Episode One Hundred Four - More Torquatus and a Question: Was The Ancient Epicurean Movement A Cult?

  • Welcome to Episode One Hundred Four of Lucretius Today.


    This is a podcast dedicated to the poet Lucretius, who wrote "On The Nature of Things," the only complete presentation of Epicurean philosophy left to us from the ancient world.


    I am your host Cassius, and together with our panelists from the EpicureanFriends.com forum, we'll walk you through the six books of Lucretius' poem, and we'll discuss how Epicurean philosophy can apply to you today. We encourage you to study Epicurus for yourself, and we suggest the best place to start is the book "Epicurus and His Philosophy" by Canadian professor Norman DeWitt.


    If you find the Epicurean worldview attractive, we invite you to join us in the study of Epicurus at EpicureanFriends.com, where you will find a discussion thread for each of our podcast episodes and many other topics.


    At this point in our podcast we have completed our first line-by-line review of the poem, and we have turned to the presentation of Epicurean ethics found in Cicero's On Ends. Today we continue examine a number of important corollaries of Epicurean doctrine.


    Now let's join (Charles or Joshua) reading today's text:


    [62] XIX. But these doctrines may be stated in a certain manner so as not merely to disarm our criticism, but actually to secure our sanction. For this is the way in which Epicurus represents the wise man as continually happy; he keeps his passions within bounds; about death he is indifferent; he holds true views concerning the eternal gods apart from all dread; he has no hesitation in crossing the boundary of life, if that be the better course. Furnished with these advantages he is continually in a state of pleasure, and there is in truth no moment at which he does not experience more pleasures than pains. For he remembers the past with thankfulness, and the present is so much his own that he is aware of its importance and its agreeableness, nor is he in dependence on the future, but awaits it while enjoying the present; he is also very far removed from those defects of character which I quoted a little time ago, and when he compares the fool’s life with his own, he feels great pleasure. And pains, if any befall him, have never power enough to prevent the wise man from finding more reasons for joy than for vexation.


    [63] It was indeed excellently said by Epicurus that fortune only in a small degree crosses the wise man’s path, and that his greatest and most important undertakings are executed in accordance with his own design and his own principles, and that no greater pleasure can be reaped from a life which is without end in time, than is reaped from this which we know to have its allotted end. He judged that the logic of your school possesses no efficacy either for the amelioration of life or for the facilitation of debate. He laid the greatest stress on natural science. That branch of knowledge enables us to realize clearly the force of words and the natural conditions of speech and the theory of consistent and contradictory expressions; and when we have learned the constitution of the universe we are relieved of superstition, are emancipated from the dread of death, are not agitated through ignorance of phenomena, from which ignorance, more than any thing else, terrible panics often arise; finally, our characters will also be improved when we have learned what it is that nature craves. Then again if we grasp a firm knowledge of phenomena, and uphold that canon, which almost fell from heaven into human ken, that test to which we are to bring all our judgments concerning things, we shall never succumb to any man’s eloquence and abandon our opinions.

  • Cassius

    Changed the title of the thread from “Episode One Hundred Four - Corollaries To The Doctrines - Part Fourt” to “Episode One Hundred Four - Corollaries To The Doctrines - Part Four”.
  • I just set up Episode 104. I included only two "paragraphs" because once again (and maybe even more) they appear to me almost like outlines or bullet points - rapid fire listings of main points of the philosophy. So probably no need to bite off more than two at most.


    In fact I wrote this as a private message to the podcast team but I think it's better to post it publicly. These paragraphs of Torquatus, starting with 55 and probably going all the way to the end of what we're covering, at 72, might be the greatest and most clear summary of Epicurean philosophy available anywhere.


    It almost cries out to be separated into bullet points as an outline of its own as a "map" of the entire philosophy.


    I picked up the word "Corollaries" because I see that used as the word that is translated from the text, but I am not sure that word conveys the right meaning. "Corollaries" to me implies some kind of subsidiary status. Maybe in fact all of these are subsidiary to "pleasure is the goal and virtue isn't" in this letter, but I think it's more accurate to separate these out and consider the importance of each of them, especially since they touch on physics and epistemology with which people often don't concern themselves today.


