SLRP: LXXIX. On The Rewards Of Discovery (Part 2: 11-18)

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Seneca,

“Already much of the task is accomplished; nay, rather, if I can bring myself to confess the truth, not much. For goodness does not mean merely being better than the lowest. Who that could catch but a mere glimpse of the daylight would boast his powers of vision? One who sees the sun shining through a mist may be contented meanwhile that he has escaped darkness, but he does not yet enjoy the blessing of light.”

This is a keen reminder of how much work there is to do, despite how much may lay behind us.  There is also this list, which seems to be those who were virtuous.  It’s a rather long list, but if I’m not mistaken to say these had achieved virtue means that in your eyes, Seneca, these were Sages?  Or maybe you simply mean some of these were good men?

Democritus, Socrates, Cato, Rutilius, Epicurus, Metrodorus,

Epicurus is an interesting case, since he called himself a sage, and indeed said his own doctrine were wisdom.  That goes against the Socratic position, but considering Epicurus didn’t think so highly of Socrates, that’s not too surprising.  This question of Socrates is an interesting one as well, he clearly states that he knows nothing, but the Oracle said no were wiser.

So we’re left with three choices:

  1. If none are wiser, and Socrates knows nothing then there is no wisdom, or at least no Sages.
  2. If none are wiser, and Socrates simply doesn’t know that he’s wise, then there is wisdom, and is at least one Sage.
  3. If none are wiser, and Socrates does know that he’s wise, then he’s at best misrepresenting and at worse lying.

The Stoics allow for position two, that a person might become wise, but not know of it right away, even though the change comes about in an instant.  This was problematic for the Epicureans who could not abide that a person would suddenly become wise, yet this one singular thing should then escape their notice.

It is the resolved that coming to wisdom is like coming to mastery in a craft, in that at some point we become proficient, but it’s only in looking back that we can see the point where the level of excellence became easy and consistent.  It is only from the prison cell, then, facing the end of his life that Socrates may have come to know that he was wise.  It seems wisdom in these cases, or at least the self-knowledge of it, is a parting gift.

Point three is the Epicurean position, that Socrates was being dishonest about his wisdom, and thus he refused to share it with his friends, the cardinal sin of the Garden.  Epicurus then, to the mind of that school, rightly breaks the tradition of explicitly not calling one’s self a Sage, says that he is and his doctrine is wisdom.

It’s interesting to see this longer list, Seneca, since usually we’re restricted to Socrates, Heracles, and Odyssius  (some will allow for Cato at your behest, but it’s fair to say not most).  The doctrine of the Sage is really interesting to me, and it’s one which had not garnered as much scholastic work as it deserves.

I’ve enjoyed reading Brouwer’s work “The Stoic Sage,” which touches on some of the issues which can be more difficult to hunt down with only the core canon.  It’s a touch pricey, though.

Farewell.


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

Camp Seneca: Day 10 – The Fifth Precept

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“Socrates, I supposed that philosophy must add to one’s store of happiness. But the fruits you have reaped from philosophy are apparently very different. For example, you are living a life that would drive even a slave to desert his master. Your meat and drink are of the poorest: the cloak you wear is not only a poor thing, but is never changed summer or winter; and you never wear shoes or tunic.”

— Xenophon, Memorabilia I.6.2



The fifth of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

5.  To cut not the beard, and the hair only to remove what is useless.

We men take it upon ourselves to leave the beard, nature’s symbol of the male as it is formed by Nature. All of the προκόπτωντες take it upon ourselves to only cut the other hair as necessity and utility may demand, not for fashion nor to appear beautiful in the eyes of others. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture XXI in regards to the cutting of hair.

I’ve discussed beards before in this post.  Surprisingly to me, the thing in the Rule of Musonius that gets the most criticism is this precept on beards.  Which is strange to me, because there’s a much larger criticism that could be levied that we’ll talk about towards the end of these daily precept posts.

The issue about hair might at first seem to be about vanity, or about culture, or some other issue which we generally class as vicious at worst, or indifferent at best.  So why should this be something the Stoic προκόπτων concerns him- or herself with?  Female προκόπτωντες do not need to worry about the prescription regarding the beard, but the cutting of hair matters to both.  We’ll address each in turn.

Epictetus’ reasoning is that the beard is placed by nature as the symbol of the male, like the rooster’s comb, or lion’s mane, to which Musonius also agrees.  To keep the beard, is κατὰ φύσιν, or in accordance with the nature of things.  For Epictetus, the beard is a matter of piety, so important that he would accept death rather than to go against nature.

“Come now, Epictetus, shave off your beard,”
        If I am a philosopher, I answer, I will not shave it off.

