-486)

    6. “The universe is infinite.” (EH 41.6-10, DRN I 958-1001)

    7. “Atoms are infinite in number and space extends without limit” (EH 41.11-42.4, DRN I 1008-1020)

    8. “Atoms of similar shape are infinite in number, but the variety of their shapes is indefinite, not infinite.” (EH 42.10-43.4, DRN II 522-527)

    9. “Atomic motion is contstant and of two kinds.” (EH 43.5-44.1, DRN II 95-102 [I 952])

    10. “Atoms share only three of the characteristics of sensible things: shape, weight, mass.” (EH 54.3-6, DRN II 748-752)


    In Lucretius' Translation of Greek Philosophy (35-39), Clay writes:


    1. “Nothing is created out of nothing” (DRN I 145-150, 159-160)

    2. “Nothing is reduced to nothing.” (DRN I 215-218, 237)

    3. “The universe is made up of two components: body and void.” (DRN I 418-428)

    4. “Body is understood as atoms and their compounds.” (DRN I 438-486)

    5. “Atoms share only three of the characteristics of sensible things: shape, weight, mass.” (DRN II 748-752)

    6. “Atomic motion is constant and of two kinds.” (DRN I 952)

    7. “The universe is infinite.” (DRN I 958-864)

    8. “The atoms are infinite in number, and space extends without limit.” (DRN 1008-1020)

    9. “Atoms of similar shape are infinite in number, but the variety of their shapes is indefinite, not infinite” (DRN I 1008-1020)


    Clay also has a slightly different version in Lucretius and Epicurus, but I do not have access to it. They are essentially the same, but Clay never presents the same list in the same order twice.

  • link to DeWitts list:. https://www.epicureanfriends.c…e-fundamentals-of-nature/


    01 Matter is uncreatable.


    PN 02 Matter is indestructible.


    PN 03 The universe consists of solid bodies and void.


    PN 04 Solid bodies are either compounds or simple.


    PN 05 The multitude of atoms is infinite.


    PN 06 The void is infinite in extent.


    PN 07 The atoms are always in motion.


    PN 08 The speed of atomic motion is uniform.


    PN 09 Motion is linear in space, vibratory in compounds.


    PN 10 Atoms are capable of swerving slightly at any point in space or time.


    PN 11 Atoms are characterized by three qualities: weight, shape and size.


    PN 12 The number of the different shapes is not infinite, merely innumerable

  • Clay also has a slightly different version in Lucretius and Epicurus, but I do not have access to it. They are essentially the same, but Clay never presents the same list in the same order twice

    That's the primary problem with trying to reconstruct a lost text with NO surviving fragments. My understanding is that the ONLY reference to the "Twelve Fundamentals" is the one in Diogenes Laertius: colour varies with the arrangement of the atoms he states in his "Twelve Rudiments". Δώδεκα στοιχειώσεσί ; further, that they are not of any and every size ; at any rate no atom has ever been seen by our sense.


    Epicurus uses στοιχεῖα in the letter to Menoikeus (123) to refer to the elements of the noble/good life: στοιχεῖα τοῦ καλῶς ζῆν.


    Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, στοιχεί-ωσις


    Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, στοιχεῖον


    Without at least some fragments, there's no way to know what the Δώδεκα στοιχειώσεσί discussed. Who knows? Epicurus could have been talking about something else and brought in the color and size of atoms to make a point about our senses. Maybe the Δώδεκα στοιχειώσεσί were about those who say we can't trust our senses and Epicurus was laying out why we could. There's no way to know again without at least some fragments of papyrus or other references.


    PS. The only reference to a "twelve" of anything in the surviving fragments of Diogenes' wall inscription is: For if the pain takes a turn for] the worse, it no longer continues severely, but the crisis comes and passes away in the shortest time; while if it is relieved, it ushers the creature to health. What then, in the name of the twelve gods, is terrible about that? Or how can we justly bring a complaint against nature, if someone who has lived for so many years and so many months and so many days [comes to his last day?]


