Tetrapharmakos in Philodemus's On Choices and Rejections

  • I'm in the process of "Google translating" Philodemus's [On Choices and Rejections] in Les Epicuriens and was excited to find an explanation and endorsement of the Tetrapharmakos! It was unexpected. And, to note, this is not the papyrus from which the 4-fold formula is usually cited. That is PHerc 1005. This is PHerc 1251. I'm working on making the translation more flowing and will share as I'm able. Since this has the Tetrapharmakos, it too has the word ταγαθον.

  • I'm still working on the translation from the French but felt I could give an update and some additional resources:

    First, here is the link to the actual papyrus of [On Choices and Avoidances]:

    DCLP/Trismegistos 62463 = LDAB 3639

    I've been able to use this because the French translation in Les Epicuriens gives the column numbers, and they line up perfectly.

    All that being said, there is a translation of this work which appears to be in English:

    [Philodemus]: [On Choices and Avoidances]. Giovanni Indelli, Voula Tsouna-McKirahan. (Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici, La Scuola di Epicuro, Collezione di testi ercolanesi diretta da Marcello Gigante, 15.) Pp. 248. Naples: Bibliopolis, 1995. ISBN: 88-7088-343-4.

    There is a limited search available at Google books: https://books.google.com/books?id=Go1fAAAAMAAJ

    Tsouna also cites [On Choices and Avoidances] extensively in her The Ethics of Philodemus.

    Hiram Crespo does appear to have access to the Indelli/Tsouna translation or Les Epicuriens or both and has much for facility with French and/or Italian than I do. He wrote several commentaries/reviews of the work at his website. I haven't had a chance to read all of his commentary yet but here are the links:

    Reasonings About Philodemus’ On Choices and Avoidances (Part I) | Society of Friends of Epicurus

    Reasonings About Philodemus’ On Choices and Avoidances (Part II) | Society of Friends of Epicurus

    Reasonings About Philodemus’ On Choices and Avoidances (Part III) | Society of Friends of Epicurus

    Even so, I'm going to continue my translation exercise, especially since I'm getting to compare the papyrus with the French with the snippets online and in Hiram's commentary even though I realize this is a roundabout way of getting at the text! "Why don't you just get a copy of the Indelli/Tsouna book, duh?" I'll probably do that at some point through interlibrary loan, but there are not a lot of libraries that have it even. Part of my motivation is for the same reason I did my translation and commentary of the Letter to Menoikeus, to make the project more personal and to stretch my linguistic legs. But this is definitely a roundabout way of getting at the text - no question!

    Greek papyrus > intermediate translations and copying > French > Google Translate > refining translation into English > compare to Greek papyrus > refine again...repeat.

    So, don't expect anything soon... let's say soon-ish.

  • FWIW I do know Hiram has a copy of Les Epicureans.

    When he wrote about them in the past it seemed to me that it wasn't easy to assess the reliability of the fragments (maybe snippets is a good word) so I will be pleased to hear your assessment of how much we can glean from them.

  • it wasn't easy to assess the reliability of the fragments

    That's one of the nice things Les Epicuriens. They do give (lacuna of 10 lines) and (1 word missing) and such. Then you can compare the papyrus transcription and the drawings of the leaves. The papyrus is surprisingly intact over wide sections.

  • Okay, so here's my first draft of the translation from the French. I ended up typing large swaths into Google Translate after trying to take a photo and do it "automatically." That worked for part but needed, let's say, tweaking. I'm including the link to the papyrus again as well.

    Note! It's not easy to read and there are a lot of "missing" words and lines. But there's enough there to get some inspiration. I especially liked the haven of philosophy and the ending bit as well.



    DCLP/Trismegistos 62463 = LDAB 3639 (papyri.info)


    1. [1] [missing 6 lines] pleasure, [it is right to] reply to those who, among the supporters of contrary doctrines on the questions just mentioned, claim that [even] without philosophy [it is possible] to carry out actions correctly. In fact, as we know, access is easy precisely to the polemical writings in which we see them speaking ill of us. And, if we quote some of them [missing 1 line] briefly [missing about 20 lines].

