A Philosophy for Dummies all over the World?
Imagine: One day you discover the ultimate truth – what do you do? Of course, you are delighted and enthusiastically want to share your discovery with the rest of the world. Your predecessors have already published, after arduous research and a painstaking thinking process, all the little bits of truth that they had fished out of a nature that – as Heraclitus already knew – likes to hide (fr. 22 B 123 = Themistius, Orat. 5.69b). Then, after this age-long tradition of careful searching, the day comes that light definitively breaks through and the decisive truth is found, a turning point in intellectual history. From that moment on, there is no need for further discussions, as the clear truth is available to everyone.
This is what happened at the end of the fourth century BC, and the “divine mind”Footnote 1 who discovered the truth was Epicurus. For later followers such as Lucretius, his discoveries eclipsed all previous achievements. They were even more precious than the gifts of Ceres and Liber, more impressive than Hercules’ labors (DRN 5.13–54; cf. also 3.1–30). No wonder, then, that Epicurus also wished to communicate his insights to all other people. He addressed his letters to everyone, men and women alike,Footnote 2 to both young and old (Men. 122), to both upper and lower classes, including slaves.Footnote 3 He even showed a fundamental openness to other philosophical traditions, provided that they were compatible with the truth he discovered.Footnote 4 And this eagerness to divulge the Epicurean truth urbi et orbi was taken over by later followers. It still seems to have lost nothing of its original enthusiasm in the second century AD, when Diogenes of Oenoanda published his inscription for the sake of everyone: the young, the old, and those who are somewhere in between, “not yet old, but not indeed young either,”Footnote 5 including not only Greeks but foreigners, too.Footnote 6 And since he explicitly addresses future generations as well (fr. 3.IV.13–V.4), we may even in our own day witness the appeal of the school.Footnote 7 Epicurean philosophy, in short, has a remarkably strong universalizing tendency.
Although this tendency is well known, we sometimes risk forgetting how radical it was and how far-reaching its consequences actually were. After all, we may reasonably presume that Epicurean philosophy meant something completely different for a female slave at Demetrius’ court in Epicurus’ day and for a male aristocrat in the Rome of Vespasian. It is not evident that all the differences in time, place, external circumstances and prevalent ideological presuppositions can be bracketed without any problem. If philosophy, indeed, “does have a geography,”Footnote 8 it is worth re-examining seriously Epicurus’ claim of the universalizability of his philosophy.
In On Ends, Cicero suggests that the Epicureans recruit their followers among the uncultivated peasants (2.12). This may be no more than a polemical smear, in line with Cicero’s generally unfavorable view of Epicureanism,Footnote 9 but we may take it as an excellent point of departure for a thought experiment. Let us, for the time being, leave Cicero’s world and return to that of Epicurus in order to take a few local farmers – say Gorgias and Daos, the characters of Menander’s Grouch – from their plough in order to turn them into Epicureans. Of course, Gorgias and Daos are not very learned, to say the least, and are entirely ignorant of philosophical speculation. Is it possible to transform them in a satisfactory way into genuine Epicureans?
Yes, it is. Epicurus insisted that no erudition is required to understand his truth and live according to it,Footnote 10 and in spite of the impressive learning of later Epicureans such as Philodemus, we should not tone down the radical nature of Epicurus’ original claim. Metrodorus even went so far as to say that we should not be dismayed if we do not know on which side Hector fought, or if we cannot quote the opening lines of the Iliad (Plutarch, Non posse 1094E = fr. 24 K.). Gorgias and Daos, then, can even do without the absolute minimum in this respect. But what do they need? First of all, if they swallow Epicurus’ “fourfold remedy” (τετραφάρμακον), they will no longer be afraid of the gods and of death, and they will gain a sound insight into pleasure and pain. On that basis, they can begin to pursue their pleasures in their own way, since Epicurus left much room for individual judgment of concrete circumstances.Footnote 11 What they further need, then, is a careful calculus of pleasure and pain, and in that field, sober-minded farmers like Gorgias and Daos, who stick to common sense, may well have some advantage over sophisticated minds.Footnote 12 Beyond this, we cannot expect that they will have deep insight into the Epicurean canon, in epistemological theories about preconceptions and perception, in complicated details of Epicurean theology, atomism and the swerve, or in the tenets of other philosophical schools. In that sense, their Epicureanism will be rudimentary,Footnote 13 but they will experience all the pleasures of their belly – which, we should not forget, is the principle and root of every goodFootnote 14 and the region that contains the highest end (Plutarch, Non posse 1098D = fr. 40 K.) – they will not be seduced by excessive and unnecessary luxury or by empty desires, and they will be free from superstition and the fear of death. The Epicureanism of Gorgias and Daos will be an Epicureanism sui generis, no doubt, but it will be perfectly in line with their character, condition and the particular circumstances of their lives. In other words, it will be precisely the kind of Epicureanism that is fitting for them. We can conclude, then, that it is indeed possible to turn them into genuine Epicureans.
