JJElbert Level 03
  • from NW Florida
  • Member since May 28th 2019
  • Last Activity:
  • Forum

Posts by JJElbert

    "I know that I am by nature mortal, and ephemeral—but when I trace at my leisure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies, my feet no longer touch the Earth, but I stand in the presence of Zeus Himself and take my fill of ambrosia."

    -Claudius Ptolemy, Almagest

    This is sort of what I mean by "finding god" in mathematics.

    I'll take a shot at some of these;


    1. I'm most of the way through DeWitt's book, and in Chapter 14 he writes of Epicurus, "He favored a minimum of government and chose to look upon men as free individuals in a society transcending local political boundaries." Is this an eccentric opinion of DeWitt's, or would most experts on Epicurus describe him as a kind of libertarian or classical liberal?

    While we do heavily push DeWitt as the best introduction to Epicurean Philosophy, many of us also recognize his tendency in several ways to extrapolate beyond the textual evidence. I cannot recall a citation in the relevant texts where this opinion is directly expressed.

    Complicating the problem are several historical facts worth mentioning. First, and In support of DeWitt's assertion, we do know that Epicurus chose to settle in democratic Athens. He had other options, some of which had more centralized governments. (I'll also mention that we try to avoid the thorny issue of politics on this forum, for what I think are obvious reasons.)

    The second factor is that capitalism as we understand it did not exist, and had not been proposed. Further, Epicurus himself held slaves; it's difficult in any age to hold liberty as a strong value when slavery is de rigeur. There are no classical texts from any author surviving which propose abolitionism as an object. The ancients simply saw these issues differently than we do.


    2. Now that I know more about Epicureanism, thanks to DeWitt's book, I have to say that the Epicurean position that puzzles me the most is the denunciation of mathematics. Is there a ancient Greek cultural context here that I'm not getting?

    There certainly is! Epicurus lived in a demon-haunted age, and Mathematics were not exempt from this broader context. Pythagoras had proposed a connection between geometry and the "10 concentric celestial spheres". His claim was not only about geometry and astronomy, but about "Truth". Plato as well saw a connection between Euclidean geometric theorems, and the kind of pure absolute moral theory that he himself was dabbling in; hence the sign over his door—"Let no man enter here who has not studied geometry".

    This will help to indicate the other problem with Mathematics—namely, that the Ancient Greeks had no real taste for their practical application. As an example of this; the Alexandrians had done the work of developing an understanding of pneumatics and hydraulics, and they even devised a basic steam engine. And what did they use things for? Tricks and sorcery to complement the charlatanism of the temples and oracles.

    Yes, that's right; they were one step away from attaching a piston and a wheel to this contraption, by which effort they could have discovered locomotive power! But they didn't.

    Epicurus did not have time for philosophy that did not invite a practical application. He was surrounded by geometers, and at the end of all their inquiries they were finding God.

    He knew they were on the wrong track entirely, and so dismissed them.

    Cassius, I have taken your transcription of the Reid translation and put it into a LaTeX editor for typesetting and cleaning up. Paragraph numbers are back in the margins, for example.

    I'm attempting to upload the PDF here.

    I am happy to have feedback or suggestions, but in lieu of that I propose we use this as a common "fair" copy; given the document's size, the pagination should help us find what we're talking about more easily.


    Edit; If someone prefers wider margins for note-taking, or line-separations between paragraphs, that's quite easy to accommodate.


    Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman Statesman and Orator:


    The poems of Lucretius are as you write: they exhibit many flashes of genius, and yet show great mastership.

    Publius Vergilius Maro, Roman Poet:


    Happy is he who has discovered the causes of things and has cast beneath his feet all fears, unavoidable fate, and the din of the devouring Underworld.

    Publius Ovidius Naso, Roman Poet:


    The verses of the sublime Lucretius will perish only when a single day shall consign the world to destruction.

    Late Antiquity/Medieval

    Lucius Caecilius Firmianus, called Lactantius; Roman Christian Writer, advisor to Constantine the Great:


    "the most worthless of the poets"

    Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, called St. Jerome;


    The poet Titus Lucretius is born. He was later driven mad by a love philtre and, having composed between bouts of insanity several books (which Cicero afterwards corrected), committed suicide at the age of 44.


    Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, French Essayist and Philosopher


    ‘Tis to much purpose that the great poet Lucretius keeps such a clatter with his philosophy, when, behold! he goes mad with a love philtre. Is it to be imagined that an apoplexy will not stun Socrates as well as a porter? Some men have forgotten their own names by the violence of a disease; and a slight wound has turned the judgment of others topsy-turvy. Let him be as wise as he will, after all he is but a man; and than that what is there more frail, more miserable, or more nothing?