    [2] [missing 3 lines] and in proportion [missing 2 words]. And they postulate that in reality nothing is first, because they are convinced that the [missing 1 word] of the soul relates to the [missing 1 word] and that we [proceed] to our choices and our rejections by such [comparative estimation], considering both at the same time. In fact, we cannot even have good hope that the joys [are born in us] in a similar way (all at once, lest] they engender for themselves disagreeable embarrassments [caused by certain] very great [affections] [missing 2 words] of what has been prepared by nature] with a view to reasoning [missing 2 words] without trouble [missing 20 lines approximately].

    [3] [missing I line] and some even [claimed] that it is impossible for us to know anything, adding that we should not do everything from [choices] immediately, in the absence of a necessary point of support [for this]. Others, by explaining that the affections of the soul are ends (τέ̣[λ]η τὰ πάθη τῆς ψυχῆς), precisely without their further need for judgment, which is based on other [criteria], have given everyone full license to say that they derive joy from whatever they want, and from doing what tends towards that goal. Finally, the others have maintained the thesis that the words sorrow and joy -- which we certainly use, for our part -- are totally empty, given the indeterminacy that manifests itself [missing 20 lines]

    2. [4] [Epicurus teaches us that good is easy for us to procure] and that evil is [not] only limited by precisely because it is useless to have defined the good (τἀγαθόν), if it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to attain, nor to have fixed limits to evil, if it is difficult to bear because of its long duration. This knowledge has the effect of prohibiting both the pursuit of any [good] which is not by nature capable of eliminating pain - such are, most of the time, the [goods] which have motivated a search eager in humans -, and let none be discarded which does not prevent having pleasure -- that is how one must [conceive] most of [those which are acquired] gradually. And, in reverse, for [missing approximately 20 lines]

    [5] [missing 3 lines] After that, it is also necessary to take into account the differences that present the desires (ἐπιθυμ̣[ιῶ]ν̣) relating to the pleasures and to what produces them, since precisely the lack of discernment on this subject gives rise to serious errors concerning the choices and the rejections. It is indeed because they regard as what is most necessary the goods which are most external to them, I mean a sovereign power, a dazzling fame, an exceptional wealth and sources of pleasure of this sort and other similar ones that they are in charge of the most painful evils; and that, conversely, [they remain deaf to their most necessary appetites] (ἀναγκαιοτάτων), because they take them for what is most exterior to them [missing about 20 lines].

    [6] [Indeed, for Epicurus], [desires are partly necessary, [and partly unnecessary]. Among the first, [those which are] necessary, [there are those which are necessary for] life, those which are necessary for the maintenance of the body in good health and those which are necessary for a happy life (τὸ μ̣[α]καρίως [ζῆ]ν), to take [at least] the cases in their diversity, is not [all at once.]

    [There are also] various [cravings]. Some, it seems, provoke in [the soul] terrible hurricanes, and others do not. Some remain unsatisfied because of certain lackings, others result from specific feelings for those who experience joy. There are also some which result from habits, and others which are precisely independent of them. If some find their starting point in us, others [appear] as a result of a kind of injury, inflicted by external objects or even by things that deprivation makes you want to possess, just to think about them. Still others [missing 20 lines approximately]

    3. [7] [missing 2 lines] of the gods [missing 2 lines] not only [missing 1 word] fear and trouble [inspired by the gods themselves], but also [missing 1 word] of [appetites], even if they have that too. One must, moreover [to carry out righteous actions], follow good directions, because beings who know supreme bliss eternally are far from [the burden] of these matters.

    However, in truth, that opinions of this kind are the causes of thousands of errors, it is easy to observe. And in fact, they indulge themselves to the point of taking advice from no one in the world, in their conviction that nothing depends on man, but that all things are arbitrated by divinity. Subsequently, they experience all of a sudden the misfortunes that a lack of prior advice quite naturally inflicts on them [missing 20 lines approximately] [8] [missing 2 lines] [For it is not] profitable to [missing 2 lines], while others use [missing 1 word]. It should also be emphasized that [not only] they head for irremediable misfortunes, but that sometimes they even precipitate their own city into evils. And even if, in truth, they [are [not] defeated by the logic of facts or even if chance makes the omens agree with what must happen, the idea that they risk committing an act going against the will of the gods leads them in the opposite direction: they procrastinate and postpone their actions until later. And their troubles, effectively insurmountable, make them [neglect] [missing approximately 20 lines] [9] [missing 2 lines] errors [missing 1 word]; in many people misfortunes [many] and sizeable, of course, occur when they follow the harmful assumptions of men [incapable of thoughts/reflection], and are avoided when they follow their [desires]. Besides, each one puts forward different considerations, holding them for what is most important: this is precisely what is sketched out in these discussions.

