Pacatus Level 03
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Posts by Pacatus

    That's always been one of my reasons for advocating for the Tetrapharmakos :)

    That is both simple and familiar to an Epicurean. The usual English translations, though, seem more like instructions or rubrics, rather than self-expressive prayer or meditative affirmations. And not everyone will find the Greek either resonant or easy to remember/recite. 8|


    In the plain prayer of breathing –

    life-giving pleasure of breath,

    I [we] give thanks – and rest.


    For me, the best prayers are brief: easy to remember. And brevity poetry (like haiku) is deceptively hard.

    This one could preface a period (perhaps just a few moments) of silent prayer/meditation, focusing on the pleasure of your breathing (an Epicurean spin on breathing meditation), returning to that as unwanted thoughts intrude.

    The Trappist tradition of contemplative “centering prayer” uses a simple “sacred word” – not like a mantra, but simply to return to silent-mind prayer when thoughts arise. One would enunciate the word slowly. One could use an “Epicurean” word like hedone. Or pneuma, which can mean breath as well as spirit or soul. Or eudaimonia. (Just notions that came quickly.)

    I’ll keep thinking …

    So just like a lot of words we have to parse "belief" and even "faith" to be sure exactly what we mean.

    Somewhere I have an etymology book that indicates “believe” in English originally meant “to hold dear.” This seems to have been (e.g. in the KJV Bible) a valid (if perhaps poetic) rendering of the Greek pisteo.

    Cognates of “believe” include lief, leave, furlough, love.

    But the word came to mean “what one thinks” – rather than a confidence or trust – which is what I take “faith” (in a very mundane sense) to mean. Christians often tend to take both terms to mean what one is certain of, regardless of actual evidence (as in the phrase “I believe in”) – whereas I view “faith” more as an attitude of – decisional – confidence in the face of uncertainty; something how the sports psychologists use it.

    For myself, I only use the word “believe” (or “belief” ) in the fairly mundane sense of: “it seems to me” or “it appears to be so” or “I think so” or “the evidence indicates that …”. Thus, it always something “checkable” empirically.


    Some years ago, I wrote a whimsy poem playing with the cognate words mentioned above:


    (an etymological poem)

    What is belief except to give leave

    to what your own heart’s desire

    would lief allow for you to follow,

    and to hallow always with your love?

    That is as much as I will believe—

    so long as beauty is safely left,

    her colorful tapestries, without

    furlough, to weave. As for all the rest:

    An it will harm none, do as ye lief

    and may all be well—beyond belief.

    I really think it is not a good poem – but it was fun to write. :)

    I came across this Taoist quote on mortality:

    “Immortality does not beget wisdom.

    Only mortality begets maturity.”

    – 365 Tao: Daily Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao

    I scrolled through the Vatican sayings to find a few that seemed akin to the quote:

    VS10. Remember that you are mortal, and have a limited time to live, and have devoted yourself to discussions on Nature for all time and eternity, and have seen “things that are now and are to come and have been."

    VS14. We are born once and cannot be born twice, but for all time must be no more. But you, who are not master of tomorrow, postpone your happiness. Life is wasted in procrastination, and each one of us dies while occupied.

    VS22. Unlimited time and limited time afford an equal amount of pleasure, if we measure the limits of that pleasure by reason.

    VS78. The noble soul occupies itself with wisdom and friendship; of these, the one is a mortal good, the other immortal.

    And this from the Letter to Menoceus:

    “Become accustomed to the belief that death is nothing to us. For all good and evil consists in sensation, but death is deprivation of sensation. And therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not because it adds to it an infinite span of time, but because it takes away the craving for immortality.”

    [Taoism is variable, with both naturalist schools (e.g. Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu) and supernaturalist schools; the philosophical and the religious.]

    Another long-winded (but non-obsessive! 8) ) "talking to myself out loud” as I sort through some of the posts here:

    there is in fact no absolute standard of right and wrong as to how to define words

    Which is something even the dictionarists grapple with; and their standard really is evolving conventional usage. Reminds me of a quote by Wittgenstein (in On Certainty, I think): “Don’t look for the meaning, look for the use.”