“Then I will have you beheaded,”
        It if will do you any good, behead me.

— Epictetus, Discourses I.2.29

Hair is not burdensome, Musonius tells us, like feathers to a bird unless there is some illness.  To trim or cut the hairs of the head for utility is as in accord with nature as letting it grow, this comes from Zeno, but it shouldn’t be for fashion.

There’s even a section of this lecture where Musonius attacks a specific hairstyle, examples of which can be seen at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

“For they, you know, plait some parts of their hair, some they let fall free, and some they arrange in some other way in order to appear more beautiful.”

If we took a very close look, we might even then restrict ourselves to hair cuts of a single length, either letting it grow, or more a short buzz-cut.  If I’m correct, the statues that Dillon mentions which I’ve included above would be these, but views from the side and back are not available:

Pair of Portrait Busts of Youths and Two Marble Eyes

Pair of Portrait Busts of Youths and Two Marble Eyes, at Getty Museum.

So for the Musonius and Epictetus, they’re clearly of one mind on this issue, the beard and hair is worthy of attention.  It’s important to remember that while these external things are externals, how we handle them is a matter of virtue or vice.

For Epictetus, the beard is a matter of piety, so important that he would accept death rather than to go against nature.

“Come now, Epictetus, shave off your beard,”
        If I am a philosopher, I answer, I will not shave it off.

“Then I will have you beheaded,”
        It if will do you any good, behead me.

— Epictetus, Discourses I.2.29

 


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

SLRP: LXXIX. On The Rewards Of Discovery (Part 1: 1-10)

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Seneca
This letter reminds me of Natural Questions in which discussions of the facts of nature, as then understood, are punctuated by moral and ethical discussions.  This is an interesting style, and if it’s common, your writings, Seneca, are my only exposure to it.

“The seas do not increase in bulk. The universe keeps the same character, the same limits. Things which have reached their full stature cannot grow higher. Men who have attained wisdom will therefore be equal and on the same footing. Each of them will possess his own peculiar gifts – one will be more affable, another more facile, another more ready of speech, a fourth more eloquent; but as regards the quality under discussion, – the element that produces happiness, – it is equal in them all.”

This is an interesting point.  I think the common conception of a certain achievement, or excellence, is that the people who have them are cookie-cutter standouts of the same type.  You see this in people dedicated to certain styles of life.  Priests, monks, nuns, sadhus, whatever:  people expect one type, but like any walk of life, there are many kinds of folks on that path.

It’s interesting to apply to the Sage.

“[V]irtue will not be brought down to a lower plane either by flames or by ruins. Hers is the only greatness that knows no lowering; there can be for her no further rising or sinking. Her stature, like that of the stars in the heavens, is fixed. Let us therefore strive to raise ourselves to this altitude.”

Farewell.


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

Camp Seneca: Day 9 – The Fourth Precept

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“Socrates, I supposed that philosophy must add to one’s store of happiness. But the fruits you have reaped from philosophy are apparently very different. For example, you are living a life that would drive even a slave to desert his master. Your meat and drink are of the poorest: the cloak you wear is not only a poor thing, but is never changed summer or winter; and you never wear shoes or tunic.”

— Xenophon, Memorabilia I.6.2



The fourth of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

4.  To dress simply, for protection of the body, and without vanity.

We take it upon ourselves to dress for the minimum protection of the body and for modesty, and not for fancy fashions or mere proclivity. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture XIX and Lecture XX in regards to clothing, furnishings, and coverings.

I’ve discussed clothing before, it’s an idea I’ve been chewing on for over a year now, in The Philosopher’s Cloak Mark I  and Mark II.  If you read those two pieces, you’ll see what I think is the core of the practice related to the Fourth Precept.

For Camp Seneca, I’ve restricted myself to a black button-up shirt and jeans as an exercise in minimal protection, and avoiding vanity.  The temperature here is also flirting with three digits in Freedom Units, so there is a bit of practice for toleration of cold/heat as well.


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

SLRP: LXXVIII. The Healing Power Of The Mind (Part 4: 22-29)

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Seneca,

There does seem to be an interesting double-thinking occuring in this article.  It may be that it’s a rhetorical device, but it’s a thing I too have been thinking about lately.  It is true, as you say:

“[T]he thirstier a man is, the more he enjoys a drink; the hungrier he is, the more pleasure he takes in food. Whatever falls to one’s lot after a period of abstinence is welcomed with greater zest.”

This is exactly the Epicurean position, that by abstaining from the fanciest of things, we are able to take pleasure in mere barley cakes and water.  And pleasure, or lack of pain, is the Epicurean goal.

The Stoic twist, then, should be that although there is a body-pleasure, and even its perception may be increased by our training, it is still an indifferent.  It’s important to remember that the increased pleasure should not become the focus of the training.