    Moreover, they believe, men will owe what happens to them, through the agency of the gods and other powers, evils [unceasing] after their death, much greater than the goods which they will have had during the time of their life. And it is for this reason that [missing 20 lines approximately] [10] [missing 6 lines] [by] them to the gods. This is why, [in truth], the wretched lament [precisely when they are victims] of evils very similar to those caused by ingratitude towards both individuals and country, and also, for that matter, towards the evils caused by the superstition of the fact that god is supposed to be responsible for both death and life -- even if the other evils, of course, are very great indeed. And the pain that grips them at the idea of dying makes them irascible, never happy or in a good mood [missing 20 ca] 4. [11] [missing 2 lines] and for this reason, it is clear, apart from these misfortunes, they are very [miserable].

    [And] we say what we have just said about the four maxims (τῶ[ν] τεττάρω[ν]), because the important contribution made to effective choices and rejections by understanding and remembering the most important points of doctrine, it is considered that it amounts not as some have wanted to understand in their rusticity - to relate some of the choices and rejections to the absence of trouble on these questions, but to operate these latter in a correct way, on the condition of measuring them by nature's ends, and number of [missing about 20 lines].

    [12] [missing 1 line] [the multitude] [knows] clearly ..., although they do not have the [fundamental ideas (ἀξιοῦμεν ὑπο[λή][ψ]εις)] that we are talking about. And what leads him instead to upright behavior are the laws, which brandish threats over his head: death, punishments of divine origin, as well as punishments considered very difficult to endure and deprivation of certain things which are said to be difficult to obtain. This is partly explained by what was discussed at the beginning and, partly, because it is against fools, people whom truthful precepts cannot persuade, that these threats are brandished; because these only have the effect of holding them back for a short time; and because obviously the suppositions [missing about 20 lines].

    [13] [missing 1 line] they [remain in mind] the means of getting out of it, [because they have welcomed these [four maxims] as contributing by themselves to the practice. Moreover, these also establish the principles of philosophy - which alone allows for righteous actions - and also, it is clear, the ends attached to our nature, which are of course carriers of the clearest evidence and by the yardstick of which we measure what is to be chosen and rejected. As for ethical reasoning on the choices and rejections, they too must in any case be drawn from the study of nature so that they are complete: if to say that "nothing is accomplished independently of a cause" is nothing (that) "there is no change" [missing about 20 lines] [14] [It is not possible to lead a pleasant life] that is not prudent, beautiful, and just, and still courageous, self-disciplined (French: maitresse de soi - Original papyrus: ἐγ]κρατῶς > LSJ: master of oneself, self-controlled; self-disciplined), magnanimous, open to friendship, full of humanity and generally [accompanying] others more consequential in terms of choices and rejections when certain people, believing the opposite, are for this reason overwhelmed by their vices in each of their acts.

    However, in truth, one must not denounce as a sycophant (συκοφαντητέον; LSJ: common informer, voluntary denouncer (there being no Public Prosecutor)) the transmission of the elements [of the doctrine], saying that it is only a question of the intertwining of some of them with others and of all the ways they have of linking themselves together. In fact, desires sometimes [missing 20 lines approximately] [15] [missing 3 lines] and it is in view of [missing 2 words] that we encourage [missing 2 words], and then in the actions [missing 1 line]. It should [surely] be kept in mind also that if careful study beforehand -- about the things which, in detail, are able to produce the goods which are external to us, such as a luxurious lifestyle, beauty, wealth generally speaking, [marriage] and the like -- of the relationships they have with us no doubt also contributes to aiming straight (“a viser juste”), their contribution is weak, compared to that of the most important [maxims] that we have recalled (οἷον πολυτελείας καὶ μο[ρ]φ[ῆς] καὶ πλούτου κοινῶς καὶ [γά]μου καὶ τῶν ὁμοίων - Note that “marriage” [γά]μου is reconstructed). It is moreover for this reason that in the Principal Doctrines (Κυρίαις Δόξαις) precisely these have been placed in this order, and at the beginning, even if one can say that [missing approximately 20 lines].

