Boo the Cat. 1987-2002.
Alexander Ross (1652) Arcana Microcosmi, Book II, Chapter 16, pp. 179-184.
1. Epicurus, a wicked and wanton man, impious in his opinions. Seneca's judgement of him. 2. Twelve of his impious and absurd opinons rehearsed.
THe Doctor is very prodigall of his pitie, when he cries out, Who can but pitie the vertuous Epicurus, who is commonly conceived to place his chiefe felicity in pleasure and sensual delights, &c. But these pleasures were of the mind, not of the body. 1 Gassendus indeed hath taken much needlesse pains to vindicate Epicurus from his errors and impiety; but in this he washed a Brick, or blackmore: his chiefe supporter is Diogenes Laertius, an obscure Authour in former times: for no ancient Writer speaks of him; and he cites more Philosophers then (it's thought) he ever read. This Laertius lived 450. years after Epicurus, that is, in the time of Antonius pius, about 150 years after Christ; whereas Epicurus lived almost 300. years before our Saviour. Now how he should come to know more of Epicurus then those Philosophers who were contemporary with him, even his own disciples, who writ the life and doctrine of that wanton garden Philosopher; is a thing to the2 questioned, and to indifferent men improbable; For whatsoever Gassendus out of this Laertius, writes of his commenations, yet we find in the writings of ancient Philosophers among the Gentiles, and primitive Doctors among the Christians, that he was a man lewd in his conversation, and monstrous in his opinons; so that ever since he opened his Schoole till this day, a wanton Atheist is called an Epicure. Sine vano publica fama. 3 Sure there could not be so much smoke without some fire; and to say that his Contemporary Philosophers, chiefly the Stoicks, should out of malice write untruths of him, is very improbable: for to what end should they doe so? And why more against him then any other? Besides, if he was innocent, why did he not vindicate his own reputation by writing? Why did not his Scholars stand up in his defence, how came it that in almost five hundred years he was branded by the tongues and pens of all men, and no man all that while stood up to cleare his reputation, till Diogines Laertius produced three of his Epistles, which wise men may think to be fictitious; and the rather because they contradict what his own Scholars, and ancient Philosophers have recorded of him. For Timecrates his beloved Disciple, and one whom he made one of the Executors of his last will, writes, that with excesse of eating and drinking he used to vomit twice a day.4 And Laertius himself is forced to confesse, that he killed himselfe in the Bath with drinking too much sweet wine, and so he shewed himselfe to be Epicurus indeed.5 He was so decrepid the later part of his life, that for many yeares together he could not rise out of his chair, he had so enervated his body with pleasures, wherein he placed his felicity. Is this the Doctors vertuous Epicurus, who spent every day a Mina, 6 which was an hundred Drachma's, that is 3.l.2.s.6.d. every Drachma being 7.d.ob. I confesse onely Seneca among the Stoicks speaks favourably of Epicurus his opinion concerning pleasure, as if he meant of mentall delights (lib. 1. de vit. beat.)7 yet withall checks him, shewing that his commending of pleasure was pernitious, because voluptuous men upon this took occasion to hide their luxury in the bosome of Philosophy, and to cover their wantonenesse with the patrociny and mantle of pleasure: Therefore elsewhere he calls him, The Master of pleasure,8 and one who too much yeelded to the delights of the body. Seneca therefore by speaking favourably of Epicurus, would keep off voluptuous men from making him their patron of sensual pleasures; and was loath that the sacred name of Philosophy should be bespattered by such an impious professor:9 His intention in this was good, but yet truth should take place. Neither doth the honour of a holy profession depend upon the quality of the professor; though wicked Judas was an execrable Apostle, yet the Apostolicall function is sacred. But perhaps it may be objected, That Epicurus did oftentimes use to fast, and content himself with bread and water. I answer, That there is a pleasure sometimes in fasting, as well as in feasting: the nature of man delights in change; if it were not for abstinence sometimes, we should not know the delight of fulnesse; darknesse commends the pleasure of light, and Winter adds to the delight of Summer. There is a wearisomnesse in continuall feasting, which taskes away pleasure. therefore Epicurus