Similar thought experiments can be set up about female slaves at the royal court in Epicurus’ day, about old sculptors, ordinary cobblers or barbarian traders. All their situations are different, but all of them can in their own way adopt Epicurean philosophy. In this essay, I would like to focus on a completely different context, viz. the world of the late Cicero. In a way, the challenge is here even greater, since we are now dealing with a completely different place (Rome), date (the first century BC) and (social, political, ideological) context, yet our basic question remains the same: Is Epicurus’ truth still equally relevant in this particular situation or do the new circumstances ask for significant modifications or even undermine the whole doctrine? Our question, in short, is: How can one be an Epicurean in late-Republican Rome?
This, of course, is quite an ambitious question and a full answer would require a book-length study, if only because several alternatives are possible. In all likelihood, Amafinius would come up with a view that differs from those of Philodemus, Lucretius or Cicero. For reasons of space, I confine myself to one author (Cicero) and one work (On Ends). This double limitation implies that our conclusions will only yield a partial answer. Nevertheless, we will see that Cicero’s discussion of Epicureanism in the first two books of On Ends raises several general questions that are particularly relevant for our topic and even allow us to reach more generic conclusions.
The Greek Perspective of On Ends 1–2
In the proem to On Ends (1.1–12), Cicero defends his decision to write philosophical works in Latin against the widespread aversion to philosophy and against a certain snobbish preference for Greek works. Although this proem is not without relevance for our question, as it thematizes in a direct and programmatic way the confrontation between the Greek and Roman intellectual world in Cicero’s day, I nevertheless prefer to skip it and immediately turn to the actual discussion, both because the proem stands on itself and may have been conceived earlierFootnote 15 and because it has been well studied recently.Footnote 16 We will have some opportunities, though, to refer to it in the course of our analysis.
Before Torquatus starts his defense of Epicurus’ doctrine of the final end in Book 1, Cicero first launches a short general attack against Epicurean philosophy, rejecting in a fairly systematic way its natural philosophy (1.17–21), logic (1.22) and ethics (1.23–25). One of the striking aspects of this initial criticism is its predominantly Greek intellectual framework. In the domain of natural philosophy, for instance, Cicero focuses on the relation between several views of Democritus and Epicurus. What he offers us, in other words, is the kind of brief, technical discussion we also find in Greek theoretical polemics,Footnote 17 and what we do not find at all are clear traces of a specifically Roman input. The same holds true for his discussion of logic. As far as ethics is concerned, Cicero compares Epicurus’ position with that of Aristippus and the Cyrenaics – again, the same Greek school tradition. Yet here we at last find a Roman element, too: Cicero confronts Torquatus with the impressive achievements of his own ancestors. This is the first encounter with the Roman world in the discussion. I shall come back to it later and examine how “Roman” this argument actually is. For the time being, I confine myself to the observation that Triarius ignores it in his recapitulative summary of Cicero’s attack (1.26). There, Aristippus’ name is at least mentioned, while the famous Torquati are not.
Torquatus’ survey of Epicurus’ philosophy shows the same general tendency. Just like Cicero, he usually refers to a Greek intellectual framework. He even explicitly states that he will say nothing new (1.28), which is an interesting disclaimer in our context. Of course, the phrase nihil novi need not imply that Torquatus directly takes over everything from Epicurus himself – we shall see in a moment that he also takes into account later developments. Still, it is not without importance that he begins his account by underlining that his approach is perfectly in line with Epicurus, “the author of the system himself” (1.29). The whole emphasis, then, is on continuity.
Moreover, throughout Torquatus’ survey, we find many clear references to the Greek tradition. Epicurus’ understanding of pleasure as the absence of pain is illustrated with a reference to an Athenian statue of Chrysippus and opposed to the Cyrenaic view (1.39). Several sections contain an accumulation of material that can be related to the Greek tradition and to the position of Epicurus himself,Footnote 18 and even Torquatus’ examples sometimes sound rather Greek. His reference (in 1.58) to a city rent by faction reminds one of the well-known “Greek” problem of a πόλις ruined by internal στάσις, and as examples of true friendship, Torquatus lists Theseus and Orestes (1.65).
