The historian Edward Gibbon’s autobiography, entitled Memoirs of my Life and Writings (1796), contains the following passage:Continue reading
The Ionian philosopher Heraclitus, who flourished around 500 B.C., was even in ancient times known for his obscurity and elusiveness. His well-deserved nickname was “The Obscure,” due to the fact that his elliptical sayings could be variously interpreted. Yet this was no impediment to his influence; his renown was considerable, and his fame rested on the strength of one book, On Nature. Time has not preserved it for us intact, but we do have about a hundred short fragments, and these provides us with the rudiments of his thought.
In one of his letters to his brother Quintus, Marcus Tullius Cicero makes the following observation:
The more virtuous a man is, the less he considers others to be evil. [Letters to Quintus I.4.12]
The idea is the same as that expressed in an old Korean proverb, which I remember from my residence in that country many years ago: “In the eyes of a Buddha, everything is Buddha-like; but to a pig’s eyes, everything appears piggish.” The proverb sounds much more beautiful, of course, in the original Korean; but the point remains valid. A great spirit—a soul imbued with a certain nobility—finds it difficult to comprehend, or accept, venality and baseness displayed by others. Such a man can be trained to recognize and avoid these things, but they will always retain an air of incomprehensibility to him, as if they were fundamentally anathema to his soul. Why is this?
We have forgotten the importance of physical gestures, and lost the power to use them effectively. The modern man mumbles hesitatingly through his daily conversations with speech, intonation, and physical movements that betray his supreme lack of confidence and paralyzed will; his sentences are strung together with drooping, truncated, insipid copulas and expressions that are just as uninspiring as his limp-wristed gesticulations, his distended paunch, and his lack of musculature. Grunting and stumbling have now replaced fluency of communication, grace of artistry, and the supple movement of a divine form towards a noble goal. Since the words flowing from so many mouths now mean so little, we can expect the gestures of such speakers to echo the hollowness of their words. It seems that T.S. Elio’s descriptive lines in “The Hollow Men” have become fact:
One of the myths associated with the foundation of Rome was that of the reconciliation between the Romans and the Sabines. This took place through the mediation of the Sabine women, who, after having been abducted by the Romans, grew tired of conflict and longed for peace. The kings of the two tribes—Romulus for the Romans and Titus Tatius for the Sabines—held a conference at a location where a battle had recently been fought between the two sides. Their purpose was to unify their two nations.
I was recently reading some of Cicero’s letters to Atticus, and came across this sentence in one of them:
Quid enim sumus, aut quid esse possumus? Domis an foris?
This podcast is the third and final lecture in a series of three on my translation of Cicero’s On Moral Ends. In this lecture, we focus on the fifth and final book of On Moral Ends, which deals with the somewhat eclectic philosophy of Antiochus of Ascalon.
The speakers in book V, Cicero and Marcus Piso, debate Antiochus’s views and tussle over whether his conception of the Ultimate Good is better, or worse, than the Ultimate Good proposed by the Stoics and Epicureans. Can wisdom and virtue stand alone, or do other “goods” matter too? What do we really need for a happy life?
This podcast, the second in a series of three, discusses the highlights of books III and IV of Cicero’s “On Moral Ends.” In these two books, Cato and Cicero aggressively debate the merits of Stoicism and its conception of the Ultimate Good. The discussion takes place at Tusculum, Italy, a place that was extensively photographed by the translator in preparation of this work.
When reading books III and IV, ask yourself what you think of the points raised by the disputants. How does Stoicism compare with Epicureanism, in your view?
My illustrated, annotated translation of Cicero’s De Finibus (On Moral Ends) was released today. Purchase details can be found by clicking on the image above. An audio version will be also soon be available. This article will explain the unique features of this highly original translation, and why it represents a new direction for what may be Cicero’s most profound work.
I walked to the ruins of the Platonic Academy in Athens this morning. Founded by Plato himself around 387 B.C., it persisted through many generations under a variety of scholarchs (i.e., heads). It finally came to an official end during the reign of the emperor Justinian in 529 A.D., who ordered the closure of all the pagan institutions of higher learning.