Pacatus Level 03
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Posts by Pacatus

    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.]

    Joshua


    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.


    +++++++++++++++


    Lysidikē


    – 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: https://www.academia.edu/34402…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: http://www.attalus.org/poetry/philodemus.html


    “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: https://poets.org/poem/virgins-make-much-time) –


    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.


    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.


    II.


    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.


    III.


    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.

    Re Don's mention of the Getty Villa as a replica of the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, I found this:


    Identifying and Interpreting a Philosophical Garden at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum --


    Identifying and Interpreting a Philosophical Garden at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum
    The Villa of the Papyri is one of the most important archaeological sites from Roman antiquity for its preserved architecture, library, and art collection. All…
    trace.tennessee.edu


    I've only read a bit thus far, but the thrust seems to be that that Villa garden was designed with [Epicurean] philosophical study in mind.

    We can do out best to construct "maps" and write down all sorts of definitions of "happiness" and "pleasure" and "joy" and eudaimonia and everything else, but in the end we have to be clear about the limits of words. Words are maps and they are highly useful, but elaborate definitions can only serve that "map" function -- they cannot be equated with or confused with the feelings themselves.

    I think this whole "the map is not the territory" is of bedrock importance. And the point is always to measure the map against the (real/experintial) territory -- and not the other way around (which, it seems to me, a whole lot of religionists do). Objectively, empirical investigation can reveal the general territory -- but, in terms of sensual and emotional experience, we are each our own navigator.


    Maps, as you say, are helpful -- but the map can only guide to the territory (like the Zen parable of fingers pointing to the moon); and that understanding in itself might separate Epicurus (and his writings) from his philosophical rivals. The Platonists and the Stoics (as I understand them) privilege their maps over the territory; maybe Aristotle, too.


    It is so easy (at least for me) to get lost in this or that map. And to thereby lose sight of the territory right here ...

    Templum Librarium



    I love the smell of old books, leather-bound

    or well-worn hardcover cloth, beckoning

    from dark-oak library stacks – passageways

    to the heirloom temple of humanitas.


    I take down a gaunt volume at random –


    title illegible; pale patina

    of dust I could imagine as ancient

    as peripatetic Aristotle;


    brittle pages I could pretend were cut

    from papyrus scrolls of Epicurus

    first scribed in his Athenian Garden,

    copied and preserved by Philodemus

    in his villa at Herculaneum

    till encrusted in Vesuvian ash –


    and discover archaic lettering

    in majuscule Greek that I cannot read.


    Still, the inscrutable inked glyphs beguile

    the imagination’s mesmering muse

    into a maze of bustling galleries

    through a spice-pungent agora bazaar

    under a Mediterranean sun.


    There, for a few alchemical moments,

    I rest in my own lavish reverie –

    before touching the book to my forehead

    and placing it back on its sacred shelf

    among the other siren oracles,

    preserved in this labyrinthine sanctum –


    to continue my wayward pilgrimage,

    absorbed in the luring balm of old books.



    _____________




    “humanitas”: coined by Cicero; to the Romans it meant everything relating to civilized humanity – culture, refinement, humaneness, the humanities, humanism, etc.


    Note: The 3rd and fourth stanzas should be indented -- but that can't display here: just my poet's obsessiveness.

    Happiness is the usual English translation of ευδαιμονία eudaimonia.

    I had a friend of mine who did his PhD on the Nichomachean Ethics, and insisted that the best translation for eudaimonia is "flourishing." I would think this can fit with Epicurus, where the most flourishing life is one defined in terms of pleasure. For myself, I tend to use "happy well-being" (where I intend well-being to be the opposite of ill-being -- say, tarache and pone). And I take happiness as a feeling and a sense of pleasurable/pleasant well-being, not an (Aristotelian?) abstraction. [I sometimes get the impression that, for the Stoics, eudaimonia reduces to a kind of self-righteous pat on the back: "Look how virtuous I have been! What a happy feeling!"]