The overall impression, so far, is that the intellectual framework of On Ends 1 is to a very significant degree that of the Greek tradition. A similar conclusion holds true for the second book as well, although the Roman element there becomes more prominent. But as we shall see later, the Greek pole is not forgotten, to say the least. Cicero often refers to Epicurus and to his “alter ego” Metrodorus (2.7 and 2.92). This observation in itself already undermines the hypothesisFootnote 19 that the founding fathers of the school were no longer relevant in Cicero’s day and that Cicero only read the works of contemporary Epicureans. It is true that Cicero elsewhere claims that Epicurus’ and Metrodorus’ works are only read by the Epicureans themselves (Tusc. 2.8), but such polemical statements should not be taken at face value. Even more, ancient polemicists as a rule tend to take the orthodox position of the founders of the school as their point of reference rather than dealing with later modifications, and Cicero is not different in this respect. Although he was interested in contemporary developments (see below), he undoubtedly regarded the writings of the ancient masters as the principal criterion for determining the orthodox position.
Just like the first book of On Ends, the second contains many references to technical discussions that were held in the Greek philosophical schools. Cicero more than once recalls the position of Hieronymus of Rhodes (2.8; 2.16; 2.32) and of Aristippus (2.18; 2.20). In the context of a doxographical survey of views regarding the final end,Footnote 20 he mentions the views of Aristotle, Callipho, Diodorus, Hieronymus and Aristippus (2.19), and again, more elaborately, those of Aristotle and Polemo, Callipho, Diodorus, Aristippus, the Stoics, Hieronymus, Carneades, Pyrrho, Aristo and Erillus (2.34–35; further developed in 2.36–43). Remarkably enough, all of these thinkers belong to the old, Greek tradition. Should we conclude, then, that Cicero could not come up with one Roman thinker who developed a relevant thought about this issue? Perhaps we should, at least in the sense that no Roman thinker at that time had become a paradigmatic figure whose philosophical position was regarded as innovative and worth mentioning alongside the views of the great Greek philosophers. The latter, by contrast, often appear in Book 2: Cicero mentions the seven Sages (2.7), Democritus (2.102), Socrates (2.1–2; 2.90), Plato (2.2; 2.4; 2.45; 2.52; 2.92), Aristotle (2.17; 2.106), the Cyrenaics (2.114), the Stoics (2.13) – including Zeno (2.17), Cleanthes (2.69) and Chrysippus (2.44) – and Carneades (2.59). More than once, their names also occur concerning points of secondary importance.Footnote 21 Occasionally, Cicero’s references to the Greek tradition even risk becoming pedantic. A case in point is his elaborate discussion of the conflict between Socrates and sophists like Gorgias (2.1–2) – as if Torquatus and Triarius, who are both explicitly characterized as learned men (1.13; cf. 1.26), really needed such a lesson.
Moreover, the “Greek framework” of Book 2 is not confined to the philosophical tradition but also includes illustrious statesmen and warlords (2.62, 67, 97 and 112) and famous examples of friendship (2.79). One may add to all this anecdotes such as the one about Themistocles and Simonides (2.104) and several highlights of the Greek literary tradition: a reference to the famous story of Solon and Croesus (2.87, referring to Herodotus 1.29–33), an allusion to Xenophon’s description of the Persians’ diet (2.92, cf. Xenophon, Cyr. 1.2.8), a translation of a verse from Euripides (2.105; TrGF 5.1, fr. 133) and a reference to famous Greek authors and artists (2.115).
This long list may be tedious and prosaic, but it is important in that it shows how relevant the Greek tradition is for Cicero in these first two books of On Ends. On the basis of this survey, we can already come to some conclusions.
First, the above list illustrates how Roman aristocrats like Torquatus and Cicero actually engage in philosophy. Their whole thinking is moulded by the traditional framework of the Greek philosophical schools. They have no problem with linking their different views to that of the great Greek thinkers of the past. When Torquatus, for instance, expresses his preference for continuous speeches, Cicero immediately – almost naturally, one might say – connects this with the position of Zeno the Stoic.Footnote 22 As already observed above, moreover, no attempt can be found to relate the opinions of Torquatus and Cicero to that of important Roman thinkers. The overall philosophical framework of Books 1 and 2 of On Ends is Greek.
