From the works of Pierre Gassendi (1592 - 1655)
arranged by François Bernier (1620-1688)
Mostly original translation by Erik Anderson (copyright © 2004),
based on Bernier's French translation of Gassendi's original Latin, in consultation with a 1699 English
translation by “M.D.” Lengthy citations of Books I & II of
Cicero's De Finibus either come
directly or are paraphrased from Harris Rackham's 1914
Loeb Edition translation. Citation from Book V of Cicero's Tusculan
Disputations assimilates some paraphrasing of J.E. King's 1927
Loeb Edition translation.
Although happiness is properly the same thing as the enjoyment of the chief good, and therefore the best experience which may be desired, nevertheless because this state of enjoyment includes the chief good, happiness itself was made to be called the chief good. It is called the “chief of goods,” “the ultimate good,” “the end of the ends,” and “the end par excellence,” because all other things are desired and sought after for its sake, while happiness itself is ultimately desired for its own sake. Aristotle teaches us that “among desirable things, it is necessary that there be an ultimate good, rather than going on ad infinitum.” But let’s first consider two important points.
The first is, that we shall not concern ourselves here with the happiness upheld by Holy Men, particularly when they teach how happy is he who is helped by Divine Providence, devotes himself purely to the worship of God, and who, full of faith, hope, and charity, spends the rest of his days gently and calmly. We will speak only about that which can be known as natural, i.e., acquirable by natural means, which the philosophers did not ever doubt could be obtained on Earth.
The second point is that this natural happiness is such that one cannot conceive of circumstances which are imaginably better, sweeter, or more desirable. In such a condition there is no evil to fear, no lack of good things, nothing one cares to do that is beyond one’s power, and one is completely stable, safe, and secure. But we understand that although this sort of condition is possible in which there are necessary goods in abundance, very little that is evil, and in which one can thereby live as gently, calmly, and securely as the conditions of our country, society, lifestyle, health, age, and other such circumstances allow, it remains that to promise oneself, or to realize this supreme happiness during the course of our life, it is to not recognize, or to have forgotten, that one is a man, i.e. a feeble and weak animal who by the condition of his nature is vulnerable to an infinity of evils, and miseries.
And it is in this sense which we say that the wise man, no matter how tormented by cruel pains, can yet be content in this perfect and supreme happiness For this human happiness is always experienced in the wise as greatly as possible. The wise man does not worsen his misfortunes with impatience and despair; he instead soothes himself by his devotion. He is happier, or to say it better, less unhappy than if he succumbed in the manner of those who could not maintain themselves in such a plight with the same virtue and the same courage, and moreover do not have, as he does, the comfort that wisdom provides, such as a guilt-free life and a conscience beyond reproach, which is always a marvelous consolation.
This is why one should not go so far as to say that it is thus indifferent to wise man if he is burning in Phalaris’ brazen bull, or is in sweet repose upon a bed of roses, because he would rather not suffer from things like fire and torments – things which he would wish to be free of. But when they arrive, he considers them as inevitable evils, and he endures them courageously; so that he can say “Vror sed invictus; I burn, it is true, and suffer, I sigh and cry, but I do not succumb. I am not vanquished and I do not let myself become a desperate coward, which would render my condition even more miserable.”
To begin with, the main causes of happiness are nothing less than the goods of the mind, body, and fortune. Some philosophers highly extol one or the other, and some include them all.
Of those who chiefly recommend the goods of the mind, Anaxagoras proposes “the happiness in the contemplation things with the kind of freedom which is borne of delightful knowledge.” Posidonius, “contemplation with self-mastery over irrational impulses;” Herillus, generally and simply “wisdom;” Apollodorus and Lycus, generally “pleasures of the mind;” Leucinus, “the pleasures recurring from honest things;” the Stoics – Zeno, Cleanthes, Aristus, and the others – “virtue,” going so far as to say “that in possessing virtue, it doesn’t matter if one is healthy or sick.” All the others maintained a consensus that “living happily was nothing else than living virtuously,” or, as they expressed it, “according to nature.”
Of those who prefer the goods of the body, and who mainly have only sensual pleasure in mind, these were named “the voluptuous,” voluptuarii philosophi, about whom we will be obliged to speak when we compare them with Epicurus. It will be enough to note here in passing that they had Aristippus for their leader, and with him the Cyrenaics, about whom we will also speak further on, and the Annicerians who followed the Cyrenaics. They did not recognize any specified goal of life, but pursued the particular pleasure of any kind of action whatsoever.
Finally, among those who give value to the goods of fortune, they are very truly a crude sort of the people, who, with extraordinary avarice, look upon riches, others upon honors, still others upon other things. But among philosophers, only those who link these kinds of external goods to the goods of the mind and of the body are worth citing. For these are the ones who inspired the beautiful depictions of happiness which poets drew from the various opinions of philosophers, such as this, in which virtue requires good fortune:
Another requires that one has health, a good nature, some riches acquired without fraud, and finally to live his life congenially among his friends.
Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis) demands several other things, such as the goods of inheritance, which do not constitute a struggle to be acquired, to be free of prosecution, to seldom enter public service, to have a tranquil mind, a healthy body, a simplicity accompanied by prudence and friends of equal condition, a woman who is not ugly but who nevertheless has modesty, a slumber which makes the nights short, a desire to be only what one is, neither to fear nor to wish for one’s last day on Earth.
Here we may first observe, as Horace says following Aristotle, that many are often mistaken in the pursuit of happiness by making it consist of things which they miss and admire in the others, e.g., knowledge among the ignorant, wealth among the poor, or health among the sick. Horace expresses this well in his satires regarding the merchant, the soldier, and the ploughman, each of whom admires and envies the fortune of the other.
Secondly, to admire nothing, as Horace again says following Aristotle, is just about the only thing that can make a man happy and maintain his happiness.
This not only shows the onset of serenity, but having recognized the vanity of human affairs he does not admire, nor loves, but rather condemns the glare of power, of honors, and of riches which usually dazzle the eyes of men; it moreover shows that this other kind of peace was acquired by he who has recognized the natural causes, who is not dumbfounded, does not fear, and doesn’t overreact like common men do.
Thirdly, that the sweet repose or cherished relaxation which one finds in solitude, and away from the discomfiture of worldly affairs, contributes much to happiness. Democritus, especially, said that he who aspires to the true goodness of life, which consists mainly in peace of mind, does not need to encumber himself in much business, be it private or public; and it is known that an oracle estimated the Great King Gyges to be much unhappier than the old man Aglaus Psophidius, who in a corner of Arcadia farmed a small place from which he drew life’s necessities in abundance and, having never left this small spot of ground, lived gently without ambition and without having felt the slightest of evils that torment the majority of mankind.
It is this sweet repose which Horace also recommended in his praise of the rustic lifestyle, having said that he who lives it is happy; not being charged with debts, he simply devotes himself in the fashion of the earliest men, plowing his native land without knowing neither war, nor the sea, nor the bar, nor grand houses.
And this is what Virgil also wanted to express to us when he exclaims,
( … at least nothing prevents you from living a guiltless life – a life which is preferable to all the riches of the world. For this, you slept calmly and without disturbance in the shade of your woods, and for this you enjoyed a steady, firm, and secure peace of mind.)
As for Epicurus, about whom we will discuss more at length later, he formulates happiness to consist in the absence of pain in the body and in peace of mind, while maintaining that the effective causes of happiness are neither wines, nor delicious meals, nor any other such things, but a sound, just, and enlightened rationality, accompanied by inseparable virtues, that considers and examines the causes, and the motives which compel us to choose or avoid something. Because his teachings have happiness in mind, he insists on thinking carefully about the things which create happiness. And because the most important thing of all is that the mind be released from certain erroneous beliefs that generate ceaseless anxieties and unnecessary terrors, he introduces some key principles that he believes to be of such importance that, when well-examined, they ease the mind and give a real and solid happiness.
The first principle is in regard to the knowledge and fear of God. It’s for good reason that this philosopher wants us to begin with the ideas by which one must apprehend this sovereign being; because he who has a correct notion of him, finds himself full of love for him, and conducts himself in such manner as he pleases: he devotes himself to honesty and virtue, entrusting himself moreover in his infinite goodness, expecting everything of him, as being the source of all good, and thus living his life gently, quietly, and pleasantly. We shall not concern ourselves here by demonstrating the existence of his being, having already done it elsewhere, but we will simply notice that although Epicurus offers some just and reasonable concepts, he also offers some which are not tolerable among the pious – no matter, these he interprets in his own way and should be regarded as irreverent.
For to believe that God exists, in such a way that Lucretius makes him out to be in these beautiful verses:
… to believe, as I was saying, in a sovereign being that exists for all eternity, has an immortal nature, is blessed, fortunate, in and of itself, nor has need of us, nor anything to fear because of what he is, and who is not vulnerable neither to pain, nor with anger, nor with other passions – these are undeniable truths. These beliefs couldn’t be more praiseworthy, particularly for a pagan philosopher. But to fancy shunning providence, as these same verses seem to do, or to believe that it is incompatible with supreme happiness, so that God does not particularly care for man, and that good people do not have any reason to hope for his kindness, nor do the wicked have any reason to fear his vengeance – these are such things that ultimately our good sense and right religion will not permit.
The second principle is in regards to death – for death, in Aristotle’s observation, is considered to be the most horrible of all evils, an inevitability from which nobody is exempt. Thus, Epicurus professes that one must accustom oneself to think carefully upon it, thereby learning to dispel, as much as possible, those terrors which could disturb peace of mind, and consequently the happiness of life.
For that reason, he endeavors to persuade us that it is so far from being the most horrible of all evils, that it is nothing at all. Here is his argument: death, he says, doesn’t affect us, and consequently it is not to be judged an evil in relation to us. For that which affects us is accompanied by sensation, but death is the deprivation of sensation. He tells us also, as Anaxagoras does, that just as it was not terrible not to have feelings before life, so too shall we not be troubled afterwards. Just as when we are asleep, we are not apprehensive, because we are not awake: so too when we shall be dead, it will not trouble us that we are not living. He concludes, as Archesilas does, that death, which is supposed to be an evil, has this appurtenant to it: that when it is present it has never troubled anybody, and when it is absent, it is only by the weakness of mind and through dismal apprehensions that we have of death that makes it seem so terrible to us – so much so that some are struck dead by the very fear of dying.
We might admit here that death is the deprivation of external feelings, or of feeling itself. Epicurus is right to say that there is nothing to fear about death wreaking havoc by means of sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch – as all these senses do not exist outside the body, which no longer exists, or is dissolved. But what we must disapprove of is that he maintains elsewhere that death is also the deprivation and extinction of the soul, or awareness, which is an interior sense, a sense which he includes. We shall not dally on this impiety, which was sufficiently refuted elsewhere by treating the immortality of the soul. We shall simply oblige ourselves to avoid these excessive horrors of death, and these terrors which often disturb all the leisure and peace of our life, and which by their gloomy darkness, like Lucretius knew, infects the purer pleasures:
Let us therefore first remember, in regards to that foolish desire to live forever, remember, I say, the feeble condition of our nature, and not to ascribe to it anything beyond its range and capacity. Let us enjoy, gently, calmly, peacefully, and without complaint, the present life allotted to us – however short or long it may be. We would have certainly been able to, without being wronged to be deprived of it, by giving thanks to the freedom in which we hold it, and count moreover our daily blessings.
Nature allows us of the use of its domains for a certain amount of time. We should not be distressed that it is necessary for us to leave when that time has expired. We are obliged to yield our place to others, just as others have had to yield theirs to us. Our bodies are naturally vulnerable to destruction – the condition of birth makes the condition of mortality necessary. “If it is sweet to be born,” to use Seneca’s words, “then let us not be sorrowed by our demise.” If rebelling against this necessity could serve some purpose, we should then approve of it; but it serves no use, and when we trouble ourselves so, we only make things worse.
The number of our days is limited, our lifetime goes by irreversibly, we run the course, and whether we want it or not, we come finally to the end. As many days as we live, that much of our lifetime allocated by nature has already expired. As death is the deprivation of the life, we die as we live by a death which does not come all at once, but in parts that accrue bit by bit Yet, we only call the last bit “death.” Even so, it is true that the end depends on the beginning!
We thus moderate nature’s desires according to the same rules that nature prescribed, and if the Fates (to speak like the old poets) cannot be prevailed upon, so that in spite of us they hasten our death, at least we may soften their severity by going willingly.
The one and only solution for living life calmly and without anxiety, is to adapt ourselves to our own nature, to want only what it wants, to count among our blessings even the last moment of life, and to dispose and prepare ourselves so that when death arrives, we can say: “I have lived, and I completed the course which nature had given me to traverse.”
She calls me, but I come from my own accord; she asks for her payment, I return it readily to her; she orders me to die, I die without regret.
We might also usefully take the advice of Lucretius, and say to ourselves sometimes, “The greatest and the mightiest kings of the world have died, and Scipio, the lightning of war, the terror of Carthage, left his bones in the ground like the meanest slave. The most pious of men, Ancus, and Homer, the prince of poets died. So shall we be distressed to die? You, whose life is akin to being half-dead, you, who pass more than half of your time in sleep, who snore, so to speak, subsisting on fantasies, and who live in anxiety, and continual frights.”
This is what our famous Malherbe was to have had in mind when he deplores the fate of great men who are being subjected to the same the laws of death as the lowliest souls.
But here someone will object that we will no longer enjoy the blessing of life: no more country cottages, no more women, no more children, and no more friends with whom to make good times; alas, you say, one day, an unhappy day takes away all his delights! It is true that that is usually said, but one should add that this supposed unhappy man will not feel any desire for any of these things, and that after he has truly died, he will not see himself complaining with a broken heart and consumed by pain about his tomb.
May we not likewise argue, as Plutarch does, what often occurs in our own thoughts? If our natural life, which we believe to be very long when it extends to a hundred years, were instead to last only one day, as those animals which, according to Aristotle, are born in the kingdom of Pontus, so that we were, like them, to enter adolescence in the morning, to be in the prime of life at midday, and to be in old age by evening, then it would be consistent in this case to be as satisfied with being able to live until the evening, as we are presently with living for a hundred years. And if, on the contrary, it were to be that one’s lifespan were a thousand years, like that of our first fathers, then one would be just as sorry to die in six hundred years as we would be to die in sixty. From this perspective those who came first into the world, if they had lived until the present, undoubtedly would not be sorrowed to die now, as we are.
All that certainly must teach us well that life, whatever it is, must be measured not by the length, but by honesty, and the pleasantness which accompanies it, just as the perfection of a circle, as Seneca relates, needs to be measured not by the size of the circle, but by the exactitude of its roundness. “Oh vain and imprudent diligence,” Pliny says, “one counts the number of the days when one should seek only their value!”
We likewise take no notice that the mass of the Earth, and the whole of the world, and a thousand other worlds, if you like, are only a point if one compares them with the immense expanse of the universe. Thus the longest life of man, if it were as long as that of the Hamadryades, or a million times more, is but a moment when compared with eternity. If this life is only a point says Seneca, how far can we extend or elongate this point?
“We know that by prolonging the life,” remarks Lucretius, “we do not reduce any time from the long duration of death.” He who dies today shall not be dead for any less time than he who died a thousand years ago.
What if nature, he adds, should angrily speak to us about this in the following manner: “Why, oh mortal, do you have to complain so much about death? If your former life was pleasant to you, and if you have known to make use of the goods, and the delights that I have provided you, why as a guest do you not withdraw yourself full and satisfied with life? And why, foolish that you are, do you not accept the secure rest which is offered to you? If, on the contrary, life was tedious for you, and if you wasted my blessings, why would you request even more, only to waste them as well? For I do not have anything else to produce for you again, and though you might live to be a million years old, you would never see anything but the same things.” If nature, I say, addressed us in this manner, would we not concede that her reasoning would be right, and that she would be right to reproach us so?
At least it is necessary to concede that a wise man who has lived long enough to contemplate the world, must readily submit to the necessity of nature, at the time which he perceives that his hour approaches; and he must conclude that he has run his course, that the circle which is completed is perfect, and that if this circle is not comparable with eternity, it is at least comparable to the duration of the world.
For having beheld the face of nature, he often contemplated the sky, the Earth, and the other things which constitute the cosmos. He had often seen the risings and settings of the stars; he has seen several eclipses, several other phenomena, the cycles of the seasons, and finally various individual creations, various destructions, and changes. And in regards to those things that relate to humanity, if he has not seen them, then he has at least heard about, or learned by tradition, all that has happened since the beginning of times: peace and war, trust and treachery, courtesy and cruelty, laws established and repealed, the founding and overturning of republics, and generally all the other things that he knows, and of which he is informed, as if he had been present at the time they happened.
So he must think that all the preceding time relates to him, and thus his life began with the same things. And because the past is necessary to anticipate the future, he must still think that all the time which must follow all relates to him, in that there will be nothing in the future but what already is, that it is only circumstances which change. The universal flow of things always stays on its ordinary track, and always replays the same themes. So it is not without reason that the sacred texts pronounce, “The thing that has been, it is that which shall be, and that which is done, is that which shall be done again, and there is nothing new under the sun.” From this we may conclude that a wise man should not consider his life short, for by casting his eyes on the past, and by forecasting the future, he can do so as long as the duration of the universe.
Moreover, though Epicurus had reason to say, “There is hardly the slightest reason why a thing which will not sadden us at all when it is present, must upset us when it’s absent,” it seems, nevertheless, that there is still some reason to fear death, insofar as it can have some evils preceding it, or follow it; Seneca therefore attempts to compile some reasons to show that if death is not an evil, it nevertheless appears so much like an evil, that it cannot be casually shrugged off.
These following points proceed from the same school. “The wise man lives as long as he ought, though not so long as he may; he knows where he ought to live, with whom, and ho, and what he ought to do. He considers the manner of his life, and not the length. If he meets with crosses, and misfortunes, he frees himself, and doesn’t wait until the last possible moment to set him at liberty; but as soon as fortune begins to frown upon him, he seriously considers, if he ought not at that time to end his days. He believes that if he himself hastens his end, or expects it from another hand, it is the same thing; or whether it be brought to pass sooner or later, it grieves him not. Nevertheless sometimes though his death is certain and appointed, and that he knows himself set apart for execution, yet he won’t lend his helping hand, nor will he be overwhelmed with sorrow. It is a folly to die for fear of death. If he that is to kill thee is coming, wait for him, why would you prevent him? And why will you undertake to execute upon yourself another’s cruelty? Do you covet the office of an executioner? Or will you save him the labor? Socrates ought to have ended his days by fasting, and die by hunger, rather than by poison, yet he continued thirty days in prison, in expectation of death; not because during this time he had hopes of a reprieve, but to show himself obedient to the laws, and to give his friends the pleasure of enjoying the conversation of Socrates, when he was ready to die. When therefore an outward violence threatens us with death; we can’t give any general or absolute directions, whether we are to prevent it, or to expect it with patience, for there are many circumstances to be considered. But if there be two kinds of death, the one full of grievous torments, the other sudden and easy, why might we not choose the latter?”
This was the opinion of Hieronymus, all the Stoics, and namely of Pliny, who fashions the name of “good mother” to the Earth, because having compassion of us, she instituted poisons. It is also supposed to be the opinion of Plato, for although Cicero makes him out to say “that we ought to preserve the soul enclosed in the body, and without the command of him who give it, we must not depart out of this life, that we might not thereby seem to despise this gift that go has bestowed upon man,” yet in his book of laws, he declares, “That he who kills himself is not to be blamed, but when he does the act, without being thereunto forced by the sentence of the judge, or by some insufferable and unavoidable accident of fortune, or by misery and public shame.” Not to mention Cicero, who in a certain place commends the opinion of Pythagoras, “because he forbids departure from our fortress, or to quit our station of life without the appointment of the general,” that is to say, of God. Yet elsewhere he teaches “that in our life we ought to observe the same rule, which is in the Greek symposia, that is to say, ‘either drink or depart;’ so that if we can’t bear the injuries and affronts of Fortune, we must accept them, by flying from them.” And Cato, who seems not to have fought death so much to avoid the fight with Caesar, as to obey the decrees, and follow the dictates of the Stoics, esteeming it his glory to observe them, and to leave his name famous to posterity, by some great and notable action; for Lactantius says, “Cato was during his life a follower of the vanity of the Stoics.”
In regards to Democritus, “His opinion,” as the same Lactantius informs us, “was truly different from that of the Stoics; yet he suffered himself to die by fasting, when he found in his very great age, that the strength of his body, and the abilities of his mind began to fail. (Sponte fue letho caput obvius obtulit ipse) About which, we may say, is altogether criminal; for if a murderer is an offender because he kills a man, he that murders himself is guilty of the same crime, because he also kills a man. It is very probable that this is the greatest crime, whereof the vengeance is reserved to god alone; for as we do not enter upon life of our own accord, so neither are we to depart out of it of our own heads, but by his order, who has placed us in the body to inhabit there. And if any violence or injury be done us, we must bear it patiently, because the life of a guiltless person that is destroyed cannot be unpunished; for we have a powerful God, unto whom vengeance always belongs.”
