Posts by JJElbert

    You are correct about his penury, Cassius—I recently read a book called Measuring America in which Jefferson figured prominently—but it was his personal library that he sold to Congress. The British had just burned the capital in the War of 1812, including the Library of Congress, and Jefferson's private collection was the largest in North America. It seemed like a perfect match—except that many in Congress grumbled at the deal, complaining that many of Jefferson's books were far too irreligious, far too politically radical (he was highly sympathetic to the bloodsoaked revolution in France), and far too unreadable; a high percentage of them were not in English. :D In fact, at least five of these books were copies of Lucretius, in Latin.

    I don't think his letters would have been included in this sale, however.

    It may have been common sense (although I confess to disliking that term!), but consider that Frances Wright was the only writer whose work survives between antiquity and DeWitt—that is to say, for nearly 2,000 years—to have attempted publicly to redeem Epicurus' whole system and reputation, on his own genuine terms.

    One other thing I should mention; Santayana's essay was one out of three in a book called Three Philosophical Poets. I haven't read the other two, but here is the description from the Doubleday edition published 1953;


    One of the world's most renowned and provocative thinkers discusses Lucretius, the materialist; Dante, the supernaturalist; and Goethe, the romanticist; and thereby introduces the three dominant systems of Western philosophy--the sources of our major speculative traditions. This work serves the newcomer to the history of philosophy as an admirable introduction to the field, and for the more advanced reader it is a most concise and meaningful interpretation of these three great philosophical poets.

    Santayana was himself a materialist, in spite of his Platonism, and is generally considered to have given Lucretius the most favorable review of the three. Lucretius was a supreme poet, and a materialist—but also an Epicurean. Santayana was an admirer of good poetry, as well as a materialist; but his other views were incompatible with Epicureanism. Cassius mentions 'something more extensive' going on, and I think it's partially this—the narcissism of small differences. Santayana exposes himself to this diagnosis explicitly, by suggesting that a materialist who was not an Epicurean would have opened up richer fields for poetic exploration than Lucretius was willing or able to pursue.

    And the capstone of all this seeming paradox? A quote from one of Santayana's novels, from a character that critic's call his "alter-ego";


    I have the Epicurean contentment, which is not far removed from asceticism.

    Oliver Wendell Holmes was a great admirer of Santayana, but sums him up thus;


    He has a patronizing tone—as of one who saw through himself but didn’t expect others to.

    He stands with Nietsche in a place of eminence, in the Rogue's gallery of Epicurus' detractors—and for that reason alone is worth reading.

    I'll try to reply thoroughly to all of these comments when I get the time, but I'll sketch an outline of my thoughts here as they come to me.

    First, of course, I dismiss his portrayal of Epicurus. We have the benefit of DeWitt, and Santayana did not. That doesn't excuse what Don calls sloppy scholarship, but his position was de rigueur for the time. But I'm certainly not here to make excuses for him!

    It's his insight into Lucretius that is for me worthwhile. Not Lucretius as an Epicurean, perhaps, but Lucretius as a materialist, and, above all, as a poet of nature.

    His exploration of the Venus/Mars diad, as a representation of the ongoing atomic cycle of emergence and dissolution, is illustrative of what I mean. I think that we all appreciate the significance of Venus as an enduring metaphor for the fertility of atomic "re-creation", but how much of our time do we give to its corrolary? Santayana makes an interesting proposition; assuming that Lucretius' poem is truly unfinished, did he plan to cap it off with an elegy for creation and a final balancing hymn to Mars? I can't say—and it may be that in ending the poem with the plague in Athens, Lucretius really did end the poem with Mars triumphant, and Venus, for a time, brought low. I know that I, for one, will be enriched by Santayana's explication on these lines when I again read Lucretius.

    I do think that Santayana gets something really wrong in all of this—


    Life, however, belongs to form, and not to matter; or in the language of Lucretius, life is an eventum, a redundant ideal product or incidental aspect, involved in the equilibration of matter; as the throw of sixes is an eventum, a redundant ideal product or incidental aspect, occasionally involved in shaking a dice-box. Yet, as this throw makes the acme and best possible issue of a game of dice, so life is the acme and best possible issue of the dance of atoms; and it is from the point of view of this eventum that the whole process is viewed by us, and is judged.

