Joshua Level 03
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Posts by Joshua

    I'll try to summarize what I recall to be the main points of the essay;


    ‐-------------‐


    -Epicurus' primary interest in the size of the sun is to rule out the supernatural.


    -A superficial reading of the passage will always be plagued with error.


    -The author stresses the importance of considering the question in light of the whole philosophy.


    -And that includes offering a few explanations, not just asserting one.


    -Epicurus draws a distinction between how we interpret things that appear to our senses, and how those things actually are.


    -The senses themselves are to Epicurus never wrong. Merely the judgment we make about sense-perception can be wrong, or not.


    -The sun may be bigger or smaller than it appears, but it's not possible to know which (in the fourth century B.C) because we can never change our perspective by getting closer or going further away.


    -The passages in both Pythocles and Lucretius are very noncommittal in their grammar and diction. Something like 8 subordinate clauses in five lines. So there's a resistance to speaking certainly about it. Nowhere does any Epicurean actually make a definite claim about the size of the sun.


    -In the discussion on eclipses, the ancient sources seem to imply or suggest that the sun may be larger than the Earth. One of the explanations offered for eclipses is the interposition of the Earth between the sun and the moon.


    -The author suggests that the sun-size issue is a didactic challenge to students and readers; like the plague at the end of Lucretius, it sets up a test to see how well you've grasped Epicurean method. The reader will come to that passage, and then feel compelled to review the other material to make sure they haven't missed something.


    -The final suggestion the author makes is that the sun-size issue became a shibboleth for ancient Epicureans. That it became a way of 'sounding out' the Epicurean knowledge-base of the interlocutor. Cassius often says that hard cases make bad law. But the argument being made here is that this hard case is useful for determining how well other people really understand this. Useful for teachers with their students, or for scholarchs with their scholars.


    ---------‐--------------


    The essay does not make the following point, which I think is nevertheless important; namely, how stupid do people think Epicurus was to say that he thought the sun was the size of an orange!?


    Certainly the sun is, at minimum, bigger than the biggest object that crosses it but fails to entirely eclipse it. A lifetime's accumulated experience would surely have been sufficient for Epicurus to know that the sun was bigger than a bird. Bigger than a horse, a house, a tree, a trireme--bigger than the better part of a mountain. Bigger than the moon.

    Edit: I need to review some of this information to make sure the comparisons refer to the diameter of the Sun in relation to the diameter of Earth. Don't take it at face value just yet ;)

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

    Anaxagoras, 500-428

    -Sun as a mass of blazing metal, larger than the Peloponnese


    Eudoxus of Cnidus, 408-355 BC

    -27 Concentric Spheres


    Epicurus, 341–270 BC

    -"The sun is to us the size that it appears"


    Aristarchus of Samos, 310-230 BC

    -Heliocentric

    -Sun is 6 times bigger than the Earth


    Hipparchus of Nicaea, 190 – 120 BC

    -Sun is 1,880 times bigger than the Earth


    Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria, 100-170 AD

    -Geocentric Universe


    Actual Size of sun; 109 times the size of the earth?


    I have been listening once again to the Folger Library's dramatic audiobook rendition of Romeo and Juliet, and it occurred to me that someone needs to write a paper on the Lucretian influence in this particular play. Well—someone has done just that!


    This link gives a flavor of the approach that Dr. Roychoudhury has taken, and I pronounce myself in love with it!


    I have not read the paper yet, which is actually a chapter out of her book, Phantasmatic Shakespeare, but it just moved to the top of my list.


    When I have read the work, I will report back;


    Quote

    What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

    Probably my approach to this question would be twofold. The first point I would like to see articulated is that Epicurus' opinions abouts sex and romance—whatever they turn out to be—are just that; opinions. I'm not very likely to consult a dead philosopher at all on these matters, they being so intimate and so personal, and I am especially uninterested in giving my ear to any High Priest of Epicureanism on what I should do, or what I am allowed to do when it comes to interpersonal relationships.


    The second point is this; apart from the physicality of the thing itself, nearly everything about sex and about romance has changed wildly since the 3rd century BC. "Chaste"—I detest the word pure when applied to people—but "chaste" women tethered to their looms, and shut away in an inner room, is no longer the order of the day. Richard Nixon famously said about economics that "we are all Keynesians now". Well, in the 21st century we are, in the English-speaking world of my experience, nearly all Epicureans when it comes to sex. Purity and sin, thank heavens or culture, are on the outs, and choice and avoidance are the new watchwords.


    My parents have an average of 8 or 9 siblings. Them and their siblings have an average of two or 3 children. This fact tells a story that the homilies of their parish priests do not tell. They will continue to say one thing, but secular culture and law has allowed them to choose quite another.