    [16] [Lac 1 line] [The unwise assert] rashly: “It is not possible for anyone to know in advance -- the precise moment, at least, no one knows -- what day [death] will come, any more when one is old than in the case of a premature disappearance. Also, instead of it being like when someone clearly recognizes the imminence of his death, we don't constantly think that we will die (we have time to spare!); and, because it is difficult to set an end to life, we incline sometimes to quickly stretch it out so that it is as long as possible, sometimes not to be unable to leave it, precisely out of reverence towards the gods.

    Under these conditions, it is against what is suitable that some [missing 20 lines approximately] 5. [17] [missing 1 line] They are not ready, for insignificant gain, [both] to say goodbye to the only things that can give pleasures, and to bear sorrows in vain -- indeed, they also turn away entirely from philosophy, each saying: "Am I now going to start giving myself endless pain only to then get thrown like a disc halfway through?" -- even to share anything because, they believe, it is up to the immortals to do so, or to those who wait to be thanked. And they show themselves ungrateful in their turn towards everyone, each time exclaiming with a sneer: "Not the slightest gift for those who died!" And indifferent to all [missing approximately 20 lines] [18] [missing 3 lines] they exclaim: "Isn't it true that in life I behave well and [act godly], and respect the laws of men? When I reach the end, I will be immortal." And what concerns everything that would improve their existence they disregard, like those condemned to death. And naturally they also disregard anything related to their health, adding: "Yes, whatever torments I have to endure, I will give myself three hours of good time! ('ἐγὼ πόσα δὲ ὑπομενῶ' προστιθέντες, 'ε[ἰ τ]ρυ̣φήσω τρεῖς ὥρας;')"; and here they are again fainting at the thought of illnesses! And as they imagine in advance eternal evils after death, they are prey to limitless troubles. Also, evil [deeds], for precisely these reasons, they [commit many] [missing approximately 20 lines] [19] [missing 4 lines] And as they imagine in advance eternal evils after death, they are prey to limitless troubles. Also, evil [deeds], for precisely these reasons, they [commit many] [missing approximately 20 lines] [19] [missing 4 lines] [some are struck by misfortune, whereas they believed?] to protect themselves from it thanks to their piety, as legends have passed down about a few.

    But, as they have this way of seeing things and as, in its suddenness, this unexpected blow knocks them out [in truth], they change their language. They begin, moreover, by depriving themselves of all enjoyment in order, assuredly, to always have enough of what is necessary to subsist, and live in postponement, as if it were possible for them to have their share of goods later; and, thereafter, they pass their existence in total incoherence and impose [numerous] penalties on themselves [lac, 20 lines approximately] [20] [missing 1 line] they have made and will do new things in order to repel the terrible events more quickly which could always everywhere swoop down on them until they die.

    And the fear of one day running out of necessities makes them very reluctant to share and they refuse to return benefits. Moreover, when they lose their fortune, they endure the tortures of Tartarus, and enter into angers and hatreds which have nothing human about them; and they become arrogant as much by summons as by orders and threats. Moreover, unable to come to terms with their relatives, and to feel sympathy for them, just as they cannot [missing about 20 lines].

    6. [21] [missing 1 line] For his part, [the wise epicurean] does not [need to accumulate [a lot] of money, and “treats the present well”, seeing nothing incongruous in this.

    Furthermore, while having come to know well among the [public activities] those which bear fruit, he cultivates them with relative carelessness (“une relative insouciance”), unless it is for friends; and, because he is -- more than anything -- spare his time, whenever necessary, he counts only on himself; and, since his tender childhood, he never neglects the havens of philosophy (φιλοσ[ο]φία[ς] [ὅ]ρ̣μους). moreover, fully reassured by the idea that everything [will be sufficient] for the duration of his life, however long it may be, he goes so far as to share, after having reserved just enough to live on, everything that he has left. [And] [lake. about 20 lines] [22] [missing 2 lines] of men, when he was in charge.

    Moreover, as it is without paying attention to it that he [sees his end coming], he is active because of the [doctrine] which goes hand in hand with the notion he has of the preservation of goods (i.e., property, “des biens”). And, Because he does not seek to put an end to his existence when it lasts a long time, he always throws himself into new activities, which attract friends to him, and he is interested in the way in which it will be possible to manage his personal affairs.