    How Santayana can write these words, and also hold that Lucretius despised life, is beyond me. And this is another aspect of Lucretius; it is too easy to miss the forest for the trees. As with Lucretius' love of pleasure, so it is with his love of life: the poem itself—the colossal and imaginative sweep of his art—is the best evidence there is for his zest and zeal. His whole poem, in form and finish, is better evidence even than the arguments it contains. How could anyone who really despised life dedicate his small hours to the crafting of 7,000 lines of verse, of unsurpassed beauty and grandeur?

    But here again Santayana had the poor fortune to write in that long darkness, before DeWitt arose to shed his light; pleasure, DeWitt says in correction, is the telos. The summum bonum is life itself.

    And yet there is more still to admire in Santayana's essay. In general, the further he gets from the subject of Epicurus, the more useful his analysis. His examination of Lucretius as a poet of nature is of a high order. His contrast of Lucretius with Shakespeare, Shelley, and Wordsworth is full of insight.

    His contrast of Lucretius with Horace on the subject of friendship is noteworthy as well.

    Anyway, when I finally get around to editing and publishing the next episode some of this will get a little clearer.


    I've been reading this essay diligently of late, and have borrowed a passage for use in the most recent recording for EpicureaPoetica (which, by the way, I hope to publish this afternoon).

    Santayana was a Spanish-American philosopher of a Platonist bent, and his depiction of Epicurus won't win him any friends here. He slightly echoes Nietsche in this regard. Nevertheless, I think him a deft and engaging critic of Lucretius, whom he does hold in high esteem. Those who have a good foundation in the core texts—of Epicurus, of Lucretius, of Frances Wright, and of DeWitt—will be well-served by reading it.

    My intention in the coming days is to draft an outline of the essay, so if you'd prefer to save some time you can wait for that instead. A straight recording of the essay may follow. He doesn't mention Tennyson's poem, but he has shed new light on Tennyson's approach to Lucretius, by outlining his own.

    Good afternoon, Titus!

    I cannot comment on these books with any personal experience, but Catherine Wilson and Haris Dimitriadis have been widely discussed around here. You'll be able to find them with a search, I think.

    Dimitriadis' text in particular has been well- received. I need to pick up a copy myself!

    Some pictures would help!


    Above is a mid-15th century French manuscript of Boccaccio's De Claris Mulieribus, from the article Don cited from the British Museum. The figure in green is certainly Leontion. I am merely speculating that the figure in red is meant to depict a portly, sybaritic and lecherous Epicurus.


    This image comes from a late-15th century incunabulum of The Nuremburg Chronicle.

    In light of these two, as well as all of the other things I mentioned, I am persuaded that the following is likewise an image of Epicurus.



    I tend to think that given the hurdles of communication back in those years it's entirely possible that some people were well aware of what Epicurus looked like and others were not.

    It is difficult to assess, to be sure. And Raphael was certainly ideally placed; if anyone knew what Epicurus really looked like, it probably was the Vatican Library!


    Note to self: I need to go back to the article and check this - I do not recall Elli suggesting that the figure of Epicurus was hugging the female figure:

    I didn't mean Elli's article; I don't think she looked at De Claris Mulieribus in her consideration. As far as I know, my speculation that the hugging figure was Epicurus is original. It makes sense though; if you're trying to calumniate Leontion, and they certainly were, then the slander is more complete if it implicates Epicurus as well.

    Right. The main question with that article is whether the man "hugging" Leontion is meant by the illustrator to signify Epicurus. Groping the 'courtesan', and all that. If it is, that gives us (along with the Nuremburg Chronicle) two drawings of Epicurus in popular Latin texts from the 15th Century that portray him beardless, and in the one case paunchy. Rather how one would portray a Eunuch—or the head of a school of philosophy stereotyped as weak and effeminate, and "fit only for swine".

    Raphael was working on the painting less than 20 years after the Nuremburg Chronicle was published, and the Nuremburg Chronicle gives a positive ID to Epicurus' portrait.

    I would say that I am...oh, 75 percent convinced that the wreathed figure is Epicurus. There's certainly plenty of room for interpretation!