This is the direct consequence of Cicero’s thorough familiarity with Greek philosophy. Since he attentively followed at Athens the courses of Zeno and Phaedrus in his youth,Footnote 23 we can be sure that he even knew the Garden from the inside. Moreover, he in all likelihood deepened his knowledge by reading the works of contemporary EpicureansFootnote 24 and by discussing Epicurean philosophy with his learned friends (including Atticus, his former fellow student in the Athenian Garden).Footnote 25 This background, then, also helps to explain the great significance of the Greek tradition in the first two books of On Ends: Cicero had so thoroughly appropriated this tradition that it simply had become part and parcel of his own philosophical frame of reference.
This conclusion strongly problematizes the clear-cut opposition between “Greek” and “Roman” that can often be found in scholarly literature. Fundamental questions about happiness, the final end, the successful life and so on have a general scope and cannot really be pegged down to one specific world (either Greek or Roman). If indeed Roman thinkers like Cicero prove to reflect about such problems on the basis of the rich Greek tradition that they have entirely appropriated, a rigid dichotomy between “typically Greek” and “typically Roman” makes no sense at all. One might object, though, that such radical opposition can to an important extent be traced back to the works of Cicero himself. This is true, indeed. Especially in the programmatic proems to his dialogues, such an opposition can be found more than once, but it occurs elsewhere, too. In the second book of On Ends, for instance, Cicero repeatedly argues that some topics are not permitted to Romans and should be left to the Greeks: sint ista Graecorum (2.68; cf. 2.80). Moreover, such opposition between “Greek” and “Roman” is not merely a rhetorical construct of Cicero himself, but seems to rest on broader contemporary debates and convictions.Footnote 26 Yet even though all this is true, it is appropriate to maintain an attitude of caution towards oversimplified applications of such labels. As we saw, Cicero and Torquatus have made traditional Greek thinking their own to such an extent that it had become part and parcel of their thinking. Cicero elsewhere claims that he has always combined Greek and Latin elements (Off. 1.1), and even more instructive than such explicit statements are passages such as On Ends 2.105–106, where he smoothly combines Greek material (Epicurus, Euripides, Aristotle) with Roman (T. Manlius Torquatus, Marius, Scipio Africanus).Footnote 27 That Cicero does not deem it necessary to comment on such combinations tellingly shows that to his own mind, and probably to those of his intellectual friends, the clear-cut distinction between “Greek” and “Roman” was far less evident than he himself sometimes suggests.
Second, this conclusion throws further light on the situation of the Epicurean school in Cicero’s day. The philosophical community of the Garden in Athens still existed, and we may presume that it even had some doctrinal authority, although it had ceased to be the only institution where the “orthodox” position was defined. Other circles, like that in Campania where Philodemus was active, had meanwhile come into existenceFootnote 28 and saw no problem in disagreeing with the Athenian Garden. In such a context, the Epicurean school is no longer synonymous with the Athenian Garden.Footnote 29 In other words, a man can also be a full member of the Epicurean school when he endorses the Epicurean point of view during a discussion on Cicero’s estate at Cumae or when he pursues Epicurean pleasures in Piso’s villa in Herculaneum. Epicureanism was not merely institutionally embedded, but had become a school of thinking that was spread over many local communities. From such a perspective, then, the Torquatus of On Ends is no less a full member of the Epicurean school than a student of the Athenian Garden, and can no less participate actively in the philosophical debates that are held within the school. This evolution raises two further questions.