    Moreover, he cares about what he has known before, because he tells himself that it may concern him in the future; and he is full of attentions for the greatest possible number of human beings, at the same time he is grateful for those who have shown him friendship, precisely because he hopes that he will be able to share certain things with them, and also to receive from them some good treatment in return, although [missing about 20 lines] [23] [missing 1 line] [because of] the long [duration] of its [existence]. And, in seeking out anything that offers some improvement in his health, he spares no effort to restore it because he expects to live again. He provides especially, yes, for his health; and, fully reassured on the subject of problems of health and death, he energetically takes the measures which can keep them at bay.

  • Don thank you for all that work!

    I have read through it once without finding much that would seem to be controversial from the point of view that we generally discuss here at the forum.

    Do you see anything in it that stands out as remarkable and that needs more scrutiny?

  • [And] we say what we have just said about the four maxims (τῶ[ν] τεττάρω[ν]), because the important contribution made to effective choices and rejections by understanding and remembering the most important points of doctrine, it is considered that it amounts not as some have wanted to understand in their rusticity - to relate some of the choices and rejections to the absence of trouble on these questions, but to operate these latter in a correct way, on the condition of measuring them by nature's ends, and number of [missing about 20 lines].

    Are you talking about this section? Are we clear that the "four maxims" referenced are the tetrapharmakon? Are they quoted nearby in that text?

  • Yes, we're definitely clear that's what he's referring to. Go further along, too. He mentions the first four of the Principal Doctrines at the beginning in that order. That's the Tetrapharmakos. As I understand, he mentions it/them in other works. Which means I have to keep working on the other ones of his works in Les Epicuriens.

    PS: I'm also going through Tsouna's The Ethics of Philodemus and checking her translations of excerpts from [On Choices and Avoidances], comparing against PHerc.1251, and sizing up my translations from French to English, and I'm finding the French (if my English ones are right) seems to be more literal in matching up to the papyrus while Tsouna's is more paraphrased or colloquial English. This is turning into a fascinating exercise, *and* shedding light on authentic, ancient Epicurean texts not generally available to us... at least not to me :)

  • Thanks Don!

    The way you say that makes me want to be clear that I have never had any issue whatsoever with the first four Doctrines in full. My issue has always been that their "abbreviated" form is deceptively brief and ends up being misleading, and that it is generally better to refer to them in their full original form. The abbreviated form ends up to me suggesting compromises and ambiguities that I doubt Epicurus himself would have wanted to create.

    So long as those ambiguities are cleared up quickly no harm is done, but I bet in the ancient would there were some Epicureans who viewed them with a similar negative light.

    Don has seen this before, but for those who haven't read the discussion in the past, it boils down to:

    1 it's not OK to Don't fear the gods because you think they like you;

    2 It's not OK to Don't fear death because you think you are going to heaven;

    3 It's not OK to think the good is easy to get if you think the good is salvation:

    4 It's not OK to think the bad is easy to endure if you think the way to do so is stoicism.

    None of those errors are possible with the full form of Doctrines 1 through 4, but they are not ruled out by the abbreviated version.

    In abbreviated form they aren't just generic forms of the original medicines, they are more like a placebo when what you need is the full original strength dose. The original versions contain the observations that make them work; the abbreviated versions are simple assertions without any evidence or reasoning. Worse, their form ("Don't.......") implies that one should accept them "on authority," which is a terrible way to approach these issues. They sound more like something that has been influenced by the Abrahamic Ten Commandments than something Epicurus would say.

    Or if i were being an alarmist, i might say that rather than being a full strength vaccine, they can tend to rewire ones thinking in a way (overbroad generalizing) that could actually produce more harm than good.

    I don't think anyone here would have that problem, because we go to great lengths to avoid it. But I would wager a good number of casual readers who come across the abbreviated version on the internet think that it is sufficient for their understanding of Epicurean teachings, when that is far from the case. Even here, when people are new, I worry that they encourage stopping too early in deciding what is important in Epicurus and what is not. It would be a big mistake to think that all you need to accept is these four abbreviations and then you're a "full Epicurean."

    So it is good to bring out all the discussion we can find on this in Philodemus and elsewhere. Even the quote above indicates that the abbreviation was controversial in the ancient world. Personally, I strongly doubt Epicurus himself would have used the abbreviation as a summary of his views, and I can easily imagine that if a word like "rustic" was in play then the criticism was that they amount to an unwarranted "dumbing down" of the original forms.

