CERP: Day 10 – To his students, to the same, the youths, Patrocles.

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XVI. To His Students (p. 67)
This reminds me of the section of the Discourses, where Epictetus says that a Phidian statue is one formed according to the art of Phidias.

Show me a man moulded to the pattern of the judgements that he utters, in the same way as we call a statue Phidian that is moulded according to the art of Phidias. Show me one who is sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy. Show him me. By the gods I would fain see a Stoic. Nay you cannot show me a finished Stoic; then show me one in the moulding, one who has set his feet on the path.

Book II, 19.

So too, is a Stoic one formed in the doctrine of Zeno et al.  This calls to that, and says that Cynicism is Diogenean.  An interesting parallel.

I like viewing the “uniform” of the Cynics as ‘the weapons of the Gods.’  That’s an interesting take, again more in the Stoic style than I think Diogenes himself would have done.

XVII. To the Same (p. 67)x
The begging of the Cynics is something I have trouble with.  Not for others, but for myself.  It’s clearly an ego thing.  I have no problem giving a dollar when asked, but I would hate to be the one who has to ask.

Pseudo-Crates states that what’s shameful is no the act of begging, but in being unworthy of the donation.  That’s a point worth thinking about.

XVIII. To the Youths (p. 69)
Pseudo-Crates here is appealing, in a strange way, to human’s desire for stability.  If you sleep on the ground, drink water, and eat from your work; then what does a famine, a wildfire, or sour wine matter to you?

The Cynic is untouchable by most of the things which cause men the majority of their fear and anguish.  Uncertainty, indeed Fate itself, is practically eliminated.

XIX. To Patrocles (p. 69)
Here, we’re reminded that a beard and cloak do not a philosopher make.  Instead, the true philosopher elevates those things to the status which we see in them.  Crates speaks against Odysseus, who was esteemed so highly as to be one of legendary possible sages for some, Odysseus and Heracles.

Peudo-Crates is feisty today.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

SLRP: XLII. On Values

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Seneca,

I find the idea that we ‘spend ourselves’ in acquiring things an interesting.  We usually use dollars to measure the value the thing, but we rarely tally the cost to minds and souls.

Epictetus does this, actually, come to think of it.  When he speaks of the thief that stole his lamp, his price was to become faithless – to become a thief.  A high cost indeed.  All Epictetus lost was  lump of shiny metal.

Thank you for the interesting thought.

I bid you farewell.


Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.

CERP: Day 9 – To his students, to Orion, to Eumoplus, the youths, and his students.

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XI. To His Students (p. 63)
“Practice” here is, ἀσκεῖτε, which we know to be the root from which we get the word ‘ascetic,’ meaning training or exercise.

XII. To Orion (p. 63)
Here we see a call to send children to the philosopher’s school, so that they might be educated or trained in virtue.

XIII. To Eumoplus (p. 65)
On the facebook group, someone asked about the word ‘short-cut’ here in the English.  The Greek has  σύντομος, which is simply a short-cut, esp. for  road or path.  Here, Pseudo-Crates lays out a pretty formal argument in favor of Cynicism.

XIV. To the Youths (p. 65)
Pseudo-Crates says what he means and means what he says when he suggests barley cakes and water, over fish and wine.

XV. To His Students (p. 65)
Here, virtue (ἀρετή) are the wages of toil (πόνος).  That’s a rather economic way of thinking of the Cynic labors.  As we expect to receive for what we give, philosophy promises a better return that mere exchange.  It’s not quid pro quo, but rather the alchemists transmutation of a lesser into a greater.   A good parable.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

SLRP: XLI. On The God Within Us

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Seneca,

“If you see a man who is unterrified in the midst of dangers, untouched by desires, happy in adversity, peaceful amid the storm, who looks down upon men from a higher plane, and views the gods on a footing of equality, will not a feeling of reverence for him steal over you, will you not say: “This quality is too great and too lofty to be regarded as resembling this petty body in which it dwells? A divine power has descended upon that man.” “

The western conception, I think, has been muddled by a couple of millenia of Abrahamic context.  It’s hard to imagine this divine, holy man you describe and not think of him as a saint or prophet of some sort.  Maybe saint isn’t too far off, I don’t know.  The religious nature of the Stoics is on the face apparent.  Yet, there’s a lot to un-learn to grok it as it was intended, I suspect.

