CERP: Day 39 – Introduction: The Epistles of Heraclitus (p. 22)

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Introduction: The Epistles of Heraclitus (p. 22)
This introduction is laying the scholarly and chronological context for the following letters.  While there are only 9, we’re still looking at multiple authors, at least two possibly more.

The fact that scholars were divided as to the Cynico-Stoic nature of the letters versus a Jewish authorship is interesting.  Heraclitus is an interesting figure, almost a zen poet of the west.  Reading his fragments is a very different experience than reading a Stoic treatise, for instance.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

SLRP: LXII. On Good Company

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Seneca,

I find it interesting that you would Demetrius in high regard.  There seems to be a trend of Stoics looking to the Cynics admirably.  Epictetus speaks so highly of Diogenes as to whisper Sage in the same breath, for instance.

You often get short shrift, Seneca, for an opulent lifestyle.  I find it especially interesting as we’ve gotten to known each other better over these past four months (!), that the letters which make it into the abridged versions generally exclude your focus on training and simple living.  Of course, there’s the “take a few days of the month” bit, but this is generally viewed as mere lip service.

The ‘rich inner life’ of the Stoic philosopher is sometimes hard to see when first learning about the school, and I think that letters like these may help clarify the point.

See you next week.

Farewell.


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

CERP: Day 38 – Diogenes Eps. 49-51.

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XLIX. untitled: “The Cynic to Aroueca…” (p. 181)
The allusion to the philosopher as “doctor for the soul” is an interesting one.  Reminds of me of the stigma which is placed on mental health issues, or at least the ones in the DSM-5.  We don’t see the same prejudice against folks with “diseases” of their desires and aversions, with their passions ruling their lives.  In fact, a certain amount of this sort of suffering is viewed as normal, or even healthy.  So, like the Cynic says, choose the doctor well.

L. To Charmides, greetings (p. 181)
“Those who propose to cure others of what they haven’t been able to cure themselves.”  I saw a documentary about Buddhist hermits in China, and one of the interviewers asks the monk to teach something of Zen.  He replies, ‘there’s nothing to say, it’s all in the text.  I can’t save someone else if I haven’t been able to save myself.’  Or something along those lines.

LI. To Epimenedes, greetings (p. 183)
So, this and the previous letter both speak to appearances versus actual reality.  The decorated but empty box, the promise of virtue, but laziness in the doing.  This is a good thing to keep in mind.


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

SLRP: LXI. On Meeting Death Cheerfully

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Seneca,

What we have of the Stoics seems to present a paradox to the modern reader.  Of course, the Stoics often did (and do) go against the popular opinions of the times, so it’s really not all that surprising.  How is it then, that a school of thought which tells its students to accept what life brings you, not passively, but actively to desire that things are the way they are does not produce herds of slavish followers?  Instead, it seems to produce bold men of action.  Cato, Marcus, Musonius, Epictetus, and (yes, even yourself), Seneca.  All of these either lived boldly and/or died well.

That’s remarkable.

“The man who does something under orders is not unhappy; he is unhappy who does something against his will.”

There is a certain psychological boon to having a mental conception of an outside presence.  For modern monotheists of the Abrahamic stripe this means very specific things.  Theologians may debate the “economics” of the passion, death, and resurrection of their savior and precisely what that means; but it is much harder to doubt the balm that such an “off putting” of responsibility can provide.

Stoics are in a tighter spot.  Of course, the atheists are right out of the frying pan an into the fire:  it’s all on you, best of luck.  But the theist/deist Stoics are not necessarily in a much better position.  The Stoic divinity, Nature, Providence, Logos, what have you, isn’t a personal force there to provide you with some sort of reconciliation or amelioration with the world and your life.

The Stoic divinity will not pull you out of the ground and plop you into a cushy afterlife to hang out and bask in the presence of the one.  Ain’t happening.

In fact, unless you be a Sage, your soul won’t live on after death.  And even if you were a Sage, you wouldn’t make it past the ἐκπύρωσις.  So tough luck there, mate. 

The only chance for Stoic salvation, if I may, is in the here and now.  Heaven or Hell is what we make it, this life.  With every choice we train our moral will, and we produce either virtue or vice.

We may not have the emotional, psychological bandage that others do, but we sure as hell (pun intended) have an urgency, a motivation.

Farewell.


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

Are philosophers “marginal persons” ?

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“Are monks and hippies and poets relevant? No, we are deliberately irrelevant. We live with an ingrained irrelevance which is proper to every human being. The marginal man accepts the basic irrelevance of the human condition, an irrelevance which is manifested above all by the fact of death. The marginal person, the monk, the displaced person, the prisoner, all these people live in the presence of death, which calls into question the meaning of life. He struggles with the fact of death in himself, trying to seek something deeper than death; because there is something deeper than death, and the office of the monk or marginal person, the meditative person or the poet is to go beyond death even in this life, to go beyond the dichotomy of life and death and to be therefore, a witness to life.”

What makes a marginal person?

  • some level of detachment in relation to the secular concerns of the world;
  • a deep appreciation for the inner life of faith and wisdom; and
  • a “special concern with inner transformation, a deepening of consciousness toward an eventual breakthrough and discovery of a transcendental dimension of life beyond that of the ordinary empirical self and of ethical and pious observance.”

http://mertoninasia.blogspot.com.au/2008/10/relevance-of-irrelevant.html

 

CERP: Day 37 – Diogenes Eps. 41-45.

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XLVI. To Plato, the Sage, greetings (p. 177)
So the rich appetites of Plato are compared to the gluttony of sheep, ever eating.  This harkens to the “wealth is not in having many possessions, but few desires” line we hear in Cynic and Stoic sources.  I do especially like the parting shot and mic drop of “But if this does not convince you, then practice fondness of pleasure and mock us for not knowing much.”  Boom.

XLVII. To Zeno, do well (p. 179)
This is a pretty pessimistic outlook, and its interesting how much this changed with Stoicism, esp. Musonius for whom family life is a form of piety.

XLVIII. To Rhesus, greetings (p. 179)
This is a strange little quip of a letter.  “Dude wants to see some horses, he doesn’t eat much, please oblige.”


This is part of the Cynic Epistles Reading Plan.

SLRP: LX. On Harmful Prayers

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Seneca,

This is an issue which I’ve been concerned with for some time.  You give the excellent example here, and I think this also ties into Musonius some, as we’ll see.

The bull is filled when he feeds over a few acres; and one forest is large enough for a herd of elephants. Man, however, draws sustenance both from the earth and from the sea.  What, then? Did nature give us bellies so insatiable, when she gave us these puny bodies, that we should outdo the hugest and most voracious animals in greed? Not at all.  How small is the amount which will satisfy nature? A very little will send her away contented. It is not the natural hunger of our bellies that costs us dear, but our solicitous cravings.

Folks look at the diet prescription Musonius lays out.  It make sense to me that a passion which we encounter not rarely, but for most westerners, three times a day should draw our immediate attention.  Of course, Musonius notes (Lectures XVIIIA and XVIIIB that we handle it every day, sometimes twice!  Ooops.  Already starting from a disadvantaged position, it seems.

The passion of food, then, is a reasonably an opportune place for us to apply our attention.  Musonius asks the question (Lecture V, Lecture VI), how can we learn self-control unless we actually practice being self-controlled?  This is why practice must come with theory.

Of course, you’re reading the letter of an overweight would-be Stoic.  The point still stands, and coupled with lessons of the previous week are poignant.

Thank you for the letter, and the reminder that I need.

Farewell.


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