For among the many points of difference between man and the lower animals, the greatest difference is that Nature has bestowed on man the gift of Reason, of an active, vigorous intelligence, able to carry on several operations at the same time with extreme speed, and having, so to speak, a keen scent to discern the causes and effects of things, to draw analogies, combine things separate, connect the future with the present, and survey the entire field of the subsequent course of life. It is Reason moreover that has inspired man with a relish for his kind; she has produced a natural conformity both of language and of habit.
(Cicero, De Finibus, II.XIV.45)
The snows have fled, already grass returns to the fields
and leaves to the trees;
the dry land shifts on its hinge and subsiding
rivers flow past their banks.
One of the Graces, with the Nymphs and with her two sisters,
naked dares to lead the dances.
The circling year and the hour which removes nourishing day
warn you not to hope for everlasting things.
Frosts melt with the west winds; after spring
summer follows close, itself doomed as soon as
fruit-bearing autumn has poured out its plenty;
and soon dead winter hastens back.
Yet swift moons repair their heavenly losses:
when we have gone down to where
righteous Aeneas, rich Tullus, and Ancus are,
we are dust and shadow.
Who know whether the lofty gods will add
tomorrow’s time to today’s total?
Every gift which you give to your own dear self
will escape an heir’s greedy hands.
As soon as you’ve died and Minos has passed august
judgement on you, neither your
high birth, Torquatus, nor your eloquence,
nor your righteousness will bring you back.
For Diana does not free chaste Hippolytus
from the shadows,
and Theseus is not strong enough to break the
chains of Lethe from his dear Pirithous.
You know the Siren’s songs and Circe’s cups;
if, along with Odysseus’ comrades, he had drunk
of these in folly and greed, he would have become
the shapeless and witless vassal of a harlot mistress—
would have lived as an unclean dog or
a sow that loves the mire.
We are but ciphers, born to consume earth’s fruits,
Penelope’s good-for-naught suitors,
young courtiers of Alcinous, unduly busy in keeping
their skins sleek, whose pride it was to sleep till midday
and to lull care to rest to the sound of the cithern…
Well begun is half done; dare to be wise;
begin! He who puts off the hour of right living is
like the bumpkin waiting for the river to run out:
yet on it glides, and on it will glide, rolling its flood forever.
Humankind, rash to suffer all things,
Rushes to sin forbidden;
The daring Prometheus bore fire
With mischievous craft to these peoples.
After the fire’s theft from the gods’ house
Decay and a new kind of
Calamities swept over the lands,
And slow fate first quickened the
Approach of remote death.
Daedalus tried the vacuous air
With wings not given to man;
Hercules overcame the Acherontan labor.
Nothing has been insurmountable to mortals;
Foolish, we seek the sky itself, and nor
Do we endure through our age to
Lay aside our fiery barbs for Jove.
“[That cosmic music] is produced by the onward rush and motion of the astral bodies themselves; the intervals between them, though unequal, being exactly arranged in a fixed proportion, by an agreeable blending of high and low tones various harmonies are produced; for such mighty motions cannot be carried on so swiftly in silence; and Nature has provided that one extreme shall produce low tones while the other gives high
… Learned men, by imitating this harmony on stringed instruments and in song, have gained for themselves a return to this region, as others have obtained the same reward by devoting their brilliant intellects to divine pursuits during their earthly lives. Men’s ears, ever filled with this sound, have become deaf to it… This mighty music, produced by the revolution of the whole universe at the highest speed, cannot be perceived by human ears any more than you can look straight at the sun.”
Cicero’s De Re Publica, VI.18-19
Is it not uncanny how close Cicero’s words are to describing the American ideal of government?