    So, if you are lucky enough now that no one has the power to coerce you—what will you choose? That is, in my view, the only question that means anything.

    Two Kinds of Pleasure


    There are, according to Epicurus-

    's letter,

    Two kinds (if I understand the schematic)

    Of pleasure;

    The first kind is kinetic, and happens-

    (It'd better!)

    When it happens to you. That's one, and

    The other

    Happens, or rather doesn't (it's katastematic);

    Like atar-

    Axia, it's something of a state or condition.

    Think eta 'r

    Epsilon: for the difference, by his verdict

    Is pleasure

    Active or pleasure passive. If this all seems drastic,

    Or you forget 'er,

    Then maybe you can just try to be phlegmatic.

    But what I think


    Is that the pleasure you seize and treasure

    Is better

    Than the pleasure you seek to measure.

    Maybe! The problem is I remember so little--only the rough outline of a passing vignette...


    I think;


    -That it was a poem (rough start, I know!)


    -The poem was written by a British man.


    -And was written in the Victorian period or earlier.


    -The speaker of the poem is intoxicated, possibly by opium or laudanum, or maybe by absinthe or wine. In any case, there's delirium.


    -The speaker meets an 'exotic' man, and tries to speak to him.


    -When English fails, the speaker switches to ancient Greek, possibly by recitating a few lines from Homer.


    That's all I've got! I thought it was Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859), who wrote Confessions of an English Opium Eater, but he was an essayist. His Greek, however, was very good.


    Quote

    [I] was very early distinguished for my classical attainments, especially for my knowledge of Greek. At thirteen, I wrote Greek with ease; and at fifteen my command of that language was so great, that I not only composed Greek verses in lyric metres, but could converse in Greek fluently, and without embarrassment-- an accomplishment which I have not since met with in any scholar of my times, and which, in my case, was owing to the practice of daily reading off the newspapers into the best Greek I could furnish extempore: for the necessity of ransacking my memory and invention, for all sorts and combinations of periphrastic expressions, as equivalents for modern ideas, images, relations of thing, &c. gave me a compass of diction which would never have been called out by a dull translation of moral essays, &c. "That boy," said one of my masters*, pointing the attention of a stranger to me, "that boy could harangue an Athenian mob, better than you or I could address an English one."

    Charles Lamb; Motes in the Sunbeams; 1775-1834; a poem referencing a well-known passage in Lucretius.


    I am doggedly pursuing a poem that I remember from college but cannot find; during the chase I stumbled on this, which is mildly interesting:



    There's a long-standing tradition in British literature on the comparison of value between 'use' and 'beauty'. This seems to me a very muddled take on the matter.


    Now, back into the salt mine!

    I'll try to summarize what I recall to be the main points of the essay;

    ‐-------------‐


    -Epicurus' primary interest in the size of the sun is to rule out the supernatural.


    -A superficial reading of the passage will always be plagued with error.


    -The author stresses the importance of considering the question in light of the whole philosophy.


    -And that includes offering a few explanations, not just asserting one.


    -Epicurus draws a distinction between how we interpret things that appear to our senses, and how those things actually are.


    -The senses themselves are to Epicurus never wrong. Merely the judgment we make about sense-perception can be wrong, or not.


    -The sun may be bigger or smaller than it appears, but it's not possible to know which (in the fourth century B.C) because we can never change our perspective by getting closer or going further away.


    -The passages in both Pythocles and Lucretius are very noncommittal in their grammar and diction. Something like 8 subordinate clauses in five lines. So there's a resistance to speaking certainly about it. Nowhere does any Epicurean actually make a definite claim about the size of the sun.


    -In the discussion on eclipses, the ancient sources seem to imply or suggest that the sun may be larger than the Earth. One of the explanations offered for eclipses is the interposition of the Earth between the sun and the moon.


    -The author suggests that the sun-size issue is a didactic challenge to students and readers; like the plague at the end of Lucretius, it sets up a test to see how well you've grasped Epicurean method. The reader will come to that passage, and then feel compelled to review the other material to make sure they haven't missed something.


    -The final suggestion the author makes is that the sun-size issue became a shibboleth for ancient Epicureans. That it became a way of 'sounding out' the Epicurean knowledge-base of the interlocutor. Cassius often says that hard cases make bad law. But the argument being made here is that this hard case is useful for determining how well other people really understand this. Useful for teachers with their students, or for scholarchs with their scholars.


    ---------‐--------------

    The essay does not make the following point, which I think is nevertheless important; namely, how stupid do people think Epicurus was to say that he thought the sun was the size of an orange!?


    Certainly the sun is, at minimum, bigger than the biggest object that crosses it but fails to entirely eclipse it. A lifetime's accumulated experience would surely have been sufficient for Epicurus to know that the sun was bigger than a bird. Bigger than a horse, a house, a tree, a trireme--bigger than the better part of a mountain. Bigger than the moon.