“The lion with gilded mane, in process of being trained and forced by weariness to endure the decoration, is sent into the arena in quite a different way from the wild lion whose spirit is unbroken; the latter, indeed, bold in his attack, as nature wished him to be, impressive because of his wild appearance, – and it is his glory that none can look upon him without fear, – is favoured in preference to the other lion, that languid and gilded brute.”

This idea that the lion, or man, is made great by what is his own and not by any sort of additition or ornamentation is a good reminder.  It’s very easy to see wealth, power, influence, property, social rank, etc. and use those as our common measure.  But as you say, Fate can sweep these away without so ever much as a ‘by your leave.’  Indeed, he gets to keep one thing and one thing only.  And this, is even on loan for a short time.  His character.

Farewell.


Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.

CERP: Day 8 – To the Wealthy, Diogenes, Mnasos, and Lysis

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VII. To the Wealthy (p. 59)
Here, Pseudo-Crates pulls no punches.  He’s attacking the false and vainglorious style of the wealthy and powerful.  Despite, it seems, their outward appearance of tunics, lupine beans, etc., it seems that they’ve learned nothing of the Cynic’s life.  It’s fashion, then.

IIRC, we read that Roman Cynicism was generally made of weaker stuff than the Hellenic sort was.  This letters seems more firmly Cynic, especially in the ‘gadfly’ or social critic role that Diogenes perfected.

VIII. To Diogenes (p. 59)
Pseudo-Crates here is lamenting, I suppose, that he has become somewhat famous… maybe infamous.  Certainly Diogenes was both.  This feels a touch disingenuous.  A quiet life for a Cynic would be entirely possible at a retreat, or community.  They could retire to some mountainplace, and be rid the cities.  They could renounce their exhortations, condemnations, and social critique.  Doing this would render them unnoticeable.

Yet, is it not the part of the Cynic to teach by example?

IX. To Mnasos (p. 61)
Ah!  A firmly Roman sales pitch, then!  As the rougher edges of Stoicism were dulled to be more palatable for Roman decorum, apparently so too does Cynicism need some polishing.

X. To Lysis (p. 61)
I had to do some looking up.  I had assumed from the context that plectrum must have been a sort of cup, but it appears to be more akin to a guitar pick.  The word “plectrum” comes from Latin plectrum, itself derived from Greek πλῆκτρον (plēktron), “anything to strike with, an instrument for striking the lyre, a spear point”.

So… what in hell does this mean?  I thought maybe it’s meant like being under a whip, but I’m not sure.

Additionally, the plea to piety and the gifts of God do not have a Cynic feel to me, but rather a Stoic one.  The claim of “nothing indecent or bad” that might happen does not seem to mesh with Cynic shamelessness (Gr:  αναίδεια).  The bit on pleasure seems to maybe fit with the “opportunistic and natural” hedonism of the Cynics, but clashes with the water-drinkers and Diogenes tossing out a sweetroll from his bowl.

The Epistles thus are challenging, and it’s an interesting experience to see what changes are made and where.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

SLRP: XL. ON The Proper Style For A Philosopher’s Discourse

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Seneca,

It’s hard to believe that we’re almost through with ten weeks and forty letters.  I guess that puts us almost a fifth of the way through.  Tempus fugit, eh?

“Besides, this sort of speech contains a great deal of sheer emptiness; it has more sound than power. My terrors should be quieted, my irritations soothed, my illusions shaken off, my indulgences checked, my greed rebuked. And which of these cures can be brought about in a hurry? What physician can heal his patient on a flying visit?”

Stoic rhetoric is an interesting critter.  By all accounts, the writings of Chrysippus were more akin to technical manuals for an engine, than the prose we’re used to consuming today.  It was the writings of Hierocles, Cicero, and Seneca which brought the highly technical language down to a more common plane.

It’s sometimes hard to bridge the gap of needing to be incredibly specific with the meaning of words as a philosopher must, but also not to lose the ability to reach one’s audience.  I’ve written before about the steep learn curve of acquiring Stoic jargon, and mitigating that with the sorts of moral exhortations which the Stoics were known for.