Finally, in regards to Epicurus, it is believable that he too disagreed with to the Stoics, for he says, “The wise man is still happy amidst his torments,” because, being tormented by gallstones which caused him extreme pains, he nevertheless did not hasten his own death, but awaited it patiently. Seneca, besides, says “Epicurus reproaches those who desire death as much as those that fear it; and that there is a great indiscretion, nay folly, in hastening our death, for the fear of death.”
Yet it happens very often, as Lucretius said, not only because the excessive fear of death throws in some dark melancholy which makes one utterly discontented, and that one finally comes to the point of hating life as difficult, annoying, and unbearable, and at last seeks the strangest of ways for deliverance from it: procure death. But this excessive fear causes a certain imperceptible sadness, depressing one’s heart and spirits, disturbing all the functions of the life, impeding digestion, and ultimately brings on fatal diseases.
In any event, the opinion of the Stoics not only conflicts with the sacred dogmas of religion (though it doesn’t disapprove of it when some persons, by a certain particular and divine instinct, hastened their own death, like Sampson and Razis in the Old Testament, and Sophronia, and Pelagia in the New Testament) but it moreover contradicts nature, and rationality. For nature gave a natural love of life to every kind of animal and all of them, except man, will endeavor to save its life and escape death no matter what evils torment it. It is hence remarkable that only man corrupts the institution of nature through his erroneous opinions, if he rejects the use of the life and procures death, he does so by a peculiar debasement.
For the true state of nature should be considered like the general character of animals, and not of those individuals within the only species who procure their own destruction and are lost before their time allotted by nature. From which we should infer that they abuse nature, and its Creator, for although they are intended to undergo a certain course, they halt themselves in the middle of the race, and having been posted as sentinels, they desert and give up their station without awaiting the order and the command.
Reason, besides, consequently forbids the use of cruelty towards the innocent, who never did us any harm, and forbids us to be cruel to ourselves, from whom we never experienced hatred, but rather too much love. Moreover, on what occasion can virtue appear more advantageous, than when profusely suffering the evils that the hardness of fortune necessitates?
“To die,” says Aristotle, “because of our poverty, or for love, or for some other mischievous accident, is not the act of a man of spirit and courage, but of a mean and timid soul, for it is the act of a weak mind to shun and flee from things that are difficult to be endured. Stout men, says Curtius, are wont to despise death, rather than to hate life. It’s the trouble and impatience of suffering that carries the cowards to base actions, that makes them despised, and scorned. Virtue leaves nothing untried, and death is the last thing which we must encounter, but not as timid, lazy, and reluctant souls.”
I shall not linger upon the opinion of those “Who,” says Lactantius, “imagining that the souls are eternal, have therefore killed themselves, as Cleanthes, Chrysippus, and Zeno, expecting to be simultaneously transported to heaven; or as Empedocles, who cast himself in the night into the flames of Mount Aetna, supposing that by disappearing so suddenly, the world might think that he had gone to the gods; or, as Cato, who was during his lifetime a follower of the vanity of the Stoics; who, before he killed himself, as it is reported, had read Plato’s book of the eternity of the soul; or finally, as Cleombrotus, who after he had read the same book, cast himself down a precipice. This is a cursed and abominable doctrine, which drives men out of their lives.”
I shall also not dally upon that Cyrenaic of Hegesius, who preached, with so much eloquence, the miseries of life and the happy circumstances of souls after death, that the king Ptolomy was obliged to forbid him to speak in public, because several of his disciples, according to Cicero and others, killed themselves after having heard it. For the evils which we endure in life can well become so great, and multiply in such a manner that when the occasion to die presents itself, the loss of the life is not sorrowful; death is regarded as a haven in which one finds himself delivered from the miseries and tempests of life. But to press this exaggeration to the point of inciting a mistaken hatred for life is to be abusive and ungrateful towards nature, as if the gift of life that had been bestowed for our use must be rashly rejected, or as if we should not rather enjoy it, prolonging it so honestly and gently as possible!
It is true that what Theognis said formerly, “that it would be much better for men not to be born, or to die at soon as he was born,” was a celebrated saying. It is likewise demonstrated by Cleobis, Biton, Agamedes, Pindarus, and some others, who having petitioned the gods to reward them for their piety with something better and more desirable, were returned a very great favor: to die soon. Also, there is likewise a Thracian custom of crying for those who are born, and felicitating the dead. Not to mention Menander, who wished that a certain young man was dead, because he was liked by the gods.
Nor to mention something of that celebrated pronouncement that nobody would accept life, if it were given to people who knew it.
But, I ask you, who shall believe that Theognis and the rest spoke seriously, or without reservation? I say “without reservation,” because if one simply wanted to say that it was better for those who would be miserable all their life to have never been born, or if they would be born, to die immediately – that sort of thing would be in some way tolerable. But to apply this to everyone is to insult nature, who is the mistress of life and death that established and instituted our birth and destruction, just like everything else that consummates the universe; and one reveals oneself to have forgotten, if not of all, than at least of most of mankind, who are not displeased with life, and who seek all the care to preserve it. For life, as we already observed, always has something pleasant about it, and so he who maintains this kind of attitude will feel enthralled and saved. He would, I believe, resemble the old man in Aesop’s fables who sent death away, even though he had called for it, or another who refused a dagger that was presented to him, even though he had asked for it, in order to deliver himself, he had said, from a misery which was unbearable to him.
Certainly we may scoff at he who said that to live or to die was something indifferent, and who, when someone else objected, “why then don’t you just die?”, he answered: “Because it is indifferent to me.” – though I’m sure that if somebody with an unsheathed sword in hand obliged him to choose, he would have preferred life over death. Another answered all the more ingeniously, who, when one reproached him that although he made a profession of wisdom, he was still frightened by danger, answered, “you are rightly excused not to fear, your soul not being so precious; but me, I fear for the soul of Aristippus.” And another, who being already old, was reproached for having too much passion to remain alive, replied, “Having only lately acquired wisdom, I wish for some time to enjoy it.” Similarly, those who marry late wish for a long life to raise their children.
But nothing is more memorable than what Cicero says about a certain Leontinus Gorgias, who having arrived at the age of a hundred and seven years, without ever stopping his ordinary work and occupations, answered those which asked him why he wanted to remain living so long?
“I do not have reason to feel sorry for myself in old age.”
The fourth principle concerns the future, forbidding us from being anxiously hopeful and from being carelessly hopeless about it. In this way, we are habituated to maintain an unbothered attitude towards future events, rather than to inflame futile hopes and to depend upon what might or might not be. Since fortune is shifty and fickle, nothing that results from its power can be foreseen or relied upon with much certainty. It often misleads those who look forward and rely on it. More surely, one should not absolutely despair about what one foresees, nor to regard it as something inevitable, but to somehow prepare for any event, so that if things turn out differently than one hopes, one does not believe that he has been robbed of something absolutely necessary.
This kind of maxim – neither too hopeful nor too hopeless – tends to the same purpose. For to hope with too much confidence, one neglects all, and the mind wanders astray; and to not have any hope one forsakes all, and everything is abandoned. But he who has a moderate mind in comparison to these extremes is in an admirable mental position, and is not obliged to exclaim:
This is what Torquatus expresses so well in Cicero, when he says, that “the wise man awaits future events as if they might actually happen; but nevertheless he doesn’t depend on them, because it may also happen that they do not come to pass; meanwhile, he enjoys what is present, and remembers with satisfaction what has passed.” To this same purpose, he also says elsewhere, “that we ought not rashly despair in a mean, abject and cowardly manner, nor be overly motivated by excessive passion. Thus Epicurus, while speaking about the fool as opposed to the wise, knows that the life of the fool is unpleasant, apprehensive, and altogether based on what has yet to come:
“A fool’s life is troublesome and uneasy, always distracted with the thoughts of what may happen hereafter.”
The fifth principle is a reproach to mankind, for by delaying day by day, their life occurs unnecessarily, and in a constant dependence of the future. “Consider,” Seneca says, according to Epicurus, “how pleasant it is to desire nothing, and what a greatness of mind it is to always be fulfilled, and not to depend upon fortune! Grab and secure the present, whereby you will have less occasion of dependence on the future.” By deferring the enjoyment of life, our life vanishes senselessly. Dum differtur, vita transcurrit. To the same purpose he says in Plutarch that “he who needs not tomorrow, nor wishes for it, comes to it passively;” as if he wanted to say that the wise man must reckon that if he considers each day of his life as the very last, and that which must achieve the circle: because in this way he will not defer pleasantness by the hope of the following day, and if he comes to the following day, that his day will be all the more pleasant, for it will be less wasted, until being higher than the roof, considered like a surplus, and esteemed as pure gain.
Pacuvius, viceroy of Syria, after having spent a whole day drinking the best and most expensive wines, had a tradition that each time he was carried off from the table, this music was sung to him: vixit, vixit, “he has lived, he has lived!”
Horace, a little earlier, gave the same council. “It is necessary,” says he, “to think that each day is the last of our life;” the time that one does not take for granted will occur agreeably.
Let us pleasantly enjoy the present, and let us never count on the following day. Be not inquisitive as to what shall happen tomorrow; but as if you were to die this very day, consider it advantageous if providence grants you any longer continuance.
Accept with thankfulness the tome that God bestows on you, and do not defer the enjoyment of the comforts and pleasures of life till the next year.
As if day by day one approached the dregs of the life, as if the purest pleasures that one differs could no longer be recovered, and that those which come later don’t stack up to those coming earlier – from hence these frequent complaints come from time badly spent.
“The years I once have spent, could Heaven only restore!” And nevertheless we do not press ourselves to live in the present, so that if God did restore them, we could say, “I do not see – how might I spend the time better?” We always imagine that good times and happy living have never arrived, that moreover what we desire is infinitely beyond all that we have enjoyed, or yet to enjoy. So we never appreciate anything throughout the past, and always look towards the future, as much in need of life as ever.
It’s as if we don’t account for past pleasures and rejoice that they have been secured; which we should do all the more so because many others only hope for a similar fortune and their expectations are frustrated. We must do this piece of justice to Epicurus, says Seneca, “That he continually complains about our being ungrateful for the time past, that we call not to mind the good things that we have enjoyed, nor so much as reckon them among the real advantages and solid pleasures of life, because there is no delight more certain than that, which we cannot be deprived of.” Praefentia bona nondum tota in solido funt, potest illa cafus aliquis incidere, future pendent, & in certa funt; quod praeteriit inter tuta sepositum est.
Therefore Plutarch concludes, “That the nature of good consists not only in shunning evil, but also in the remembrance and in pleasing ourselves with the thoughts of things that have come to pass.” But to insist on ridiculous delays, one defers these things indefinitely.
It’s a strange thing,” says Epicurus, “that considering we are born but once, that our days are to have an end, and that tomorrow is beyond our power, nevertheless we always put off living until tomorrow, so that our life is spent miserably in these continual delays, and there are none but die busied in such affairs as concern not their real happiness, for we occupy ourselves in everything else, but to live.” From hence proceeds that other just complaint of Seneca, “among other evils, this also attends folly, that it is always a beginning to live.” And Martial says, “You are for living tomorrow. Alas! Consider it is already late to live to day; he is a wise man who knew how to live yesterday.”
To the same purpose are those verses of Manilius:
Why do we consume our days in care, and in perpetual anxiety, tormented by needless fears, and blind ambition? We lose our life while seeking it, and without enjoying the end of desires, we always work to live, and we never really live.
The sixth principle regards greed, or covetousness – knowledge of which is of such importance, that one must be mainly occupied with distinguishing those which must be known as natural and necessary indeed, and those which are useless and superfluous. For the happiness of life depends on the denial of the latter, and to simply sustain us with the former: but as we shall be obliged to speak about them in several other places, we shall satisfy ourselves for the moment to have simply mentioned them.
The last principle that Epicurus recommends us to consider, is properly an exhortation to carry on studying philosophy – being the medicine of the soul. Because philosophy, if we consider the etymology of the word, is the study of wisdom, and wisdom for the soul – not only as a drug by which health is acquired and preserves itself, but as health itself. Indeed, just as the health of the body consists in a suitable temperature and quality of bodily fluids, thus the health of the soul consists in the moderation of passions.
One only needs to listen to Cicero to appreciate the accuracy of this comparison. “All passions,” he says, “are regarded by philosophers as distempers of the mind; and they deny, that among fools, there are any that are exempt from these distempers. Such as they are distempered, they are not healthy;” he says, “therefore every one that is a fool is actual sick.” For according to philosophers, the health of the soul consists in a certain tranquility and unbreakable stability, and a soul that is not in this condition, they called a “patient.” However, it is necessary to suppose with Epicurus and others that usually there is nothing dearer, or more precious than the health of the body – which shows how dear and precious the health of the soul must be. Thus it is true (as we shall see) that the goods and evils of the soul are greater and more considerable than those of the body. Consequently, as the end of the happy life consists in peace of mind and in the comfort of the body (as we shall also see), there is more value in the latter; for he who has a tranquil soul, comporting with the rules of wisdom, greatly nurtures temperance, which is most solid and most assured supporter of health.
“We must then,” says Epicurus, “act the part of a philosopher, not only in appearance, or out of ostentation, but effectively, and seriously, because what concerns us is not just to seem to be in health, but to really be so.” The young and old alike must apply themselves to the study of philosophy as it is important at either age to be healthy in mind and body; then one cannot reproach us, like Horace, that if we had the slightest thing stuck in our eye that caused discomfort, we would remove it straight away, and yet we defer years to cure our own spirit!
We must, in regard to philosophy, not follow the example that Thales made in regard to marriage; for when his mother pressed him to marry, he could very well answer that it was not yet time, and later on, that it was too late; but just as it is ridiculous to say that it is not yet time, or that it is too late to heal the body, thus it is ridiculous to state that the time to philosophize, i.e. to cure the soul, has not yet come, or that it has passed; since it is precisely like he who would say, that it is not yet time, or it is too late to be happy. It is strange that time is thus unfortunately wasted, and that one does not apply something that is just as useful to the rich and poor alike, and when neglected, is as detrimental to young people as with old men. This is one of the reproaches that Horace made to himself.
“Young people and old, partake! Seize something beyond money, maintenance, and the consolation of poor old men.”
For it is the study of philosophy, speaks the poet, imitating Biantes, Aristippus, Antisthenes, Aristotle, and other philosophers, who call philosophy the money of old age. But to speak especially about what might persuade young people to study philosophy: there is nothing more excellent and more laudable than to accustom oneself early on with good things, and to adorn the beauty of youth with the softness of the wisdom, which is the fruit of a ripe age. There is nothing more pleasant than to prepare for and to be able to expect an old age, which, in addition to the ordinary fruits of maturity, can still shine and burst forth with the same virtues with which one shone and burst forth in youth, so that by the memory of beautiful and virtuous actions, as by its repeated presence, one rejuvenates, so to speak, continuously. In regards to those who are already advanced in age, it is consistent that wisdom is the characteristic and the true ornament of old age, that it is the singular support against discomfort, and the feebleness of age, and that it is what animates old men with youthful vigor.
Here, it is necessary to listen to Seneca, who, already very old, went to hear the philosopher Sextus, just as the Emperor Antonius did so at a later time.
“Behold, this is the fifth day that I frequent the schools, and that I listen to a philosopher, who argues from eight o’ clock. You may perhaps say, it is time indeed to study in our younger years. And why not in this age? Is there anything more ridiculous than to refuse learning, because we have not leaned a long while before? Shall I be ashamed to go and meet a philosopher? We ought to learn while we are ignorant, and according to the proverb, ‘as long as we live.’ Go, Lucillus, and make haste, for fear that it should happen to you, as to me, to be obliged to study in your declining years; and make what speed you can, the rather because you have undertaken that which you will scarce learn when you come to be decrepit. But what advantage shall I gather, might you say? As much as you will strive for. What do you expect? No man becomes wise by chance. Riches may come to us of themselves, honors may be offered to us, and we may be advanced to employments and dignities, but virtue won’t come and see us; we must endeavor to find her, for she never bestows her blessings, but only upon such as take labor and pains.”
These are the principles which the ancient philosophers, and mainly Epicurus, have recommended for our serious consideration, as being specific for us to discover and to pave us the way to happiness.
It is astonishing that the word pleasure so defamed Epicurus, or as Seneca says, “that it made occasion for a fable.” For it is consistent that this term includes decent pleasures as well as sordid and debauched ones. I say that it is consistent, because Plato, Aristotle, and all the other ancient philosophers, as well as their disciples, say in so many words that among pleasures, some are pure, others are impure, some are of the mind, others are of the body, some are true, and others false.
“We believe,” says Aristotle, “that pleasure ought to accompany happiness. And since it is confessed that among actions that are in accord with virtue, those that proceed from wisdom are more pleasant than the rest, as wisdom seems to contain pleasures that are pure, admirable, and fixed.”
“There is a delight,” says Cicero, “in contemplating great and mysterious things, and when there appears something recognizable, the mind is filled with sweet pleasure. In the discoveries of nature there is an insatiable pleasure, and those who delight in such pursuits often neglect their health and their fortune; they suffer all things, being captivated with the love of knowledge and understanding, and with great labor they pay for the pleasure they acquire by learning.”
I simply mention this because there are those who believe that the word pleasure can only be, or should only be, taken in its basest sense; thus, when Epicurus says that “pleasure” is the goal, they only take him to mean sordid and forbidden pleasures, so that when they read that among the philosophers some were called “voluptuous,” they presently mistake him for their chief.
But to examine this more deeply, let us start with the accusation which is made against him. Among those who accept other pleasures than those of the body, there are some who suppose that what Epicurus speaks about must be understood as bodily ones. So let’s read his own words, such as they are recorded by Laertius, since this is where he expresses his opinion, and where he clearly declares what is the pleasure that he believes to be the end of life, or the chief good. “The end of a happy life,” he says, “is nothing else but the health of the body, and peace of mind. It is because all our actions aim and tend to this end, that we may be free from pain and trouble.”
Having named pleasure as the end, some had used this occasion to slander him, saying that he meant sordid and bodily pleasure. For this reason he makes his own apology, and in order to do away such misrepresentation, he declares even more obviously what sort of pleasure he means and what sort he doesn’t. For having thoroughly recommended a sober life, which is satisfied with the simplest and more easily obtainable foods, he goes on to say, “When we say that pleasure is the end, we do not mean the sensual or the debauched kind, which terminate in the very moment of enjoyment, and by which the sense are only gratified and pleased, as some ignorant persons who are not of our opinion, or those being enviously bent against us, do thus interpret.” We only recognize it as this: “to feel no pain in the body, and to have no trouble in the soul; for it’s not the pleasure of continual eating and drinking, nor the pleasure of love, nor that of exotic delicacies, and delicious morsels of large and well-furnished tables, that make a pleasant life; but a sound judgment, assisted by sobriety, and consequently by a serenity and tranquility of mind, which thoroughly inquires into the causes of why we ought to choose or avoid anything; and that drives away all mistaken opinions, or false notions of things, which might raise much perplexity in the soul.” I could add in passing, something which we will speak about later, that the delights of Venus are never useful, and it is just as well if they do us no harm; but as for the topic at hand, this simple and clear clarification of his sentiments is enough to safeguard him from any accusation and from all condemnation.
Let us nevertheless note the difference in the comparison that Laertius makes between Epicurus and Aristippus. Because this comparison, or contrast, shows clearly that Epicurus believed no other pleasure to be the end, other than that which consists in stability, and as for the rest, to know comfort, and peace, while Aristippus endorses the pleasure of the body, and namely that which is in the movement, or by which the direction is currently moving and affected is the end. This contrast, I say, shows undoubtedly that the opinion of Epicurus is misinterpreted to be the same as that of Aristippus, in such a way that all reproaches that ought to be made towards Aristippus, and all the condemnations that ought to spill on him, are spilled on Epicurus, with almost none touching Aristippus. The illustrious argument of Torquatus by Cicero obviously shows exactly this – here are his words:
“I shall explain,” Torquatus says, “the essence and qualities of pleasure itself, and shall endeavor to remove the misconceptions of ignorance and to make you realize how serious, how temperate, how austere is the school that is supposed to be sensual, lax, and luxurious. The pleasure we pursue is not that kind alone which directly affects our physical being with a delightful feeling—a positively agreeable perception of the senses; on the contrary, the greatest pleasure according to us is that which is experienced as a result of the complete removal of pain. When we are released from pain, the mere sensation of complete emancipation and relief from uneasiness is in itself a source of gratification. But everything that causes gratification is a pleasure (just as everything that causes annoyance is a pain). Therefore the complete removal of pain has correctly been termed a pleasure. For example, when hunger and thirst are banished by food and drink, the mere fact of getting rid of uneasiness brings a resultant pleasure in its train. So generally, the removal of pain causes pleasure to take its place. Epicurus consequently maintained that there is no such thing as a neutral state of feeling intermediate between pleasure and pain; for the state supposed by some thinkers to be neutral, being characterized as it is by entire absence of pain, is itself, he held, a pleasure, and, what is more, a pleasure of the highest order. A man who is conscious of his condition at all must necessarily feel either pleasure or pain. But complete absence of pain Epicurus considers to be the limit and highest point of pleasure; beyond this point pleasure may vary in kind, but it cannot vary in intensity or degree.”