    I don't have much really, but I can summarize my thinking.

    I disagree with Elli on the probable placement of Epicurus in the frescoe. I wouldn't at all expect to find him in a central position on the dais—he always taught in a private setting, far secluded from the gymnasium.

    I wouldn't be surprised if we found out that even Raphael didn't identify the clustered figures that frame Plato and Aristotle. A place is often given in Greek art and drama to the hoi polloi—in drama, the polis is represented by the chorus. In philosophical dialogues, the 'room' is filled up with named characters who have no speaking parts at all. They exist simply to frame the discussion in a community setting.

    I would expect to find him pictured with a book. It is easy to forget how prolific a writer Epicurus was—over 300 scrolls is an impressive and unmatched corpus for that time and place. Diogenes Laertius said as much, and he must have been Raphael's primary source.

    I would not expect his portrait to resemble the ancient busts. For one thing, it's not clear whether Raphael knew of them. For another, iconography was more important than actual likeness to these Renaissance painters, and mostly they used contemporary people as models.

    The humanist on which this portrait was based was Tommaso Inghirami; and that is suggestive. Inghirami was a learned humanist, a prefect of the Vatican Library, and poet laureate. Erasmus complained of an oration in which Inghirami "treated Christ as a self-sacrificing hero rather than the Redeemer." In Raphael's version, the wreathed figure is supporting the weight of a friend or follower who leans on him from behind with bowed head. A hint of the soteriology that clung to Epicurus, perhaps?

    There are other hints that are more incidental, but I'll leave it there for now.

    Thank you for following up on that, Don; I was up far too late last night.

    I also found that British Museum article, and I found the illustrations very interesting. Elli wrote an article a few years back on what she believes was the misidentification of Epicurus in Raphael's School of Athens. I think at some point I'll write an article or make a video arguing the other side in that debate, looking at Diogenes Laertius, the Nuremburg Chronicle, and De Claris Mulieribus for clues.

    I found something! Well, something I didn't know about.

    From the Loeb Classical Library's Greek Anthology:


    ANONYMOUS: I, THE pencil, was silver when I came from the fire, but in thy hands I have become golden likewise. So, charming Leontion, hath Athena well gifted thee with supremacy in art, and Cypris with supremacy in beauty.

    A few relevant passages on dreams;


    Book 3, 111-116

    Munro Translation;


    Moreover when the limbs are consigned to soft sleep and the burdened body lies diffused without sense, there is yet a something else in us which during that time is moved in many ways and admits into it all the motions of joy and unreal cares of the heart.

    Bailey translation;


    Moreover, when the limbs are given up to soft sleep, and the heavy body lies slack and senseless, yet there is something else in us, which at that very time is stirred in many ways, and admits within itself all the motions of joy and baseless cares of heart.

    There are several passages throughout Book 4 that deal with dreams and the fleeting images that are supposed to cause them. I don't know if it's worth getting into the weeds there, but in Book 4, 962-972, we are given another insight;



    And generally to whatever pursuit a man is closely tied down and strongly attached, on whatever subject we have previously much dwelt, the mind having been put to a more than usual strain in it, during sleep we for the most part fancy that we are engaged in the same; lawyers think they plead causes and draw up covenants of sale, generals that they fight and engage in battle, sailors that they wage and carry on war with the winds, we think we pursue our task and investigate the nature of things constantly and consign it when discovered to writings in our native tongue.

    And of course the Vatican Saying on dreams, translated by Cyril Bailey;


    Dreams have no divine character nor any prophetic force, but they originate from the influx of images.


    I had heard of it in the past, and probably skimmed some of it, but when I saw how anti-Epicurean it was I just moved on

    That was probably my first reaction as well. I've always liked Tennyson, though he is by no means my favorite English poet. In some ways I think I read Lucretius the same way Tennyson himself read De Rerum Natura—in being deeply moved by the power of the poetry, while strongly disagreeing with its ideas.

    I saw the Facebook question you shared in the other thread, Cassius, and the answer is yes; I am excited to explore all three writers, and for the next poem I will find something sympathetic to our cause. I have two volumes of Horace on my nightstand, so that will probably be the next selection.