    Quote

    east-meets-west

    For good reason!


    Dionysus was thought for a very long time to be an Eastern import into the Greek pantheon. His mythological birthplace was Mt. Nysa, which was sometimes said to be in India.


    Apparently modern scholarship and the discovery of certain references in Linear-B has led to a rethinking of this claim. I didn't know that part. Some very recent books still talk about him as a foreign and exotic god.




    I've just received this collection of essays, published in February, with an excellent paper concerning the size of the sun by one T.H.M. Gellar-Goad.


    I may attempt an outline; in the meantime, here's a good bit toward the end;


    Quote

    By staking out a stance of aporia conditioned by sense-perception and reasoning thereupon, the Epicureans did in fact prove to be less wrong than everyone else [...] Epicurus and his school, in avoiding a concrete statement of the sun's size, avoided being concretely wrong, in contrast to Eudoxus and all the rest.

    aporia; doubt, or a difficulty in resolving the available data into established truth.


    The author is thoroughly familiar with Epicurean epistemology, and explores the question not on its face, but based on a careful understanding of the whole philosophy. I thought it was very well done.


    If you can find a library copy, or get online access through an institution, you'll save a bit of coin--but it will be good to have read this as we move into the Letter to Pythocles on the podcast.

    Thoreau was talking about his townspeople that were inheriting or buying unproductive farms. He also wrote a lot about the condition of the Irish immigrants who were clearing bogs and laying in the railroads.


    Thoreau was writing about 15 years after the invention and commercialization of the McCormick Reaper, an implement that was perfect for the rolling plains of the prairie states, but ill-suited for the rocky, mountainous and forested land of New England. The farmers in and around Concord were unable to compete with the Midwest, with the railroads ensuring that western crops could swiftly reach Eastern markets.


    The result was too often debt and penury for the small-time landowners, and exploitation and abjection for the Irish laborers. Thoreau favored self-sufficiency as a mode of living, and abundant leisure time as its greatest fruit, and felt that others could profit by his example.


    But of course he was Harvard educated, unmarried with no children, had the opportunity to stay with family, etc.

    Quote

    The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison with those which my neighbors have undertaken; for they were only twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or captured any monster or finished any labor. They have no friend Iolaus to burn with a hot iron the root of the hydra's head, but as soon as one head is crushed, two spring up.

    -Thoreau, Walden

    Show Notes:


    Lucretius versus the Lake Poets


    By Robert Frost


    ‘Nature I loved; and next to Nature, Art.’


    Dean , adult education may seem silly.

    What of it, though? I got some willy-nilly

    The other evening at your college deanery.

    And grateful for it (let's not be facetious!)

    For I thought Epicurus and Lucretius

    By Nature meant the Whole Goddam Machinery.

    But you say that in college nomenclature

    The only meaning possible for Nature

    In Landor's quatrain would be Pretty Scenery.

    Which makes opposing it to Art absurd

    I grant you—if you're sure about the word.

    God bless the Dean and make his deanship plenary.


    Thales and the Eclipse of 585 BC


    The anniversary of this eclipse was yesterday, May 28th (sorry Don!)

    Eclipse of Thales - Wikipedia
    en.m.wikipedia.org


    Lucretius and Natural Selection

    Evolution and Paleontology in the Ancient World


    Isonomia


    I think the article I mentioned may have been "Animals in War and Isonomia" by K. L. McKay, but it's behind a paywall and I won't likely read it again.


    Mark Twain


    Caustic vs Corrosive

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-corrosive-604961%23:~:text%3DCorrosive%2520Versus%2520Caustic%2520or%2520Irritant,chemical%2520acts%2520as%2520an%2520irritant.&ved=2ahUKEwiV8qzygYX4AhVyRDABHeG3B5wQFnoECA0QBQ&usg=AOvVaw3ZAiapcVHK1sS6Ic2van03


    Thanks to Martin for correcting me!

    I think the fundamental problem is going to be this; while Christian Humanists have been quite happy to import Epicurean Ethics, they haven't been very interested in adopting his view of the gods. Epicureans and their fellow travelers, by contrast, have had little interest in the Christian God, and even less interest in Christian morality.


    So you're looking for someone with one foot squarely planted in both worlds. The closest you're going to get to that (and it's far from a good fit) is probably the expelled and denounced Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza. He really was prepared to adopt materialism, at great personal risk, and to reject the supernatural entirely. His God is completely natural--nothing less than the sum of Nature and all her laws.


    So I will amend my previous suggestion, and say: I'd start with Spinoza.


    You may find this book useful; with the caveat, again, that I have not read it!


    Spinoza, the Epicurean: Authority and Utility in Materialism

    by Dimitris Vardoulakis