Letter to Menoikeus translation by Peter Saint-Andre

  • I was looking at line 131 of this translation and noticed that it included "the enjoyment of sleep" as a type of pleasure not to be pursued. Don what is your take on this? I looked at your translation and didn't see anything referring to sleep.

    Here is the text from Peter Saint-Andre:

    "So when we say that pleasure is the goal, we do not mean the pleasures of decadent people or the enjoyment of sleep, as is believed by those who are ignorant or who don't understand us or who are ill-disposed to us, but to be free from bodily pain and mental disturbance. For a pleasant life is produced not by drinking and endless parties and enjoying boys and women and consuming fish and other delicacies of an extravagant table, but by sober reasoning, searching out the cause of everything we accept or reject, and driving out opinions that cause the greatest trouble in the soul."

    Letter to Menoikos, by Epicurus

  • Short response: By Zeus, Kalosyni !! Saint-Andre is correct!! Thanks for picking up on that.

    Longer response: I appear to have become so interested in τὰς τῶν ἀσώτων ἡδονὰς that I completely overlooked καὶ τὰς ἐν ἀπολαύσει κειμένας in 131.

    τὰς τῶν ἀσώτων ἡδονὰς is the "pleasures of the prodigal." I admit I got so caught up in the implications of ἀσώτων that I *missed* that whole next phrase. Egads! Mea maxima culpa! I'll need to upload a new version of my translation.

    καὶ τὰς ἐν ἀπολαύσει κειμένας:


    I. act of enjoying, fruition

    II. result of enjoying, pleasure,

    κειμένας < κεῖμαι

    • to lie, lie outstretched
      • to lie asleep, repose, lie idle, lie still
      • to lie sick or wounded, lie in misery
      • to lie dead
      • to lie neglected, uncared for, unburied
      • (of wrestlers) to have a fall

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

    So, that's all a bit embarrassing, but I greatly appreciate your finding that.

  • Kalsoyni asked me about that and every other translation I can find (Bailey, Hicks, Yonge, Epicurus Wiki) focuses on prodigal and sensuality.

    If it is correct that "sleeping" or "idleness" should be in here, that places a much different spin on the advice and will be very helpful in fighting back the slant that "tranquility' means that Epicureans just want to lay around and do nothing. It would almost be a mirror of VS63 warning against opposite extremes of luxury and frugality.

    Also: VS11. For most men rest is stagnation, and activity is madness.

    I wonder if the word translated as "stagnation" there is relevant?

    How could the standard translations be incorrect on this? Are they bringing to the table what they expect to see?

  • An admonition against sleeping or idleness would remind me of this from Jefferson's letter to William Short:

    Quote from Thomas Jefferson to William Short

    I take the liberty of observing that you are not a true disciple of our master Epicurus, in indulging the indolence to which you say you are yielding. One of his canons, you know, was that “that indulgence which prevents a greater pleasure, or produces a greater pain, is to be avoided.” Your love of repose will lead, in its progress, to a suspension of healthy exercise, a relaxation of mind, an indifference to everything around you, and finally to a debility of body, and hebetude of mind, the farthest of all things from the happiness which the well-regulated indulgences of Epicurus ensure; fortitude, you know is one of his four cardinal virtues. That teaches us to meet and surmount difficulties; not to fly from them, like cowards; and to fly, too, in vain, for they will meet and arrest us at every turn of our road. Weigh this matter well; brace yourself up;

  • I'm taking a closer look at κειμένας (now that I'm *consciously* aware of its existence!) Thinking out loud and working on a draft of my revision ...

    There is the embedded prepositional phrase ἐν ἀπολαύσει "in enjoying; in taking pleasure; in enjoyment"

    The whole phrase τὰς ἐν ἀπολαύσει κειμένας could be interpreted as something like "the κειμένας in enjoying; the κειμένας in enjoyment" So, the meaning hinges on κειμένας

    I see EpicurusWiki translates that as "we do not mean the pleasure of debauchery or sensuality,"

    Bailey has "When, therefore, we maintain that pleasure is the end, we do not mean the pleasures of profligates and those that consist in sensuality,"

    I don't see where they're getting "sensuality"

    κειμένας is the feminine accusative plural of κείμενος (because of the fem. acc. pl. definite article τὰς in the phrase). κείμενος is the present middle participle of κεῖμαι (...-ing)

    As linked above for κεῖμαι, LSJ has (changing the verbs to participles with -ing)

    - lying down to rest, reposing; lying idle; lying still

    - lying sick or wounded (Note: This one doesn't seem to fit)

    - lying dead; lying buried; freq. of a corpse

    - being laid up, in store, of goods, property

    For discussion purposes, I'm going to try replacing those participles literally in our phrase. So, Epicurueans, per Epicurus, when they say pleasure, "they don't say the pleasures of the prodigal nor..."