    Another analogy comes to mind: I used to have more than a few friends (I still have a few) who are really into fundamentalist Christianity. One analogy I observed them making is that they liked to talk about the "Romans Road to Salvation." (I picked the first link that came up on google so not sure how good it is.)


    The analogy of course is obvious: This section of Cicero's "On Ends" is almost like a "Torquatus Road To Understanding Epicurus."


    And since the commentators seem to agree that Cicero was largely quoting from one of more Epicurean handbooks as he was writing this, it's altogether possible that this presentation didn't originate in Cicero's mind but was an approved Epicurean community text laying out an outline of the points the Epicureans of that age felt it most important to be understood. And if that is indeed the case, this is a summary that predates Diogenes Laertius by as much as a hundred years or more.

  • That is fascinating. These do echo Diogenes Laertius's later list of the sage's characteristics. I didn't read On Ends closely enough to pick this up! I took the liberty to put this into an actual outline. You're right. It was easy.


    For this is the way in which Epicurus represents the wise man as continually happy:

    • he keeps his passions within bounds;
    • about death he is indifferent;
    • he holds true views concerning the eternal gods apart from all dread;
    • he has no hesitation in crossing the boundary of life, if that be the better course.
    • Furnished with these advantages he is continually in a state of pleasure, and there is in truth no moment at which he does not experience more pleasures than pains.
    • For he remembers the past with thankfulness, and the present is so much his own that he is aware of its importance and its agreeableness, nor is he in dependence on the future, but awaits it while enjoying the present;
    • he is also very far removed from those defects of character which I quoted a little time ago, and when he compares the fool’s life with his own, he feels great pleasure.
    • And pains, if any befall him, have never power enough to prevent the wise man from finding more reasons for joy than for vexation.
    • [63] It was indeed excellently said by Epicurus that fortune only in a small degree crosses the wise man’s path, and that
      • his greatest and most important undertakings are executed in accordance with his own design and his own principles,
      • and that no greater pleasure can be reaped from a life which is without end in time, than is reaped from this which we know to have its allotted end.
    • He judged that the logic of your school possesses no efficacy either for the amelioration of life or for the facilitation of debate.
    • He laid the greatest stress on natural science. That branch of knowledge enables us to realize clearly the force of words and the natural conditions of speech and the theory of consistent and contradictory expressions; and
    • when we have learned the constitution of the universe we are
      • relieved of superstition,
      • are emancipated from the dread of death,
      • are not agitated through ignorance of phenomena, from which ignorance, more than any thing else, terrible panics often arise;
    • finally, our characters will also be improved when we have learned what it is that nature craves.
    • Then again if we grasp a firm knowledge of phenomena, and uphold that canon, which almost fell from heaven into human ken, that test to which we are to bring all our judgments concerning things, we shall never succumb to any man’s eloquence and abandon our opinions.
  • THANK YOU! It is fascinating to think that the echo indeed goes the other way. I understand Diogenes Laertius dates to maybe 200 AD(?) This from Cicero dates to approximately 50 BC so quite a bit earlier. And of course the Epicureans were notably faithful to the original writings of Epicurus, so the soundness and traceability of these points to Epicurus himself would seem to be very reliable.


    LOTS we can do with this material so we will be sure to go through it carefully in the podcast.

  • You know, we now have a copy of Joshua reading this entire section, so we'll always be able to refer to that for inspiration.


    I know, however, that we have some other really good "readers" here too with radio-style voices. Matt and EricR immediately come to mind, as well as Don. And although I have not heard Kalosyni read anything, I bet she could read well too, and a female voice tends to both appeal to the men and to be relatable to other women.


    If any of these people ever feel inspired I would hope they would consider taking a stab at an audio reading of this particular text. All of it of course that we've pasted here  is very good, but if that's too much to tackle, I would recommend starting at this paragraph XVIII and going as far as possible to the end.    (Don't want to miss the part about how we should be ashamed not to have learned these things as children!)