    Sorry for the tangent; I look forward to reading more of what you get from the book!

  • Ἄφοβον ὁ θεός,

    ἀνύποπτον ὁ θάνατος

    καὶ τἀγαθὸν μὲν εὔκτητον,

    τὸ δὲ δεινὸν εὐεκκαρτέρητον

    The 4 lines of the Tetrapharmakos are statements of fact, not commands or commandments. I can't help that some translate them that way. Ἄφοβον is an accusative noun not an imperative verb. If the creator of the Tetrapharmakos epitome wanted to command people to "Don't fear the gods!" or say "I will not fear the gods", they could have used the imperative of φοβέομαι, δείδω, or ὀκνέω, but they didn't

    Literally, the first line reads something more like:

    The god causes no fear.

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

    Same for line 2:

    Death is free from risk. (i.e., there is no afterlife)

    Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, Α α, , ἀνυπ-εξαιρέτως , ἀνύποπτος

    The Tetrapharmakos is nothing more than an epitome or summary of the first four Principal Doctrines. They are no more a full presentation of the whole philosophy than are the Letters to Herodotus or Menoikeus or the Principal Doctrines themselves. Just as those summaries are meant to keep the key points of the philosophy ready in one's mind, so the Tetrapharmakos keeps the first four Doctrines ready for application in one's mind. There's a reason Epicurus placed those first four Doctrines first, and, as far as I know, we can't say definitively that Epicurus himself didn't write the Tetrapharmakos. We know it from the writings of Philodemus, but there's nothing stating who actually composed it as far as I know. People seem to have asked Epicurus on multiple occasions for summaries of his philosophy. I see no reason to think the Tetrapharmakos might not be another one.

    Saying a reason to ignore or downplay or dismiss the Tetrapharmakos is that some may misconstrue or misinterpret it is the the wrong way to handle it. This is an epitome gleaned from an authentic ancient Epicurean text (multiple texts!) that exemplifies the kernels of the philosophy. Philodemus goes to great pains to expand those four maxims, using the first four Doctrines, and expanding beyond those summaries in [On Choices and Avoidances]. Philodemus himself urged people to return to the books and that the summaries weren't sufficient in themselves. They are reminders and outlines, and always point back to the texts.

    An understanding that, to paraphrase...

    The gods provide no reason to fear them... because they're not motivated by anger or gratitude.

    Death is to be approached with no suspicion... because we don't exist after we die.

    The Good is easily obtained... because of the reasons laid out in various texts.

    The Terrible is easily endured... because ditto.

    These are fundamental to the whole philosophy. It's not dumbed down. It's to make it crystal clear that the philosophy as a whole is eminently able to be grasped by everyone. It's not open to a select few but is appropriate to everyone. That's one reason Diogenes had his wall carved in Oenoanda. You get benefit in your life *starting* at the beginning with the summaries but you can also go as deep as you want to or are able to with the volumes of texts. We are at a disadvantage because all we have had for a long time are summaries.

    I will continue to defend the Tetrapharmakos, especially because I don't know who wrote it and I don't see any reason to think it may not have been Epicurus or one of the other early scholarchs of the Garden. Plus any kernel from authentically Epicurean sources not filtered through a Cicero or Plutarch is a precious gem.

  • Debates like this are good because they bring out things to think about even when we can't reach final agreement.

    Unfortunately the version I am citing is all over the Internet - it's the Epicurus reader version: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetrapharmakos.

    But when I want someone to defend it I know where to go! :) I hope one day Don's version will be the accepted one, but I like my summaries to be accurate, and I don't find these to be accurate enough to be relied on - so I stick to the full vereions which stand alone.

    But again - having added this as if a footnote - we can proceed having our positions more clear than before. No one who reads Don's interpretation is going to have any problem.

  • Oh you know one more thing that I think points up the benefit of the forum method of study.

    When we had the prior discussion of the Tetrapharmakon mentioned above, I don't remember being focused on the issue of how closely we should follow the "Greatest Good" formulation in Torquatus.

    Now that we've been through that, and discussed issues like Scott raised in the last AFDIA book review, I think my issues with the Tetrapharmakon are very similar to those which I have with the "greatest good" formulation:

    It's possible to summarize or to abstract too strongly to the point where essential details get left out, and that's what I think is defective in both of these two formulations.

