Joshua Moderator
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Posts by Joshua

    As always, I am happy to defer to Elli in all things Greek ;)

    A word for καλῶς that I see elsewhere is "commendably". It gets me close to what I'm looking for here; a word that straddles the meaning of the two words in the dominant translations. "Commendable" suggests something at once honorable and wholesomely beautiful.


    This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air/ Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself/ Unto our gentle senses.


    And it wasn't until Cassius posted the side by side translations that another problem occured to me; I remembered that in "quote images" across the internet of this passage, it is translated simply as "wisely and well and justly". Of course the translator is never cited, so I don't know which version it is. "Living well" does seem to carry aesthetic undertones. (<example)

    Ha! Delightful.

    The Talmud holds that Epicureans will be denied a share in "the world to come".

    Dante's Sado-Masochism takes a subdued turn with Epicurus (Canto X), and finds us with our teachers lying in unlidded tombs. On the day of judgment our souls will awaken to the lids of the tombs sliding shut, and our souls will be trapped with our bodies—we've chosen materialism, don't forget—for all eternity.

    This last imagined punishment must be a disappointment to Tertullian, who believed in the 3rd century that gloating over the torture of the damned would be one of the keenest pleasures of paradise;


    What a panorama of spectacle on that day! Which sight shall excite my wonder? Which, my laughter? Where shall I rejoice, where exult [...] those wise philosophers blushing before their followers as they burn together, the followers whom they taught that the world is no concern of God's whom they assured that either they had no souls at all or that what souls they had would never return to their former bodies?

    from On Spectacles.

    That is a great find, Godfrey! I've tried many times to be the kind of person who keeps a journal, but just can't keep at it. Her illustrations are lovely!

    Well my own leaning here, Cassius, is that the negative formulation ("will not marry [...] unless [...]) is more close tonally to what Epicurus probably did mean. Whether this applies to a 'sage' or to everyone is to me the more difficult question. It's true that Metrodorus married; but it's also true that neither Hermarchus nor Epicurus himself are known to have done so.

    I'm on the outside looking in with this question, but it seems to me that child-rearing in particular may be a profound pleasure—but it can also be a doorway to the deepest and blackest grief imaginable. Well, it would be unpleasant to dwell on such a point...

    If I were scanning my own heart, and found there love and a desire to marry, I would wade with all my senses into the restless erotic energy of the Hymn to Venus, and hear from far centuries the echo of my own trembling soul. Cor Cordium; heart of hearts—what could even the very wisest have to tell me about that? And if I stop to wait for that counsel—am I even worthy?

    Upon her breast repose came dropping sweet—

    Her heart's rumor, her breath in swelling waves—

    Ah! And her eyes—brown, deeper than the peat

    That numbs my tongue¹, and lies on poets' graves.


    ¹(...yes. I used to drink Scotch and write bad love-poetry ;) )


    Horace's "herd" and the funeral inscription "choic" are both clearly by Epicureans, but could perhaps be "tongue in cheek."

    "Epicuri De Grege Porcum" is a lovely Latin self-description ;)

    As for Garden;

    "[...] they shall place the garden and all that pertain to it at the disposal of Hermarchus [...]" -Last Will, via Diogenes Laertius

    I think probably when we talk about mental images between people being the "same", what we really have to mean is "same enough to a first approximation". If you and I are talking about dogs, it doesn't really matter if I picture a spaniel and you a labrador. But if I picture a spaniel and you picture Dog the Bounty Hunter—well, we're going to encounter some confusion!


    Godfrey, I read both words at once, and so I "saw" a door ajar with light shining through.

    For "door", I suppose a wooden object hanging on hinges to seal a man-sized opening. For "light", sunlight streaming through clouds or trees.