to maintain an alternate vicissitude of delights, would interchangeably fast and feast. But his abstinence was to increase the pleasure of his intemperance; and his intemperance was to add delight to his abstinence. Beside that, he was necessitated somtimes to fast for his healths sake, and enjoyment of a long life, which could not consist in continuall surfeiting. Seneca (in Epistol.) also reproves Epicurus for his inconstancy in saying, That vertue is never without pleasure; and yet affirms that it is not the vertue but the pleasure that makes a man happy. A foolish distinction saith he:10 For if Vertue be never without that which makes a man blessed, then vertue it selfe is sufficient to beatitude, and that perfectly; for otherwise an imperfect felicity is infelicity. Again, in his Book of Benefits he tells Epicurus, That vertue is to be desired for its selfe, not for its pleasure, which he proves out of his own Doctrine of God: though he hath disarmed him of all power, excluded him from all commerce and care of Man, yet he worships him for his greatnesse and goodnesse, though he have no benefit by him, nor is afraid of any hurt from him. Again, he commends many of Epicurus his sayings, not because they were his, but because they were common Principles and Tenents used by him, Non quia Epicuri voces, sed quia publicæ.11 Another reason he gives, because some sayings are rare and unexpectd out of his mouth, whose doctrine and practice was so lascivious: and therefore he commends his sayings more then his actions: he says he was fortis, sed manuleatus, a brave man, but withal debauched and effeminate; brave in his sayings, but debauched in practice.12 Ignava opera Philosopha sententia. 13 As there be too many like him, Stoicks in opinion, and Epicureall in conversation; by nature saith the Comick, we are all prone to pleasure & lasciviousness, à labore proclives ad libidinem. Arcesilaus being asked why so many of other Sects revolted to Epicurus, but none fell from him to them, answered, That Cocks can be easily made Capons, but Capons could never become Cock again. It is easie to become and turn a Priest of Cybele, but not so easie to return. Facilis discensus Averni, sed revocare gradum, superasque evadere ad auros, hoc opus hic labor. Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, but the gate to salvation is narrow.14 Seneca also checks that Master of the Revels for saying, In contented poverty there is much honesty: For how can he be poore that is content? It is content that maketh rich, discontent poore.15 He plainly bids defiance to Epicurus his opinion of pleasure, in his fourth book of Benefits,16 calling his sect effeminate, umbratick, trencher Philosophers, making vertue the hand-maid to pleasures, which ought to be the Mistresse, enslaving her to her Vassals, which she ought to lead, to command, to keep under; he calls it a manifest blindnesse in them to set the Cart before the Horse, to prefer pleasure before Vertue, to set that first which should be last: And not onely is he angry for advancing pleasure, but for joyning it with Vertue at all, which scorns pleasures, and accounts them her enemies, desiring rather the acquaintance and familiarity of pains and labour, then of such an effeminate happinesse as pleasure. Now that these pleasures of Epicurus are not mental, but corporal, the same Seneca (whom the Doctor cities17 for his defence) makes it appeare in the 13. Chapter of the same book; Your pleasure, O Epicurus, saith he, is to accustome your tender bodies to dull idlenesse, to a sleepy security, in the heat to delight your selves in cold shades, to solace your drooping souls with wanton thoughts, and to cram your lasie karkasses with good meats & drinkes in your shady gardens. Any man therefore may see that Epicurus his God was his belly, and gormandising his chiefe happinesse. Wherefore Athanæus, lib. 7. shewes, that he flattered Idomeneus and Metrodorus, th\j gastro\j h#neken , for his bellies sake. The same Seneca also rejects Epicurus his impious opinion of God, whom he makes as idle as himselfe, sitting in another world secure and careless of humane affaires, acting nothing at all, which is Epicurus his chiefe happinesse, and taking no notice of our injuries and benefits. If this were so (saith he) the world had been made18 to solicite such deafe and impotent Deities with vowes, supplications, and lifting up of hands: Thou O Epicurus (saith he) hast disarmed God, and taken from him all his darts and power, so that he is not to be feared of any; thou hast secluded him from this world by a wal or rampire, so that he can neither see nor feel what is acted here. Hence then it is plain, that Seneca was no supporter of Epicurus, though he commends some of his moral sentences, not because they were his, but because they were common; and what greater commendation is it for him to speak some good sentences, then for the Devil to utter Scripture phrases. Lastly, Seneca's commendations, (if any such be) of Epicurus, are of no great moment, seeing with him he doubts of the souls immortality; when he saith, Illa quæ nobis inferos faciunt terribiles fabulas est, &c. Conf. ad Marcian.19