    - the lying down to rest or sleep, reposing, in enjoyment

    - the lying idle in enjoyment

    - the lying dead in enjoyment

    - the being laid up, in store, of goods, property, in enjoyment

    I don't get "sensuality" from any of that nor from the LSJ's extensive definitions. The one I find most intriguing is "the lying buried in enjoyment." Is this a reference to those who take pleasure in imagining a pleasure in the afterlife? Is that also a potential crack at the Cyrenaics who called "calm" like being dead?

    I'm going to use Saint-Andre's translation to provide context around that phrase:

    Quote from Epicurus' Letter to Menoikeus via Saint-Andre (emphasis added)

    So when we say that pleasure is the goal, we do not mean the pleasures of decadent people or [the enjoyment of sleep], as is believed by those who are ignorant or who don't understand us or who are ill-disposed to us, but to be free from bodily pain and mental disturbance.

    He does bring up rivals and enemies who are ignorant, don't understand, and are ill-disposed to the Epicurean school. My uncontroversial contention would be that those two phrases - τὰς τῶν ἀσώτων ἡδονὰς and τὰς ἐν ἀπολαύσει κειμένας - are direct references to the positions of those rivals and enemies. That "being dead" connotation continues to intrigue me. I'm not saying that's correct - due to my rudimentary Greek and that no one else seems to pick up on it. However, if we can see translations as diverse as "sensuality" and "the enjoyment of sleep," I'm going to throw my hat in the ring with a "being dead" connotation! However, the last possibility of laying up a lot of goods and property has some potential, too.

    Thanks again, Kalosyni , for jump-starting this discussion!!

  • Also: VS11. For most men rest is stagnation, and activity is madness.

    I wonder if the word translated as "stagnation" there is relevant?


    τῶν πλείστων ἀνθρώπων τὸ μὲν ἡσυχάζον ναρκᾷ, τὸ δὲ κινούμενον λυττᾷ.

    My translation is:

    For the majority of people, to be at rest is to be bored stiff; but to be active is to be raving like a rabid dog.

    ἡσυχάζω I. to be still, keep quiet, be at rest

    νάρκη I. numbness, deadness, Lat. torpor

    So, fwiw the letter doesn't use the same word as VS11, but I think Cassius may be onto something.

  • Interesting. I guess I'm reading it as something like: ‘Whenever we say pleasure is the goal, we don’t mean the pleasures of the profligate or those pleasures that lie in consumption,’ reading κειμένας as indicating the source or location. But I'll look at it more closely because it would be interesting if it instead addressed charges of sloth or indolence!

  • Hello to all the epicurean friends. :)

    "Ὅταν οὖν λέγωμεν ἡδονὴν τέλος ὑπάρχει, οὐ τὰς τῶν ἀσώτων ἡδονὰς καὶ τὰς ἐν ἀπολαύσει κειμένας λέγομεν"

    <τὰς ἐν ἀπολαύσει κειμένας>.

    Υes, indeed, in this phrase there no the greek word "αίσθησις" or "αισθησιακός" in english as "sensual".

    If we translate "τας εν απολαύσει κειμένας" as "sensual enjoyments" or "sensual pleasures", it seems to be that the philosopher who glorified the senses, he rejects the senses. :P

    Note: the verb "κείμαι" has a similar meaning with another greek word as "τίθημι" that means: "I put /find myself/be located".

    From my understanding of the text <τὰς ἐν ἀπολαύσει κειμένας> Epicurus means "those enjoyments that lie out of limits".

    My translation in the above phrase is:

    "So when we say that pleasure is the end of life, we are not speaking of the pleasures of the profligates and those in the enjoyment (that lie out of limits). i.e. he means if we will pass the limits in the enjoyment we get sick or miserable.

    And then Epicurus continues to describe what makes a pleasurable life for someone with prudence and sober reasoning for putting the proper LIMITS in : "drinkings and feasts, and enjoyments with boys and women, and luxuries dinners with fish etc".

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • Thank you Elli! So it looks like you would disagree with both the standard English translations (Bailey for example) and with Peter St. Andre and his reference to sleep or slothfulness.

  • Yes, I do not agree with those translations and meanings in this text of LTM. Both do not judge according to the whole of our philosophy. :)

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • Elli : I'm curious where you're getting the meaning of "limits". I don't see that sense in LSJ:

    Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, Κκ , κεδρ-ίς , κεῖμαι

    I'm getting the sense of lying down in one place.