To also produce some more witnesses, Seneca must certainly be heard and credited before all the others, as being without doubt a character of great merit and great reputation, a saint of exemplary manners, and yet devoted to a sect which so misrepresented the words of Epicurus, that it is mainly responsible for all the vulgar ignominy that had blackened Epicurus instead of Aristippus.
“According to Epicurus,” Seneca says, “there are two benefits required to consummate the chief good, or chief happiness, of man. The first is that the body should be without pain. The second, that the mind should be calm and sedate. These benefits don’t increase, if they are complete, for how can that which is full, increase? When the body is free from pain, what can be added to that freedom? When the mind delights in itself, and it is quiet, what may be added to this tranquility? Just as the serenity of the heavens is perfect, and can’t admit of any other new degrees of light, when it is absolutely clear and without the least shadow or mist, thus the condition of man is perfect, when he has taken care of his body and soul, making his chief happiness to consists in the advantages of both together in a freedom from all trouble of mind, and from all pain of body; for we may then say, that such a man has arrived to the full accomplishment of all this desires. And if besides all this, there happens to him an additional repose, it doesn’t increase his chief good, but it only seasons it. For this complete happiness, the perfection of human nature, is comprised in the calmness of the body, and the mind.” So let it be noted that Seneca expresses plainly and clearly the opinion of Epicurus, in accord with how it is presented in the text of Laertius.
Moreover, because Epicurus had given the name of “supreme pleasure,” or “chief good” to the comfort of the body and to peace of mind, those debauched sensualists of his time, fancying the above pretext and abusing the word of pleasure, commended themselves for having a philosopher as the defender of their debauchery. For this reason, Seneca speaks about them in his book entitled Of the Happy Life,
Thus, it is quite obvious that the chief good of Epicurus is not the pleasure which is in motion and in stimulation, but rather that which is in rest, and in the release from trouble.
We could add the testimonies of Tertullian here, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, Ammonius, Stobeus, Suidas, Lactantius, and several others among the ancients, who, though not being particularly fond of Epicurus, did nevertheless say, that the pleasure Epicurus endorsed “was nothing other than a quiet natural state, and not a base and sordid pleasure.” Others have said that “between Epicurus and Aristippus, there was this difference: that Aristippus placed the chief happiness in the pleasure of the body, but Epicurus in that of the mind.” Others, “that the pleasure which disciples of Epicurus propose to themselves for their end, certainly is not a sensual and a bodily pleasure, but a quiet temper of the soul, which is inseparable from a virtuous and an honest life.” Others, like Lactantius, after he had abated from the ardor of his style, said that “Epicurus maintains the chief happiness to be in the pleasures of the mind, and Aristippus in that of the body.”
I have said, “among the ancients,” because after two hundred years, at the end of this barbaric era, we have among others, John Gerson, and Gemistus Pletho, of whom the former, after having brought back various opinions on happiness, said that there are some who holding that “the happiness of man consists in the pleasure of the mind, or in a peaceful tranquility of spirit, such as was that of Epicurus, mentioned often by Seneca, in his epistles, with very much respect. But as to the other Epicurus, Aristippus, Sardanapalus, and Mahomet, who placed it in the pleasure of the body, they were no philosophers.”
Here it is necessary to pardon the ignorance of that age, and the common vogue, if he suspected that there were two Epicuruses.
The latter, Gemistus Pletho, took up the pleasure of contemplation, shows “that Aristotle taught no other position than that of Epicurus, who established the chief good in the pleasure of the mind.” However, it is not without reason that I insinuate that there has since come a happier age, which brought back the good letters that had been nearly lost. For then came an endless number of knowledgeable people who had better thoughts about this philosopher, like Philelphus, Alexander Ab Alexandro, Volateranus, Johannes Franciscus Picus, and many others.
But what shall we say to those who charge Epicurus with holding an entirely opposite opinion? Nothing else than that which has been spoken in the defense of his life – to recognize that the Stoics, among others, who in portraying him as deathly evil for reasons which are expressed at large, not only wrongly interpreted his opinion, but having believed in their own misunderstanding, published on his behalf scandalous books of which they themselves were the authors in order to vindicate their bad interpretation, and to be able to elicit gossip against him with impunity.
Now one of the principal causes of their hatred was the fact that Zeno, their chief and leader of them, was naturally melancholy, austere, hard, and severe, and that his disciples, in the imitation of their chief, affected the same manner and severe countenance. Thus it came to be that the Stoic ethic, or wisdom, was decried as particularly austere. In this regard, they were admired and respected among the common people, and because one easily lets oneself get carried away with vainglory and vanity if one is caught off-guard, they imagined that they were the only possessors of wisdom. Thus, they boasted that only the wise man whose soul was nourished and strengthened by the virtue of the Stoics was fit to be king, captain, magistrate (these are their terms), citizen, rhetorician, friend, beautiful, noble, rich, etc. Such a person never repents – he was beyond compassion, beyond reproach, ignorant of nothing, never in doubt of anything, free from passions, always at liberty, always joyful, like God himself, and was attributed many other special qualities, about which Plutarch mocked that “the Stoics have taught things more absurd than poets!”
Epicurus on the contrary, as he was kinder and more humane, and because he acted with sincerity and plain-dealing, could not endure such vanity and ostentation. Furthermore, in observing the human condition and examining what it was capable of and what it was not, he recognized right away that all these great resounding promises of the Stoics, were not, if one revealed the structure and the pretensions of their words, anything but vain fictions. This is why he professed a virtue which he knew to be humanly possible. And he thus observed that all men, in what they largely do, were naturally motivated by pleasure, and after having examined all types of pleasures, he perceived that there is none more universal, more definite, more stable, and more desirable than that which consists in the health of the body, and in peace of mind. For this reason he declared it to be the end of all goods, adding that virtue alone was the true means of acquiring it. Thus he maintained that the wise man, or virtuous man, who by clear-headedness and self-constraint (i.e. the virtue of temperance) conserved the health of the body as much as its natural constitution permitted, and who, assisted by supportive virtues, calmed passions of lust, greediness, avarice, and ambition, and mainly strived to preserve peace of mind as much as possible. He also maintained that true pleasure did not consist in action, or motion, as Aristippus presumed, but in stasis and consistency, simply with neither pain in the body nor disturbance of mind, as we already said several times. So this was the simple manner and skill of how he acted, without worrying about gaining public adoration through splendid words, or a majestic posture, or displaying vanity in manners, as Zeno did, and without intending to deceive people, as he figured that nothing is more recognizable than flaunting something that one does not even understand, nor even practices. Now Zeno and the Stoics, understanding the simplicity of his manners and doctrines, and perceiving that a number of enlightened people were undeceived and could see through their grand and splendid words and promises, fostered such prejudice against him, that they always sought how to defame him. Seizing upon the word pleasure, they maintained that he meant sordid and debauched pleasure, and excessiveness.
This is why one must not believe in what they say, nor the others, who, persuaded by their mendacity, are led against him. If there were some honest people who were also at fault, it is certainly because they had not ever entered the interior of his school, as Seneca complains, but that they only had forged books, or because they trusted the Stoics, his enemies, or finally because even though they were not unaware of his true opinion, they nevertheless believed that since it is not so easy to enlighten people, it was therefore useful to continue to defame this philosopher, in inspiring the abhorrence of vice and of debauched pleasure by the infamy of their pretended author, or defender.
In particular regards to the Patron Saints, being that they only had piety and morality in mind, they preached strongly not only against sordid and debauched pleasures, but also against their authors and defenders. Because the rumor was already sprung that Epicurus was chief among them, they treated him according to common gossip. So it wasn’t their fault that he was defamed, since he already had been. What they did, as we have said, was only intended to inspire a greater abhorrence of vice, and of sordid and sensual pleasures.
It is so true that some, like Lactantius, who being otherwise provoked against Epicurus, did not neglect to revise their opinion in its entirety. And Saint Jerome, among others, writing against Jovinian, does not place Epicurus among the number of those who ordinarily say “Let us eat, and drink, etc.,” but as a man very different from the common gossip: “It is wonderful,” the great saint says, “that Epicurus, the great patron of pleasure, fills his books with nothing but herbs and fruits, affirming that the plainest food is the best, because animal flesh, and other dainty dishes require a great deal of care and trouble to be prepared for our consumption, and that there is more pains in seeking them, than pleasure in abusing them; that our bodies have no need but of plain meals and drinks, that where there is bread and water, and suchlike necessities, we may thereby easily satisfy nature, but what is over and above is needless, and tends to gratify our lust; that our eating and drinking is not for delight, but to expel hunger and thirst; that wisdom is inconsistent with the laborious toil of procuring good cheer; that nature’s desires are soon satisfied, and that by a moderate diet and plain apparel we expel cold and hunger.”
There is one more passage which seems to be able to create difficulty; it is that which Cicero objects, as being drawn from the book “On the End” that is attributed to Epicurus; because he makes him say that “if bodily and sensual pleasures are taken away, he does not recognize the good.”
But could we just believe the Stoics, who dared to forge entire books and make Epicurus their author, might have maliciously inserted this passage in his book, and that this sort of counterfeit work arrived in the hands of Cicero, and Atheneus? A proof of this: in the first place, Laertius, who lists a catalogue of the books by Epicurus, and who should thereby know well enough what they consist of, when he relates a passage of the book “On the End,” and other similar works, says that “they are fools who impute such things to Epicurus,” as not being found within the authentic manuscripts. Hesichius attests that those who ascribe this passage to him are slanderers. In the second place, Epicurus himself complains about these words being assigned to him as being the total opposite, and which his disciples did not ever recognize that passage, which on the contrary they have always complained about, and railed against. Thirdly, that these repugnant words are obviously contrary with those of Epicurus: Res Venereae nunquam prosunt, & multum est ni noceant, as we have already observed. Fourthly, that Cicero, among the objections that only he makes, is himself obliged to question it, as if the truth itself had compelled him to ask “are you to believe that Epicurus is of this persuasion, and that his opinions are sordid, sensual, and debauched? As for myself, I do not believe any of it; because I see that he says so many beautiful and highly virtuous things.” Fifthly, that Cicero acknowledges himself (as he was extremely popular) that he does not encumber himself in dense rhetoric according to the strict opinions of philosophers, but in accordance with the notions of the people. Verum ego non quaero nunc quae sit philosophia verissima, sed quae. Oratori conjuncta maxime. Not to say that he could not keep himself from speaking good of Epicurus, as being a man without malice or quite a truly good man. Venit Epicurus Vir minime malues, vel potius Vir optimus. And when he speaks of the Epicureans, he says that they are very good men, that he has never met with anyone less malicious; that the Epicureans complain of his endeavoring to speak ill of Epicurus; that whole crowds of Epicureans came frequently to visit him, but that nevertheless he does not despise them. Quos tamen non aspernor; these are his own words.
Now to see how precisely Epicurus differs with Aristippus, one need only study Laertius. They differ, he says, firstly in regards to the word “pleasure,” as Epicurus ascribes it not only to that which is in movement, and stimulation of the senses, but also to that which he says to be stable, and permanent, and to consist in this comfortable repose that he calls ataraxia kai aponia, “tranquility and comfort.” Aristippus, however, ascribes it only to that which is in the movement, while mocking the tranquility and comfort of Epicurus as being like that of a sleeping man, or a dead man.
They differ, therefore, in that Epicurus places the end, i.e., happiness, in that pleasure which is in stasis, (in statu), or in duration; Aristippus in that which is in movement, (in motu); Epicurus – in the mind; Aristippus – in the body; Epicurus includes the pleasures of memories of past goods, and the expectations of goods to come, while Aristippus places no value on them. But as we’ve already touched upon these things above, only a couple items remain to be addressed.
The first is that when Atheneus said that not only Aristippus, but that also Epicurus and his disciples embraced the kind of pleasure which is in movement, this relates to that slander which in time brought about the belief that Epicurus was of the same opinion as Aristippus, and which, according to same words of Atheneus, refers directly to Aristippus. These are his words: “Aristippus,” he says, “being wholly devoted to the pleasures of the senses judges those pleasures to be the end and happiness of life, and making no account of former enjoyments, nor of the expectation of any too come; he knows no advantages, but such as are present, as the most debauched persons do; and as those, who are immerged in delights.” However, I ask you, to just consider with this passage, all the different authentic testimonies which we have conveyed above in favor of Epicurus, and the authority of great men who also maintained that he was wrongly slandered, and by showing all that Aristippus really is, such as Atheneus depicted him, how far this philosopher must be removed from the manner of life and the doctrines of Aristippus! Furthermore, Aristippus had some notoriety of his luxurious life, because it is known that when he was reproached one day for his luxuries, his delicacy, and the great expenditure for which he incurred, he in no way concealed or excused it; he was satisfied to answer by a kind of aphorism – a mocking remark: “I enjoy Lais, but she doesn’t enjoy me; I live sumptuously, but if that were criminal, it would not be so often practiced at the festivals of the gods. I give fifty Drachmas for a partridge, for which you wouldn’t spare a half-penny; I buy a dainty bit dear, for which you wouldn’t grudge to bestow three half-pence. I therefore do not have so great a fancy for pleasure, as you have for your money.”
The second thing that we must note here is that these words of Seneca: “I will never call indolence a good, which a worm, a cricket, a fly enjoys…” cannot be, nor should not be, understood as the same absence of pain, i.e., the pleasure that Epicurus places in stasis or in leisure; for he did not so endorse a state of idleness, or the leisure of a cricket or a worm, but rather a life as Seneca himself praises, and highly esteems, when he says, “Why wouldn’t the rest in which he will dispose and settle the ages to come, and will set an example to all men, presently and in posterity, be convenient for an honest man?” Or when speaking particularly of Epicurus, he says “Nor is that person, of whom we are wont to speak harshly, for maintaining a soft and idle pleasure, but for such as is consistent with reason.” As if he should describe it like that which Aristotle represents proceeding from a life of contemplation, or that state of rest and tranquility which is employed in speculation and meditation, and therefore ought not to be called idleness, and laziness; for contemplation is such an action, which alone consummates divine happiness. Besides, the same Aristotle declares, “action is not only in motion, but there is some in repose, and that pleasure consists rather in repose, than in motion.”
And what Seneca asserts, in speaking about pleasure, that it chiefly consists in action, is much to the purpose. “This pleasure,” he says, “is extinguished when the delight appears in its greatest strength; it is soon accomplished, it soon passes over, and becomes tedious after its first impression. Now that which comes and passes away so speedily, and perishes in the use, and in the very act, has neither substance, solidity, nor duration, but ceases the same moment that it appears, and in the very beginning it looks to the end, and perishes.”
It is true what Plato, speaking of this concern, maintains: that it may just as well be called pain as pleasure, “for just as it is a pleasure to pass from pain to this; so it is a pain and grief to fall from pleasure into the same.” Nor is it nearly so grievous, to cease from the enjoyment of pleasure in a case where no pain ensues, as it is gratifying to cease from being tormented with pain in a case where no delight follows; therefore this state is reckoned to be a state of pleasure, rather than of grief. This is what Torquatus means in Cicero, “I suppose that when pleasure is removed, nothing immediately follows that is uneasy, unless by accident pain follows after that delight. On the contrary, we rejoice to be delivered from pain, though none of those pleasures which gratify the senses follow; from whence we may infer, what a great pleasure it is to be free from pain!”
But let us listen to Seneca, who contends that this condition is not only a pleasure, but the chief good of mankind.
“The Wise Man,” Seneca says, “is he who is merry, peaceful, and without anxiety, living content as the gods. Now examine yourselves, and notice if you are not often dejected, turned off, and sometimes carried away with overwhelming expectations and fervent desires, which render you anxious. However, if your mind remains always in the same even temper, day and night, consistent in respect of itself, always exalted and content – if so, you may then say, that you have arrived at the most accomplished level of happiness that men are capable of. But if you are still in pursuit of all sorts of pleasures, and seek them everywhere, know that in such a case you need as much wisdom as contentment. You desire to attain the chief happiness, but you are deceived, if you expect to procure it by the means of riches. If you seek delight among honors, it is to seek it among cares and troubles. That which you fancy will give you pleasure, is the origin and cause of a thousand torments. Pleasure and contentment are the universal desires of all men, but they generally are ignorant of the methods of how to obtain such contentment as may be fixed and permanent. Some seek it in feastings and luxury, others in riches and great offices and dominion; others in the favors and smiles of their Delilah’s, others in a vain ostentation of their learning and parts, which oftentimes stand the soul in little stead. Their short-lived and deceitful pastimes delude them, such as inebriety, which for the seeming pleasure of an hour, causes many months of real sorrow and trouble; or the applauses and acclamations of the people, which we have already purchased by much inquietude, and which will not fail to draw upon us as much more. Remember that a Wise Man ought to procure for himself such a satisfaction of mind that is always firm, constant, and consistent. His soul ought to be like that part of the world above the moon, where a continual serenity reigns. You have reason therefore to endeavor to be wise, seeing that satisfaction proceeds from his own conscience, and from his knowledge of being a virtuous man. It is impossible to enjoy this tranquility, unless we be just, magnanimous, and temperate. But then might you say, ‘Don’t fools and wicked men rejoice?’ – no more than lions, when they have found a prey. When such have spent the night in debauchery, when they have gorged themselves with wine, and consumed their strength in the courtship of women, and when their stomachs can no longer contain the quantity of meals they have devoured, they may then well cry out, ‘What miserable wretches are we! We now plainly see that this night has been spent in vain and deceitful pleasures!’”
“The joys and pleasures of the gods and of those who imitate them, are never interrupted, and never have an end. Their satisfaction would fail, if it came from without. That which Fortune never gave, it can never take from us.”
The last difference that Laertius puts between Epicurus and Aristippus is that Aristippus contends that the pains of the body to be greater, and more troublesome than those of the mind, and he contends that the pleasures of the body are much greater and more considerable than those of the mind; whereas Epicurus maintains the complete opposite: “in the body,” he says, “we can only feel things present, but the mind can sense things past, and to come. It is self-evident, that a great degree of pleasure or an extreme affliction of the mind contributes more to a happy or to an unhappy life, than much pleasure or much pain of the body. If the painful diseases of the body embitter the sweetness of our lives, those of the mind ought to render it even unhappier. Now the principal distempers of the mind are the greedy extravagant desires of riches, of glory, of dominion, and of sordid and unlawful pleasures. Moreover the disturbances, complaints and sorrows overwhelm the mind, so that anxious cares consume it, (etc.)”
This seems to be what Ovid thought, when he reproaches us because we may endure cautery, the scalpel, and thirst to cure some malady of the body, but to heal our spirit, which is worth infinitely more, we can hardly suffer anything.
And I suppose Horace had the same notion in the aforementioned passage.
Certainly, as the mind is infinitely nobler than the body, and according to the opinion of Aristotle, is almost all that man is, it should be extremely susceptible to the impressions of good, pleasantness, or pleasure, or of evil, displeasure, or anxiety, and sorrow. Moreover the disorders of the mind are all the more dangerous than those of the body, which have recognizable symptoms, while those of the mind often remain hidden to us, which confounds us, so that we cannot make sound judgments. Thus, those who are sick in the body have recourse to medicine, while those who have an ailing soul find fault with philosophy, and refuse to obey its precepts. Furthermore, among the diseases of the body, the greatest and the most dangerous of all are those which cause stupor, and is not felt by the patient, like lethargy, epilepsy, and that burning fever which throws one into a delirium. By analogy, there are diseases of the mind of this kind which should not be overlooked, all the more so, as not only are they not recognized for what they are, but that they are concealed all the same with the example and with the pretext of the opposite virtues; fury and anger, for example, being called strength, while fear is called prudence. In short, sorrows, which are the pains of the mind, being a certain general disease which makes other diseases more unpleasant, sad and sorrowful, are taken to be nothing more than something caused without much provocation, and without reason. But one should not object, as Aristippus does, that one usually punishes criminals with pains, or corporal punishments, because they are greater and more unbearable. For the legislator, or the judge, does not have the same power over the mind as he has over the body, so he certainly does not directly order that the criminal’s mind be tortured, but rather he is corporally punished, to make an clear example out of him, presuming that it is necessary to restrain the populace through the fear of punishment. But it does not follow for that that there is not an altogether greater pain, or that mental suffering cannot still be an even greater torment.