II. But that we may have a more full view of this swinish Philosopher, whom the Doctor commends for his vertue, long life, and many books, we wil poynt at some of his absurd and impious tenents, that Gassendus, and other phantastical heads of this wanton age, may see what a goodly School of Philosophy they would open here in Christendome.20 1. He rejects Logick, calling it, as Laertius tells us pare/lkousan, superfluous, or preposterous, whereas it is the most usefull of all human Arts or Sciences; for without Logick we can neither define, nor divide, nor21 distinguish, we can neither tel the essential nor accidental differences, nor identities of things; we can neither discourse, or reason, speak or write methodically, we can inferre no conclusion from any premises, nor find out probable and demonstrative arguments for proof of any thing, nor detect the fallacies and captions that are in mens discourses. But it is no wonder he denys the Art of Reasoning, who knew not what Reason was; for he confounds it with the senses, as if it had its essence and being in and from them. And in his Epistle to Phythocles, he would not have his happy men to meddle with any knowledge or discipline at all. 2. He makes a difference between to\ pan\, the Universe and the World; affirming that there is but one Universe, but innumerable Worlds subject to continual generation and corruption; a position repugnant to Divinity, Philosophy, sense and reason. 3. He makes a certain space between his worlds, which he cals metako\smion, Tully translates it intermundium, there he places his idle and carelesse Gods sleeping securely, as not being troubled with noyse, tumblings and clamours of this tumultuous world. 4. He saith that the Sun, Moon and Starres were made a part by themselves, kanq'a)uta\, and afterward were palces22 in this. 5. He will have the just magnitude of the Sun and Starres to depend upon our senses, and to be no bigger then they seem to our eye; so that the bignesse of the Sun cannot exceed a foot. 6. He tels us that the Sun every night perisheth, and every day is generated. 7. He acknowledgeth no other happinesse then what consists in the pleasure of tasting, smelling, seeing, hearing, feeling, or venery, as may be seen in Laertius. 8. He makes all things to have their existence not by providence, but by hap-hazard of Atoms, and not the bodies of things onely, but the reasonable souls of men also, which he makes subject to uncertainty. 9. He makes all the Gods a)nqrwpweidoi=j,23 with human shapes. 10. He teacheth, as Plutarch tels us, that there is no qualities in things, but what the senses apprehend; so that the same wine may be both sweet and soure, according to the palat that tasts it; and hot water is not hot but coole, if a man conceit it to be so. 11. He makes his doctrine fit for all mens humours; he commends wealth to the covetous, discommends it to the prodigall and riotous; he praiseth gormondizing to the Glutton, dispraiseth it to the abstenious: he tells the continent venery is hurtful, but to the wanton that it is delightful and pleasant. 12. He sheweth himself to be a prophane Atheist in despising Religion, making it a tyrant to keep men in aw, a pernitious device and scar-crow to terrifie and enslave the world. And now lest any might think that Epicurus is wronged, and that these damnable opinions are fathered upon him causlesly, I will not alledge Cicero, Plutarch, Lactantius, and others that have professedly written against him, but his prime Scholar Lucretius, who highly commends him, as being the first that freed the World from the bondage and slavery of Religion. His words are these:24
Humana ante oculos foede quum vita jaceret
In terris oppressa gravi sub religione,
Quæ caput à coeli regionibus ostendebat
Horribili super adspectu mortalibus instans:
Primum Graius homo mortales tendere contra,
Est oculos ausus, primusq; obsistere contra:
Quem neq; fama Deum, nec fulmina nec minitanti
Murmure compressit coelum, &c.