    "XVIII. What a noble and open and plain and straight avenue to a happy life! It being certain that nothing can be better for man than to be relieved of all pain and annoyance, and to have full enjoyment of the greatest pleasures both of
    mind and of body, do you not see how nothing is neglected which assists our life more easily to attain that which is its aim, the supreme good? Epicurus, the man whom you charge with being an extravagant devotee of pleasures, cries aloud that no one can live agreeably unless he lives a wise, moral and righteous life, and that no one can live a wise, moral and righteous life without living agreeably."


    On the page linked above we also have the Rackham version, and it is possible that some of us might prefer that version. It's actually a little smoother, and in some ways superior, but occasionally it seems less literal and that's why we went with Reid for the podcast.


    If anyone decides to take up this challenge please post and we'll promote the results. I am sure a lot of us would get endless enjoyment by listening to this selection over and over in different voices.

  • ^^ I laugh when I think I had originally thought when I was involved in the Cicero portion of the podcast that that Torquatus material could be all covered in six weeks. LOL! You all are doing a great job really digging into this work! As always thank you for this and keep up the good work!

  • And although I have not heard Kalosyni read anything, I bet she could read well too

    I would be up for doing some audio reading (as long as I know beforehand how to correctly pronounce some of the proper names)...and would enjoy the process of making something enjoyable to listen to. :)

  • I am happy to say that we spent the *entirety* of today's show addressing smoothiekiwi 's questions on arrogance and cultism, and I think we'll conclude eventually that this was one of our better episodes. I'll get it published asap but it's a long one so will be a couple of days.


    This event makes an obvious point: we really ought to look over the list of FAQs, clean them up, and consider devoting a podcast to going through each one.

  • Quote

    ^^ I laugh when I think I had originally thought when I was involved in the Cicero portion of the podcast that that Torquatus material could be all covered in six weeks.

    Oh, you'll love this episode! :D


    Show Notes:


    Because we are looking at a passage that has Torquatus speaking extensively about "the wise man", we took the opportunity to discuss---and at great length---two recent questions raised by smoothiekiwi.


    Was Epicurus a cult-like figure? And,


    Was Epicurus arrogant?


    The first thing we want to do is thank smoothiekiwi for participating in the forum, for reading Norman Dewitt's book, and most of all for raising these excellent and fair questions. We spoke for an hour and a half about these two threads, but I don't want anyone to think that ours is the last word on these subjects. I hope to see more activity in those threads, and I have more to add myself.


    On Epicurus' Portrait;


    The best resource for this is The Sculpted Word, by Bernard Frischer, who writes extensively on the statues, frescoes and portrait-rings of Epicurus, and how they relate to his philosophy.


    On rings;


    A few threads on the subject at this forum.


    On Cults;


    A checklist


    Inscription of Diogenes of Oenoanda, translated by Martin Ferguson Smith


    Alexander the Oracle Monger, by Lucian


    On the character of Epicurus, by Diogenes Laertius;


    It is an open question how reliable Diogenes Laertius is as a biographer of Epicurus. It is widely agreed by scholars that his biography of Epicurus is the best one he wrote, and this does indicate some sympathy or partisanship on the biographers' part. It is an absolutely key surviving text for our school.


    On the Pythagoreans;


    This website is very spammy with ads, but it does explore the cultlike behavior of the Pythagorean school. If someone finds a better resource, we can replace this one.


    A Few Days in Athens, by Frances Wright


    This book, written by an extraordinary woman in the nineteenth century and highly praised by Thomas Jefferson, is great "light-reading" on Epicurean philosophy. It is written as a novel, and is perhaps not thoroughly accurate--but it is very engaging.


    ------------


    We had a very pleasant conversation today, and I hope others will enjoy it as well. I once again thank smoothiekiwi for raising some very important questions!

  • The hardest part is remembering what we talked about 45 minutes before-hand.


    But happy birthday to the podcast! At 1 a week for 52 weeks in a year, episode 104 is the two-year mark. Thanks to all involved---including the listeners! The 7th of January sounds like a good day to celebrate that, right? 🙃


    I was sufficiently impressed by the line-by-line reading of Lucretius. Here's to the coming year!