    I am a big fan of outlining and I love to do it, but part of the trick of doing it right is to distill the elements down to the essentials without cutting too much, or without cutting too little.

    We've discussed my issues with the Tetrapharmakon above, but those are pretty exactly my issues with the "Greatest good" --- those two words themselves are full of ambiguities and questions, and the statement "the greatest good is pleasure" can be handy but is dangerously thin on specifics. Taken out of context of Epicurean philosophy as a whole the slogan "the greatest good is pleasure" is dangerously incomplete and would lead to a very incorrect interpretation of the philosophy.

    While we have formulations that are somewhat similar from Epicurus and Lucretius, we don't have those exact formulations, and probably for good reason. Neither the Tetrapharmakon or the "greatest good is pleasure" seems to have been written directly by either one of them, and i think this current discussion points out reasons why that might be the case.

    But at any rate, the point of this post is that it is an essential point in "summaries" to include all the important aspects.


    But those also who have made considerable progress in the survey of the main principles ought to bear in mind the scheme of the whole system set forth in its essentials. For we have frequent need of the general view, but not so often of the detailed exposition. [36] Indeed it is necessary to go back on the main principles, and constantly to fix in one’s memory enough to give one the most essential comprehension of the truth. And in fact the accurate knowledge of details will be fully discovered, if the general principles in the various departments are thoroughly grasped and borne in mind; for even in the case of one fully initiated the most essential feature in all accurate knowledge is the capacity to make a rapid use of observation and mental apprehension, and this can be done if everything is summed up in elementary principles and formulae. For it is not possible for anyone to abbreviate the complete course through the whole system, if he cannot embrace in his own mind by means of short formulae all that might be set out with accuracy in detail.

  • The gods provide no reason to fear them... because they're not motivated by anger or gratitude.

    Death is to be approached with no suspicion... because we don't exist after we die.

    The Good is easily obtained... because of the reasons laid out in various texts.

    The Terrible is easily endured... because ditto.

    The first two are easy (in my mind) but the last two are difficult.

    Are there threads that we can cross reference to the "the good is easily obtained" and "the terrible is easily endured"? At times it seems that these last two depend on using stoic "mind over matter"?

  • What you are asking for (in my view) is the complete version of PD03 and PD04, which are at the links. To me, it is much easier to see from the full original PD03 and PD04 that Stoicism is not at all called for and is the worst possible answer. And for a full discussion of how PD03 and PD04 work together, you will want to check Chapter 12 ("The New Hedonism") of DeWitt's Book.

    Even then, there are layers and layers of issues to be unraveled in "the good is easily obtained" and "the terrible is easily endured," not only superficially with the words used, but again in responses to Platonic arguments against Pleasure as the "highest good."

    That's why at best I see the Tetrapharmakon as a memory device for those who take the time to study the details. At worst (and I expect this happens far too often) the third and fourth make the eyes glaze over, or act as turnoffs for people who see them as hopelessly unrealistic.

    So I would say that you provide a good test! The discussion of the Tetrapharmakon can either (1) serve what I would say is its only real usefulness, that of reminding of the topics and spurring the reader to seek out the details and work understand them, or (2) turn the reader off to the work involved in finding out what they really mean, and encourage him or her to move on to an easier-to-follow philosophy.

    Let's be sure to (1) answer all your questions, but also (2) let's keep in mind (since you are thinking a lot about how to jump-start Epicurean communities) the hazards involved in teaching from the Tetrapharmakon. I would like to see as much discussion as possible of both.

  • It's amazing to read a first hand analysis of an Epicurean, actively propagating the philosophy. For myself it feels "in motion", like reading a living voice. Reminds me of the importance to keep the philosophy breathing. There's a lot of space for interpretation, but I'd only like to emphasize on the practical issues Philodemus is concerning. I can draw direct connections to my personal experiences from Philodemus' advices. He tells us to keep our health in a good condition, to stay connected with our friends etc. Personally, I too often forget to stay on the grounds of Epicurean philosophy, disturbed by the impressions of my surroundings and driven by unreflected emotions. That is why it is good to read this kind of devotional literature.

    Philodemus is an example to others and it would be great just to become a fraction of his brilliance.