And so he goes on, glorying in the conquest and victory that Epicurus had got over religion, Quarte religio pedibus subjecta vicissim obterritur, nos exaquat victoria coelo. His other wicked and absurd opinions, you may see mentioned and commended by the same Poet through all his Poem; so that the Doctor hath no reason to complain that Epicurus is wronged, and much lesse cause hath he to commend and pity so prophane and absurd a Wrriter, & to call him vertuous who was the greatest enemy that ever vertue had. Neither are his many Writings, or long life, arguments sufficient to prove him an honest man. I shall not need spend time and paper in refuting the senslesse and wicked Dictates of Epicurus, being fully refuted already by divers eminent Writers, both Christians and Gentiles.
1. Pseudodoxia VII.17.
3. One should keep in mind when reading this both the vindictive nature of the ancient Greeks (consider Socrates and Aristophanes, for instance) as well as the circumstance that Ross is in fact not prepared to cite contemporaries of Epicurus, but only sources more or less contemporary with the sources cited in Epicurus's defense. (Later in the chapter Ross himself makes a great deal of use of Laertius, whose credibility as a source apparently waxes as Ross needs ammunition.) On the other hand, Diogenes Laertius does cite sources contemporary, more or less, with Epicurus, most of which sources are now lost. As for the Latin tag, one has not lived through the 1990s without learning something about the sometimes startling ability of some creatures to manipulate public opinion.
4. The story comes from Diogenes Laertius. If Ross is unwilling to believe what he says in Epicurus's favor, I cannot see why he should cite him against Epicurus. For most of the ancient documents on Epicurus, translated, see Epicurus and Epicurean Philosophy.
5. This is incorrect. (I suppose I should stop writing that; Ross is nearly always incorrect, and usually something much worse.) Epicurus, says Diogenes Laertius, dying of what was probably renal cancer (a particularly painful and unpleasant disease), climbed into a warm bath, drank "unmixed wine", and died. The text specifically says that he died of a renal disease. Seneca (Epist. Mor. LXVI), whom Ross is about to wield against Epicurus like a dusty club, said that Epicurus's last day was his finest, as in his pain and weakness Epicurus maintained, in accordance with the philosophy of a virtuous man, that he was yet happy.
6. According to Timocrates, as reported in Diogenes Laertius (who goes on to say that Timocrates, as well as a few others, are lunatics). It would be interesting to know exactly how Epicurus would have obtained so much money, but that is not reported, and Ross seems not to have thought of it; no doubt he would have come up with some theory whose unbelievability was matched only by its nastiness.
7. Seneca: On the Good Life cap. 12. Ross ignores many other Senecan statements, here and elsewhere, in Epicurus's favor. They are important because Seneca claims that his philosphy is nearly diametrically opposed to Epicureanism, yet constantly quotes him approvingly.
8. Seneca, Epist. Moral. II:XVIII.9. "Even Epicurus, who taught pleasure, used to fast from time to time; indeed, he boasted that he lived on less than a penny..." and so forth. "Magister voluptatis" is not "master of pleasure".
9. Ross has invented this.
10. Ep. Mor. LXXXIV. Seneca does not "reprove" Epicurus, nor call him inconstant. Rather, he says, Epicurus is making a futile not a "foolish" distinction in saying that virtue alone is not sufficient to make a man happy, because, says Seneca, Epicurus also says that pleasure always accompanies virtue. Seneca, however, is ignoring Epicurus's (and modern psychologists') position that pleasure can be accepted or denied; virtue presumably can therefore exist without making its possessor happy, if he is not an Epicurean. So that virtue is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of happiness. And in fact, in the Moral Essays, de ben. IV.ii.4 (which Ross is about to cite) Seneca contradicts himself and says that virtue is not only not accompanied by pleasure, but is opposed to pleasure; therefore, he says, the Epicureans he does not, pace Ross, say Epicurus - are in the wrong.