    And whatever other standards there are, are contextual – as you point out; e.g. the word “utility” has a different meaning in economics (borrowed from the philosophical utilitarians) than in everyday discourse.

    Folks like Aristotle and Plato (and others) seem to want to make a map that is a standard to judge the territory – whereas any map must be judged by the territory, not the other way round. Epicurus’ mapping (because if you’re a teacher or a therapist, you need to map) seems more designed to point to the territory (reality in all its existential and experiential variability) – a bit like the Zen parable about fingers pointing to the moon. And that certainly does not require the kind of “religious” faith that, say, Plato does. Whatever faith there is a testable faith, meant to be tested in everyday life in all its everydayness.

    ~ ~ ~

    You mentioned “obsessing” earlier. I think that Epicurus wanted to free us from all obsessiveness – which is just another form of tarache. Even the task of unpacking and interpreting Epicurus’ maps is measured, in its goodness, by pleasure and enjoyment, as per VS27: “In the case of other occupations the fruit (of one's labors) comes upon completion of a task while (in the case) of philosophy pleasure is concurrent with knowledge because enjoyment does not come after learning but at the same time (with) learning.”

    [One of the reasons I liked Frances Wrights book so much was that her portrait of Epicurus as anything but obsessive; in fact sometimes disarming others’ obsessiveness with humor, and always in an easygoing manner – but without surrender.]


    The cost of the book is too rich for my wallet at this time; my public membership at the local university library expired during our rigorous social distancing during the covid surge – maybe time to resurrect it.

    The blurb on Amazon says, in part:

    “His [Philodemus’] main critical principle is that form and content are inseparable and mutually-reinforcing: a change in one means a change in the other. The poet uses this marriage of form and content to create the psychological effect of the poem in the audience. This effect is hard to pin down exactly. Poems produce "additional thoughts" in the audience, and these entertain them. It seems clear that Philodemus expected good poets to arrange form and content suggestively, so that the poems could exert a lasting pull on the minds of the audience.”

    It seems to be akin to a couple of my own poetic principles, such as a notion I borrowed from the Rastafarians: that of “word-sound-power” – along with imagery, metaphor and rhythm. And this:

    "The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls." - Pablo Picasso

    I have just recently been dipping into Philodemus’ epigrammatic poems, which are richly erotic. (And I have thus far made one attempt at rendering one of his into a more modern lyric form – with my own poetic proclivities.) As I read the free sample of McOsker on Amazon, I note that Philodemus rejected didactic poetry on Epicurean grounds, and thought that poetry need not be useful (at least philosophically) to be good. Philodemus advocated prolepsis as a criterion for determining the worth of a poem, though McOsker says he did not rely on that alone. He did insist that a good poem has “meaning” – which I would associate with its intended effect on the reader/listener. (But I do think that the “meaning” of a poem can be – even, most often, is – multiplex, and the reader is a collaborator of sorts on that.

    Philodemus’ criterion for a good poem is pleasure. I tend mostly to agree (though I sometimes write darker, Poe-esque verse).

    Any thoughts, friend poet? 😊

    This is a loose rendering in my attempt to draft from a couple translations(and my raw grappling with the Greek) a more modern poetic form – with my own interpretive edits, additions and wordplay. Thus, it’s a free rendering, not a translation.



    – A free rendering from a Greek poem by Philodemus.

    Your summer’s bloom not yet burst

    from naked buds, nor yet dark

    the tender virginal grapes

    soon to ripen full-fruit charms –

    but already in their vigor

    plucky impassioned archer-lads

    swift-flighting flame-arrows hone

    from embers smoldering within.

    Let us then fly, dear Lysidikē,

    we unlucky lovers, before

    the nock is notched on their bowstring:

    I fear a lusty wildfire looms.


    Lysidikē (Λυσιδίκη) is the name of several women in Greek myth, one of whom “lay” with Heracles and bore him a son, Teles.

    “nock”: the notch on the shaft of an arrow to fit it to the bowstring; also the act of fitting.


    Here is the Greek:

    οὔπω σοι καλύκων γυμνὸν θέρος οὐδὲ μελαίνει

    βότρυς ὁ παρθενίους πρωτοβολῶν χάριτας,

    ἀλλ’ ἤδη θοὰ τόξα νέοι θήγουσιν Ἔρωτες,

    Λυσιδίκη, καὶ πῦρ τύφεται ἐγκρύφιον.