In this project, and most of my others, I usually try to adopt a more conversational tone; something easy to read, and pleasant to think about.  There’s a good bit of highly technical philosophical treatises out there on Stoicism, and there’s a good bit of popular fluffery as well.  The lack, it seems to me, lies in handling the actually philosophy in a less academic way.

Even though I had not heard your advice, Seneca, until today.  I think I’ve been following it well.  Thank you for the letter.

Farewell.


Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.

CERP: Day 7 – To To Hipparchia, his students, Hermascus

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I. To Hipparchia (p. 55)
This is a strange piece, and short.  Shouldn’t it rather be, “come and see that not even this is a terrifying circumstance to one devoted to Philosophy?”

II. To His Students (p. 55)
Pseudo-Crates is talking to his students here, and he’s instructing them in the proper way for a Cynic to beg food and the other necessities of life.  Mendicant religious folks dot the history of the West, often as a footnote.  The role seems to be more common in the East than it is here.  Crates injunctions are particularly strict.

He tells his students not to accept the necesseties from just anyone, but only from other Philosophers, the virtuous.  This is because ‘virtue must not be supported by vice.’

How many Cynics starved to death, were that the case?  It is true, that the Cynics suspect virtue and even Sagehood is quite a bit more easily achieved than the Stoics think it is.  Still… the virtuous seems pretty thin on the ground in these parts.

III. To the Same (p. 55)
Pseudo-Crates seems to present a dichotomy between the mind/soul and body.  It’s unclear to me whether generally the Hellenes believed that there was a strict dichotomy, or whether they had a more holistic understanding of the self.  I’ve seen both positions claimed.

We credit Decartes with “mind/body dualism,” often called Cartesian dualism.  But as I am learning, despite the fact that more modern and European philosophers and theologians are credited with certain discoveries (Origen, Anslem, Acquinas, Decartes, and more all come to mind), they are often just rehashing the writings of the Greeks of this period.

IV.  To Hermascus (p. 57)
Say ‘toil’ one more time.
I suppose the point here is that πόνος is not to be feared or avoided.  This seems firmly in the Cynic camp, although I would expect rather a  φιλόπονος, “love of toil.”

V.  To His Students (p. 57)
Can it be more relevant?

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VI. To the Same (p. 57)
The progress of the Cynic is much easier to grasp than the progress of the Stoic.  While I beat the drum of Stoic praxis nearly incessantly, one can’t half-ass the labors of the Cynic.  The Cynic hypocrite is immediately apparent.  One has to put up or shut up, there’s no middle of the road.

The Stoic on the other hand, more easily conceals the intent and inner states which put the lie to the philosophy.  It’s not to say that the former is greater than the latter per se, but merely that the circumstance for self-disillusionment is markedly lessened.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

SLRP: XXXIX. On Noble Aspirations

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Seneca,

Your letter today touches on a point I have been thinking about lately, as well as discussing with others.  There is a trend in modern Stoicism to boil down the philosophy to set of points or “lifehacks.”  These are the tricks, which when improperly applied, are said to bring about worldly success, and every other manner of indifferent.  Yet, that’s being touted as the goal!

There are a number of “pop Stoicism” books, some are distillations of Stoic doctrine, but necessarily superficial.  Others are theurapeutic, and still more are of the “lifehack” variety.

The society today is lazy and impatient.  It demands the quick fix, material success, worldly acclaim, and every other manner of luxury.  Worse yet, it demands it immediately, without work, without cost.  It believe itself to be truly entitled to everything.

They only things it ignores are character, excellence, wisdom.

When you see these see mentioned, it’s couched in a sort of New Age ‘woo,’ which plays on all of the flaws above.  Books like “The Secret,” and variants of new-age hippy philosophy.

They all lack depth.

The idea that one might study and work for the betterment of one’s own soul is something which, if found at all, would be relegated to the church house.  And when found there, it’s only of a very particular sort.

No, the claims of philosophy are left dusty on the shelf, a mere curiosity to a handful of academics and intellectual masturbators.  Where are those living “philosophy as a way of life?”

Farewell.


Part of Michel Daw’s Reading Plan of Seneca’s Letters.