    PPS: If I'm missing a key reference or textual fragment of the Δώδεκα στοιχειώσεσί, please don't hesitate to point me towards it! If love to be wrong about the one reference in Laertius.


  • I took a look through my copy of Dewitt and he goes on and on about the Twelve Elementary Principles... But with what authority? He just states, with no citation to an actual text, things like:

    The procedure was regularly from the general to the particular. The truths of Physics were reduced to Twelve Elementary Principles. These

    corresponded to a general map, affording a panoramic view of the nature of things. Of the Twelve Principles the most important was the third:" The universe consists of atoms and void."


    How can he state this so matter-of-factly? What is her basing this statement on? How does he know this is the third principle? Did I miss Lucretius expounding the Δώδεκα στοιχειώσεσί? I've tried to get just twelve principles from the letter to Herodotus and it's not easily done. Without question, Epicurus wrote a work called Δώδεκα στοιχειώσεσί but Diogenes doesn't list it among the most important works of the philosopher. Is it a later compilation? And are we sure it's about physics as I asked in my previous post. I respect Dewitt's scholarship (mostly), but many times he flies off in flights of fancy with, from what I can see, little to back it up.

  • Yes looks like DeWitt started off looking for twelve and relied on Lucretius to come up with that number. I think he's making reasonable presumptions, and in fact most of what he comes up with lines up with Diskin Clay, but certainly not everything.


    As usual we're largely on our own as to what is reasonable to presume and what is not. Almost like we're similar to Theon in "A Few Days In Athens" -- piecing things together over time.

  • I started to write this earlier and pulled back. Now I have more time ---> In reading Diskin Clay's article on the "Last Will" it seems to me that he is potentially overly negative about certain aspects. The take-away I get is that he is "presuming" that the evidence indicates that Epicurus really spent most of his time writing letters to his inner circle that were disorganized and filled with jargon, and that it wasn't til near the end of his life that he really decided to systematize anything clearly.


    Now I am reading Clay too harshly, probably, but maybe I would be interested in what Nate has to say about Clay if he has read several of his articles (I note Nate already said that Clay's lists weren't consistent ;) ) And one thing I have always taken away from the "Last Will and Testament" article is to say to myself "Diskin, you're saying Epicurus was unclear, when you entitle your paper something that barely reflects the subject matter?"


    I think we see all the time that the personality of the writer of things gets projected onto Epicurus. DeWitt takes everything in a "sympathetic" way, other writers seem to strain to be as unsympathetic as possible, and the evidence in all likelihood isn't strong enough to say for sure which is right. It's a problem to guard against.

  • Okay, since I couldn't find anything in DeWitt or in Clay to satisfy me, I went through and picked out ALL of the uses of the word στοιχεῖον (as in Δώδεκα στοιχείωσις) and its variations within Diogenes Laertius, Book X. It's used 5 times within the letter to Herodotus (the most within Book X). I've included both the Greek and English (Hicks) from the Perseus Project below for everyone's inspection. Unfortunately, I have not had time (nor do I plan to take the time!) to go and search within Philodemus or the extant On Nature fragments. Sorry. Life is too short ;)


    (30) Canonic forms the introduction to the system and is contained in a single work entitled The Canon. The physical part includes the entire theory of Nature : it is contained in the thirty-seven books Of Nature and, **in a summary form, in the letters.** (**καὶ ταῖς ἐπιστολαῖς κατὰ στοιχεῖον**)


    The usual arrangement, however, is to conjoin canonic with physics, and the former they call the science which deals with **the standard and the first principle, or ***the elementary part*** of philosophy (περὶ κριτηρίου (kriteriou) καὶ ἀρχῆς (arkhes), καὶ ***στοιχειωτικόν (stoikheiotikon)***), while physics proper, they say, deals with becoming and perishing and with nature.


    (34) They affirm that there are two states of feeling, pleasure and pain, which arise in every animate being, and that the one is favourable and the other hostile to that being, and by their means choice and avoidance are determined; and that there are two kinds of inquiry, the one concerned with things, the other with nothing but words.So much, then, for his division and **criterion in their main outline**. (καὶ τοῦ κριτηρίου στοιχειωδῶς.)