  • Couple of quotes that come to mind more as Epicurus' Birthday material than anything else, but touched upon in this episode:


    This is the opening to Book Three, comparing Epicurus to a father figure. I think we mentioned this on the podcast episode and it is a good reflection of what I think is a healthy attitude of respect and appreciation without crossing the line into cultism. Is it "enthusiastic"? Yes. But is it over the line into cultism, or unjustified given the prominence he achieved? I don't think so.


    Quote

    THOU, who out of deep darkness didst first avail to raise a torch so clear, shedding light upon the true joys of life, ’tis thee I follow, bright star of the Greek race, and in thy deepset prints firmly now I plant my footsteps, not in eager emulation, but rather because for love I long to copy thee; for how could a swallow rival swans, or what might kids with trembling limbs accomplish in a race to compare with the stout strength of a horse? Thou art our father, thou discoverer of truth, thou dost vouchsafe to us a father’s precepts, and from thy pages, our hero, even as bees in flowery glades sip every plant, we in like manner browse on all thy sayings of gold, yea, of gold, and always most worthy of life for evermore.

    Seems like one of the sections somewhere makes the point that Epicurus' fame had spread much wider after his death than when he was alive. Maybe I am thinking of this from Book 6, or just of another translation that says it differently (this is Bailey):


    Quote

    IN time gone by Athens, of glorious name, first spread among struggling mortals the fruits that bear corn, and fashioned life afresh, and enacted laws; she, too, first gave sweet solace for life, when she gave birth to the man gifted with the great mind, who once poured forth all wisdom from his truthful lips; yea, even when his light was quenched, thanks to his divine discoveries his glory, noised abroad of old, is now lifted to the sky.

  • Quote

    The first thing we want to do is thank smoothiekiwi for participating in the forum, for reading Norman Dewitt's book, and most of all for raising these excellent and fair questions. We spoke for an hour and a half about these two threads, but I don't want anyone to think that ours is the last word on these subjects. I hope to see more activity in those threads, and I have more to add myself.

    Joshua, thank you very much! It almost feels as if every time I came here, there's some nice person waiting out there to say something nice. Feels good, and thank y'all :D

    And I'm honestly very interested in listening into this episode (although I've to admit that there are over 90 episodes which I've yet to listen), but your whole podcast is a pure pleasure to listen to- although it requires a bit of concentration, which isn't easy to get. Still, it brings a lot of fun to listen to it!

    By the way, @Cassius- I was, when I listened to it the first time, really surprised about the audio quality. It seems as if there's some sort of compression going on, because the audio quality isn't the best. Do you know anything about this? It honestly took me a bit of time to "adjust" myself to the audio quality, which one might interpret as worse compared to other podcasts. By no means I want to discredit your work or the quality of the podcast- I myself love listening to it-, but it might help in understanding and attracting more listeners if the audio quality was higher.

  • We're a fairly hodge-podge operation right now ;)


    We record through Skype with a combination of cell service and internet, and I'm currently recording in a car for lack of a better alternative. Improvements can certainly be made!

  • I think Joshua is correct that the quality issue is probably related to Skype, but it's not clear that that's the whole problem. I don't think any of us are using super-professional equipment so that's probably part of the issue. If you are good with technology and have suggestions, let me know.


    (Also, I know that I AM compressing somewhat to reduce the audio file size from the raw skype to the final file uploaded to the podcast provider. I will look into that issue as well.)

  • I also thought that out might have something to do with your recording tool or the microphone, but the introductory music seems to be already compressed- I'm almost certain that the "original" soundtrack had a better audio quality, so that has nothing to do with the Skype recording. By the way, how is the track called?

  • This is a long podcast taking time to edit into final form but I'll occasionally add a note for future listeners. When talking about the potential for Epicurus being arrogant we touched on the issue of Epicurus having his father celebrate the birthday of his mother and brother (if I remember correctly). The point I'd like to drop in here is that while that may sound strange, most arrogant people I know generally ask that their own birthday be celebrated, rather than someone else's. Of course you could say that the strangeness increases the arrogance, but I think everything can be viewed from multiple perspectives and each person has to add the the whole picture for themselves.