Besides, when somebody is experiencing bodily anguish, or when one perceives that he will shortly be so, he imagines that he will be put to torture, or perhaps, that his head shall be sliced off, that he will be broken, that he will be burned, that he will lose the life, that it will happen in front of everyone, with much humiliation, bearing the eternal dishonor of his family and his dear friends, and so on. Do you believe that there can be any pain of the body, supposing that it can be separated from all that, which can be comparable with this kind of pain – this cruel mental anxiety? It is for this reason that I say that sorrow, sadness, pain, or the agony of mind was not ordered directly by the judges, insinuating instead that it is ordered indirectly, so that by occurring in the body, it makes the torment greater. Moreover, have we not seen, that the only threat and the only fear of the torment of death, which can cause one’s hair to turn gray overnight, a cold sweat, or even death itself, demonstrates well enough that their ultimate and greatest torment was not in the body, but in the mind? I have so far not even mentioned the pain and anxiety of mind that remorse, desire, or ambition cause in a scoundrel, a tyrant, or the avaricious; I will say only in advance that Juvenal, Horace, and Persius speak about it as if it were a greater torment than Coeditius, or Rhadamante had ever invented.
And it can’t be said that a scoundrel, by piling up his crimes, could end up without any sort of the ordinary regrets which would gnaw at the heart of the cruelest tyrants, and thus be happy. For the exemption from remorse alone does not make happiness. I would say for now that in the reality of ordinary life, the assumption is not only very rare, as one could easily prove, but that it is impossible that there could be man so hardened that he could defeat his inner torturer. Moreover, a scoundrel of this kind could not be counted as being among men, but rather among monsters to be strangled, and not only that, but among the insane, having lost sense and reason, while brutishly exposing himself, so to speak, to the rage and fury of all men who abhor him, and who consider him to be like a ferocious beast, and like a tyrant to be executed.
Laertius also remarks how Epicurus was different than the Stoics, and how they greatly envied him.
He writes that Epicurus, having said that virtue was desirable for the sake of pleasure, was by this occasion defamed by them, as if he had spoken about sordid pleasure and debauchery, objecting that “it was an unworthy and criminal thing to maintain that virtue must be sought, not for itself, but the goal of pleasure.” Among others, one named Cleanthes, to exaggerate the matter, and to render Epicurus more odious, made this depiction, with which Cicero chides Torquatus: “Just imagine (he said to his disciples) pleasure finely drawn, sitting on a royal throne, shining in very splendid and magnificent attire, attended by all the virtues, standing about her like so many servants, yet performing nothing else, nor fulfilling any other duty, than to advise her and whisper in her ear: ‘take heed that you commit nothing imprudently, and nothing that might offend the minds of men, or else some regret and displeasure may result.’”
This is how the envy and jealousy of Cleanthes fashioned the pleasure of Epicurus. And that would be the worst of it, if somebody else had not said that “Epicurus had imitated Paris, when, of the three goddesses, he chose Venus, to whom he bestowed the golden apple,” as if Epicurus had only sensual pleasure in mind, beguiled by her tousled hair smelling of perfume and honey, her attire, her composure, and her eyes which breathed only ardor and lasciviousness.
Instead, he ought to have imitated Hercules, who having met Pleasure and Virtue, will prefer the latter, no matter that Virtue had an austere face, badly combed hair, a stern glance, a masculine gate, decency, and modesty.
Nonetheless, we need not dally to expunge Cleanthes’ portrayal, nor to scrutinize what calumny and mischievousness had been thereby contrived. What has already been said is more than sufficient – especially since we clearly showed that the pleasure Epicurus advocates is not the sensual, sordid, and debauched pleasure that this depiction portrays; what he had in mind is very different, and very pure, i.e., bodily comfort and, mainly, peace of mind. Thus, this kind of pleasure in no way whatsoever causes interference in seeking virtue, since it is in this pleasure that happiness, or the happy life, consists. Fortunately, Epicurus therefore advocates nothing else than what the Stoics themselves uphold, when they maintain that the virtue is enough to produce a good and happy life.
Certainly, this maxim alone shows plainly enough that whatever loophole or deception that the Stoics could seek, they nevertheless were describing virtue as something else, i.e., the good, and living happily. Thus, because the happy life is truly desired for itself, virtue is not as much desired for itself as is a happy life. However, when I say that they sought deceit, I include Seneca himself. Because to make pleasure only an accessory, or as something which accompanies virtue only by accident, like a small weed which sprouts and flowers between wheat – this seems trite and pretentious. It is in fact a perfect analogy to compare virtue with wheat, because just as one seeks wheat not merely for the sake of wheat, nor for the small weed which sprouts among it, but for the practical uses in life that one expects from it. Thus, virtue is not exactly sought for itself, or because of itself, nor for something insignificant coinciding with it, but chiefly for a happy life, or, which is saying the same thing, for the kind of pleasure that we have just talked about. Thus, when he adds, “you are mistaken when you ask me what motivates us to seek after virtue, for it is to ask for something above that which is the highest of all; I seek and desire virtue itself; I desire it for itself; there is nothing better; it carries with it a sufficient reward,” it is obvious that the question is fair, and incidentally, that one can say that when one desires something beyond virtue, one does not desire a ridiculous thing, or something that is beyond the highest and most elevated. It is true enough that of all the means that one can employ to make life happy, one shall not find anything superior, more certain, nor better than virtue; nevertheless, the happy life should be regarded as being above virtue, because virtue ultimately serves the happy life, or happiness, as its end.
Aristotle seems to be very precise about this point, when he speaks of that happiness which virtue above all things can procure. “It is,” he says, “evident that the compensation or reward of virtue is something very excellent, something divine and happy.” And elsewhere, “That happiness is not something that happens to us by a divine providence alone, but is something to be obtained by virtue, or by learning, or by our endeavors; there is nothing that could be more excellent, nothing more happy.” Additionally, he makes this distinction with Plato and Architas. “There are some things,” he says, “that are desirable for themselves, and not as a means to anything else, such as happiness; and other things are desired as means to something else, and not for themselves, such as riches; and other things are desired for themselves and as a means to other things, such as virtue.”
I cite this intentionally, to show what sort of men are opposed to Seneca when he shouts that the virtue cannot, nor could be, desired for anything but itself. And in doing so, one does not tarnish virtue; because insofar as we value pleasure, happiness, and the chief good, so much do we owe and honor virtue, which brings happiness.
But we need not linger any more with these matters; it is enough to relate here what Cicero makes Torquatus say according to opinions of Epicurus. The passage is long, but it is very beautiful, and it explains, or even decides all these matters.
When, after a long argument, it was concluded that whoever is wise, just, and honorable, tends to live pleasantly, and happily, Torquatus continues to speak thus:
I could mention here the objections which are made against this opinion, but they are merely aimed at those sordid and debauched pleasures that Epicurus rejects in express words.
I only take notice of the sort of pleasure which is hereby under consideration — the proper and natural pleasure which comprises the chief good, and happiness; for this reason one says that the virtue alone is inseparable from it, because it is its only real, legitimate, and necessary cause. When it is present, pleasure, and happiness follow; and when removed, pleasure, happiness are necessarily removed – just as the sun alone is recognized as being inseparable from day, because it is the only real and necessary cause of the day. However the reason why Epicurus proposed that virtue was the direct cause happiness is that he believed that prudence was, in a sense, all the virtues; insofar as the other virtues are born from prudence, and have a necessary connection to it.
So far we have done little else than to bring Epicurus’ opinions into full view.
Now we must advance the matter further. To see whether or not he had a reason to say that pleasure is the end, it is first necessary to examine two of his principal maxims. One is that any pleasure is in itself a natural good while any pain is an evil. The other is that nevertheless certain pains are sometimes required to be chosen over certain pleasures.
In regards to the first maxim, it is reasonable that Epicurus asserts that any pleasure is good in and of itself, though by accident some of them turn out to be bad. For any creature, by its nature, seems to be so inclined towards pleasure (or gratification) that it is the foremost thing which it naturally desires. There is no pleasure that it refuses, as long as it is not accompanied by some evil which would then cause it pain, and make it regret choosing the pleasure. And certainly, as the nature of good consists of inspiring the desire to like it, and to pursue it, one cannot say why any pleasure, or any pleasure of itself, is not pleasant and desirable. Thus, there is no pleasure in itself that one does not like – that is not pleasant and appetizing. So if we reject some of them, it is not exactly pleasure that we reject, but the consequential nuisances that are connected with it.
To make an example: nobody would disagree that honey is naturally sweet; nevertheless, if one happened to mix poison into it so that the poison was sweetened, then we truly would have an aversion for the sweetness of honey. But this would be by accident, because it is still by its own nature delightful and appealing. Thus, one can say that if we have such an aversion, it is not really for sweetness itself. It is caused instead by the harm of the poison mixed into it, for if the poison was separated from it, we would be quite willing to taste it. Apply any sort of pleasure to this example, and you will notice that it will never turn out otherwise: the harm shall never come from the pleasure itself, but rather from the thing from which it shall be obtained, or a consequence which accompanies it, or the injury which shall result either from the thing or from the consequence, or the pain which shall follow the thing, the consequence, or the injury.
To make this point even more obvious, suppose that a particular kind of pleasure can be come from a thing or action, that neither law, custom, nor honor prohibit. Suppose that from this thing or action, no loss of health, fame, or benefits results. Finally, suppose that it entails no pain, reprimand, or repentance – either in the present life or in the hereafter. You will clearly recognize that nothing precludes it from being considered a good. If it is not considered such, then this is not because of its nature, but because of the kinds of qualifications that I have mentioned above.
Aristotle also proves this by reasoning that pain is the opposite of pleasure. “Everyone,” he says, “agrees that pain is a bad thing and should be avoided.” Now, to build upon Aristotle’s reasoning, is it not obvious that any pain is generally evil and hurtful in and of itself, so that any animal has a natural aversion to it? So if it sometimes is known as a good, it is only so by accident, and because it happens to have a good attached to it, which makes us like and embrace it. But if you remove from such pain any hope of obtaining any honest, practical, or pleasant benefit from it, would there be a man foolish enough to desire it and who would elect to go after it? Isn't it so obvious that if any pain is an evil in itself, though not one by accident, then any pleasure, being the opposite of pain, is a good in itself, and is an evil only by accident?
Some would object that a temperate man flees pleasures, and he who is prudent seeks only freedom from pain instead; that there are some pleasures which are impediments to prudence, especially those that are intense, as are generally the pleasures of love; that there are some pleasures which not only are harmful, in how they dull one’s awareness, generate diseases, and cause poverty, but are also debauched and infamous.
First off, those who are temperate and those who are prudent do not flee all pleasures, for sometimes they evidently pursue those pleasures which are pure and honorable. And even if they flee some of them, they do not flee them just because they are pleasures, but because they are linked to consequential harm, so that a prudent and temperate man would not be seduced by the enjoyment of such pleasure when presented, in the same way that one regards poison that has been sweetened: not because it is sweet, but because it brings harm, which assuredly does not deserve acceptance for its sweetness. Accordingly, pleasures alone do not hinder prudence, but rather the consequences which accompany them – consequences, I say, by which one’s spirits are exhausted, the strength of understanding is weakened, and judgment is clouded. So when these evils are attributed to pleasure, it is a fallacy which Aristotle calls non causae ut causae (that which is not the cause, taken as the cause), just as when the harm that should be attributed to the poison is attributed to the honey, or its sweetness.
As for diseases, poverty, and other inconveniences which commonly accompany pleasure – pleasure, simply considered in itself, is not the cause of these evils. It is gluttony, or the excessive consumption of wine and meats prepared with sauces, that results in indigestion, fevers, and other inconveniences. By tempting us to exceed the bounds of moderation, these notorious maladies (and so many others) result. Thus, it is ordinarily thought that pleasure is disreputable, because only the eventualities that accompany it are taken into account, which are themselves contrary to good manners and have a bad and shameful reputation.
It is also for this reason that the law, for example, does not forbid the pleasure of adultery, but rather the act of adultery. It is because of the act, being forbidden and scandalous, that the pleasure which accompanies it is also supposed forbidden and scandalous. Suppose, however, that there was no law against it, as in the state of pure nature. Suppose it so happened that a married woman was the lover of the present adulterer. He would have enjoyed the same pleasure, but would nevertheless avoid being defamed as wicked because the act of partaking in such pleasure was neither forbidden nor disgraced. This nicely demonstrates that pleasure is not itself is not blameworthy, but rather the act which accompanies it.
Some may still object that just because pleasure is not an evil, it is nevertheless more useful to count it among evils because the populace, being inclined towards pleasure, ought to be bent, like crooked trees, in the opposite way so that they can be brought back into good standing.
But Aristotle counters that it is not productive to use these kinds of arguments with people, because when it concerns passions and actions (as in this case), one does not give more credence to words than to the thing itself. When it happens that words do not agree with what is apprehended by the senses, they are discounted, and even if they contain some hidden good, they are detrimental. This is why Aristotle seems to insinuate that it is best not to make much of counting pleasure among evils, since one’s inclination is obviously opposed to the idea precisely because it approves of pleasure and holds it to be good. Rather, one should make known and emphasize the evils which accompany or follow some pleasures, the lesson being that a prudent and temperate man would rather abstain from these kinds of pleasures, because eventually great evils result.
If this response inspired by Aristotle does not satisfy, then nothing can inhibit us from arguing against pleasure itself, and being heard to speak about pleasures which cause much more evil than they contain any good. For the sake of the argument, it is then just as useful to hear that pleasure or the action which accompanies pleasure is bad, in order to infer that one or the other is to be fled because of the evils which, by connection, follow one or the other.
We could, at this point, argue against the Stoics, who pretend that there is no other good than that which is “honest,” and no other evil than that which is “dishonest;” but that would be dallying on empty words, since it all boils down to semantics. For they have limited these concepts in their own imagination – even though all of mankind holds them to be more generally applicable. For most people count many things besides virtues as goods, like health, pleasure, glory, wealth, friends; and they count many things besides vices as evil, like disease, pain, disgrace, poverty, enemies, etc.
The Stoics preferred to call these things indifferent – neither good nor bad – and because it was so obviously absurd to maintain the equivalence of health and disease, pleasure and pain, etc., they were obliged to coin new terms, and to name health, pleasure, glory, and the others προήγμένα (promota – “assistants”), meaning that they were truly not goods, but such things that closely approached virtue, which was the chief and unique good. They did likewise for disease and pain, naming them αποπροήγμένα (Abducta remota), which meant less noble things further away from the virtue, because whenever it is a matter of choice, those are preferred, but these are forsaken.
This is the way of their doctrine, but I would be ashamed to answer them in any other way than how Cicero does, when he exclaims, “Oh what great strength of mind, and what justification to create new doctrines! (O magnam vim ingenii causamq; justam cur nova existeret disciplina!) The Stoics argue, and with their weak reasoning, would maintain that pain is no evil (Concludunt ratiunculis Stoici cur dolor non sit malum, etc.), as if men were only troubled about the word, and not the thing itself! Why must you, Zeno, deceive me with your subtle niceties, and newfangled words προήγμένα and αποπροήγμένα; for when you tell me that what looks grievous is no Evil, you put me on the stand. I would desire to know how that which seems to me most prejudicial and hurtful, is no Evil in itself. Nothing is Evil, as you pretend, but that which is dishonest and vicious. These are but words; neither can you hereby remove the difficulty. I understand very well, that Pain and Grief are not criminal Evils. You need not trouble yourself to tell me that; but show me whether it be an indifferent thing to suffer pain, or to be free from it. You say that it is different, as to the happiness of life, seeing that consists in virtue alone: but in the meanwhile, what you call pain is to be reckoned amongst those things that you are to avoid, and by consequence is an evil. When you pretend that pain is no real evil, but only something uneasy to be suffered, etc., it is to speak at large what everyone else names in one word, Evil. And when you say that ‘there is nothing good, but what is honest,’ and ‘nothing Evil, but what is dishonest,’ it is to vanquish in words, but not in sense; it is to express desires, and prove nothing. Doubtless, this is an undeniable truth: all that nature hates, ought to be esteemed in the number of evils; and all that is grateful to it, is to be reckoned on the contrary.”
The second thing which must be examined before reaching a conclusion about the opinion of Epicurus is: if it is sometimes necessary to forsake pleasure for pain. It is a question that depends entirely upon the preceding one. For if there is an prospect for pleasure of the kind that Plato called “pure, and separated from grief and trouble,” i.e., such that it must never bring any consequential pain, neither presently nor in the future, not in this life nor in the hereafter, one has every reason to embrace it. And if there is a prospect for pain which could also be known as “pure,” separated from any pleasure and which could never be followed by any pleasure, it is reasonable to avoid it. Conversely, if there is a prospect for pleasure which happens to be an obstacle to obtaining some greater pleasure, or which has painful consequences that are justifiably regrettable, it is also reasonable to avoid it. And if a prospect entailing some pain would circumvent some greater pain, or would bring on a considerable amount of pleasure, it is reasonable to embrace it.
This is why, as even Aristotle saw, that pleasure and pain are the criteria, the standard, or the scale by which one must judge if a thing should be accepted or avoided. So, anyone who is wise will abandon pleasure, or accept pain, if he sees that a regrettable consequence will follow a particular pleasure, or that by accepting some minor pain he will thereby avoid a greater one. Torquatus explains it clearly:
We may add the general consent of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, who all make use of the same standard and the same criterion. And even Cicero supposes that one thinks about it as if all pleasures and all displeasures, either present or to come, were put in front of you, as if one weighs the balance by hand. For he says, “If you weigh present pleasures with future one, we are always to choose the greatest and the most plentiful; but if we weigh evils with evils, we choose the least and the fewest. But if you weigh present pleasures with future evils, or present evils with future pleasures, in such a case, you should choose the pleasures if they tip the balance, but not if the evils do.”
Coming finally to Epicurus’ opinion that pleasure is the end, it should be noted that the reasoning which brought him to this conclusion is partly because he considers pleasure as simply and plainly self-evident, and partly because he considers that it must be managed by the intellect. Hence, Alexander observes that the matter should be distinguished, when he says that “pleasure, according to Epicurus, is truly the chief good that nature prescribes, or the chief good to which we are naturally inclined, but afterwards this pleasure is kept in order, and directed by wisdom and prudence.” (Effe quidem voluptatem ex mente Epicuri primum familiare, primum, et congenitum bonum, primum aptum accomodatumque naturae; verum deinceps quasi in ordinem redigi talem voluptatem.) We will speak later on about this last part, which for Epicurus is nothing other than freedom from pain and peace of mind. Let us now say something about the first part, and see whether this self-evident pleasure is indeed the primum naturae familiare, or the first and chief good that nature requires. For it is a great question among philosophers, and it moreover seems that within the range of the goods which are desirable, there should indeed be an ultimate good – which may be the beginning of all our desires. “Some,” Cicero says, “conceive of pleasure or delight to be the first good, others an exemption, or a freedom from pain; for as soon as any creature is born, it naturally desires and seeks freedom from pain. Others place the chief goods of nature amongst those things called our ‘being,’ ‘life,’ ‘integrity,’ i.e., the preservation of our entire body, or our health, senses, strength, beauty, and so forth.”
Now among these opinions, the first and second are included by Epicurus, as he counts among pleasures the exemption of pain. The third, which the Stoics propound, seems the least probable, because no matter what one might say about an animal’s desire for its being, life, health, integrity, and preservation of its body, etc., we must nevertheless clearly see that all these things were desired only because it is pleasurable to enjoy them. Thus it is for the sake of pleasure that these things are desired. Consequently, pleasure is the chief good, i.e., it holds the first rank among everything desirable. And this is apparently what Aristotle meant when he says, that “pleasure is common to all living creatures, and the inseparable companion of our free and voluntary actions. For we perceive that what is honest, is pleasurable, as well as what is practical. Besides, pleasure is born and bred up with us from our very cradle. Therefore it is futile to endeavor to wean ourselves from this inclination, with which our natures are naturally constituted.”
This plainly reveals two things. First, although we commonly recognize three kinds of goods – the honest, the practical, and the pleasant – it is the pleasant, (which is nothing other than pleasure itself) that is intermixed with the others, so that it does not seem so much to be a particular type, distinct from the others, but rather a common type, or a common property which causes the others to be goods, or desirables. So that what is honest or practical is desired only because it is pleasant and agreeable. The other thing is that pleasure, being common to all the animals, and being planted within since tender youth, and moreover inseparable from choosing anything, it justifiably seems to be the first of all goods that are desired (primum expetibile, primum familiare; for these are the ordinary terms, primum expetitum accomodatumq; naturae.)
Epicurus therefore seems to have dealt more candidly and sincerely than all the rest, when he declared that pleasure “est primum naturae accomodatum; and that it is that, in quam tendem definimus, quatenus Animalia omnia simul ac nata sunt, sponte ipsa natura et citra ullum ratiocinium ipsam complectantur et dolorem refugiant. Let us but listen to Torquatus in Cicero. “Epicurus,” he says, “teaches that every animal as soon as it is born, desires pleasure as its chief good, and delights in the enjoyment of it, but hates pain, as its greatest evil; it shuns it, and avoids it as much as it is able; this it practices while it is not corrupted, when nature judges correctly and without mistake.” There is no need for analysis and argument in these cases, or to look for causes of why pleasure is desirable, and pain to be avoided; we ourselves can easily judge this matter, as we can that fire is hot, snow is white, and honey is sweet.
