Philosophical eating: “The clear dry soul is wisest and best.”

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In Musonius’ Lecture/s on food, we hear straight off that, “On the subject of food he used to speak frequently and very emphatically too…”. The reasoning given is that as food is something we are obliged to handle daily, it is a key tool for developing the virtue of self-control.

The main thrust is:

“As one should prefer inexpensive food to expensive and what is abundant to what is scarce, so one should prefer what is natural for men to what is not.”

Musonius seems to layout three sorts of foods.

  • Natural foods which do not require fire for preparation.
    • Seasonal, fresh fruit, some vegetables, cheese, honey, etc.
  • Natural foods which do require fire for preparation.
    • Most cereals, pulses, etc.
  • Barbaric or unsuitable foods.
    • Namely meat-flesh in the first category, but also dainty foods like sweet cakes, extravagant dishes, dishes which harm the health, etc.

Additionally, in this paper that I’m currently reading, ‘Food and Counter-cultural Identity in Ancient Cynicism‘ the author Notario makes the statement that food choices are a key practice and symbol for in-group/out-group identification.  We can see that in the religious prohibtions in Semetic religions, national cousines, and societal choices about acceptable foods (cow, chicken, horse, dog, muskrat?).

In the cases of the Stoics, Cynics, and Pythagoreans it is also a counter-cultural act.

Paleo diet fans:  trigger warning.

Notario states that up to 80% of the calories of the ancient Greek diet were provided by cereals.  He treats at times dietary choices like a text, noting that the Cynics and Stoics repudiated the fancier foods, and extolled the virtues of the simple foods of the Everyman.

One of those is madzae/maza, a sort of barley cake (in the sense of party not a sweet treat).  A recipe for the food can be found here.  I gave my hand a try at this, and found it to be surprisingly tasty.  The author notes that it tastes of Honey Smacks cereal (red box, Frog), and that is spot on.  The grainy texture seems a little unavoidable, however your diligence with a mortar and pestle, or in my case a repurposed coffee grinder, may vary the degree.

I made the simplest ones, but I can see how adding some cheese or a bit of honey would be a nice change of pace periodically.

Over in the Cynosarges group on Facebook we’re putting together a “Philosophical eating plan” based on the prescriptions of Musonius, and the examples of Diogenes and Crates.  If you’re interested in collaborating, or making use for the final product, head over there and check it out.

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.

International Women’s Day and Musonius Rufus

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Today is International Women’s Day, and I thought I would take the time to discuss Musonius Rufus, the role of women in Stoic Philosophy, and the examples we have of them.  Many ancient and modern philosophers discount and discredit the role of women in intellectual pursuits.  For whatever reason, it was often assumed they were less suited to the task, or simply by nature interested in other things.

Musonius, however, takes a different tact.  In Lecture III, he notes that for all of the operative issues regarding philosophy and virtue, men and women have the same foundation on which to build.  For Musonius, both men and women are given by God the gifts of reason.  Their senses, bodies, and minds all work in a similar fashion for everything on which philosophy hinges.  More importantly, both men and women have predisposition for goodness, for virtue.

Keeping in mind, Musonius is speaking in the first century CE, and his arguments are couched in the language and thinking of that time.  He is trying to convince his mostly male audience that the women in their lives would benefit from studying philosophy, for growing in virtue.  He does this by playing to their own biases.

A virtuous person (in this case a female person), would be better suited to all roles and tasks a human being can do.  In the same way that it would make one a better husband, it would make one a better wife.  As it would make better sons, it makes better daughters.  In what conditions would justice, fortitude, wisdom, or courage be a hindrance to a woman?  None!  It’s surely just as valuable in her as anyone else.

Musonius takes this a step further in Lecture IV.  Not only are women capable of virtue, but they should be trained (read: educated) in it.  Not only should they receive education, but the very same education as males.  There is no good reason for Musonius that we should educate boys and girls differently.  This is a fairly radical proposition for the 1st century CE.  The equal access to education was not even a common western value 100 years ago; yet nearly 2000 years ago, Musonius argued for just that very point.  Quite forward thinking in this regard.

His opinions differ, however, when we get to a common crux of human relations:  sexuality.  In Lecture XII, Musonius argues for what seems a very socially conservative view of human sexuality.  Specifically, that it’s appropriate only within marriage, and only for the purposes of procreation.  The reason I mention this, is that he unequivocally states that the prescription is the same for men and women.  While the standard is very strict, it is at least fair.

One of the issues which bears pointing out, which many moderns may take umbrage with, is that Musonius argues from a position in which the souls of men and women are the same, but that does not mean that men and women are in all ways equal.  He does note a reasonable division of labor and social roles, however.  One of his interlocutors asks about “women’s work” and how that gets addressed in Lecture IV, lines 16-21.  Musonius argues that when such things are conformable to the general physical nature, it’s appropriate.  The general trend of men’s and women’s build might predispose them to one type of work over another.  For example, he says it’s reasonable that men would do more hard labor outside, and women might work indoors.  In this, the issue is specifically the spinning of yarn.  He does not, however, state this does means that one shouldn’t learn or be able to do the work of the other.

In fact, in specific circumstance, the opposite roles may be more reasonable.  A man might work inside due to his constitution or other mitigating circumstance, and the woman outside and more physically.  Either way, he would not compel one or the other in a specific way.  While general trends exist, the specific applications vary.  A quite liberal approach, I think (not in the political sense of Anglo-American politics, mind you).