    But, to pursue the business of this essay, I have always thought that, in poesy, Virgil, Lucretius, Catullus, and Horace by many degrees excel the rest.

    Lucy Hutchison, Puritan Homemaker


    "As by the study of these I grew in Light and Love, the little glory I had among some few of my intimate friends, for understanding this crabbed poet, became my shame, and I found I never understood him till I learnt to abhorre him, and dread a wanton dalliance with impious bookes. Then I reapd some profitt by it, for it shewd me that sencelesse superstitions drive carnall reason into Atheisme, which though Policy restreins some from avowing so impudently as this Dog, yet vast is their number, who make it a specious pretext within themselves, to thinke religion is nothing at all but an invention to reduce the ignorant vulgar into order and Government."


    19th Century:

    James Clark Caldwell, Confederate Soldier writing in a Union War Prison in Ohio:

    John Tyndall, Irish Physicist;


    Is there not a temptation to close to some extent with Lucretius, when he affirms that 'nature is seen to do all things spontaneously of herself without the meddling of the gods?' or with Bruno, when he declares that Matter is not 'that mere empty capacity which philosophers have pictured her to be, but the universal mother who wrings forth all things as the fruit of her own womb?' Believing as I do in the continuity of Nature, I cannot stop abruptly where our microscopes cease to be of use. Here the vision of the mind authoritatively supplements the vision of the eye. By an intellectual necessity I cross the boundary of the experimental evidence, and discern in that Matter which we, in our ignorance of its latent powers, and notwithstanding our professed reverence for its Creator, have hitherto covered with opprobrium, the promise and potency of all terrestrial Life.

    20th Century to Present:

    Albert Einstein, German-born Theoretical Physicist

    W. B. Yeats, Irish Poet:


    "The finest description of sexual intercourse ever written."

    Christopher Hitchens, Anglo-American Journalist, Polemicist, Public Intellectual


    In January 1821, Thomas Jefferson wrote John Adams to “encourage a hope that the human mind will some day get back to the freedom it enjoyed 2000 years ago.” This wish for a return to the era of philosophy would put Jefferson in the same period as Titus Lucretius Carus, thanks to whose six-volume poem De Rerum Naturum (On the Nature of Things) we have a distillation of the work of the first true materialists: Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus. These men concluded that the world was composed of atoms in perpetual motion, and Epicurus, in particular, went on to argue that the gods, if they existed, played no part in human affairs. It followed that events like thunderstorms were natural and not supernatural, that ceremonies of worship and propitiation were a waste of time, and that there was nothing to be feared in death.

    I think this is something we have to consider in its context. What we now know is that the seat of consciousness is in the brain; the ancients, including the Epicureans, had other ideas. Some believed that the seat of the 'soul' was in the breast with the heart. It is easy to observe in oneself the quickening of the pulse in love or fear; more difficult, to intuit that this behavior is governed by signals from the nervous system.

    The Epicureans thought that the 'soul'—call it what you will—consisted of a sort of skein of finer atoms spread throughout all the members. If a portion of this soul rests in the hand at any given point in time, and the soul's chief end is pleasure, perhaps the argument of Chrysippus makes a little more sense?

    Of course the shift of the soul from the members or the breast to the brain simply shifts the problem. Does the brain feel the lack of the Supreme good? I think of the restlessness that Lucretius describes of the Roman nobility; in the city they wish they were in the country, and in the country they wish they were in the city.

    One of Epicurus' achievements was to instruct us in how to tap new sources of pleasure—even something as simple as remembering past pleasures can be a constant source of genuine pleasure available to us whenever we need it.


    since I am prone to conspiracy theories, I don't even watch the news.

    A mature and responsible decision!


    I am working on getting government benefits so I don't have to work so much.

    I don't have an opinion on government benefits.

    Covid has given me some reservations about abundant free-time. Not everyone I know has handled it well. It may be helpful to explore the Roman concept of Otium—constructive leisure (which you've already hinted at). Come to think of it, we should have a thread on Otium. :/

    Lurker or participant; either way, I wish you well!

    I was reading through r/AskReddit the other day and there was a thread titled something like "What was the closest you've ever come to suicide, and what was it that brought you back?" I clicked on it for the human interest angle, and read a post that said that 'studying stoicism really helped.'

    Hey, if you're at that terrible point in your life, and stoicism is the one thing that pulls you through, that's great. I'm not going to argue or judge.

    But is that the advice I would give to a friend? Sadly, no. Surely we can do better than to tell a suffering fellow human that the way to move beyond suicide ideation is to realize that life and its experiences are 'indifferent.'

    I hope everyone in that thread is doing ok.