Maximus of Tyre teaches the same doctrine. “Pleasure,” he says, “more ancient than reason or art, goes before experience, and stays not for much time. But that violent desire we have for it, and which is coexistent with our bodies, is as the foundation of the creature’s well-being, so that if we renounce it, all that shall be born must immediately perish. Man after he comes to years, may by experience and industry, arrive to a competent degree of knowledge, reason, and understanding, (which is so much extolled) naturally and of his own accord; but from his infancy he loves pleasure, and avoids pain, without any help or instruction, for it is pleasure that delights him, and pain that annoys him.” If pleasure were a thing of no value, we should not bring it so early into the world with us, nor would it be the first thing necessary for our preservation. Though from what we have said here, this is not quite enough to conclude that pleasure is man’s chief good or happiness, like Eudoxius does in Aristotle, “in all things, that which is desired, is good, so that which is chiefly desired, ought be the chief good, or that which everything desires, is chiefly desirable; therefore what everything desires, must be the chief good; but that is pleasure; therefore pleasure is that chief good.”
Let us now admire the wisdom and foresight of the great creator and author of nature, that insofar as our actions and behaviors are of themselves painful and troublesome, and these also, as Aristotle terms them, being natural, as seeing, hearing, etc, he has caused them all to be sweetened with pleasure. The more necessary these behaviors are for the preservation of our species, the greater pleasure nature has allotted them; otherwise all creatures would neglect or forget not only the act of generation, but even eating and drinking itself, if there were not certain natural instigations that stir and move us, and by causing some kind of pain and uneasiness, mind us of the action, which the pleasure that ought to appease this pain and uneasiness, does promote and encourage, which is a manifest proof, that these sorts of pleasures are not of themselves evil, though men abuse them afterwards by intemperance, contrary to other animals.
It is not necessary to go on any further, as one does not take the term pleasure to mean sordid and debauched pleasures, extravagance, vanity, the delicacies of the table, dance, women – in a word, those things which the sophists, as Maximus observes, usually object to (styling them Sardanapali scilicet Luxus, Medica mollities, Ionicae deliciae, Siculae mensae, Sybariticae saltationes, Cornithiae meretrices, etc.), but generally all that one can, and usually does, call joy, pleasure, contentment, satisfaction, delectation, comfort, gaiety, peacefulness, quietude, serenity, security, ataraxy, painlessness, tranquility, etc. – which are nothing else than synonyms of pleasure. It is only necessary to remember what we already noted to be one of Aristotle’s doctrines: that whatever we choose is always accompanied by pleasure. And seeing that there are three kinds of goods according to the convention – the honest, the practical, and the pleasant – the pleasant has something in common with the rest, in that the honest and the practical also seem to be pleasant.
Hence we may infer that good and pleasant are synonyms, and that the good is good in itself, and it is an end in itself, so that all things that desire it do so because it is pleasant. It is thereby indubitable that a good which is pleasant is desired for the pleasure it affords. It only remains to be proven that the honest goods and the practical goods also will be desired for pleasure.
Now it is not extremely difficult to show that a practical good depends on a pleasant good, i.e., the pleasure which we receive from it. Since it is obvious that one desires a practical good not for the sake of practicality, but as the means to something else, i.e., pleasure itself, or something relating to pleasure.
To begin with, eating, drinking, song, perfumes, and other similar things obviously relate directly to pleasure. It may similarly be understood that various skills, like the art of cooking, hunting, painting, medicine, and surgery, all serve to deliver us from nuisances from which it is comfortable to be free.
The same goes for navigation, merchandise, and warfare – all which tend towards monetary profit, or something equivalent, by which one can obtain some pleasure that one expects. In effect, when somebody works industriously to earn enough money to buy a house, clothes, medications, books, and other such conveniences, isn't it true that he is expecting pleasure, which he will enjoy when he has enough to retire, without any further pains or trouble – to eat when he is hungry, to drink when he is thirsty, to warm himself when he is cold, to study and to satisfy his curiosity when we he desires to do so – in sum: when he sees himself in a position to pass his life comfortably, securely, honestly, honorably?
This is the general goal of everyone: the ploughman, the perfidious innkeeper (as Horace depicts him), the soldier, the merchant, the pilot.
It is the goal of the courtiers, and those who busy themselves with grand careers, and high offices. They only endure so much from laboring, so much from vexation, and so much from long hours, for no other reason than to finally be able, they say, to withdraw into retirement, to pass the remainder of their life in their own content – comfortably, and agreeably.
There is not anyone among the miserly and most sordid, who does not dream of the pleasure that they will have while contemplating their trunks full of gold and silver.
Not to mention those who, ignoring that nature is satisfied with little, delight in excess and spend their plunder upon luxury, lust, and so forth, all for the pleasure of indulgence. This is what gave rise to these justified complaints of Manlius:
It would seem a little more difficult to prove that a bonum honestum, or “honest good” depends on pleasure, because this type of good is supposed to be desirable solely and precisely for its own sake, and not as the means to something else. Cicero, among others, appears extremely agitated towards Epicurus for proposing a theory of honesty such as he would have us understand. Cicero replies to Torquatus, “Your Epicurus says that he knows not what they mean – those who value man’s chief happiness only by honesty; those who say that all things are to be referred to that, without pleasure being intermixed with it. These are empty words which he cannot understand nor conceive of what they mean by this word ‘honesty.’ For, so to speak, according to common language, we mean by ‘honest’ that which the people by their general convention term ‘praiseworthy’ and ‘honorable.’ And, he says, though it may oftentimes be more pleasing than various other pleasures, still it is desired for pleasure’s sake. See here, he says, this great argument! A famous philosopher, who has made so much clamor in the world and has spread his fame not only over Greece and Italy, but over barbarian lands, says that he does not understands what this ‘honesty’ means that is so often talked about, if there be no pleasure intermixed with it.” In this manner, Cicero juxtaposes the opinion of Epicurus against these remarkable words, that “nothing is deemed honest, but what the general fashion of men recommend.” Aristotle too presents the matter in these terms, Μηδέν έίναι τό καλόν ή άεα τό ένδοξεν, “either nothing is honest, or whatever is honest is determined by the opinion of men.”
Now, to speak firstly about this concept, or this explanation of honesty, what harm is there if we consider it applicable to men who merit praise and commendation? The word “honest” in Latin is known to derive from the honor that it merits, and among Greeks, τό καλόν does not seem to have any other significance. Since if you suppose that it means not only “honest,” but also “beautiful, honorable, laudable, etc.,” you will find that it is not so merely in respect to itself, but in connection to the respect of men which approve it, and allow it to be so. Consequently it should appear “beautiful” and “honorable,” and applicable to whom could be, or must be, lauded. The same ought be understood of the word άιχρόν, which is the opposite of καλόν; because when we interpret it as “ignoble, unpleasant, or blameworthy and shameful,” we always mean it to relate with men to whom it appears as such.
For the truth of this, we may rely on Cicero himself, when he postulates that that which is “honest” must be defined insofar as it can as “that which, aside from its practicality, and without any profit, remains commendable in and of itself.” Is it not true, I say, that in the sense which “the honest” is that which is laudible, it exhibits a relationship with those who praise it, or, as Epicurus puts it, “with the common voice of the people” ? As for the rest, who would dare say that Epicurus, in using the word “people,” or “multitude,” meant to exclude the wise, so that it did not apply to the entire population of a city or nation? That would be a ridiculous and tritely mocking remark.
Now, in regard to what Cicero says about no practicality being perceived, Epicurus will agree that honest people expect no profit nor advantage, such as money or some other thing of that kind – but not that they do not expect no benefit whatsoever, such as praise, glory, honor, fame, approval, etc., to which Cicero himself accedes. Since supposing that there are several rewards available to good people, he expressly ensures in his oration of Milo “that among all the rewards of virtue, glory is most bountiful;” and in another place, “that virtue does not require any reward.”
Epicurus therefore seems to have given a good description of what is honest: that which is glorious and honorable, by the convention and universal consent of all mankind. For if at any time a glorious and sensible thing is considered to be sordid or dishonest, this thing truly can well be taken as dishonest by other people, men, or nations which have other laws, and other customs according to notions of “honest” and “dishonest” that are different, but not with regard to the same people who can accordingly be held and supposed honest with its law and with its customs. Thus, Cicero himself sometimes gives this general description of honor: a reward of virtue which is made to somebody by the judgment of his fellow citizens (praemium virtutis judicio studioq; civium delatum ad aliquem); as if he should say that honor, and consequently, honesty, or what is glorious and honorable by reputation, depends on the judgment of citizens, or the people who make use of their own laws and customs.
But in conclusion, to say something significant in regard to how what is honest refers back to pleasure, it should be observed that this relation to pleasure does not prevent honesty from being known, in some sense, to be desired from itself, or for its own sake. For it is desired, nulla continugente sive superveniente re, as Aristotle teaches, i.e., according to Cicero: “any foreseeable practicality being without any reward, any fruit which is such as we said to be money, or some other thing of the kind.”
For some may desire honor, wisdom, virtue, not to gain profit, or to thereby grow richer from it, but for the honor which is afforded, for garnering understanding and wisdom, for becoming moderate in his passions; all the same because it is pleasant to be honored, wise, virtuous, and to have a serene spirit, and to be at peace.
We should observe that while it is indeed despicable to seek honor avariciously or with effrontery, or by a pretended, fake virtue, nevertheless it does not seem that one must condemn the desire for it altogether, as some suppose, but mainly that one should seek it only with pure intentions, and in proper moderation. It is certainly not without reason that this desire be taken as natural. For we recognize that it naturally holds sway among children and among brutes, and that there is nobody who, although he makes a pretence to have an aversion to it, does not recognize that he always likes it, and that he cannot help but desire it, or escape this infatuation. It is not without reason there is such a high regard for it, since one usually expects it as the prize of virtue, and that there is no republic nor state which does not inspire its citizens to great actions by this expectation. There is also this difference between a noble and high soul versus a base and mean soul: that whereas the latter seeks only gain and profit in his efforts, the former only seeks recognition. Moreover, experience teaches us from time immemorial, that if one removes the desire for honor and glory from the public imagination, there would never be any mention made of those grand and wonderful exploits which sustain nations.
The first sort of pleasure that inspires men to pursue honor is the extreme joy that somebody hopes to experience when his fame spreads among men, so that he will become celebrated in the world. The story of Damocles is well known, as was his expectations to feel a joy beyond words for the royal honor that was bestowed upon him. They know about Demosthenes; this great man slyly admits that he was pleased to hear a common woman, while returning from the fountain, whispering to her companion, “there is Demosthenes,” pointing her finger at him. And we may, without depreciating virtue, believe likewise that other illustrious men, during their walks, hear themselves named. The people say about them in public, “There is Chappelle, the finest wit of the kingdom! Here is Despréaux, the Horace of our age, the everlasting speaker of truths! There is the famous Racine, who by the charming efficacy of his verses, knows, when he pleases, how to make us weep! Here is the learned and unrivaled Lady Sabliere!” How pleasant it is to be so taken notice of in the world for some perfection, and pointed out by eminent persons! At pluchrum est digito monstrari et dicier hic est. It is also known what is reported about Themistocles, that after a notable victory he observed what he had gained: that everyone, neglecting to watch the public combats, had their eyes fixed upon him, so that he said with ecstatic joy to his friends, “I gain on this day a full reward for all the toil that I have suffered for Greece.”
The other kind of pleasure which motivates men to desire honor is the enjoyment of security, more especially because he who lives wholly in perfect security finds himself empowered to do what seems to him to be good, and to enjoy the pleasures he likes, with nobody in the way. We easily believe that security is obtained by honor, either because honor is bestowed for the sake of virtue, or because of high offices and distinctions which presuppose virtue. If it be for virtue’s sake, it makes sense that he should be free from contempt, and the honored person does not fall into a position where he is exposed to the insults, and affronts. And if it be for the sake of high offices and nobility, and consequently for some advantage to be expected, or for some evil that we dread, then even for this purpose one usually has very strong and firm support. But herein we may find this difference: the honor which is bestowed because of nobility, being more splendid, and impressing the common folk even more, one sees in it a great many who desire nobility and high offices, and very few who aspire for the sake of virtue, so that those who are promoted to nobility can grant favors to some and injure others, they can consequently secure themselves from the power of some by hope, and from the others by fear.
Now in dealing with virtue itself, Aristotle and Cicero declare wonders about the delights and pleasures of knowledge and learning, which make up the first part of moral virtue.
“Nature,” says Aristotle, “the mother of all, stirs up and gives unspeakable pleasures to he who can attain an understanding of the causes of things, and study philosophy truly and with purpose. If we cannot without delight look upon the bare images of nature, it is because in casting our eyes upon them, we behold the ingenuity and skill of the painter or the engraver who made them; how much more the contemplation of nature itself, and of her admirable wisdom and contrivances, ought to fill our minds with joy and satisfaction?”
Cicero also speaks of it as no less beneficial. “The consideration,” he says, “and contemplation of nature, is the true and natural food of the soul. It is that which lifts and inspires our thoughts; for when we think upon celestial bodies, which are so great, large, and of such a vast extent, we scoff at what is here below, as lowly and insignificant.
Seneca’s words are no less remarkable: “Oh! How contemptible is man,” he says, “if he does not look beyond the mundane! We may say that then the spirit of man has attained its greatest happiness that its nature is capable of, when it has trampled down all vice, raising itself to sublime matters, and ponders the secrets of nature. It’s then, while walking among the celestial orbs, it disdains the green fields, and all the gold that the earth produces for our covetous posterity. There are above us, spacious heavens, which our souls take then possession of. When it has there arrived, it is nourished and grows, and being freed from its earthly prison, it returns to its first essence; for, it is a certain sign of its being of a divine nature, that divine objects are pleasing to it, which it looks upon not as belonging to others, but as its own.”
Here is the place to make mention of the pleasures and transports of joy and of mathematics. Plutarch relates, “that Eudoxius would have been willing to have been burnt as Phaeton was, if he could first have been admitted to approach so near the sun, that he could closely inspect its shape, greatness, and beauty.
The same author tells us that Pythagoras was so ravished with joy when he had found that famous theorem (which is the forty-seventh in Euclid’s first book), that he immediately made a solemn sacrifice.
He also says, about Archimedes, that on many occasions one was obliged to forcefully withdraw him from his deep meditations. So much did they fill him with pleasure, that he felt he was dying of joy when he had found how much brass might be mixed in the gold crown that the king had consecrated to the gods, he exited the bath transported with joy, and decried, “I have found it, I have found it!” Εΰρηκα, Εΰρηκα!
“There is nothing,” says Cicero, “more pleasant than the sweet contemplation of a wise old age. We see Gallus, your father’s friend, dying in joy, while speculating about the stars, and measuring the heavens and the earth. How many times has he surprised him from morning, until the evening, when he had undertaken to describe something of the stars? And how many a night has he found him in the evening, when he had begun from the morning? Oh what pleasure did he take to foretell the eclipses of the sun and moon!
In regards to the other liberal arts, it is known what pleasures offer the knowledge of history, antiquity, the beauty of poetry, and the grace of rhetoric. These studies were known to Cicero as “a pleasant entertainment for youth, a pastime in old age, an ornament in times of prosperity, and a sweet refuge in times of adversity.” Haec studia adolescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant, fecundas res ornant, adversis perfugium & flotatium praebent; delectant domi, non impudiunt foris, pernoctant nobifcum, peregrinator, rufticantur. They give us pleasure at home, and do not disappoint us in the country, they sleep with us, they accompany us on our voyages, and are splendid in the fields with us; where are the pleasures of the banquets, of plays, and of women that can be compared with such sweet pleasures? Men freely spend whole days and nights in pursuit of learning, and think no pains too great to be bestowed in obtaining it; so great and exquisite is the pleasure thereof, when acquired. Omnia prepetiuntur ipsa cognitione & scientia capti, & cum maximis curis, & laboribus compensant eam quam ex discendo capiunt voluptatem.
As for the other part of virtue, which is specifically known as moral virtue, we will be obliged to speak about it more at length when we discuss its four most celebrated manifestations: prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice.
Now, supposing that it’s an undeniable truth that there is nothing sweeter than to live life without reproach, without falling victim to crime, to live wisely and according to the principles of honesty, without failing the duties of the life, to do nobody wrong, to be good with everyone as much as it is possible. Supposing, I say, that these kinds of maxims are true, which we will also touch upon later on, I hereby make a few observations.
First, that it is not without reason that, from time immemorial, one compares virtue with a plant whose root is bitter, but whose fruits are very sweet, and that Plato, Xenophon, and several others highly commended those verses of Hesiod which affirm that virtue is acquired only by sweat and toil, and that the way to it is truly long and difficult, and tough going in the beginning – but that when one arrived at the top, there is nothing sweeter and more pleasant.
Unto which one might add this saying of Epicharmus: that the gods sell all good things to us by payment of our pains and travails.
This shows us that it is necessary to readily endure the labors of acquiring virtue, as they must be followed by marvelous pleasure and comfort. It is not without reason that so much is spoken about the crossroads where pleasure and virtue so eloquently harangued Hercules, each one trying to attract him to their different paths. For this confirms the truth of those principles that we spoke about earlier, when we said that it is necessary to flee those pleasures which are followed by greater displeasures, just as it is necessary to embrace the hardships and toil which bring greater goods, and greater pleasures. Though it is supposed, I know, that Hercules rejects pleasure, i.e., a soft and indolent life, and that he followed virtue, i.e., a hard life, being full of difficulties, Maximus of Tyre has this to say: “When he was at his most extreme labors, he felt, or had in view, marvelous pleasures. You see Hercules’ extraordinary labors, but you do not see the incredible pleasures that either attend or follow them.”
Whosoever takes away pleasure from virtue, takes from it all strength and efficacy; for were it not for pleasure, men would never undertake any great matter. He who, out of zeal for virtue, willingly undergoes any trouble, this is purely for the sake of some pleasure he feels or expects. For like hoarding up some treasure, no man will prefer a pebble over a ruby, nor brass over gold, unless he is utterly destitute of all reason and understanding. So with respect to labor and trouble, no man labors merely and purely for labor’s sake; this would turn to a very sorry account; but we willingly exchange the present labors for virtue; that is, in plain English, as the Stoics term it, for pleasure; for he who speaks of virtue, speaks of delight. Virtue itself would be much neglected if at the same time it were not attended with delight. For my part, I must declare, that I run quite counter to commonly held beliefs, for I look upon pleasure to be the most beautiful, the most desirable thing in the world, and that which we ought most directly to pursue; and it is for its sake, I believe, that men so frequently expose themselves to all hazards and dangers, and even confront death itself. We are apt to give various names to the cause that first motivates us to undertake such great deeds; for instance, that which motivated Achilles to die voluntarily for Patrocles, we call friendship; that which inclined Agamemnon to enter into and carry on a war with so much diligence and fatigue, was the care of preserving his kingdom; that of Hector’s recurrent campaigning to defeat his enemies, was the desire to preserve his country. Yet, all these several terms are just other names for pleasures. Just as with the distempers of the body, the patient desiring health, not only freely submits himself to hunger and thirst, but also willingly undergoes the most virulent pains and torments of surgeons’ instruments; but if it were not for this hope, he would never endure such tortures. So in the actions of life, there is a compensation for the troubles that we undergo with pleasure, which you truly term virtue, and which I allow so. But at the same time I ask, does your mind embrace virtue, without any love for it? And if you concede this (that you have such a love) ought you not to agree also that you have a pleasure in it? Modify the words as much as you please, call it neither “pleasure” nor “delight,” but “joy” or “satisfaction” – I shall not quibble about names; I am only concerned about the thing itself, and I find that pleasure, or satisfaction, inspired Hercules to action.
The second comment I shall make is that philosophers themselves seem to have declared war on pleasure while elevating virtue. Being men of eminence, they differ from Epicurus more in word than in deed.
I might here mention something about their manners, as Lucian does, when he proclaims so aptly that if they had the ring of Gyges, or the helmet of Pluto, so that they could become invisible to all persons, they would soon give up on their sacred pains, their work, and their inconveniences, and pursue the pleasures and delights which they appear to condemn. Less flatteringly, Maximus of Tyre quips that they are like Aesop’s Shepard, who when questioned by a lion if he had seen the stag that it was pursuing, he answered “no,” indicating with his finger the place where it went; i.e., if these virtuous pretenders give up pleasure, it is only in word and in appearance. But leaving aside their manners, which by no means correspond what they preach, it is sufficient to know that Epicurus too, as they admit, holds virtue supreme, and when they get incensed when he proclaims that virtue is just a very effective means of arriving at the final end or the chief good, instead of affirming, as they do, that virtue itself is the final end, or the chief good, even, they fundamentally say just the same thing as he does, only in different terms.