    Perhaps it will be helpful to look at examples where his advice is explicitly ignored. There are a number of ways in which our common use of language intentionally relies NOT on the "first mental image", but on some other aspect or quality for aesthetic, poetic, or rhetorical effect. For example;

    Synechdoche: a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (such as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (such as society for high society), the species for the genus (such as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (such as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (such as boards for stage)

    Metonymy: a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated (such as "crown" in "lands belonging to the crown")

    Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money)

    Epicurus seems to greatly dislike these devices; certainly with regards to Philosophy, and possibly in general. Lucretius, as a masterful poet, is guilty of using all of them! In the very second line of the poem, for example, he refers to the stars or constellations as the "sliding signs of heaven". He's a materialist; he doesn't actually believe that the random clusters of stars are meaningful signs or representations. But the line reads beautifully, and the phrase serves the meter of the poem, so he uses it.

    Here's a good example of why this can be a huge problem: in the Gospel of Matthew, 19:24, it is said, "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

    Well, it turns out that Christians have a strong material interest in denying the plain reading of everything Jesus ever said about wealth. This passage is no different; and so they have invented out of wholecloth a theory that the "Eye of the Needle" is a figure of speech for a pedestrian portal or doorway through a wall, adjacent to the main large gate. This usage is completely unattested in classical literature. It might turn out to be correct, but we have absolutely no way of knowing. If Jesus wished to be understood, he might have taken Epicurus' advice!

    Another problem relates to how we define words—how we describe language using language. In one amusing story, Diogenes the Cynic elbows his way into the Academy with a plucked chicken under his arm. Aristotle had defined "Man" as a "featherless biped"; Diogenes lifted the chicken, and proclaimed his discovery of Aristotle's Man. As an Epicurean, I think there were two errors on display here; one was to define a word so broadly so as to be meaningless (Aristotle's mistake). The other was to mock the original effort without furnishing a constructive alternative, and to poison the well for everyone with ridicule (Diogenes' mistake).

    Cassius, I see we cross-posted. We're clearly going the same direction in connecting the question to Forms. I think Nietzsche is more or less correct, but does that get us anywhere in explaining what Epicurus might have meant by "first images" connected to words?

    I continue to struggle in getting a handle on this question!

    I read it this way; Nietzsche in this passage is doing good service in repudiation of Plato's Ideal Forms. He concludes that the concept or mental image of a thing is not only NOT a better representation of that thing's being—it is indeed, and must be, a worse one (rendering unequal things equal cannot be a step toward clarity).

    To put it another way; Plato thought that language was often faulty because it didn't accord with the Ideal Form, of which the physical object was a crude imitation. Each leaf is a phenomenon of the Form of the leaf.

    Epicurus was concerned that we might go wrong with language if the word for a thing, which two people share, does not accord with the mental image of the thing, which must be different for each and formed by experience. Each leaf is a leaf by linguistic convention. Its genuine nature is atoms and void.

    To solve Plato's problem, in his view, demands recourse to Logic and Geometry, that we might intimate the nature of the Forms which we cannot 'see' or even well-express.

    To solve Epicurus' problem, in my view, we must have recourse to (1.) the senses, (2.) to a critique of the Reason that operates on them, and (3.) to the gentle proddings of corrective dialogue to calibrate the differences that arise over words.

    But even as I type all of this the account fails to satisfy me. (And you should take anything I say about Forms with a critical eye; I haven't studied those dialogues since college).

    My thoughts on the question are not organized, but allow me to free-associate for a moment;

    What, at minimum, a Theory of Language Needs to Explain;

    1. It ought to explain why there is language, rather than no language.

    2. It ought to take a position on the original incident of language; was the development centralized in place and time, or distributed throughout and across populations?

    3. (Related) it ought to take a position on whether the development of language preceded the migrations out of Africa, or followed them, or some combination of these.

    4. It ought to predict whether language, if vanished, would arise again under certain conditions, and what those conditions would be.

    Two additional questions that should preoccupy the theorist;

    5. Why are there vast differences in (apparently) unrelated language families? Why is such a language inflected and this other language isolating? Why does this language have stress accents, this other language have pitch accents, and this third language is tonal?