    φεύγωμεν, δυσέρωτες, ἕως βέλος οὐκ ἐπὶ νευρῇ·

    μάντις ἐγὼ μεγάλης αὐτίκα πυρκαϊῆς.

    other than the debt a knife owes a whetstone.

    Well put!

    That's one of the areas I'd say Epicurus disagreed with Aristotle. My reading of NE is that Aristotle didn't think you could call anyone "happy" - no one could be said to have "well-being" (eudaimonia) - until they had lived their entire life and were dead. "Oh, she lived a happy life." Epicurus taught that we can have eudaimonia here and now.

    I agree. And I sometimes think the Stoics made that a kind of self-righteous pat on the back.

    I've posted elsewhere on this forum that I reject Dewitt's "Epicurus said life is the greatest good" assertion. I see no evidence for this in the extant texts, and, to me, DeWitt's evidence doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

    Hmmm. I'll have to give DeWitt a more thorough scrutiny on this. Being alive certainly is an existential requirement for any telos -- albeit that is likely a trivial parsing ...

    Now, pass me that popcorn and hand me a beer

    With pleasure, my friend! ^^

    I'm trying to render this poem into a modern English version (with my own interpretive edits, additions and wordplay). I'm working with the translation in Attalus since Greek is "Greek" to me. But here is the result from the Google translator:

    even for those who live naked in the summer, it does not darken

    botrys the virgin of firstborn grace:

    but already those young bows are becoming Loves,

    Lysidiki, and fire is buried in burial.

    we flee, unloved ones, until an arrow is on the nerve:

    I am a diviner of great fire.

    This seems a bit less lusty than the translation on Attalus. But I'm still searching.


    Here is another translation from DeepL:

    As the naked summer covers thee, no bruising of the virgin's maidenly firstfruits: but already there are new bows and arrows, Lysidice, and fire is being kindled. Let us flee, unhappy, until the arrow is not on the nerves: I am a seer of a great ear of fire.

    Just a couple of comments from the far bleachers:

    First, while we might agree on the failings of Aristotle (and certainly Plato), I think we are well-served to remember that Epicurus did owe them an intellectual debt – and that his project was of a different order, even as it required him to jettison errors of his predecessors and, in the interest of therapeía, to simplify (at least in the limited Epicurean corpus available to us).

    For example, I posted before (in a different context) this paper:…mail_work_card=view-paper, which examines Epicurus’ debt to Plato – as well as some of what Epicurus rejected or corrected, e.g.:

    “Appropriating Plato’s premise of the immediacy of apprehension and the affinity of knower to known, Epicurus declares the real immediacy and affinity to be physical.42 He has even pirated Plato’s argument, that mere re[1]presentations cannot be knowledge.43 Hence the odd sounding, now physicalist, Epicurean claim that what we know is reality. What Plato said of sense perception, that it cannot be knowledge since it does not capture the being (ousias) of things but must remain irredeemably subjective, reflecting only the way things seem to an individual (ta idia) has been turned against Plato by Epicurus: Our perceptions are what is real; ideas are the mere representations.”

    And Aristotle (as I recall in my thickly mist-shrouded memory), did at least define telos in terms of a fully lived life. But Cassius’ comment – “Aristotle was apparently in the process of breaking free from Plato but did not go nearly far enough. Artificial rules and categories are just as misleading as platonic absolutes. (That's the critique of "essentialism" that Dawkins makes.) Epicurus finished the job, but that aspect has been buried.” – seems surely on the mark.

    Second, with regard to telos and the summum bonum, DeWitt (under the heading “The Summum Bonum Fallacy in Chapter XII “The New Hedonism,” beginning on. P. 219) thought it was an error to conflate the two: “To Epicurus pleasure was the telos and life itself was the greatest good. … The belief that life itself is the greatest good conditions the whole ethical doctrine of Epicurus.”

    DeWitt goes on to unpack how he thought the error of conflation came about.

