Article on the "Letter to Marcella" by Porphyry

  • Thanks to Takis Panagiatopolis of the Athens Garden for this link:


    http://www.epicuros.gr/pages/e…lis_Epicurus_Porphyry.pdf


    ! It seems clear that this writer was referencing Epicurean ideas while also combining them with elements that are absolutely irreconcilable. It is interesting to reflect on which are which.

    "27. So then, first you must grasp the law of Nature and from it ascend to the divine law which also established the law of Nature."



    Tempelis_Epicurus_Porphyry.pdf

  • I’m not terribly familiar with Porphyry’s works, many that survive are fragmentary or quoted by secondary sources.


    It seems that the specific section of the letter does support a knowledge of Epicurean principles .


    Porphyry is of course best known for his biography of his master Plotinus and the his arrangement of the Enneads. He wrote some anti-Christian polemical works that did not survive except in secondary sources.


    He and his pupil Iamblichus did not see eye to eye on the interpretation of Neoplatonic doctrine.


    Porphyry also suffered from a depressive nature. He says that he even considered suicide at one point in his biography.

  • Porphyry is somewhat of an enigma due to the lack of complete extant writings.


    We know everything that we can possibly know about Plotinus from Porphyry. Most importantly we know who and what influenced Plotinus from Porphyry. Specifically, we learn that the teacher of Plotinus was Ammonius Saccus.


    We know he hated the Christians, but revered Jesus as a holy man.


    His writing and philosophy, like most of the Neoplatonists, is very technical and based in Platonic and Pythagorean principles.

  • Weren't we talking recently somewhere about someone recently interested in this letter to Marcella? I still to this day have not spent much time with it, but it seems to me very dangerous to consider this an Epicurean work as it seems to have lots of unEpicurean thought mixed into it.


    It would take almost a line-by-line analysis to go through it but I see this as an example which appears to me directly UNEpicurean, because if the gods have decided to give up food and sex for themselves, then the implication is that we should consider doing so in emulation, which I cannot believe that Epicurus would suggest as a model for humans. But is not this letter suggesting that humans should?


    :




    On the other this might seem to be an Epicurean quote at first glance, but is the "if it does not purge the PASSION OF THE SOUL" really well stated. That could be a translation issue, and if the meaning is "Disturbance" then all well and good, but if the meaning is "strong desire" then that sounds very Stoic to me.




    :



    I don't have more time for this right now but I would not consider this letter to be safe Epicurean teaching without a lot more study and possible clarification.


  • What? Is this saying that there is a "Divine" law higher than nature? Is that not the inference or "ascend?"


    If so, then that is a TOTALLY non-Epicurean viewpoint and can be expected to corrupt all the rest of the analysis.

  • When did the Epicurean goal become "Reason" rather than "pleasure?" Answer: "it didn't, regardless of what is said here."


  • What? Is this saying that there is a "Divine" law higher than nature? Is that not the inference or "ascend?"

    Lol :D That sounds very familiar. As far as I know, it is only the Stoics who frequently use the word "ascend", and this is what they do to assign what to react on an indifferent circumstance. They ascend to a deterministic law as a way to exercise control of their mind and reason while in fact they are only submitting themselves to such laws that they consider divine.

    "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."

  • Good catch Mike. I don't want to put too much pressure on a single word and maybe there is a translation issue, but yes, climbing a mountain toward virtue being at the summit seems to be a standard Stoic theme.


    I recall Lucian using it to describe the Stoic figure in Hermotimus:


    Her. Alas, Lycinus, I am only just beginning to get an inkling of the right way. Very far off dwells Virtue, as Hesiod says, and long and steep and rough is the way thither, and travellers must bedew it with sweat.

    Ly. And you have not yet sweated and travelled enough?

    Her. Surely not; else should I have been on the summit, with nothing left between me and bliss; but I am only starting yet, Lycinus.

    Ly. Ah, but Hesiod, your own authority, tells us, Well begun is half done; so we may safely call you half-way by this time.

    Her. Not even there yet; that would indeed have been much.

    Ly. Where shall we put you, then?

    Her. Still on the lower slopes, just making an effort to get on; but it is slippery and rough, and needs a helping hand.

    Ly. Well, your master can give you that; from his station on the summit, like Zeus in Homer with his golden cord, he can let you down his discourse, and therewith haul and heave you up to himself and to the Virtue which he has himself attained this long time.

  • You're right Cassius. When I gave stoicism a shot, I used to ascend to such Virtue, and in fact there are four virtues to ascend to - these are wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance. Like what I told you, it didn't work for me. Ascending seems too ascetic for my passionate character.

    "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."

  • Ascending seems too ascetic for my passionate character.


    From Diogenes Laertius:


    He will be more deeply moved by feelings, but this will not prove an obstacle to wisdom. A man cannot become wise with every kind of physical constitution, nor in every nation.



    I thought of that because of your comment about a passionate character, which seems to me to be consistent with being "more deeply moved by feelings."