First, did it entail innovations in communicative patterns within the school? The different participants in the discussion in On Ends show a remarkable friendliness, being lavish in giving compliments to one another. They prove to be open-minded, as a rule try to be fair, and while drawing out their friends (1.26 and 1.72) they confirm their willingness to listen to each other’s arguments and even to be persuaded (cf. 1.15; 1.23).Footnote 30 How all this relates to traditional communication patterns in the Epicurean Garden (e.g. to the ideal of frank speech and to the notorious polemical laughter) is a topic that calls for further study.Footnote 31
Second, did it entail doctrinal innovations? Both Cicero and Torquatus attach great importance to their own critical judgment (1.6; 1.12; 1.72), and three times Torquatus indeed expresses his personal opinion about a discussion that is carried on in his school. In 1.29–31, he distinguishes between three views on the choice for pleasure as the final end. Epicurus himself regards this choice as self-evident, relying on the senses. Other Epicureans aim at a more subtle position, thinking that sense perception should be supported by further rational arguments. Yet others are less confident and acknowledge that the issue requires a lot of theoretical speculation. This list, then, is not a merely neutral juxtaposition of three contrasting views, but also contains a concise critical evaluation of them. Again, it is evident how thoroughly Torquatus has appropriated this school tradition. Furthermore, and quite remarkably, he himself opts for the third view, which to a certain extent disagrees with Epicurus himself. Torquatus no doubt qualifies as a loyal Epicurean, but he never gives up his critical sense. Somewhat further (1.55), he points to the complicated question of the relationship between mental and corporeal pleasures and pains. Again, he admits that many Epicureans adopt a different position, but insists that these are ignorant. Here, too, Torquatus expresses his own judgment, deciding for himself who are the imperiti and whose view is correct. The third section where Torquatus deals with internal disagreements in the Epicurean school concerns friendship (1.66–70). Some Epicureans insist that every friendship rests on utility and personal pleasure, others argue that the pursuit of pleasure constitutes the initial impetus for friendship but that we later begin to love our friends for their own sake, and yet others believe that friendship is based on a kind of contract. The particularities of these different theories need not detain us here.Footnote 32 Important for us is that Torquatus here again expresses his personal judgment. In his opinion (1.66: ut mihi videtur), the first position is well tenable, whereas the second one is advocated by Epicureans who are a bit more timid yet still fairly acute (1.69).
These three passages may help in refuting a prejudice that existed for a long time in scholarly literature and has only gradually been abandoned, viz. the belief that the Epicurean school was one monolithic tradition, in which no real discussion was possible and where every adherent unquestioningly agreed with what Epicurus said.Footnote 33 This view was to a significant extent influenced by un-Epicurean sources such as Seneca (Ep. 33.4), Numenius (Eusebius, PE 14.5.3 = fr. 24 des Places) or indeed Cicero, who suggests in On Ends that Epicurus’ position is the “light” of his followers (2.70) and that a great multitude of people will be glad to accept everything Epicurus teaches them as true (2.28). Torquatus, for his part, appears as an enthusiastic admirer of Epicurus.Footnote 34 But we now see that this admiration for and loyalty towards his master is not uncritical and that he sometimes even defends positions that run counter to those of Epicurus. Torquatus, in short, is a genuine Epicurean who is not afraid of following his own iudicium.
Moreover, it is not just on minor details that he dares to express his own opinion, but on fundamental issues like pleasure and friendship, and he deals with these questions in a fairly technical way that echoes the theoretical debates in the schools. It has been observed that all the participants in the philosophical discussions of Cicero’s dialogues are aristocratic Romans and that professional (often Greek) house-philosophers are glaringly absent.Footnote 35 This observation is pertinent indeed, but it should be (re)interpreted in light of the conclusions reached above. As a matter of fact, in his capacity as a follower of Epicurus, Torquatus adds no less to the position of his school than would a professional philosopher. Even more, as Cicero presents the situation in On Ends 1–2, the difference between the professional philosopher and the aristocratic members of Cicero’s erudite circle is slight. Nor is there any significant difference concerning the “Greek” and the “Roman” perspective.Footnote 36 We have seen that Torquatus adopts precisely the Greek traditional framework that the professional Greek house-philosophers had and that he considers his own position to be in line with that of his Greek philosophical predecessors. What we find in On Ends 1–2, then, is not a dynamic of opposition between “Greek” and “Roman” but a dynamic of completion and culmination of the Greek tradition. That this was indeed how Cicero himself saw it is further corroborated by his provocative claim at the outset of the Tusculan Disputations that the Romans generally improve upon what they have received from the Greeks (1.1). Torquatus, Cicero and others, then, do not merely receive and appropriate the Greek tradition, but also improve on it from the inside.
The question then remains: How did they manage to do this? Their approach is much less radical than Cicero suggests. Again, we should not be misled by the rhetoric of Cicero’s proems. In dialogues like On Ends, we see more clearly how the process of reception and appropriation in Cicero’s circle concretely works. The Roman aristocrats follow the traditional paths of the (Greek) school and lay their own accents, often on the basis of views that, again, had already been elaborated by previous (Greek) members of the schools. It is striking indeed that nowhere in the aforementioned passages from On Ends are the “improvements” Cicero has in mind or Torquatus’ personal opinions influenced by the changed circumstances or by peculiar insights that have been derived from any specifically Roman context. On the contrary, concerning the discussions about both pleasure and friendship, Torquatus refers to the polemical objections of other philosophical schools (1.31 and 1.69). Throughout his survey, then, Torquatus follows the internal logic of traditional school debates without borrowing a single argument from the specifically Roman attitude towards friendship or pleasure.