    Now, back to the beer and popcorn bleachers … and Philodemus’ poetry … ;)

    I found this site with Philodemus’ epigrammatic poetry in translation:

    “Philodemus was an Epicurean philosopher as well as a poet, but his poems seem to have had a greater reputation than his philosophical works in ancient times.”

    I was surprised at the tone of erotic gaiety in many of them – they reminded me of, say, Sir John Suckling or Robert Herrick (both 17th century) in English poetry; or of the more modern e.e. cummings.

    Apparently the original Greek was in stanza form of no more than eight lines, and I attempt to re-render them that way (albeit my lines may not match up with the Greek – which you can read by clicking the “G” that accompanies the epigram). The following, for example, reminds of Herrick's “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” (here: –

    Your summer's flower hath not yet burst from the bud,

    the grape that puts forth its first virgin charm is yet green,

    but already the young Loves sharpen their swift arrows,

    Lysidicē, and a hidden fire is smouldering. Let us fly,

    we unlucky lovers, before the arrow is on the string:

    I foretell right soon a vast conflagration.

    (Maybe Don can provide a better line-by-line translation from the Greek.)

    Connie Willis wrote a sci-fi/fantasy novel called “Passage” in which the main character (a research psychologist) and her partner (a neurologist) explore the biological/evolutionary nature of NDEs. (I loved the book; my wife hated it, although we both agree on the non-supernaturalist premise.)

    In the novel, the main character “realizes that the scientific evidence is contaminated by the influence of Dr. Maurice Mandrake, a persistent and almost omnipresent charlatan "researcher" who publishes best-selling books about near-death experiences and convinces patients that their experiences happened exactly the way his books describe NDEs, such as learning cosmic secrets from angels:

    “They remembered it all for him, leaving their body and entering the tunnel and meeting Jesus, remembered the Light and the Life Review and the Meetings with Deceased Loved Ones. Conveniently forgetting the sights and sounds that didn't fit and conjuring up ones that did. And completely obliterating whatever had actually occurred.”

    The book is available on Kindle.

    Pro Coquis Simplicibus


    I am but a humble galley-kitchen cook,

    no tall-hat chef of haute cuisine.

    Herbs are grown on the balcony in clay pots:

    parsley, oregano, basil and sage—

    or, such as bay leaves, preserved in a jar.

    Vegetables—sometimes frozen, sometimes fresh—

    are foraged from local grocery aisles,

    the farmers’ market and organic co-op shelves.

    (We used to grow our own, before we moved to town:

    leaf lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, onions;

    garlands of garlic, braided and hung on the stair.)

    We have small crocks of dried beans: great northern,

    pinto, dark red kidney and black—to be soaked

    overnight and pressure-cooked in a pot;

    but on lazier days we just open a can.

    Our bread is no longer home-baked: but baguettes,

    or rounds of sourdough rye, from paper bags,

    served oven-warm straight to the rough-grained table.

    Olive oil is sacred: virgin, green, robust,

    with pepper that lingers, pungent on the tongue.

    The wine is cheaper than it used to be

    (save for the dry-as-bone elderberry brew

    Vivian once vinted and bottled for winter):

    petite syrah and malbec most recently favored,

    with pinot grigio or a crisp rosé—

    depending on the fare and the weather.


    Tomorrow, I plan a seafood gumbo

    with okra, onions, scallops and shrimp, sautéed

    in a mushroom roux; simmered in bone broth

    with sassafras filé, bay and my own

    finely ground creole seasoning concoction—

    all ladled over mounds of arborio rice.

    (I seldom measure as I make things up:

    add a little, then taste—and taste again.

    Stir well to incite shy single flavors

    to mingle, flirt, betroth themselves and marry.)

    Shake on some vinegar-tabasco sauce:

    a dash or so to awaken the palate.

    After dinner, a glass of tawny port—

    or snifter of brandy aged in oaken sherry casks;

    backgammon or cribbage to beguile the sunfall hours,

    and a romantic murder to read before bed.


    I compose poetry the way I cook:

    I seldom measure as I make things up—

    one is a rumpus of flavors,

    one a rumpus of sound and shape.


    Pro Coquis Simplicibus: “For the Simple Cooks.”

    “rumpus of shapes”: how Dylan Thomas once described his poetry.