Within Stoicism, we either look towards the latter part of the era to the daughter of Cato, or back to the Cynics for specific examples of female philosophers which have come down to us through history.  The first and earlier Hipparchia, the wife of Crates the Cynic and philosopher in her own right, and the second and latter Portia Catonis.

Hipparchia left a life of comfortable wealth, and rigid social mores to marry Crates, the homeless and shameless Cynic.  She discarded everything her society valued and instead sought virtue and freedom, albeit in very unconventional ways.

“I, Hipparchia chose not the tasks of the rich-robed woman, but the manly life of the Cynic. Brooch-clasped tunics, well-clad shoes, and perfumed headscarves pleased me not; But with wallet and fellow staff, together with coarse cloak and bed of hard ground, My name shall be greater than Atalanta: for wisdom is better than mountain running.”

— Hipparchia, Greek Anthology, 7.413

I could not find the original Greek version of the Anthology online to check this, however it is worth noting that the word which is often translated as ‘courage’ can also be translated as “manliness,’ ἀνδρεία (andreia).  This is pure speculation, but I would not be surprised to find that it is this word which is in the original text of the above quote.

Portia may have even been involved in the assassination plot of Caesar, and was at least aware of it.  The recordings of her show a women of firm character, strong beliefs, and the courage of her convictions, even unto her own death by suicide.

“You, my husband, though you trusted my spirit that it would not betray you, nevertheless were distrustful of my body, and your feeling was but human. But I found that my body also can keep silence… Therefore fear not, but tell me all you are concealing from me, for neither fire, nor lashes, nor goads will force me to divulge a word; I was not born to that extent a woman. Hence, if you still distrust me, it is better for me to die than to live; otherwise let no one think me longer the daughter of Cato or your wife.”

— Portia Catonis, Cassius Dio, 44.13.4

The universality of Stoic philosophy is one of its highest selling points, I think.  It calls to the egalitarian nature in the modern westerner, and shows that it has maintained that perspective for a very long time.  Whether it’s simply the vicissitudes of history, or some other reason such as explicit bias, we have few examples of female philosophers and particularly of female Stoics from the classical period.  Nevertheless, the message of Musonius is a hopeful one, offering the fruits of philosophical practice to all rational creatures who embrace her.

The Rule of Musonius: A Rule of Life for the Stoic Prokopton

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The Rule of Musonius is a Rule of Life, a foundational principle which can be used by the Stoic προκόπτων to help train so he or she can regulate their life conformably to nature.  The Rule is made up of two parts:  The Seven Precepts, and Three Τόποι; ten parts which form both sides of the training of a philosopher.  Musonius notes that there are two kinds of training, the training of body and soul together, and of soul alone.  The Precepts and Τόποι cover these, respectively.



The Seven Precepts of Musonius

If you accomplπροish something good with hard work, the labor passes quickly, but the good endures; if you do something shameful in pursuit of pleasure, the pleasure passes quickly, but the shame endures.”

— Musonius, Fragment 51

  1. To speak plainly, and true.

    We take it upon ourselves to speak truly, in the spirit of παρρησία, and with virtue in mind in the spirit of Musonius’ Lecture I in regards to speech.   [Read more…]

  2. To prefer practice to theory alone.

    We take it upon ourselves to practice what we learn, for it is the stronger of the two. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lectures V and Lecture VI in regards to practice.    [Read more…]

  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.     [Read more…]

  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.     [Read more…]

  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.      [Read more…]

  6. To strengthen the body and soul through cold and heat, thirst and hunger, scarcity of food and hardness of bed, and abstaining from pleasure and enduing pain.

    We take it upon ourselves to experience austerity, that we might become more wise, more just, more temperate, and more courageous. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture VI and Lecture VII in regards to training and austerities.     [Read more…]

  7. To use sex only for virtuous purposes, and within the confines of fidelity.

    We take it upon ourselves to use our sexual faculties with kindness and virtue. We take it upon ourselves to follow the prescriptions laid out in Musonius’ Lecture XII, Lectures XIII A and XIII B, Lecture XIV, and Lecture XV in regards to family life.     [Read more…]


 

The Three Τόποι of Epictetus

“There are three areas of study, in which a person who is going to be good and noble must be trained. That concerning desires and aversions, so that he may never fail to get what he desires nor fall into what he would avoid. That concerning the impulse to act and not to act, and, in general, appropriate behaviour; so that he may act in an orderly manner and after due consideration, and not carelessly. The third is concerned with freedom from deception and hasty judgement, and, in general, whatever is connected with assent.”

— Epictetus, Discourses 3.2.1–2.

  1. The Discipline of Assent.
    We study and exercise ourselves in the Discipline of Assent that we may keep our προαίρεσις in a state conformable to nature.

  2. The Discipline of Desire.

    We study and exercise ourselves in the Discipline of Desire and Aversions that we may be desirous of true goods, averse to true evils, and not be caught up in apparent goods and evils.

  3. The Discipline of Action.

    We study and exercise ourselves in the Discipline of Action and Inaction that we may fulfill our duties by undertaking action with justice, self-discipline, courage, and practical wisdom; and that we may also through inaction avoid every mean and vicious thing.

 

 


 

Additional Reading:  The Lectures and Fragments of Musonius Rufus.