Finally, all this has important implications for the question of Cicero’s sources. On the basis of the results of the German tradition of Quellenforschung, the bulk of the first book of On Ends was long traced back to a treatise of a later Epicurean author; the second one (and the polemical attack in 1.17–25), so it was argued, was directly influenced by a lost treatise of Antiochus.Footnote 37 This hypothesis obviously provides an easy explanation for the omnipresence of the Greek element in the first two books of On Ends (as it regards the whole discussion as mere ἀπόγραφα of two Greek works), but it does so at a high cost, by unduly reducing Cicero to his sources. Nowadays, scholars have become much more sensitive to the voluntas auctoris of later writers.Footnote 38 Cicero was no mere slave of his sources, nor were his dialogues mere “copies” of earlier Greek works.Footnote 39 As noted above, Cicero had an excellent knowledge of Epicurean philosophy and was perfectly able to present the core of Epicurus’ philosophy while adding his own criticism and his own arrangement (1.6).
One element, however, is often neglected in such discussions of Cicero’s sources: the importance of social contacts in the aristocratic circles of Cicero’s day. The literary setting of On Ends and other dialogues is not merely a matter of fictional ornatus. These learned philosophical discussions among friends also reflect practices that prevailed in the high society of the late Republic, as is illustrated in Cicero’s correspondence.Footnote 40 Erudite members of the aristocracy discuss philosophical topics with one another, and during these conversations they fall back on ready knowledge, on what they have learned in their youth, on books they read in their leisure time and on what they remember from earlier discussions. We should not underestimate the influence that this scholarly interaction in such “intellectual communities”Footnote 41 had on Cicero’s works. It probably helped to shape Cicero’s general philosophical view; moreover, isolated passages from the dialogues sometimes even found their direct origin in previous discussions between Cicero and one of his friends.Footnote 42
What about the Romans in On Ends 1–2?
We have seen that the clear-cut opposition between “Greek” and “Roman” is problematic in Cicero’s case and that the participants in the discussion of On Ends have fully appropriated a traditionally Greek perspective as their own frame of reference. The question remains, however, whether this appropriation is entirely unproblematic. Here and there, Cicero suggests it is. In 1.50, for instance, Torquatus explains the Epicurean view of justice and illustrates it with a reference to the recent past (ut te consule). By this short phrase, which implies a clever argument ad hominem, he claims that his doctrine is corroborated by what recently happened in Rome. Epicureanism, in other words, can smoothly and without any problem be applied in contemporary Rome as well. There are also situations, however, where such an application is prima facie less evident. In what follows, I deal with four domains where input from the specifically Roman context can be expected, and examine to what extent this input entailed modifications and reinterpretations of the Epicurean point of view.
The first domain is that of language. Cicero presents Epicurean philosophy, including its technical terms, in a new linguistic context, which sometimes requires quite a lot of creativity. Cicero often comments upon his work as a translator.Footnote 43 In On Ends 1–2, however, he seems to minimize the importance of this issue. In 2.10, he deals with the precise meaning of the Latin term varietas in order to show that the problem does not lie with the term but with the content of Epicurus’ doctrine. In this case, then, the difference in language does not interfere with the understanding of what Epicurus wanted to say. More important in this context is Cicero’s discussion of the term voluptas, which he regards as the correct translation of the Greek ἡδονή (2.12–15). He defends his translation with unusual insistence, going so far as to claim that “no instance can be found of a Latin word that more exactly conveys the same meaning as the corresponding Greek word than does the word voluptas” (2.13). Not every scholar agrees with Cicero on this,Footnote 44 and an analysis of the semantics of the two terms may well reveal subtle differences in connotation, but that may not suffice to undermine the whole of Cicero’s argument. We should also bear in mind that Lucretius used the same term voluptas, which seems to imply that even contemporary Roman Epicureans considered the term the accurate translation of ἡδονή. If they were entitled to do so, Cicero, so it seems, was entitled to do the same. Anyhow, in this case, too, Cicero strongly underlines that the use of a different language nowhere interferes with a correct interpretation of Epicurean doctrine.