    After finding it and seeing the next sentence, I wonder if the thoughts are not related, and in fact I wonder if it is possible for a person who does not feel deeply to become wise! The apathetic distant diffident spirit may be among the types of physical constitutions that are obstacles to the wise pursuit of proper living according to Nature (which we can identify with being in touch with and wisely following our feelings).

  • On the contrary for Epicurus, philosophy is not the appearance of good health but the enjoyment of its truth. Ascending to virtues only affirms the appearance of truth while sensation affirms the truth itself. This is how I understand VS 54 which I use as my signature below.

    "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 agree. I am not trying to be patronizing and I know that you are still reading DeWitt, but I think your observations are good and you have a knack for this Mike ;-)


    I really don't think any of this is that difficult for anyone who doesn't get sidetracked on "minimalism at all costs" and "the goal of life is ataraxia."


    "Minimalism" is the wrong goal for the obvious reason that the goal of life is pleasure, and the principle stated in VS 63. "Frugality too has a limit, and the man who disregards it is like him who errs through excess.


    "Ataraxia" is wrong goal as well, and in my view that's why so many people don't translate the word. That's often because the closer they come to having to explain "ataraxia" in understandable terms in their first language, the more they realize that they *can't* make it reconcile with "pleasure" as the goal, and then they realize that they ultimately can't reconcile it with the stoic paradigm they prefer. So they leave it untranslated and suggest that it means something like Stoic apathy.

  • "Minimalism" is the wrong goal for the obvious reason...

    This is why I avoid using the term "mindfulness" the way Zen Buddhists use it. Instead, I prefer the word "mindset" to describe the state of mind while in the process of prudence.


    For instance, I'd choose to be frugal only because my eagerness to reap a much greater pleasure out of it afterward sets my mind to keep being frugal. Therefore, I do it not because it's my ascent to frugality.


    On the other hand, I'd put a limit on frugality not because of my ascent to self-control or freedom of choice but because a need for immediate pleasure sets my mind to do so.


    In other words, nothing is divine in virtues like courage and temperance. They are just utilities for the pursuit of pleasure, hence nothing to ascend to.


    Yes Cassius. DeWitt makes sense to me now. Now I understand why EAHP is highly recommended for beginners of Epicurean philosophy.

    "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."

  • term "mindfulness" the way Zen Buddhists use it. Instead, I prefer the word "mindset" to describe the state of mind while in the process of prudence.

    Excellent choice. My experience is very little with people who talk about Buddhism, but the Stoics love the term "mindfulness" so "mindset" seems a good way to distinguish it. Or simply "attitude" as I think DeWitt generally uses.


    nothing is divine in virtues like courage and temperance. They are just utilities for the pursuit of pleasure, hence nothing to ascend to.

    Yes exactly. Such an obvious and simple point, and yet so hard to get people to come to terms with. They should be obviously not ends in themselves, so WHY do them? That question has an answer, and the answer is written inside every one of us, but woe be to those in the mainstream who would dare to admit that they are guided by "feeling!" The "mainstream" is nothing if not about denying oneself - and the Bible makes that very clear!!


    According to this list, FIFTY-FOUR different verses, starting with:


    Matthew 16:24   Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.


    Again, even "denying oneself is obviously not an end in itself, so why do it? That question demands an answer, and Epicurus was brave enough to give it.

  • Hello Epicureans,


    Your renewed discourse here has summoned me. Haha

    I smell Neoplatonism cooking in here. It smells a lot like a seafood curry and cigarette smoke in an apartment complex.😀


    Hope all is well.


    Matt

  • Good to hear from you Matt and I hope you are well too. Someone recently raised the topic of this letter to Marcella and I see back when we discussed it earlier it appears we did not sufficiently cook it deeply enough, and the aroma of stoicism / neoplatonism lingers still around it, waiting to be separated and dispelled! ;-)

  • Excellent choice. My experience is very little with people who talk about Buddhism, but the Stoics love the term "mindfulness" so "mindset" seems a good way to distinguish it. Or simply "attitude" as I think DeWitt generally uses.

    Yes Cassius. Attitude is another simple word for it. ☺

    I smell Neoplatonism cooking in here.

    Yes. That's also what I observed from the sentences especially the fact that there is a higher level of ascension, and this is a typical epistemological element of Platonism and Neo-platonism.

    "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."

  • Yeah, Neoplatonism and Stoicism deal in principles that eventually become unintelligible. The One is both immanent and transcendent, both outside reality and at the same time manifests as reality itself. Infinitely complex and yet can be reduced to extreme simplicity.


    I understood Plotinus and his Enneads and for years I considered him to be great thinker. However, in the end his system is just another bump in the road of a long line of philosophical systems that bear no fruit. He was just that... “a great thinker” and nothing more.

  • My philosophy is no philosophy these days. Life becomes much quieter when you don’t have other people’s speculations bouncing about in your consciousness.