Truly, this is precisely what they say. Moreover, their celebrated maxim is that “virtue alone is enough to make us happy,” or, as Cicero puts it, “to live happily, we need only be virtuous.” Now, if we rightly understand this same maxim, must we thereby recognize that virtue is not the chief good, but rather a means that contributes towards obtaining happiness? Is it not sufficient in itself, without needing any other sort of means? Consequently, might we only conclude that the happy life, or happiness, which is obtained by the means of virtue, is the chief good and the final end, because this good, or this end in itself, is not to the means to something else? To live happily – can this be anything else than living delightfully, comfortably, with pleasantness, or, to include that key synonym which shocks them so tremendously, with pleasure?
Certainly, the Stoics were less astute about it than Aristotle, who held that “pleasure is mixed into happiness,” and that “by pleasure, the contemplation or operation of happiness is increased.” Nevertheless, I do not doubt that if the happy life could be construed, or could indeed be without sweetness and pleasure, they would render it entirely desolate, and that while climbing their difficult mountain of the virtue, they undoubtedly would not suffer so many difficulties, if they did not proclaim that the summit abounded with sweetness.
Socrates himself, whose resolution and courage they covet – has he not plainly described happiness to be a pleasure which is not alloyed with repentance? And Antisthenes, the father of the Cynics and the author of that famous maxim of the Stoics that says “he would rather become an idiot than seek pleasure” – does he not yield to this in the writings of Stobeus? That being, “we ought not to seek those pleasures which come before our labors and difficulties, but those that follow.” Venandas esse eas voluptates, non quae labores aut molestias praecedunt, sed quae consequuntur.
But to demonstrate even more clearly how pleasure accompanies even the Cynical lifestyle, which the Stoics deem truly austere, yet happy, Maximus of Tyre should be heard once again, who, in speaking of Diogenes, has described it better than anyone. “What,” he says, “inspired Diogenes to retire to his tub? Was it not pleasure? For though it was also virtue that made him abide there, why must we separate his pleasure from his reasoning? Diogenes was just as pleased in his tub as Xerxes was in the City of Babylon, and in feeding upon his boiled barley and dried bread, as Smyndrides upon his dainty Dishes and exquisite fare. He was well satisfied in the sun, as Sardanapalus was in purple garments with his staff in his hand, as Alexander with his lance and with his satchel on his back, as Croesus in the midst of his treasures. And if you please to compare the pleasures of the one with those of the others, you shall find the pleasures of Diogenes to be preferred, because pain and trouble have always come from every corner to disturb the pleasures of those men who seemed to be happy. When Xerxes was overcome, he wept; Cambyses being wounded, fell into sorrow; Sardanapalus groaned in the flames. When Smyndrides was banished, he was troubled. When Croesus was prisoner, he shed tears. Alexander, being stopped in his wars, complained. But the pleasures of Diogenes were free from complaints, cries, tears, and displeasure. You may call labors and troublesome actions as types of pleasures, if you should put yourself in Diogenes’ place. But this is not fair, for if you were to do what he did, you might lament what Diogenes made his pleasure. And yet I dare affirm that never any man had a more earnest desire for pleasure than Diogenes had. He had no house; the care of a family is troublesome. He was never concerned in the government; it is an employment full of sorrows. He shunned matrimony, for he had known the infamous example of Xanthippe. He never brought up children; he understood well the difficulties. But having banished from himself all sorrow, being altogether free, without care, fear, or grief – he alone among men enjoyed all the earth as a single and common house, fully possessing the pleasures which cannot be circumscribed, and which are free and open to the entire world, and which are to be found plentifully in every place. Verum depulsa omni molestia, plenus libertate, expers solicitudinis, absque metu, citra dolorem habebat unus hominum universam rerum quasi unam domum, voluptatibus passim fruens incustoditis, patentibus, copiosis.
The third observation is that those who seem to glorify themselves, or who in effect boast of acting out of pure love for virtue without any regard to themselves or to their pleasure, nevertheless do all that they do for the sake of pleasure. Those who expose themselves to many dangers for the sake of a friend, or the safety of their country, and who even face certain death, do not do so having in mind a pleasure to be experienced after death – they do it for the pleasure of the present which enraptures them, and which animates them, when they think that what they will do will give freedom to their father and mother, their children, their friends, and other citizens, or that it will bring about some great benefit, when they are pondering how dear their memory will be to their descendants, and all of posterity; when they foresee trophies, statues, and the honors which they will not miss; when they consider that this moment of bad times, which remains to be endured, will be transformed into an immortal glory; they do it, I say, for the present pleasure which overjoys them, which inspires them, and which animates them.
This is understood by he who ventures towards certain death, because there is still hope to escape from it. One need only refer to the story that Torquatus tells about one of his ancestors. “It is true,” he says, “that he tore the necklace from the clutches of his enemy, but to save himself from being killed. He ran a great risk, but it was before the eyes of the whole army. What did he get from it? Honor and esteem – the strongest guarantees of security in life.” Likewise, Seneca says, “Upon the performance of any great and glorious action, there immediately arises an extraordinary joy and delight; we reap no advantage after death, yet the very thoughts of the action that we are about to commit please us; for when a generous man ponders the reward of his death, namely, the liberty of his country, the deliverance of those for whom he sacrifices his life, he attains a great deal of pleasure, and enjoys the rewards of running the risk. And he who feels that joy, which happens at the last moment of the action, runs on to death without any demur – content and satisfied in the goodness, piety, and holiness of the action.”
The same must say those severe fathers who have punished their own children with death. Although they seem to deprive themselves of great pleasures (an objection which Cicero repeatedly raises to Torquatus as well) who by dealing a blow of the axe to their sons, prefers the right of the empire to nature, and to paternal love, because those who come to such extremes know that the nature of their children is such that it is either better for them, or for their children themselves, that they die rather than live; because they would only live in perpetual displeasure, and that their eternal infamy would haunt them. Therefore, since they believe that it is better, they also believe that it is more agreeable to avert the aggravation of an infamous future by a present pain, and to purge, so to speak, that which was done in disgrace by some great and illustrious action, rather than to sink themselves into an abyss of misfortune. Take notice also of how the same Torquatus responds: “He sentenced his own son to death—if from no motive, then I am sorry to be the descendant of anyone so savage and inhuman; but if his purpose was, by inflicting pain upon himself, to establish his authority as a commander and to tighten the reins of discipline during a very serious war by holding over his army the fear of punishment, then his action aimed at ensuring the safety of his fellow citizens, upon which he knew his own depended.”
What generally applies to virtue can also be said of piety towards God, since it seems that there cannot be sincere piety if God is not purely and properly loved for himself, or because he is infinitely good, and if he is not loved and worshipped because he is infinitely excellent. So he who worships – does he not look after himself at all, or consider his rewards, or his pleasure? For my part, God forbid that I intend to depreciate the piety of anyone. For there are some who not only argue that it is necessary to love God in this way, and who not only believe, therefore, that it is possible, but in sanctioning the doctrine, and countering the objection, they assert and believe that they do. Assuredly, I don’t envy them, nor shall I contradict them. Far from it, I approve and revere their happiness and their grace, and particularly that Heaven rewards them; for it should be believed that it is a divine and extraordinary gift that a man can prevail upon himself to love and worship God in this manner.
But here we are discussing piety, and generally about the virtue arising from nature, in which man does all that he does with some self-regard. Might it not be said that God, in such a manner, is accustomed to the infirmity of our nature? Having scarcely any passage in the Holy Scriptures which authorizes and expresses their doctrine, are not there yet a great many of those who approve of loving God greatly, because he forgave them for their many sins or because he has graced them with so many favors? Are there not those who love him for the hope promised to them in Heaven, who perform various acts of charity, suffering persecution, keeping the faith, etc., because of the kingdom prepared for them since the creation of the world, for the abundant rewards which wait for them in Heaven, for the crown of justice that God promised to those who love him? Would one dare, I say, to entertain this notion, and to infer from all these passages that nothing hinders those who do not have in view these everlasting delights which must one day come to those who have loved God, and who have worshipped him?
I certainly would not provoke anyone’s conscience, nor dare I ask what would they do if, after God had been worshipped and loved, he took no care of those who had loved and worshipped him, and if, in such a case, he neither granted them any reward, nor gave them any hopes of anything to be expected in all eternity. I dare not ask them, for my part, what they would do, or whether they would love or worship him less. I only want them to consider this proposition: if they love and worship him because it is very pleasant to love and serve him in this manner, and if they therefore believe that it is very pleasant and very grateful to be thus disposed towards God, purely and absolutely for his sake, and without any regard for themselves. Since he who tells us that “his yoke is easy,” to inspire us to love him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our understanding, and all our strength – certainly he did not neglect this sweetness and pleasure.
But here it should be said in passing that all of this strengthens and confirms the reason by which one proves, according to the opinion of Epicurus, that pleasure is the chief good, or the final end, being desired for itself, so that all other things are desirable for its sake. Now let us review another reason, which is derived from a comparison between pleasure and pain (which is its opposite). Torquatus speaks thus,
To which Cicero later counters,
Now let us note something about these compared examples before we return to the eloquence of Cicero. Although one should not even slightly endorse Thorius and his overly decadent lifestyle, which Epicurus would never approve of, it nevertheless seems quite difficult to conceive that Regulus was indeed happier than Thorius. Actually, I perceive a great showiness and pompous rhetoric, which follows a tradition of exaggerating the much-praised virtue of Regulus. However, by examining his story with objectivity, and to carefully consider the full range of circumstances, things are not what they seem.
Polybius informs us that Regulus, having commanded auspiciously in the war against the Carthaginians and concerned that another consul, he would be sent from Rome to replace him, should steal away the honor of his brave exploits, he negotiated with the Carthaginians for peace. But the conditions that he proposed to their deputies were so harsh, that they preferred to risk everything. Choosing for their general Xanthippus the Lacedaemonian, they confronted Regulus in a battle, won the victory, and took him prisoner with five hundred others with whom he was fleeing. “An undoubted indication,” says the same Polybius, “of the fickleness of Fortune, and of the little trust we should put in her flattering smiles, seeing that he, who but a little before, could not be moved to pity, and had no compassion of the afflicted, was soon after obliged to cast himself at their feet and to beg for his life.” Polyaenus adds further that Regulus swore to the Carthaginians that if they would allow him to depart, he would persuade the Romans to make peace with them, and if he could not do so, he would return back to Carthage. But he advised the Senate to the contrary, discovering the weakness of the enemy, the means whereby they might destroy them; and that their Carthaginian prisoners were young and stout captains, whereas he was decrepit and old. “This he whispered,” says Appian, “to the chief of the Romans.” Cicero says “His opinion so much prevailed, that they kept back the prisoners; there was no peace made, and he retuned to Carthage.
It is true that his departure was done in a strange manner; because Horace says that while leaving he fixed his gaze upon the ground like a criminal, and that he callously put aside his wife, and their small children who cried for him, not permitting them to even embrace him for the last time.
Nevertheless, we must observe what Tuditanus relates, that when he advised them to make no exchange of the prisoners, he informed them that the Carthaginians had given him a slow poison, such that he could only live until the exchange was made, afterwards he was to waste away and die.
We may also take notice of that which is to be found among the fragments of Diodorus Siculus. “Now, who will not disapprove of the pride and vanity of Attilus Regulus, who, not being able to support himself under such great prosperity, which seemed to him like a heavy burden, deprived himself of the reward of general applause, and brought his own country into eminent danger? For when he might have concluded an honorable and advantageous peace to the people of Rome, and obtained the glory of a remarkable clemency and renown, he arrogantly insulted the afflicted, and required such harsh and unreasonable terms of peace, that he not only drew upon himself God’s displeasure, but stimulated the conquered to such an implacable hatred, that he renewed their courage and they ventured to fight afresh. By his fault, the affairs were changed in such a manner that he and his whole army were routed; thirty thousand of them being slain in the field, and fifteen thousand taken prisoner with him, etc.”
From this, one must surmise that Regulus figured that he could never repair the blunder he had committed, and that he would henceforth pass his days in Rome with a reputation as an imprudent and arrogant man. He thus preferred to be turned over to Carthage, preferring the peril (which he apparently did not dread too much because of the Carthaginian prisoners who would remain within the hands of the Romans) over an unquestionable infamy and also a life that he foresaw as short and languishing, because of the poison that the Carthaginians had given him.
Be that as it may, when Regulus, not having accomplished anything in Rome, turned himself over to Carthage, and by doing so kept his word, doubtless he cannot be too much esteemed; but when he dissuaded the Senate from what he had promised to persuade them to do, how can that pass as a laudable thing, since it was an obvious perjury? If he had contented himself with the plain delivery of his message, without aiming to persuade or dissuade, that would seem tolerable, but to openly break the sacred laws of oaths, how can that be excused?
“And when he did it in secret,” as Appian indicates, “in fear that the ambassadors who came with him might catch wind of it – that in itself increases the suspicion and aggravates the crime.” Would you appeal to the pretext of the safety and the glory of the Republic? Indeed it is necessary to help one’s country by good advice, and fortitude, and courage – but not by wicked pretenses and treachery. One must not, in order to be good citizen, fail to be a good man.”
Would you say, as Euripides would, that he only swore it with his tongue, and not with his heart? (Illum jurasse Lingua, Mentem gessisse injuratam.) But this is only to seek a cover-up for perjury. For, as Cicero puts it, “it is not a perjury to swear falsely, perjury is not performing what the oath signifies, according to the common meaning of words.”
In effect, if no one had any scruples about meaning one thing while saying another, this would be admitting that it is indeed permissible to lie and to mislead those who listen to our words, or those who question us; this would render us suspicious of everyone, and thus would make a strange confusion in the transaction of human affairs. Will you say that it is allowed, because the Carthaginians had not themselves kept their word as they had given it? But if you were a wicked man, I am not obliged for that reason to be a dishonest man – otherwise, what difference would there be between me and you? One ought to deal with treacherous people with precaution, or by sheer force; but it is not permissible to deal with anyone by distorting one’s word. As the old saying goes, “one should either not make promises, or keep them.” Thus it seems that the Carthaginians inflicted horrible tortures upon him because he acted against the word that he had given to them – he dissuaded the Romans against making peace, and the exchange of the prisoners. Indeed, as Tubero reports, “the noblest Carthaginian prisoners were put into the hands of Regulus’ children, who made them die by the same tortures as Regulus suffered.” But would you please consider, I ask you, did Regulus have a reason to prefer the slaughter of these prisoners to the well-being of the five hundred Roman soldiers who had been taken with him, and for the sake of his “magnificent” virtue, cruelly perished with him in Carthage?
But to return to our point regarding happiness, I would still eagerly demand that it be explained to me in all seriousness how the happiness of Regulus could be greater than that of Thorius, when Regulus was tormented in a manner that the astute Tubero relates to us. “They kept him a long time,” he says, “in dismal dark dungeons; then they cut off his eyelids, and when the sun shone brightest, they brought him forth and exposed him to the sunbeams, forcing him to hold his eyes in that direction, knowing it was not possible for him to shut them. Cicero informs us that he was bound in a contraption, and that after they had cut off his eyelids, they destroyed him while watching. Seneca describes this device as a tub stuck through with nails, in which he was enclosed. Sylvius presents us with this description:
But you might say that Thorius embraced pleasure with unbecoming delicacy, and that Regulus, for the safety of the Republic, preferred his tortures and to suffer them courageously. First of all, Thorius was neither so unfit, nor so voluptuous; when the safety of the Republic required it, he went to war, and he himself ultimately died with weapons in hand, fighting for the Republic in the battlefield, as Cicero himself indicates.
Moreover, although it is a great consolation in the midst of torture to feel a pure and clear conscience, and to see that one suffers for the safety of many, to preserve the honor of dignity, and of honesty, nevertheless it does not seem that one is happier for that – happier than living life honestly, doing wrong to nobody, endeavoring to do good with as many as we can, and fulfilling the duty a good man, and a good citizen, so that one lives his life agreeably, with much pleasure, and little pain or sorrow.
Lastly, if somebody was in this frame of mind, that he was entirely ready to expose himself to such danger just described, to suffer all possible toils and to expose his own life and blood without shirking the dignity of his duty, and stable employment, and that he found himself in such a position that he had to choose between the two ways of life that Torquatus illustrates, so that he must pick one or the other of the two without doing wrong by his duty; who could it be, I ask you, among those who so extremely curse pleasure and who so much commend pain – who would suppose that he would opt for the latter, and willingly embrace it?
As for the rest, it seems that it would be suitable here to reiterate more keenly, and a little more at length, what was already mentioned before: that pain is the chief evil, since that was the antecedent premise, which by the rule of opposites, it follows that pleasure is the chief good.
By the same reason which it was proven that pleasure is the primary good that one naturally follows (primum familiare seu accommodatum), and thus it is the chief good, it was also proven that pain is the primary evil that one naturally flees (primum alienum se incommodans), and thus the chief evil. As nature has imprinted upon all animals a natural love for pleasure, it has at the same time imprinted upon them a natural hatred of pain.
So let us now observe a few things. The first is that by the term “pain” one does not include just what are called the pains of the body, but also those pains which are known as the troubles of the mind, particularly as they are harsher and more aggravating than those of the body, as we explained earlier. Secondly, as it was said that virtue and honesty have within them something to cause great pleasures, likewise one can now say that vice, or that which is scandalous and dishonest, has something within them to cause very great pains. So virtue, or honesty, is accompanied by very great goods, and vice, or what is dishonest and scandalous, is accompanied by very great evils. So among the things that one desires in order to obtain the chief good, virtue is what one must chiefly pursue, and among the things that one must shun in order to escape the chief evil, vice is what one must mainly flee. Lastly, that this belief seems to be entirely compatible with the sacred doctrines of Faith, by which we similarly believe that happiness, or the chief good, consists in the everlasting joy and delights that someday will be experienced in Heaven; and thus we believe that unhappiness, or the chief evil, consists in being someday tormented in Hell by unspeakable pain, and the heat of horrific and eternal fires.
That only the wise embrace moral virtue
We have up to this point spoken about pleasure as it is generally understood. It now remains to speak about a special kind of pleasure, known particularly as the kind that the wise devote themselves to. It is very natural, very easy to obtain, very long-lasting, entirely free from misgivings – it is, to put it succinctly, as we have done so before: to have peace of mind, and bodily comfort. It is not without reason that we say it is very natural, because it is this kind of pleasure that Nature seems to ultimately aim for. Other pleasures, which are “in motion,” merely make pleasant those actions which tend towards this goal. For example, Nature instituted the pleasure of taste, rendering the action of eating pleasant, thus inspiring the animal to eat, so that it appeases hunger, which is the pain, or unease, from the pangs of the empty stomach. So this comfortable and calm state which one enjoys when hunger is satisfied – this is what was intended as the ultimate goal, making it the chief or final good. It is not without reason that we say it is very easy to obtain; because everyone has the power to overcome one’s passions to achieve a tranquil spirit, and to obtain the things which are truly necessary for the body, so that he is in comfort. I also claim that it is very long-lasting, because the other kinds of pleasures reside in the moment, and, so to speak, leap away from us, whereas this kind of pleasure endures, never ceasing until it expires – almost always by our undoing. I say finally that it is entirely free from misgivings; since from all the other pleasures it can be seen that some evils follow them, whereas this kind of pleasure is absolutely pure, never causing any damage.
It is true that Cicero starts out making prolonged arguments against Epicurus for equating “tranquility plus comfort” with the name of “pleasure,” and he pretends to only understand the kind which is in motion, or those kinds which please the senses. Although Cicero did not grasp it, this does not seem to be any kind of argument other that disputing a term. Even if, in common usage, one does not call that state of tranquility and comfort “pleasure,” why should we object to Epicurus doing so, being that its relation to all other things which men give the name of “pleasure,” it is incomparably greater? This has been and always will be allowed in the style of philosophizing, especially here, where pleasure and good, or that which is desirable, are equivalent. This state, which seems to be the best and most desirable thing in the world, ought to be able to be considered “pleasure,” and called so.
Moreover, not only do we have Aristotle to appeal to, whose express words are that “there is a greater pleasure in repose, than in action,” but also to St. Chrysostom, who expresses himself thus: “For what is pleasure, but to be free from anxiety, trouble, fear, and despair, and generally to be exempt from such kind of passions?” Pray, which of these two may be said to truly to enjoy pleasure: he who is furiously distracted by passions, and so continually overcome with vicious lusts, that he has no command of himself; or he who is free from all these disturbances, and rests in philosophy as it were a quiet haven? I may truly call it pleasure, when the soul is in such a state that it is in no way disquieted nor disturbed by any physical passion.
Cicero’s objects that children and animals, being the reflection of uncorrupted nature, have no appetite for the kind of pleasure which is in this state of rest that we have just described, but only the kind which is in motion. This objection seems to carry more weight. But whatever his opinion about animals, and the nature of barbarians, who truly are born depraved – they are still sufficiently educated to obtain their goal, and after having appeased the pain caused by some need, they naturally rest, contrary to many men who, being depraved in their opinion, fool themselves, or make requirements by arousing the appetite, and never stop at anything.