    I do see this in the Homeric dictionary at Perseus:

    3 sing. κέσκετο, fut. κείσομαι: lie, be placed or situated, of both persons and things, and often virtually a pass[I've]. to τίθημι, as κεῖται ἄεθλα, prizes ‘are offered,’

    Georg Autenrieth, A Homeric Dictionary, κεῖμαι

    but I don't see any sense of "limit" in τίθημι either:

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

    I'm not saying I disagree with the sentiment you're expressing, but I'm not seeing how you get from <τὰς ἐν ἀπολαύσει κειμένας> to "those enjoyments that lie out of limits". Just trying to learn and understand.

  • Don first of all : hello and joy! :)

    With franknenss of speech and sorry, but you give me the impression that you use the platonean methodology of " dialectic" searching out in the greek words endless definitions using the lexicons in which there are the greek words according to the texts by Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Sophocles, Thucydides et.al. And one word used by them in a text has another meaning for someone else in another text. That is the greek language that is rich, but the danger is hidden, as said by Epicurus, to not use empty words without meaning. In the opposite I use the methodology of epicurean Canon for the translating and renditions in the phrases by Epicurus i.e. I grab the meaning of the words immediately, since I use my ability that the greek language is my native language and at the same time, I know (since I have studied properly) and seeing clearly the whole picture of epicurean philosophy.

    Behind a phrase by Epicurus there is always a structure that is based on the whole of his philosophy and his thoughts. When he uses the phrase with the words "τας εν απολαύσεις κειμένας" he does not mean something (i.e. the enjoyment) that lies in sleep or dead or the sensual enjoyments, this meaning does not make any sense according to the whole of Epicurean philosophy.

    In this excerpt in LTM, Epicurus has to make clear to others (i.e. the slanders) and describe to them that when we epicureans mean pleasures we are not speaking of the enjoyments of the profligates, i.e. the enjoyments that lie out of limits. Epicurus in the most of his PDS concerning the feelings of pleasure and pain puts the limits in the basis of prudence that is higher than philosophy. Do you think that a profligate is prudent enough to set limits in the enjoyment and teaching us the LIMITS in the desires that produce pure pleasures? The answer is NO, since Doctrine 10 says also this: << If the things that produce the pleasures of profligates could dispel the fears of the mind about the phenomena of the sky and death and its pains, and also teach the LIMITS of desires (and of pains), we should never have cause to blame them: for they would be filling themselves full with pleasures from every source and never have pain of body or mind, which is the evil of life.>>

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • In the basis of feelings what is the situation that a profligate is? Is he dead, is he sleepy? No he is in fears and he feels pains, and pains provokes to himself and others next to him. Since a profligate is in a situation of oblivion [λήθη], because he does not know the truth [α+λήθεια] about the phenomena in the sky, the Universe, and the death and the god etc etc. In the basis of empathy who is a profligate, usually? He is a kind of a narcissist, he feels enjoyment in the sake of himself, he does not provoke pleasure, enjoyment and benefit to others. Since the profligate has no prudence and without prudence we are not able to put the proper LIMITS in pleasure and pain and with this behavior we are not friendly with others in our society and the worse is that we are not such kind of citizens to be free, self sufficient and autonomous to judge the laws and the powers. Usually in the powers (political and religious) there are such kind of persons: narcissistic-profligates who are holding each other by "the balls" i.e. there is a silent blackmailing if they are not obedient in their "silent agreements" then, their "dirty laundy" will be revealed in public. 8o

    BUT : VS81. The disturbance of the soul cannot be ended nor true joy created either by the possession of the greatest wealth or by honor and respect in the eyes of the mob or by anything else that is associated with or caused by unlimited desires. (again here Epicurus speaks about the limits). ;)

    Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring pleasure; but if not then bid them farewell!

  • Thank you for that, Elli .

    To be clear, I completely agree with you that Epicurus taught that we should enjoy pleasure within certain limits. He talked about limits and boundaries a lot.

    I'm just unclear how you're saying this one phrase <τὰς ἐν ἀπολαύσει κειμένας> in the ancient text can be translated as "those enjoyments that lie out of limits" when I'm just not seeing any "out of limits" in the actual words.

    Let me go back to the text. Using my translation of the letter, I get:


    Therefore, whenever we say repeatedly that "pleasure is the τέλος," we do not say the pleasure of those who are prodigal and <τὰς ἐν ἀπολαύσει κειμένας> like those who are ignorant, those who don't agree with us, or those who believe wrongly; but we mean that which neither pains the body nor troubles the mind. [132] For it is not an endless string of drinking parties and festivals, and not taking advantage of slaves and women, nor does an extravagant table of fish and other things bring forth a sweet life but self-controlled reasoning and examining the cause of every choice and rejection and driving out the greatest number of opinions that take hold of the mind and bring confusion and trouble.