11. Ep. Mor. VIII.8. "It is likely that you will ask me why I quote so much of Epicurus's noble words instead of using the works of our own school. But is there any reason why you should regard them as sayings of Epicurus and not common property?" He then goes on to a (not original) list of the thefts of the poets. This unattractive argument combines sophistry and outright lying with breathtaking ingratitude: using someone else's work, and then saying it wasn't worth stealing. No doubt Ross approved highly.
12. An extremely tendentious and probably wrong-headed reading. Seneca: Epistulae Morales XXXIII.2-3. What Seneca in fact writes is that the good stuff is rare (which makes you wonder again how he manages to quote so much of it), and surprising both because of its rarity and because it comes from an effeminate man "or so say many; myself, I believe that Epicurus was a strong man, although given to effeminate luxury; for you may find bravery among the Persians as much as among those whose dress is more manly." "Manuleatus" = "wearing long sleeves", which the Romans considered effeminate (as they already wore skirts, they couldn't say "skirt-wearing").
13. Pacuvius in Gell. XIII.8.
14. Notice the smooth ease with which Ross descends from the laughable to the obscene and thence to the impious.
15. Seneca: Epistulae Morales II:5-6. Seneca does not "check" Epicurus; the text that follows, which Ross translates, is commentary, not contradiction. It is also foolish quibbling, as there most assuredly is poverty that is more than being discontent with present circumstance or desiring more: there is hunger, there is cold, there is the inability to care for one's children, all of which are real facts and constitute poverty, whether dealt with calmly or with distress. "Laeta" does not equal "contented"; rather, "cheerful" or "with joy". To maintain joy in life, even in the face of (real) poverty, says Epicurus, is a very good thing. And so it is.
16. As cited above, note 10, and already alluded to by Ross. Ross adds vitriol (plus a few epithets) to Seneca's dishonesty. It might be worthwhile at this point to remind the reader that Ross's argument here seems to be: (1) I don't like Epicurus; (2) Seneca doesn't like him either. The first point is incontrovertible, but the second is very much so. Seneca heaps praise upon Epicurus's life and his death; he constantly quotes him, although saying that Stoic philosophy is opposed to the Epicurean; he mentions several times that Epicurus is famous both among the learned and the rabble for the virtue of his life and of his thought. In addition to all of that, even if Seneca did dislike Epicurus, so what? He wasn't a contemporary of Epicurus, which ought to make him, by Ross's estimation, ineligible to pass judgement on Epicurus. But we might further add that Seneca was himself a man of thoroughgoing evil. His philosophy is poisonous; we need hardly remind our reader of the practical results of it when applied to the education of the young, : every species of murder, including matricide, fratricide, and probably parricide; every vice of which Ross accuses Epicurus, plus some; the complete annihilation of virtue and the exaltation of power. In what way is the molder of a Nero a proper model for a philosopher, or a proper judge of others?
18. Sic. Read "mad", an epithet with which Ross was surely intimately familiar.
19. On Consolation (ad Marciam) XIX.3. Ross's reading is incomplete. Once again, we might ask Ross why Seneca's putative disbelief in the immortality of the soul invalidates his approval of Epicurus, but not his approval. On the devil quoting scripture, see Mathew 4:6.
20. Note that nobody proposed the opening of a new school of Epicurean philosophy. As for the rest of this chapter, I shall refrain from noting Ross's misrepresentations and misreadings. As an example, we may take the first argument: quoting a secondary source (incorrectly), Ross then translates (incorrectly) and argues against his own mistranslation. Or the second, which is simply untrue on the face of it.
21. The text has "nor divde, inor" etc.
24. Lucretius: De rerum ratura I 62-69.
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