The upshot of all this is that Epicurus’ Greek language is no obstacle at all to introducing his philosophy to Rome. Conversely, nowhere in On Ends 1–2 can there be found any claim that new insights, derived from the use of Latin terminology, require substantial modifications in Epicurus’ philosophical doctrine. A translation can sometimes cause some problems, perhaps, but the content is much more important than the words (2.20).
The second domain concerns virtue. Torquatus deals at length with the virtues of wisdom, temperance, courage and justice (1.42–53). This is an interesting section that has elicited much discussion. Phillip Mitsis has found in this passage influence of a typically Roman perspective, as opposed to the orthodox Epicurean point of view.Footnote 45 David Sedley agrees with Mitsis about the presence of much non-Epicurean material in this section but finds a different explanation, arguing that Torquatus rather uses a more general framework closely connected to the Platonist ethical tradition and to widespread values.Footnote 46 Yet others have shown – correctly, to my mind – that we should not underestimate the amount of orthodox Epicurean material in Torquatus’ argument.Footnote 47 But this discussion above all shows, once again, that we should avoid using such labels as “Greek” or “Roman” in an absolute way, as if this were self-evident. In fact, both Torquatus and Cicero know and even share basically the same frame of reference, which is that of the traditional philosophical schools, and then deal with it from the perspective of their own philosophical convictions. Cicero’s reply to Torquatus in Book 2 is particularly illustrative in this respect. He develops a lengthy argument in order to show that justice cannot be explained in terms of self-interest (2.51–59). Whereas for Epicurus, justice fundamentally rests on fear of detection,Footnote 48 Cicero objects that real life proves Epicurus wrong, for shrewd criminals are not stopped by this fear (2.55) and powerful rulers do not even need to be bothered by it (2.57). Here, we can easily detect the influence of Cicero’s expertise as a lawyer. He uses his great experience in this field in order to confront Torquatus with a few concrete counter-examples. Especially interesting is the case of Publius Sextilius Rufus. He was left heir to Quintus Fadius Gallus, on condition that he would hand on Fadius’ estate to his daughter, but then denied the arrangement and added that he thus observed the (Voconian) law (2.55). In this way, we have here an example of a wicked criminal who does not break the law but is even guilty by means of the law (2.55). This example is particularly well-chosen, as it provides a serious challenge to the Epicurean point of view. Apparently, there are criminals who can be certain that their crimes will go unpunished. And thus, so Cicero claims, we need another foundation for justice. If people act justly, their justice rests on the force of nature itself (2.58; cf. also 2.28).
Here, the input of the Roman context seems obvious. Cicero cleverly points to concrete events that happened in Rome and that undermine crucial presuppositions of Epicurus’ system. Finally, we have come across clear evidence of the importance of Roman circumstances. Or have we? The conclusion is perhaps not so simple. A closer look shows that the central aspects of Cicero’s argument can also be found in the Greek tradition. Epictetus, for instance, also emphasizes that a powerful criminal can sometimes be sure that he will go unpunished (3.7.13–14).Footnote 49 Cicero expresses precisely the same conviction, but illustrates this idea by means of examples that are closer to his Roman readers. Thus, he opts for Crassus and Pompey (2.57) rather than for, say, Alexander the Great, but fundamentally the core of his argument does not differ at all from what we read in Epictetus. Again, Epictetus emphasizes the power of nature in his polemics against Epicurus (1.23.1–10) – the context of the argument is different, but its essence is the same. Or one could take the example of Publius Sextilius Rufus, who knew that nobody could prove what the dead Fadius had asked him. This is a concrete elaboration of a theoretical question that Epicurus raised himself, viz. whether the sage would break the law if he would be sure that his crime would not be detected.Footnote 50 What Cicero is doing in all these cases, then, is bringing issues and arguments that he received from the Greek tradition closer to his readers by illustrating them with examples borrowed from Roman life. This conclusion is further supported by the last example with which Cicero closes this section, that is, Carneades’ argument about the viper: Suppose you know that a viper is hidden somewhere, but you do not warn somebody whose death would be useful for you, then you definitely commit a wicked deed and yet can be absolutely sure that your crime will not be detected (2.59). Fundamentally, this is the same argument, though now more hypothetical and borrowed from the Greek tradition. Whereas Carneades devised a theoretical case, Cicero the lawyer knew of comparable cases that actually happened and deployed them against Epicurus.