    Epicurus *could have* talked about "those enjoyments that lie out of limits" there but there are other slanders from "those who are ignorant, those who don't agree with us, or those who believe wrongly" that he could have wanted to emphasize.

    I'm just trying to understand how you can interpret those specific words <τὰς ἐν ἀπολαύσει κειμένας> the way you did. If I could ask Bailey and others how they interpreted them the way they did, I would. :) You just happen to be in the forum.

    And I don't think I'm using some Platonic dialectical method. Epicurus advocated using words with their natural meaning, as I understand it, not to hide meaning or redefine words like Socrates/Plato did. Toward that end, I don't see "out of limits" expressed by <τὰς ἐν ἀπολαύσει κειμένας> but I can see a natural literal meaning like Saint-Andre's "the enjoyment of sleep."

  • Elli so you do not see any possibility too that a reference to sleeping or slothfulness would not also be a reference to someone "out of limits" in the sense of VS63 referring to errors of seeking too much or too little?

    I think I understand your point as to the limits of dictionaries and the associations that come when languages are used natively, so the only other point to clarify would be that the words used do not in some way mirror VS63 in referencing sleep or inaction as a mirror image of the error of profligacy.

    If it's not there then it is not there, but St Andre generally does a reasonable job with his translations, so it seems reasonable to ask if he saw something that other non-Greek speakers might have missed, especially since you also disagree with the "sensuality" term that most other translators are using.

    Thanks for your comments so far!

  • Just for the record Don and I crossposted and we had not seen each other's posts first. It's fascinating to have access to someone who is both a native Greek speaker and well read in Epicurus of whom to ask these questions!

  • This probably doesn't help the discussion much, but I think it is a good idea to look for parallels in other texts, as we have done in VS63 and VS11, and I would add to those this from Torquatus in Book 1 of On Ends. I have underlined below the part that I see these same two errors (which using Elli's terms could be seen as failure to adhere to the limits and go overboard in either luxury or minimalism). So it seems to me that it is reasonable to look for such contrasts being made, even if we don't find it in this particularly phrasing of the letter to Menoeceus:

    Quote from Torquatus

    [32] X. But that I may make plain to you the source of all the mistakes made by those who inveigh against pleasure and eulogize pain, I will unfold the whole system and will set before you the very language held by that great discoverer of truth and that master-builder, if I may style him so, of the life of happiness. Surely no one recoils from or dislikes or avoids pleasure in itself because it is pleasure, but because great pains come upon those who do not know how to follow pleasure rationally. Nor again is there any one who loves or pursues or wishes to win pain on its own account, merely because it is pain, but rather because circumstances sometimes occur which compel him to seek some great pleasure at the cost of exertion and pain. To come down to petty details, who among us ever undertakes any toilsome bodily exercise, except in the hope of gaining some advantage from it? Who again would have any right to reproach either a man who desires to be surrounded by pleasure unaccompanied by any annoyance, or another man who shrinks from any pain which is not productive of pleasure?

    [33] But in truth we do blame and deem most deserving of righteous hatred the men who, enervated and depraved by the fascination of momentary pleasures, do not foresee the pains and troubles which are sure to befall them, because they are blinded by desire, and in the same error are involved those who prove traitors to their duties through effeminacy of spirit, I mean because they shun exertions and trouble. Now it is easy and simple to mark the difference between these cases. For at our seasons of ease, when we have untrammeled freedom of choice, and when nothing debars us from the power of following the course that pleases us best, then pleasure is wholly a matter for our selection and pain for our rejection. On certain occasions however either through the inevitable call of duty or through stress of circumstances, it will often come to pass that we must put pleasures from us and must make no protest against annoyance. So in such cases the principle of selection adopted by the wise man is that he should either by refusing certain pleasures attain to other and greater pleasures or by enduring pains should ward off pains still more severe.

  • One more quick thought -- We (at least I) don't often express the problem of excessive minimalism or excessive frugality as a problem of being "out of limit," but I would say when you think about it yes it's exactly the same issue involved in pursuing certain desires for excitement beyond their natural limit.

    It makes sense to me that there is a natural limit of how long we can live, and how much action and pleasure we can try to engage in, and also a natural limit as to how little action we can try to engage in. Lying down indefinitely in the pursuit of tranquility is as against the limits of what nature requires as would be jumping off a mountain for the thrill of the experience. Nature's limits aren't written in stone but in the consequences that will follow certain behaviors if carried to an extreme.