    6. Also, why did Proto-Indo-European reach such a peak of inflected complexity, while the trend for the last few thousand years has been toward more word isolation? (Ie. English is less inflected then Old French, Old French is less inflected than Medieval Latin and Koine Greek, Medieval Latin and Koine Greek are less inflected than classical Latin and classical Greek, classical Latin and classical Greek are less inflected than Sanskrit, which in turn is less inflected than Proto-Indo-European.)

    A materialist theory of language

    The early Epicureans couldn't have known that all modern humans are descended from stock that lived in East Africa 100,000 years ago, and didn't colonize the rest of the globe until well into the intervening millennia. But here's what they do seem to believe;

    1. That the utility of language is self-evident. Making noises is so useful that nearly every animal larger than a worm indulges the practice. Not just mammals and birds, but reptiles, amphibians, and even fish (using swim bladders) make use of pneumatic vocalizations. Insects rely on mechanical friction for the same effect, rubbing legs together or beating wings. Snakes hiss and sometimes rattle.

    2. Language was not endowed by god or Prometheus, or invented by Adam or the First Man, but developed organically. It might have happened once and spread, or it might have happened many times.

    3. Because it arose naturally, we can expect that such a thing has happened innumerable times on innumerable worlds, and will happen innumerable times again.

    That'll have to be enough for now, but I'll revisit this evening!

    Thank you. And you strike on the same observation as Stephen Greenblatt, Elayne;


    Some protective measures, such as sprinkling cedar oil on the pages, were discovered to be effective in warding off damage, but it was widely recognized that the best way to preserve books from being eaten into oblivion was simply to use them and, when they finally wore out, to make more copies. The Swerve: "The Teeth of Time"

    It is the "unbroken chain" of tradition and study that most reliably saves books.

    I recently learned of a remote location in New Mexico called Trementina Base. In that high barren desert east of the Colorado Plateau, the scriptures of L. Ron Hubbard have been for several decades carefully engraved on steel plates and filed away in titanium vaults for preservation, "to create and maintain an archive of Scientology scripture for future generations."

    Setting aside for a moment how undeniably cool that is, the story touches on two issues relevant to the school of Epicurus. The first point is a trifle self-congratulatory, but I don't mind stating the case anyway:

    It occured to me when I realized that these texts were not really being preserved for future generations in the sense we commonly mean. The National Parks are "preserved for future generations", and this means that anyone is free to use and enjoy them at any time; they're open to the public, not generally on the basis of membership and an aggressively litigated initiation fee.

    Exorbitantly expensive secret texts are not new to the world. The Vatican ruthlessly stomped out early efforts to translate the bible into the vulgar tongue of the people. Muslims generally believe even today that the only Quran is the Arabic Quran; "a translation can never be the Quran". Joseph Smith threatened with death anyone who tried to glimpse his mythical gold plates. Abraham, too, had tablets from God until he shattered them.

    How different the intellectual life of the Greeks! Books were piled high not in vaults, or in an inner Sanctum, but in the warm light of day. They changed hands in the agora, and circulated through the gymnasia. They were read over meals and debated in the streets.

    And how different still the Epicureans, for whom sex or class or condition were no obstacle to the fraternity of the scholars! It is a marvel in the annals of the world.

    The second point is one of permanence. Everyone here knows how lucky we are to have even fragments. What are we going to do to ensure that future generations will be able to read them?

    In a Buddhist temple in South Korea there are 81,258 wooden blocks from the 13th century painstakingly carved with the entire corpus of Buddhist scripture. When I began to think of myself as a Buddhist this pleased me immensely. Frankly, it still does. Buddhists, like Epicureans, know that all composite things are impermanent. Civilizations rise and fall, temples crumble, and libraries burn. How do we plant a seed that grows through the ages?

    Happy twentieth :)