I wonder, though, if as a stepping stone, that’s an appropriate thought during training.  To be able to hold off now for the future pleasure?  Epictetus gives us a similar trick:

‘If you are struck by the appearance of any promised pleasure, guard yourself against being hurried away by it; but let the affair wait your leisure, and procure yourself some delay. Then bring to your mind both points of time: that in which you will enjoy the pleasure, and that in which you will repent and reproach yourself after you have enjoyed it; and set before you, in opposition to these, how you will be glad and applaud yourself if you abstain.”

—Epictetus, Enchiridion 34

Which bears a similarity to a Fragment of Musonius, explicitly playing of the Epicurean position, it seems.

“If one were to measure what is agreeable by the standard of pleasure, nothing would be pleasanter than self-control; and if one were to measure what is to be avoided by pain, nothing would be more painful than lack of self-control.”

— Musonius, Fragment 24

It seems to me, that this sort of an aid to training, as an intermediary argument for the person just starting in philosophy, considering the practices of philosophy as a pleasure with which the uninstructed person is already attached has a fair broad basis in the text.

At some point, however, that needs to flip, and the προκόπτων must come to the understanding that:

“[A]ny life must seem short to those who measure its length by pleasures which are empty and for that reason unbounded.”

Farewell.


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

Camp Seneca: Day 8 – The Third Precept

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“[T]he rational and the irrational appear such in a different way to different persons, just as the good and the bad, the profitable and the unprofitable. For this reason, particularly, we need discipline, in order to learn how to adapt the preconception of the rational and the irrational to the several things conformably to nature.”

— Epictetus, Discourses I.2



The third of the precepts in the Rule of Musonius is:

3.To eat no animal-flesh, with moderation and simply.

We take it upon ourselves to eat no animal-flesh, but those things produced by animals are acceptable.  We take it upon ourselves to eat for health, with self-control (σωφροσύνη), and according to our nature. We take it upon ourselves to train to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lectures XVIII A and XVIII B in regards to food and drink.

On the first day, we discussed food in general.  Musonius devotes a rather long lecture (usually broken into two parts) to food.  The text says its a topic which was often discussed, and that for Musonius the foundation of moderation begins with eating.

For Camp Seneca, I’m interpreting ‘with moderation’ as eating once a day, or sometimes twice if need be.  This is noted in the texts as the frequency with which we are presented with the choices surrounding food.

Eating once a day has gotten much easier since day one, although I did have two meals over the weekend.  Coupled with the vegetarian diet he suggests, I have eaten less than I generally do.  As a result, I’m losing some weight, a little less than 4-lbs last week.

I’m doing my best not to make “Musonius’ vegetarianism” a “pizza, pasta, and rice” diet, and I’m trying to focus on healthier choices.  I’m also trying to avoid “wallowing in the pickles and sauces,” as it were.

I have also been abstaining from alcohol, which is not something explicitly stated in Musonius, but we do have some cautionary tales in Seneca.  As I stated before, the Stoic position on alcohol is not one of complete abstinence, but I’m finding this period useful to me.

I have also cut out caffeine and sugary drinks, excepting an occasional cherry juice for my joints.

So far, the exercise has a been a good one, and the regimen seems like it’s very do-able for a period of time.


This is part of the 2016 iteration of Camp Seneca.

SLRP: LXXVIII. The Healing Power Of The Mind (Part 3: 15b-21)

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Seneca,

The comparison to athletic training is an apt one, since we often use it to discuss philosophical training.  Sickness seems to present itself as an “earlier than we expected” excericse.  Like the gym or the dojo, we train in the school of philosophy, but our training is meant to be carried out and used in the real world.  We sweat in the gym to avoid bleeding in the street.

Sickness, then, for the new philosopher can seem like a post-graduate exam when we’re really just getting our feet wet in the general curriculum of under-grad.  But it’s not up to us when such challenges are presented.

So let us also win the way to victory in all our struggles, – for the reward is not a garland or a palm or a trumpeter who calls for silence at the proclamation of our names, but rather virtue, steadfastness of soul, and a peace that is won for all time, if fortune has once been utterly vanquished in any combat.

This section stuck out at me when I was in pain.  It was these couple lines that rallied my spirit when instead I was wallowing in self-pity.

Do you think that you are doing nothing if you possess self-control in your illness? You will be showing that a disease can be overcome, or at any rate endured. There is, I assure you, a place for virtue even upon a bed of sickness. It is not only the sword and the battle-line that prove the soul alert and unconquered by fear; a man can display bravery even when wrapped in his bed-clothes.

Thank you for the words.

Farewell.


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