Si vero ius suum populi teneant, negant quicquam esse praestantius, liberius, beautius, quipe qui domini sint legum, iudiciorum, belli, pacis, foederum, capitis unius cuiusque, pecuniae. Hanc unam rite rem ublicam, id est rem populi, appellari putant…
Facillimam autem in ea re ublica esse concordiam, in qua idem conducat omnibus; ex utilitatis varietatibus, cum aliis aliud epediant, nasci discordas… quare cum lex sit civilis societatis vinculum, ius autem legis aequale, quo iure societas civium teneri potest, cum par non sit condicio civium?
“But if the people would maintain their rights, they deny that any [form of government] would be superior, either in liberty or happiness, for they themselves would be masters of the laws and the courts, of war and peace, of international agreements, and of every citizen’s life and property; this government alone, they believe, can rightly be called a commonwealth, that is, ‘the property of the people…’
… And they insist that harmony is very easily obtainable in a State where the interests of all are the same, for discord arises rom conflicting interests where different measures are advantageous to different citizens… The law is the bond which unites the civic association, and the justice enforced by law is the same for all, by what justice can an association of citizens be held together when there is no equality among the citizens?”
“… heia age, rumpe moras! quo te sperabimus usque?
dum quid sis dubitas, iam potes esse nihil.”
Come on, stop delaying! By what shall we continually hope for you?
While you hesitate on what you may be, at any moment, you could be nothing.
For three weeks, I’ve been looking for the original source of The Problem of Evil commonly attributed to Epicurus. I found it, finally! An early Christian author and advisor to Constantine, Lactantius, wrote a piece called De Ira Dei (On the Anger of God), during which he attempts to refute Epicurus’ argument that the gods exist in perfect peace, detached from and uninterested in human affairs. Epicurus argues that the gods are ideals that we should attempt to emulate and understand through ceremony, but we should not attempt to interact with them, for they live in a harmony untouched by human vice. It’s easy to see why people commonly believed the Epicureans to be atheists, but they weren’t. Perhaps the passage that best inspires that misconception is Epicurus’ Problem of Evil:
Deus, inquit [Epicurus], aut vult tollere mala et non potest; aut et vult et potest. Si vult et non potest, imbecillis est; quod in Deum non cadit. Si potest et non vult, invidus; quod aeque alienum a Deo. Si neque vult, neque potest, et invidus et imbecillis est; ideoque neque Deus. Si vult et potest, quod solum Deo convenit, unde ergo sunt mala? Aut curilla non tollit?
God, Epicurus says, is either willing to take away evil and cannot; or he is both willing and able. If he is willing and not able, he is powerless, which does not fall into [our notion] of God. If he is able and not willing, he is malevolent; which is equally foreign of a God. If he is neither willing nor able, he is both powerless and malevolent; therefore he is not God. If he is willing and able, which alone is in accordance with God, whence, therefore, are there evils? Or why does he not lift them?
Epicurus basically argues that a powerless and malevolent God would not make sense with the common conception of divinity. If he allows evil, he cannot be God, for we were placed under His providence and forcing us to suffer would be inconsistent. Thus, God is far off, apathetic, and happy. Of course, the major hole is this: Evil isn’t necessarily bad!
Sed hoc non vidit Epicurus, nec alius quisquam; si tollantur mala, tolli pariter sapientiam, nec ulla in homine virtutis remanere vestigia, cuius ratio in sistinenda et superanda malorum acerbitate consistit.
But this man Epicurus did not see this, and nor did anyone else. If evils are lifted, wisdom is equally lifted, and not any vestiges of virtue shall remain in humanity, whose reason consists of a standing up to and an overcoming of evil through hardship.
I believe that Epicurus recognized this, since he believed in withstanding temporary evil for long-term pleasure informed by virtue. I’m gonna look up a bit more on this after I get started on this Anthropology essay… But, hey! At least I found the source!
“I do not think the gods delight in ambrosia or nectar or Hebe filling the cups and I do not listen to Homer who says that Ganymede was carried off by the gods for his beauty to serve as cup-bearer to Zeus. Homer imagined these things and attributed human feelings to gods: I had rather he had attributed divine feelings to us.”
- Cicero, “Tusculanae Disputationes”