Regardless of the case of animals, I say, and speaking only about men, is it not logical that everything he objects to is easily demolished by what was implied above? To begin with, nature instituted pleasure-at-rest as the principal goal, and because action is the means necessary to obtain it, it was beneficial to institute pleasure-in-motion, so that the action was done with more alacrity. So man or beast seems to be particularly and more obviously excited, or carried away with, pleasure-in-motion. Yet, this does not mean that at the same time it does not also tend, more subtly yet truly, towards pleasure-at-rest, and that by natural instinct, holds it to be the chief end, or the primal goal.
Moreover, because man in the process of time is corrupted (as is widely held by diverse beliefs) such that he mistakes, so to speak, “the chief object with the accessory” (τό παρείγον έργον), he holds pleasure-in-motion to be the prime goal, and in abusing this pleasure by his intemperance, he attracts troubles to himself when he loses pleasure-at-rest (which nature made the premiere or principal one), which is followed by sadness and repentance. For this reason, Epicurus supposed that wisdom signifies that man should regulate pleasure, i.e., consider the accessory as an accessory, and the chief object as the chief object.
However, one should not be dismayed by the objections of the Cyrenaics, who, according to Cicero, complained that the pleasure of Epicurus is like being asleep. For Epicurus believed that tranquility and comfort were not like numbness, but rather a state in which life’s actions were undertaken calmly, and pleasantly, which already was noted above. Although he did not suppose that the life of the wise was like a torrential stream, he also did not suppose it to be like a still and stagnant pool, but rather like the water of a calm and gentle river. It is one of his axioms that when pain is removed, pleasure does not increase, but only varies; as if to say, that after this tranquility and freedom from pain are attained, there is truly nothing more desirable, or comparable – though there remain various pure and guiltless pleasures that, without being abused, are diversified, such as how a field, having become fertile, yields various fruits, or how a prairie is seen to be covered with an admirable variety of flowers when the ground is suitably tempered. For this blessed condition is like a fountain, from where all the pleasures that are pure and sincere are drawn from. For this same reason, one must consider it to be the chief good, in that it is like a universal kind of seasoning by which all the actions of life are sweetened, and by which all pleasures are thus seasoned, and made pleasant, or, to put it another way: it is something without which no pleasure would be pleasurable.
In fact, what satisfaction can one have if the mind is troubled, or the body is tormented by pain? There is a maxim – “if the container is not clean, all that one puts in it is spoiled.” (Sincerum est nisi vas, quodcumq; infundis atescit.) It is for this reason that if somebody desires pure pleasure, it is necessary that he be prepared to receive them in a pure state, which is ultimately accomplished, as much as it is possible, when one arrives at this state of rest and peace which we are discussing. I say as much as it is possible, because according to what was already noted, the mortal condition does not allow one to be absolutely and perfectly happy, as this chief happiness, entirely devoid of anxiety and pain, and filled with every kind of pleasure, belongs only to God alone, and to those through his kindness pass on to a better life. So in this life some are more, and others are less bothered by anxiety and tormented by pain. He who wants to go about it wisely should endeavor as much as his nature and his weakness permits, to put himself in a state in which he might experience the least anxiety, and as little pain as possible. In doing so, he will obtain the two benefits which comprise the chief good, and which the wise have always recognized to be nearly the only reliable and desirable goods in life: the health of the body and, and that of the mind.
Sunts sanitas & mens gemina vitae bona
Moreover, that Epicurus did not advocate his pleasure to be like a stupor, or a deprivation of feeling and action, this may itself be proved by how he conducted himself in his gardens, while in contemplation, or while teaching, or by taking care of his friends. It is enough to say that this state and condition of life gave birth to a certain thought that is the sweetest thing in the world to know: that when somebody recounts the emotional tempests from which he courageously withdrew, and by which others are still besieged, he considered himself anchored in a sheltered port, enjoying a calm and pleasant peace. How sweet it is, Lucretius knew, to view from a mountaintop a ship on the open sea, beaten by winds and waves – not that there is pleasure in seeing the suffering of others, but because it is sweet to be free of the evils of which the others are travailing!
’Tis pleasant when the seas are rough, to stand
It is also quite a sweet thing, he adds, to witness from the heights of some tower, two powerful armies arrayed in battle without sharing the danger.
’Tis also pleasant to behold from afar
But nothing is so sweet as seeing oneself elevated by learning and by the great knowledge, from which the temples of wisdom are constructed, a place from where, like an lofty, serene, and tranquil viewpoint, one can witness men going about their business, without knowing what they do, nor what they seek – some tormenting themselves with who will show the most spirit, others adroitly asserting their nobility, and still others working day and night to garner great riches, high offices, and acclamation. Miserable as we are, he goes on to exclaim, does not nature exhort to us something altogether different: to be free from pain, concern, fear, and anxiety, so that our mind enjoys a pleasant tranquility?
But above all, ’tis pleasantest to get
Now in addressing peace of mind in particular, let us remind ourselves that in using this term, one does not mean an apathetic and sluggish laziness, or a languid and indolent idleness, but rather, as Cicero conveys from Pythagoras and Plato, “a sweet, and peaceful steadiness of spirit” (placida quietaq; constantia in animi parte rationis principe.) Or, as Democritus says, “an superb steadiness, constitution and sweet temper of mind,” to such a degree that whether he applies himself to businesses or to recreation, or whether he experiences prosperity or hardship, he always remains stable, always being himself, without letting himself get carried away by excessive joy, or letting himself be cut down by sorrow and sadness – in a word, without being disturbed by any sort of untoward passion. Hence, this peace of mind was called “ataraxy” (άταρξία), which signifies freedom from anxiety, and from agitation. For just as a ship is known to be at peace not only when it is adrift in the middle of the sea, so it is also, and significantly, when it is carried by a favorable wind, which actually makes it sail swiftly, yet also gently and steadily. Likewise, the mind is known to be a peace not only when it is at rest, but also, and significantly, when it undertakes great and magnificent things without being inwardly disturbed, and without losing its equanimity. On the contrary, a ship is known to be in trouble not only when it is buffeted by headwinds, but when it is thrashed by great waves of rough water. Similarly, the mind is said to be troubled not only, when in action, it is carried away by various passions, but also, when at rest, by concerns, sorrows, and fears which drain away and consume it.
Such are how the passions, and similar things, entirely disrupt one’s composure, thwarting the happy life. Here is what Cicero says about their turbulent motions, and the mental anxieties which are stirred by an unchecked impulsiveness:
And Torquatus asserts that,
Thus we should mention here that the sweetest delight belongs, by necessity, to he who delivers himself from the anxieties which had troubled him. Recognizing the happy state that he is in, he considers himself, as we already mentioned above, being at rest in a secure port after having been beaten and tormented by the winds and the waves of the sea.
But we will soon speak about such pleasure in particular when we discuss the virtues, which have the ability to calm the passions, and thus bring about a sweet and pleasant peace of mind. Moreover, this comfort is most appreciated by those longing for it when they find themselves in trouble and in actual distress, just as he who has is beaten by the rough sea, hopes for a respite and good fortune, or as he who is stricken by some violent disease yearns for health; for nobody recognizes the value of these things as well as those who contemplate them in their absence. It is for this reason that I would readily say, like I did before, that one can preserve peace of mind, and thus live fortunately, not only when at leisure, or in retirement, but also in the midst of great and significant endeavors.
If there be two manners of life, then there are two kinds of happiness: the contemplative one, and the active one. The wise nearly always prefer the contemplative one over the active one. However, this does not prevent those who (by means of birth, ingenuity, happenstance, or necessity) engage in businesses, from being altogether incapable of enjoying a genuine peace of mind. Because he who enters a career does not do so blindly, but only after having for some time, and with dead seriousness, contemplated the state of human affairs, not from a common perspective, but with an elevated one, so that he comprehends that in the real world, a hundred things might happen that all of human wisdom cannot foresee. He thus prepares himself in such a manner (if not specifically, then at least generally) for those difficulties which he might encounter. He is often ready to be obliged, as one might say, to “play it as it goes” – recognizing that he may very well be the master of what is within him, but not of the things which are not of his free-will. He acts within his power, and does what is expected of an honest man. Afterwards, whatever happens, he deems himself to be content and satisfied. He does not fantasize about the certainty of a happy outcome for his undertakings, as things may turn out differently than he wishes them to. Rather, he prepares himself in such a manner that even if he experiences misfortune, he nevertheless bears it with equanimity and patience. Such a one, I say, thus resolved and prepared, will have engaged in businesses, will be able to act with the outside so that in the same midst of volatility, and business troubles, he maintains within himself a comfortable disposition, and tranquility.
This is what Claudian relates so clearly about Theodosius the Great and which we, without exaggeration, may duly apply to our monarch, truly the Theodosius of France, the true model of a wise prince. Neither the great undertakings he ponders, nor the heavy burden of the state which he manages, ever troubles his peace of mind. Like the lofty summit of Mount Olympus, his spirit is always clear and serene, above the rain, clouds, and thunderstorms. With the winds and the winters far below him, the storm clouds dissolve under his feet and he mocks the thunder and lightning. So his patient, steady, and free spirit, in the midst of such great and varied circumstances, remains always serene, calm, and candid.
… nec te tot limina rerum,
A divine modesty accompanies his voice, never an offensive word drops from his lips, never one does see his eyes sparkle with anger, or his veins swollen with blood in fury, he knows how to criticize without being overly harsh in correcting the failings of others.
Servat inoffensam divina mosestia vocem,
The Nile flows gently, without vaunting its strength with rumbling noises, and yet, it is the most useful of all the rivers of the world; the Danube, which is larger and more rapid, also flows silently along its banks, and the water of the immense river Ganges rolls majestically into the deep abyss of the ocean.
Lente fluit Nilus, sed cunctis Amnibus extat
Let the torrents roar through rocks, let them threaten and overturn bridges, and in their foaming rage, let them envelop and overwhelm forests. Peacefulness and gentleness are the hallmarks and the character of great things. A temperate power and an imperial composure have a stronger presence, and are obeyed more persuasively, than violence and impetuousness.
Torrentes immane fremant, lapsisque minentur
Moreover, once great things are accomplished, the wise man does not rudely aggrandize himself upon success, nor is he dejected by failure. In any case, he never regrets the measures he has taken, because everything being carefully considered, and examined, a successful outcome is more probable, so that he would undertake the same course of action all over again, if the same circumstances were reencountered.
The example of Photion comes to mind, who counseled against war, which nevertheless turned out victorious; “I am,” he says, “very glad that things turned out as they did. Yet, I don’t at all regret the advice I had given.” This is very similar to Cicero’s judgment, “It becomes a wise man,” he says, “to do nothing against his will, or whatever may cause him to have regrets, but to do all things sedately and deliberately, with a solemn steadiness and constancy of mind, neither supposing things to happen by an unforeseen necessity, nor to admire anything as new and unexpected, but to abide firm and steadfast in his judgment.” The wise man ought not to undervalue the advice of others, and to become overconfident in his own beliefs, but at the same time, upon having carefully deliberated some matter, he ought not, by self-deprecation, to be swayed by popular opinion.
For this reason, the famous Quintius Fabius Maximus, Cunctator, deserves to be applauded, who preferred the safety of his fatherland to the vain cheers of the people. Photion was of the same temperament, who without worrying that his soldiers accused him of cowardliness because he did not want to lead them into combat, not being too confident in their strength and their courage, answered quite simply, “Oh brave comrades, you will not make me courageous, and I will not make you cowards; it is sufficient that every one should understand his own business.
All things considered regarding contemplative versus active happiness, Aristotle had reason to favor the former. For contemplation brings out the most excellent and divine parts of us, which is moreover the noblest action – the purest, most constant, most durable, and easiest to make use of.
We will not repeat here what has already been mentioned above on the first part of virtue, to exhibit the felicity of a wise philosopher, or the satisfaction that there is in the contemplation of things. It will be enough to recount what Cicero writes so astutely: “What pleasures,” he says “are not enjoyed by a thinking mind, which is employed night and day in contemplation and study? What extraordinary delight is it to observe the motions and circumference of the world, the infinite number of stars that shine in the heavens; those seven planets, which being more or less distant the one from the other, according to how higher or lower they are, wandering and uncertain in their motions, and yet never failing to fulfill their course in their appointed time? This sight and consideration of so many excellent things, persuaded the ancient philosophers to proceed to new inquires, to examine the cause and beginning of the world, from whence all things proceed, from whence they are engendered, what differing qualities are crept into their composition, from whence life and death happen, how the alterations and changes of one thing into another came to pass, by what weight the Earth is supported, and how balanced, into what concavities the waters are confined, and how everything pressed by its own weight naturally tends to its own center. Thus by discerning and continually meditating on these wonderful things, we at last arrive at that knowledge which God heretofore recommended to Delphos, namely, that the pure soul having shaken off all vice, should know itself, and find itself united to the divine undertaking, or being. This procures it an everlasting and unspeakable delight; for the contemplation of the power and nature of the gods allows it to have a strong liking for eternity; and when it once perceives the necessary consequence of causes guided and a governed by an eternal wisdom, it believes itself not to be confined to the narrow limits of this life. Therefore it considers human affairs with a marvelous serenity, it is inclined to the practice of virtue, it inquires what the chief good consists of, and the chief evil, what all our actions ought to tend towards, and what is the rule of life we ought to steer by.”
Let us add that he who shall have considered the peculiar development of all things since the beginning of the world – the rise, progress, maturity, decline, and demise of kingdoms, republics, religions, opinions, laws, customs, the particular manners, and the ways of life which are presently in effect, and that our forefathers would have rejected, just as those that they regarded seriously, we now mock, and just as those which will be preferred by our descendants, we would nonetheless scoff at, if we could see them – these fashions and customs, though they change in the particulars, can nevertheless generally be known as the same, and are always a mark of the everlasting weakness, and simplemindedness of the humanity at large. This is how it always happens that men, by their blindness, live perpetually in misery. Being carried away by ambition, avarice, or some other passion, they do not recognize how advantageous it is to be free of this care, to be satisfied with little, to live within themselves, and to calmly live life without so much agitation. He, I say, who will have employed his mind in such contemplation, will undoubtedly re-experience extreme joy, and will have been very happy in his contemplation, especially if he considers all things as if from the top of a crowned fortress, from where we said that virtue looks down upon the various actions and occupations of men, their foolish ambition, their notoriety, their vanity, their wicked avarice, and everything else that we already reviewed above.
Now let us speak about bodily comfort. It seems that it is not as much within our power to be free of pain in the body, as it is within our power to be free of anxiety in the mind. It is difficult to curb the passions, and to stall their progress. Yet, notwithstanding those which are connected to pain, such as hunger and thirst, which beget the desire of food and drink, it seems that those desires which are born within us merely from belief can be kept in check provided that one’s beliefs are kept in check.
But in considering pains of the body, though we may be on guard not to bring them upon us from without, or to excite them from within, it is still quite normal for our heredity to impose at least some liability to suffering various pains in the course of life. It is certainly not without reason that Aesop imagines that when Prometheus tempered the clay from which he molded man, he did not use water, but tears – meaning that the nature of the human body is such that it is vulnerable to all sorts of abuses, and because it is impossible for none to befall us, one by necessity must suffer some pain. It would be endless to list the sources of misery which can befall us: from tyrants, fools, the careless, from all sorts of organisms, from heat, cold, fever, gout, infections, etc. I note only that he who has on some occasion been tormented by such hardships is in a position to say how strongly he desired, and how much he would have given, to be free from them.
Certainly there has never been anybody, who, while sick and tormented by pain, and seeing others who are doing well, does not believe them to be very happy. It is curious that they do not recognize that they are enjoying so great and considerable of a good, although there is nothing that anyone would trade for it – compared to health, nothing is more valuable. Health has been celebrated since times immemorial; there are books everywhere full of its praises, but I will just mention what an old poet says, that “the best thing bestowable to man, who by his nature is fragile and weak, is the care of one’s health.”
Fragili viro optima res bene valere.
Another one says that “if one is healthy, such that one is neither tormented by indigestion nor gout, all the riches of kings would not be any greater, or more considerable.”
Si ventri bene est, si lateri est, pedibusque tuis, nil
Now I’ve said all this here in order to make it known that it is not without reason to maintain that bodily comfort, or freedom from pain, is part of what comprises happiness. Surely those pains which are mild, or of short duration, can easily be endured. One may even willingly endure those which are intense, if by doing so one avoids even greater pains, or obtains greater pleasures. Yet, there is nobody who, being in pain, wants pain for its own sake; he would readily let himself out of it if he could obtain the same things without pain.
Zeno and Anaxarchus are celebrated for the integrity with which they spoke against tyrants in their greatest tortures. Calanus and Peregrinus are similarly lauded for freely offering themselves to the flames. But let us suppose that it happened that they could by choice achieve as much glory by some other means than through this suffering – I will let you imagine in good conscience what they would have done. Cicero also greatly extols Posidonius. While being tormented by gout when Pompey visited him at Rhodes, Posidonius was informed that Pompey was very sorry that he could not meet with him. Posidonius replied: “but you can – I will not suffer so great a man who has come to find me to have done so in vain.” He added that he started by articulating a grand speech for him to show that there is nothing good but what is honest, and while the pain impinged him sharply during the discourse, he said several times, “You shall not gain anything, oh pain! As grievous as you are, I will never confess that you are an evil.” But although Posidonius patiently suffered those pains that he could have avoided, wouldn’t you nonetheless believe that he would rather be without pain and to converse without pain if it was possible?
Accordingly, it could be added here that if pain is the chief evil, it surely follows that freedom from pain is the chief good; especially so, since nature seems to have bestowed upon us an inclination to avoid pain. Because when we happen to be discomforted by pain, either by hunger or by some other desire, we are naturally motivated towards relieving it. And if some pleasure-in-motion intercedes, it is, as we noted, because nature confers sweetness to those actions which are necessary to obtain comfort.
We should probably also mention by what means one can get so great a good. Notwithstanding the various remedies gained from appropriate precautions and the art of medicine, which have nothing to do with morals, we must say then that the most general and easiest means to obtain physical comfort is temperance, being a careful moderation. Moreover, it is by this virtue that we can, if not drive out altogether, at least mitigate hereditary diseases, avoid many of those maladies which we contract by our own fault, and deliver us from those which are already contracted. Let us say further just that he who enjoys physical comfort can enjoy without regret some of the various kinds of pleasures, many of which relate to the body, as well as those which relate to the mind.
As freedom from pain is no different than health itself, Plutarch makes the exact comparison between health and the tranquility of the sea, in that the sea gives the opportunity for its inhabitants to breed, and to raise their offspring conveniently; so too does health yield the opportunity for men to carry out all the functions of life conveniently, and without sorrow. This is what he says, though Prodicus elegantly declares that “fire is the greatest seasoning of life.” Nevertheless, one might correct this notion, and build upon it, by saying, “That health is extraordinary delightful, being that no cooked nor roasted meal, nor whatever haute cuisine there is, can bring any delight to those troubled by some illness; whereas in a healthful condition, every morsel is pleasant and appetizing.” Besides, the same can be said of the pleasures which relate to the other senses, since in a sick body those pleasures which are inoffensive and honest – displease; the sense of smell is not refreshed by aromas, nor is the ear flattered by harmony, nor does the sight rejoice in beautiful objects. Moreover, speeches, plays, public shows, walks, hunting, and other similar diversions cannot please, lacking the sweetness that is, as we said, essential to making pleasure pleasurable. All this, I say, being true for the pleasures of the body – it is certainly even more so in for the pleasures of the mind. For it happens that one suffers from disease, or acute pain, one is barely able to study, to read, or to concentrate. For as long as consciousness is joined to this fragile and mortal body, there is such a union between the two that the body cannot suffer without consciousness feeling it, and without distracting it, willy nilly, from its more pleasant occupations, for the afflicting pain attracts the entire attention of the mind, and all its thoughts.
And so, happy are those whose natural condition is such that it allows them to live in bodily comfort, and to take pleasure in the study of wisdom! Happy also are those who, although they have an infirm body, manage themselves with such forethought and self-discipline that if they cannot be altogether free of pain, they at least mitigate it, and render it tolerable, so that they are hardly prevented from enjoying pleasures of the mind! Thus, those in the first category ought to become aware of how they disturb, or corrupt by their overindulgence, their naturally good condition; those in the other must attempt to correct theirs, and to restore bodily comfort as much as possible; and those in both, being everyone, must take care of their body, even it were only for the sake of the mind, which cannot be well when the body is ill. We must always be aware that even though the predominate part of happiness consists in peace of mind, one must not underestimate the remaining part, which consists of bodily comfort.