    From the Letter to Herodotus:


    (35) Those who have made some advance in the survey of the entire system ought to fix in their minds **under the principal headings an *elementary outline* of the whole treatment of the subject** (ἐν τῇ τῶν ὅλων ἐπιβλέψει τὸν τύπον τῆς ὅλης πραγματείας τὸν *κατεστοιχειωμένον*). For a comprehensive view is often required, the details but seldom.


    (36) ...since it is the privilege of the mature student to make a ready use of his conceptions by referring every one of them to ***elementary facts and simple terms** (πρὸς ἁπλᾶ στοιχειώματα καὶ φωνὰς (apla phonas "simple terms")).


    (37) Hence, since such a course is of service to all who take up natural science, I, who devote to the subject my continuous energy and reap the calm enjoyment of a life like this, have prepared for you just such **an epitome *and manual* of the doctrines as a whole** (τινὰ ἐπιτομὴν (epitome) *καὶ στοιχείωσιν* τῶν ὅλων δοξῶν).


    (44) But that colour varies with the arrangement of the atoms he states in his "Twelve Rudiments" (τὸ δὲ χρῶμα παρὰ τὴν θέσιν τῶν ἀτόμων ἀλλάττεσθαι ἐν ταῖς Δώδεκα στοιχειώσεσί φησι.)


    (47) For if it changed its direction, that would be equivalent to its meeting with resistance, even if up to that point we allow nothing to impede the rate of its flight. **This is an *elementary fact* which in itself is well worth bearing in mind.** (χρήσιμον δὴ καὶ τοῦτο κατασχεῖν *τὸ στοιχεῖον*.) (NOTE: This is the one mention that gets close to stating this is one of the elements: Something like "Atoms don't change their direction or speed"??)


    From Letter to Pythocles:

    (86) We do not seek to wrest by force what is impossible, nor to understand all matters equally well, nor make our treatment always as clear as when we discuss human life or explain the principles of physics in general--for instance, that the whole of being consists of bodies and intangible nature, or **that *the ultimate elements of things* are indivisible** (ὅτι ἄτομα *<τὰ> στοιχεῖα*), or any other proposition which admits only one explanation of the phenomena to be possible.


    From Letter to Menoikeus:

    (123) Those things which without ceasing I have declared unto thee, those do, and exercise thyself therein, holding them to be ** *the elements* of right life**.(στοιχεῖα τοῦ καλῶς ζῆν)



    Clay says "His (Epicurus's) language makes it plain that he regarded the nine propositions set out earlier in the letter as stoicheia... "kai de touto" looks back to the stoicheiomata and their usefulness." I'm still unclear on how Clay is slicing the Letter to Herodotus to come up with only nine stoicheiomata, and the number is clearly 12 "elements." So, why would Epicurus only include 9?


    I *think* I'm willing to accept that the Δώδεκα στοιχείωσις *probably* referred to the physics of Epicurus, BUT in Section 30, Diogenes Laertius specifically talks about Canonic being the στοιχεῖον... So, again, as I did earlier, I ask: Did the Twelve Elements refer to the atoms, void, physics stuff or did it refer back to the use of the senses within the canonic? Both DeWitt and Clay seem too self-assured for my full endorsement of their lists.


    And I see what Clay was trying to do, I think, in calling the article after Epicurus's will. He's trying to say that even though Hermarchus is his philosophical heir, it is actually Lucretius who ends up being his "heir" because we get Lucretius's whole poem to carry on Epicurus's philosophy. Yeah, that's a little arcane.


    Thoughts welcome!!

  • And I see what Clay was trying to do, I think, in calling the article after Epicurus's will. He's trying to say that even though Hermarchus is his philosophical heir, it is actually Lucretius who ends up being his "heir" because we get Lucretius's whole poem to carry on Epicurus's philosophy. Yeah, that's a little arcane.

    Yep "arcane" is a good word. I think Clay is a good guy and I am well disposed toward him, but maybe becoming an Epicurean afficianado makes one "arcane" ;) However of course I show no such tendencies myself ;)