It is true that there are some who believe that it is a crime, when considering the chief good, or the happiness of man, to connect the pleasures of the mind to those of the body, and who consequently believe that it is contemptible to associate bodily comfort with peace of mind. But as these tend to be Stoics, or those who presume to imitate them, I cannot help but recite what Cicero himself inveighs against them in response to Cato; he begins by recapitulating the first principles of the Stoics:
And then he goes on to say,
As for the rest, we are not ignorant of what is usually said in the litany against pleasure – that it is the major plague of man, the mortal enemy of reason, that it shuts the eyes of wisdom, that it has nothing in common with virtue, that it is the source of treacheries, the ruin of nations, the root of all crimes, that it squanders inheritances, blasts our reputations, that it stresses the body, making it vulnerable to diseases, and finally that it hastens old age, and death.
Not heaven’s high rage, nor swords or flames combined,
But as we have already explained several times about pleasure, and just as often protested – when we say that pleasure is the end, happiness, and the chief good, we do not refer to those sordid and debauched kinds of pleasures, but simply peace of mind, and bodily comfort. Plainly, these objections by no means concern us.
The benefits and virtues of economic living
It is not without cause, as we’ve previously stated, that the truest and most general means of obtaining and preserving the kind of pleasure necessary for a happy life is to cultivate temperance. By moderating our desires, cutting off what’s unnecessary and useless, and limiting ourselves to just what’s natural and necessary, we accustom ourselves to being content with getting by with little; for this is how one can preserve that comfortable peace of mind which is the main ingredient of happiness.
No one who limits himself to natural and necessary things is enormously disturbed and tormented, because these things are found everywhere and are extremely easy to obtain. Great turmoil and mental anguish afflict only those who are not content with what is necessary and impulsively pursue what is superfluous. And if they do not obtain them, they are violently distressed; if they do obtain them, they apprehensive about losing them; if they do lose them, they die of sorrow for it; and when they still have them, they are never satisfied with them. They cope with their mind like the sieve of the Danaides; they never can rest, but are always roused by some new desire as if by some kind of madness, so that they seem always to undertake some new labor.
Temperance is also the sure way to obtain and preserve the pleasure of bodily comfort, which comprises the other part of happiness, for he who is satisfied with life’s necessities are not obliged to suffer immense pain and exhaustion like those who pursue vanity. He does not do anything to undermine his health and he does not make himself vulnerable to any of those discomforts which intemperance causes. Those who live frugally and simply are not particularly vulnerable to diseases, unlike those who eat excessively or those who consume manufactured meals, saturated with sauces by the artifice of cooks.
Epicurus plainly recognized the importance and the excellence of this modesty, or moderation, i.e., satisfaction with little, when he exclaims, “To be satisfied with necessities is to be wealthy indeed! Poverty, in proportion to the decree of nature, is a great endowment and treasury of riches. Now if you would be rightly informed what those proper bounds and limits are, which this law of nature prescribes, they are these: not to hunger, nor to thirst, and not to be cold.” Non esurire, non sitire, non algere.
This is what he had experienced within himself, if we follow the testimony of Juvenal:
If any ask me what would satisfy
Seneca declares, “This is a commendable thing: a pleasant and contented poverty – but if it be pleasant, it is not poverty, for whosoever is satisfied with poverty, is rich. He is not poor who enjoys but little – rather he who desires more [is poor].” That is to say, riches themselves ought to be valued for the sake of their end, which is nothing other than joy, satisfaction, pleasure – while poverty, on the contrary, by the deprivation of this end. So it would therefore be consistent to say that a cheerful poverty is not poverty, but great wealth; conversely, a melancholy affluence is not wealth, but great poverty. The traveler who sings on the road in full view of bandits is, in effect, rich; poor is he who, laden with money, fears guns and swords, and trembles with fear upon seeing the shadow of a reed stirring in the moonlight. The tradesman, while he is without money, rejoices in his song which reverberates throughout the neighborhood, and is rich; but stumbling upon a lost purse renders him impoverished, for he is stupefied by the fear and anxiety of losing it. In sum, pray tell me which of two men at the end of their lives dies richest: he who was destitute of things one usually calls riches yet lived joyfully, or he who, profusely supplied in material goods, lived his life in anxiety and sorrow?
Cicero seems to be quite delighted with the type of virtue and moderation of temper that obliges us to live and be content with little. For after he had upheld the examples of Socrates and Diogenes to show that the burden of poverty may be made more easy, he alludes to the words of Epicurus: “Oh, what little does nature desire, what a small matter suffices it!” He asserts that “wisdom is often discovered under mean apparel.” It’s as if he had undertaken to write the praises of this philosopher, for he continues his discourse in this manner, “What then? Those glorious orators – are they more courageous and more generous than Epicurus in encountering Poverty, which troubles mankind so much? Other philosophers seem to be as well-prepared as he was against all evils, yet there is none whom poverty does not terrify; but for his part, very little satisfies him, and none has ever discoursed about frugality better than he: for as he was altogether averse to whatever might cause the desire of riches, lust, ambition, sumptuous expenses or debauchery… Why should he take care to obtain them, or be eager to pursue them? What! Shall Anacharsis the Scythian be able to despise riches, …, and shall our philosophers not be able to do likewise?”
Here are the contents of one of this Scythian’s letters:
This that I have mentioned concerning Diogenes reminds me what Seneca and Maximus of Tyre have written. The former has showed:
After he had demonstrated this at large, he then proceeds:
As for Maximum of Tyre, he puts it this way, regarding whether the Cynical life was to be preferred to any other:
We may at this point add what Seneca reports as coming from the school of Epicurus: “those who happily enjoy luxury are those who do not have a need for it, and he among them who is in the least need of riches, enjoys them the most.” For as luxury consists mainly in the ostentation of riches; he who believes he has not need of them, and who, consequently, does not fear losing them, can assuredly make a very pleasant use of them – more especially since he who does need riches are apprehensive about losing them, as apprehension and anxiety do not allow one to enjoy what he has. He goes on to say:
How charming was Socrates, when contemplating the great quantity and diversity of things in the marketplace, he was able to exclaim, “How many things there are, which I don’t at all desire!” Likewise, somebody who perhaps gains possession of all these things and contemplates his houses, his pieces of furniture, his servants, his table, his clothing, and so on – he is entirely well-to-do and may yet be able to say, “Indeed I have all that, but I could live just as well without the things I do not absolutely need. I could sleep comfortably in a less magnificent house, and less well-appointed; I could easily get by without such a great number of servants, these exquisite meals, and these magnificent clothes.” If anyone, I say, maintains this attitude, he is surely able to enjoy his prosperity most agreeably. He shall understand that he can, very comfortably, do without an infinity of things, for the possessiveness which is engendered by them greatly dispel a peaceful life. He shall be all the more prepared to bear their loss gracefully, if some misfortune might plunder him. He shall understand that these things are not absolutely necessary. He shall likewise distance himself from the many pains, labors, and troubles that are usually suffered in order to increase them, realizing that he cannot enjoy truer and purer pleasure with greater wealth, though he can enjoy the same pleasure with less. That which he might amass further would be of no benefit to him – but only to ungrateful heirs, spendthrifts, sycophants, or robbers; and to obtain it he would have to give up relaxation, and cast himself in a sea of problems, pains, and sorrows.
Here we may also observe that Seneca had good reason to recount this other maxim of Epicurus, that “If any man having all the necessities of life thinks himself not rich enough, then even if he were the lord of the entire world, he would still be miserable.” For if anyone of modest means does not believe that he is able to live as happily as those who he perceives to be more eminent, and more splendid than him, then surely if he was entirely as fortunate as them, or even more so, he would not become any happier for it – rather, he would always be just as unhappy. He would never be satisfied because of the restless nature of his passion, and his covetousness, which, once they have surpassed the bounds prescribed by nature, become immeasurable, and he may never find the ability to fulfill them.
Regarding Epicurus’ other celebrated maxim, “what is necessary to nature, is easy to acquire, and if something is difficult, it is not necessary” – this is a maxim which Stobeus and others borrowed from Epicurus and put into similar words. “Let thanks be returned to kind Nature, which has so arranged everything that what is necessary is easily obtained, and what is difficult, is not necessary.” Cicero is of the same opinion, when he makes Epicurus say, “That he judged that Nature alone was sufficient to make a wise man rich, and that natural riches are easy to be gotten, for Nature is content with little.” And Seneca says that, “According to the judgment of Epicurus, not to hunger, not to thirst, not to feel cold, are the limits that nature prescribes to itself; that to satisfy hunger and thirst, there is no need of dwelling in luxurious palaces, nor to restrain ourselves with supercilious and sullen severity, nor to venture on the ocean, nor to follow armies. That which nature requires is easily obtained, and obvious to all the world. Sweat is the price of superfluities, which make the magistrates attend courts, the generals their tents, and the pilots their ships in the midst of the dangerous and tempestuous seas.”
It’s the greatest wealth to live content
It is true that there exist men who, through their tyranny or cruelty, deprive innocent people from life’s necessities. Others, by some accident or through their own foolishness, may also fall into a condition which those necessities go amiss. But as for Mother Nature, she is surely no niggard with regard to men – she who is the mother nurse of all creatures! And if she did subject them to hunger, she also gave them her fruits, her herbs, and her grains to appease it; if she subjected them to thirst, she also provided them with water in total abundance. If the weather is cold, or if it is hot, she also made them sufficiently thick-skinned to endure these assaults, as experienced with the skin on the face. And if she made the parts of the body more tender and delicate, she also afforded them the shade of trees, caves and other refreshments; and for warmth, she provides the sun, fire, the wool of sheep, and so many other helpful things.
She has also given us as much foresight and prudence, like the ant, so that we may provide ourselves with things that are necessary for the future – though many times we despise the example of that small creature, who, after winter approaches, never leaves his little cave, but in a wise and prudent manner, as Horace knew, subsists calmly through winter with what it had piled up during the summer.
For when we see the greater part the populace working incessantly to acquire possessions, one might suppose that they may have forgotten what they’re for, and that they might be born to no other purpose than to accumulate things. Considering those who live within a civilized society, could you find any who are unable to meet the needs of hunger, thirst, and the various onslaughts of weather?
Even if one has a sumptuous table, fine wines, superb outfits, a splendid house, precious vases, well-behaved and smartly dressed servants, and so on and so forth, these are not things which we must give thanks to kind Nature, as with things that are absolutely necessary. The use of things which are easy to obtain is certainly no less pleasant than those which are so difficult to come by, and it is a mistake to believe that only a rich person can savor pleasure and joy.
But we will speak later about this. Here it will suffice to note this fine passage of Seneca which addresses the subject marvelously.
“Oh miserable blindness of mankind!” says Lucretius. “Don’t we see plainly that nature prescribes nothing that we should strive for other than freedom from pain and peace of mind? To be content with little, without these needless delicacies, we should spend our lives quietly and pleasantly.”
“The diet,” says Epicurus according to Cicero, “which is the most natural – such as broth, bread, cheese, pure water – affords as much pleasure and more health to the body than the most costly dishes and richest wines.” And in Stobeus, he speaks in this manner: “My body is abundantly delighted with bread and water, and I renounce the pleasures that proceed from magnificent tables.” Elian says, “If I may have wholesome bread and clear water, I think myself as happy as Jupiter himself.” And in Seneca, he speaks thus, “We must return to the law of nature; her riches are ready provided, and offered to all the world; for whatever we stand in need of, it is either freely exposed, or very easily obtained. Nature requires bread and water, no person becomes hereby the poorer, and he who confines his desires within these limits may secure his own happiness. Look to the true wealth – learn to be satisfied with little and speak out courageously: ‘Let us have water, let us have bread! These are the necessary sustainers of life, and then we may vie with the gods for happiness.’”
If you do not spend the nights reveling in chambers lit by gilded torches and resounding with music, you may at least recline gently upon the grass, at the edge of a brook, in the shade of a large tree, and, without all these great luxuries, have a little picnic, diverting yourself comfortably in the season which invites us to it – when Spring papers the ground with flowers.
To break a fever, is it better to lie in a painted and gilded room under an embroidered quilt rather than in a plain bed under an ordinary bedcover?
Truly we may have cause to doubt that an Apricius gets more pleasure from his exquisite and splendid meals than a laborer gets from simple and ordinary ones. For he who is always full usually lacks a savory appetite, while he who is almost always hungry finds all that he eats excellent; so as the one finds his pheasant and turbot bland, the other finds that his nuts and onions taste marvelous. Surely only those who rarely experience hunger or thirst cannot be persuaded that a common man may also eat like a prince, though he may be delayed from being seated at his small and humble table until an hour after the prince sits at his splendid table. If men could but once understand these truths, they will recognize how useless it is to labor so much to acquire immense riches to satisfy their gluttony; for they may, without all this toil, obtain the same pleasures wholesomely and shamelessly. This is what our poet must have had in mind when he implores us to shun grandeur, being certain that one can, in a small house, live happier than kings and bigwigs in their palaces.
… fuge magna, licet sub paupere tecto
But let us learn from Porphyry how thoroughly Epicurus lived a simple and frugal life, proclaiming that he could also go to the extent of total abstinence from meat:
Horace had also well-recognized the advantages brought by a sober and frugal life, when he says that there is nothing which contributes to health better than that of drinking and eating little, and to be satisfied with the simplest meals and beverages, and to be persuaded of the truth of this, one only need to recall a small, simple and meager supper that one has already eaten; whereas when one gorges oneself with all kinds of foodstuffs, some are converted into bile and others into gas, which causes flatulence and indigestion in the stomach.
We must certainly be astonished that men, who are capable of intelligence and reason, have so little regard for the manner of their diet. Compared to all other things, they pay the least attention to it.
First of all, we should postpone eating until the proper time; hunger itself signals the hour of this necessity. Hunger is the purest seasoning, and also the sweetest and most pleasant.
Secondly, eating a simple and frugal meal replenishes the strength of the body and invigorates the mind, which need not expect the diversity, abundance, mixture, and alteration of food presented on splendid tables. As for those gourmands who indulge their gluttonous and fleeting pleasures by gorging the body and dulling the mind – if fevers, gout, and other maladies do not strike them right away, the causes of these evils remain hidden in the body, having been carried to its parts by the contaminated blood which was poisoned by what they ate.
Thirdly, after hunger is appeased and one leaves the table, he who has eaten well and modestly leaves knowing that he has done nothing to compromise his health, which is safeguarded by his moderation. He doesn’t miss experiencing the pleasure of gorging gourmands, more especially when the pleasure is already gone, leaving only the apprehension for bad consequences. He is not liable, unlike those who stuff the stomach with meats and sauces, and may already be repentant, or suspects that he will soon regret it, and that he will suffer, if not soon, then at least some day, the sorrow for his gluttony.
Fourthly, it is indeed wise to avoid subjecting the body to an appetite for short-term pleasures, which are the cause of so many grueling and protracted diseases that are only cured through subjection to various medicines, purgings, vomiting, and bleeding. They ruin the body, even though they can be easily avoided simply by abstinence so that one is not obliged to exclaim, like Lysimachus after surrendering to the Getae to allay his thirst and that of his entire army, “Oh gods! So much I have lost, merely for one fleeting pleasure!”
Fifthly, with the exception of hereditary diseases (which, if they cannot be completely cured, can at least be treated) the general cause of all other diseases is drinking and eating unhealthily or excessively. Though stress, heat, cold, and other such causes can generate diseases, it usually happens because they set afloat the excessive humors which were previously produced in our bodies by excess wine and self-abuse. It might also be noted that during the great plague which infected all of Attica, that none other than Socrates, by virtue of his extraordinary restricted diet, was untouched by it, and we are not unacquainted with one in our days who by similar means was saved from a great epidemic. I might also mention, though not by name, a person of great eminence, who being severely tormented by gout, was persuaded somewhat by my advice to live a year very abstemiously and not to eat hardly any meat (in the manner of the Indians who are healthy and vigorous without it). He is now delivered from all his discomforts, just as long before him the senator Rogatianus was, whom Porphyry speaks about in The Life of Plotinus. So how true it is that a light diet is the main remedy to avoid diseases, or to cure them!
Sixthly, that for each person who is sick from malnutrition, there are twenty who are sick from repletion; such is why Theognides had good reason to say that gluttony has put an end to many more than hunger.
And Horace, following Epicurus, tells us “that an abstemious man, or who drinks and eats little, is always vigorous, and always ready to go to work; whereas wine makes the body heavy, and clouds the mind, and sinks the divine soul to the very ground.
One can similarly add that he who eagerly pursues the pleasure of the palate loses the pleasure that could otherwise be found by accustoming oneself to living abstemiously and simply. However, one may occasionally have a feast without impropriety. This is sometimes permissible for well-mannered people, and recognized by our poet, when a formal celebration invites us to rejoice, effectively restoring our strength weakened by fasting or old age.
We ought not to make that particular pleasure of the palate our objective; rather, we ought to consider its gratification as supplementary. An abstemious and frugal life is as good as any. Besides, a wise man is expected, as much as the circumstances of his life allow, to live in accordance with consistent principles. I say “as much as circumstances allow,” because life, being what it is, creates situations when it is difficult to exactly maintain the standards of one’s ideals. Nevertheless, it is not extremely difficult to follow them very closely, provided that one has as much integrity and resolution as true wisdom and virtue require. But if one is so weak that he is carried away with overindulgence at the slightest temptation, it is an obvious sign that wisdom and virtue are not rooted very deeply into his soul.
Indeed, if on occasion we find ourselves obliged to attend a banquet, when it may seem impolite to refuse anything offered to us, this is mainly where discipline should be shown – and fortitude. And if a civil excuse and honesty is not enough, we should then be exempt from dusopia – that ridiculous sensitivity to shame condemned by the Greeks. Following the advice of Plutarch, one ought to speak clearly and courageously to one’s host, just as Creon did in one of his tragedies: “it is better that you should be angry with me today, than I be unwell tomorrow, having obeyed you.”
“For to cast ourselves,” he says, “into a fit of colic, or into some extreme agony, merely to avoid being looked down upon as a buffoon, or as impolite, is to become both a buffoon and a madman – and shows no understanding about how we ought to behave ourselves among men when it comes to eating and drinking.”
We must not here forget that excellent saying of Epicurus, which says that “a modest and frugal life, unto which we have by long use habituated ourselves, makes us invulnerable to the assaults of fortune.”
And as Horace says, “Who will be more able to trust himself and his own strength in the face of accidents and other misfortunes which might happen? He who has accustomed himself to vast requirements, a superb appetite, and luxury, or he who is content with little, and foreseeing the future wisely, will have made provisions during times of peace for what is necessary in war? Let fortune go after this man and take from him all that she can – how much can she deprive him of what is necessary?”
Nor are we to forget what [according to Seneca] Epicurus boasts of, “That his daily food did not quite amount to one pound, and that of Metrodorus weighed but just a pound.” Nor should we omit that excellent advice which Seneca delivered so well:
I’ll here cite what Xenophon tells us of Socrates. “He lived upon so small a pittance, that there was no handicraftsman, if he took never so little pains, but might get more than was needful to nourish him.” That which has been already said of Anacharsis, “that he sent back the money offered him, because he needed it not to supply his slender expenses.” And it is reported of Epaminondas that he sent back the king’s ambassadors with the gold they had brought; and when he had treated them to a plain dinner, he told them, “Go and give an account to your master of this dinner, so that he may understand that a man content with this is not to be bought with money.”
I could, I say, add several more famous examples showing that he who is satisfied with few things, which even poverty may afford, has no cause to fear the iniquity of fortune, nor neediness. But let us simply finish with what Bion says so well in the writings of Theletes the Pythagorean. Here are his words:
In connection with this whole topic, it would seem that I better not omit what I know concerning the lifestyle of the Eastern Indians. This may show that all these fine ideas which we have just discussed are not purely philosophical speculations, but that there are whole populations which lead such a frugal life, and who are also satisfied with little, either for drinking, eating, or clothing, as are the Cynics, Stoics, and Epicureans.
There is in the Indies a number of fakirs, or religious idolaters, which, like Diogenes, go about in the nude, and like him, has only for shoes the hardened soles of their feet. For a hat, they wear their long braided and oiled hair, trussed up atop their heads; to ornate their fingers, they grow their nails sometimes more than half the length of the small finger; for a house, the galleries of their temples; their bed is comprised from a few inches of ashes, though when they go on a pilgrimage they bring along a tiger-skin or leopard-skin rug to lay upon the ground. Their drink is pure water, and their food, when it is supplied by means of alms: a pound of kichery, which is certain a mixture of rice and of two or three kinds of lentils, the whole cooked with water and salt, and topped with a bit of brown butter.
The lifestyle of the Brahmans, or Brahmins, hardly differs from that of the fakirs either in quantity or quality, because the basic and main meal is always kichery – never meat, and never any other beverage than water. The same goes for most merchants, who are called banyans; however prosperous they may become, their food is neither more abundant, nor more delicious than that of the Brahmans, and yet they live at least as peacefully, happily, and as contentedly as us, and much healthier – they are at least as strong and vigorous as we are.