We may conclude, then, that in this case too, Cicero’s use of material that is directly derived from what happened in contemporary Rome does not entail substantial innovations in or modifications of traditional philosophical arguments. Instead the reference to Roman events and examples helps in mediating the Greek tradition to Cicero’s Roman readers, and as such supports and contributes to the applicability and universalizability of Greek philosophy in general and discussions about Epicurean philosophy in particular.
A similar conclusion holds true for the many examples derived from the third domain: the achievements of famous ancestors. Cicero already elaborates this argument in his first attack at the beginning of On Ends 1. While we have seen above that the general perspective of this attack is that of the Greek school tradition, we should now give due attention to the one Roman element that it contains. Cicero at length recalls the celebrated heroic fight of Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus and his condemnation of his son, and also mentions a later Titus Manlius Torquatus who banished his own son (1.23–24), pointing out that these men were not pursuing pleasure but were led by a sincere concern for the public interest. Yet this is no mere panegyric on the Roman tradition as opposed to Epicureanism. These examples are not chosen at random, but focus on the achievements of Torquatus’ own ancestors. As such, they are a challenging ad hominem argument against Torquatus, who picks up the message (1.34).
Nevertheless, there is much more to it than a mere rhetorical ad hominem argument. This is evident from Book 2, where analogous arguments frequently occur, and not only about Torquatus’ illustrious family. In 2.63–65, for instance, Cicero opposes Lucius Thorius, an inveterate clever hedonist, to the consul Marcus Regulus, who decided to return to Carthage in order to be tortured to death, and claims that the latter was not only more virtuous but even happier than the former. The argument rests on the power of Regulus’ exemplary behavior, which seems completely at odds with Epicurean rationality and yet seems preferable. To a certain extent, this is a “false dilemma,”Footnote 51 not only because Thorius is not an acceptable paradigm of the Epicurean philosopher, but also because one could think of an alternative.Footnote 52 This whole argument is an intelligent rhetorical construct that strategically appeals to the instinctive feelings of the reader.Footnote 53 Near the end, Cicero also refers to panegyrics and epitaphs (2.116–117), which do not focus on pleasures but on great accomplishments – again the same argument, but now in the light of death and the afterlife, a context which makes the challenge even more radical and difficult to ignore.
What is especially interesting for our purposes, however, is that Cicero in such passages appears to refute the claims of the Epicureans by means of arguments derived from the great Roman tradition. Cicero, in other words, seems to construct a clear opposition between the Epicurean position and the Roman tradition. The impressive heroic exploits that he recalls time and again are (a) completely at odds with Epicurus’ ideals and convictions and (b) typically Roman. However, on closer inspection the case proves, once again, more complicated. In fact, both claims require further explanation.
(a) Cicero insists that the Epicureans are not interested in great achievements. Nor do they ever mention them in their discourses (2.67). At first sight, this looks like a polemical exaggeration. There can be no reasonable doubt that erudite Epicureans knew their history. Philodemus, for instance, uses history as an argument for his own Epicurean position,Footnote 54 Atticus was writing history (2.67) and Torquatus had no problem in assessing the value of Cicero’s historical information (1.34). But these Epicureans read history through another lens, as appears, for instance, from Torquatus’ own evaluation of the achievements of his distinguished forefathers. All these exceptional deeds, so Torquatus argues, are inspired by a concern for personal security and thus, ultimately, pleasure (1.34–36). This is a direct application of Epicurus’ Principal Doctrines 6 and 7, which provided the Epicureans with an interpretative key for the evaluation of the past. In that sense, Cicero’s argument that “history is dumb in the Epicurean discourses” is indeed problematic. Yet we should not dismiss it too early. Interestingly enough, here he speaks in the first person singular: He claims that he has “never heard” (numquam audivi) in Epicurus’ school one mention of all these famous statesmen who are always on the lips of other philosophers (1.67). We know that Cicero studied in the Garden; if we believe his testimony, polemical though it may be, we may conclude that the Athenian Epicureans of Cicero’s day were largely ignoring these topics, and this, after all, is not implausible, for the issue reflects more the interests of other philosophical schools like Platonism and Stoicism. If the Epicureans were confronted with an objection derived from the illustrious political tradition, they had their answer ready (along the lines of Principal Doctrines 6 and 7), but within their own school their focus was on different things. What mattered for them was maximizing their personal pleasure: Why should they bother with the heroic deeds of Themistocles? Why would they even take the trouble to ridicule such great actions during their meetings? Of course, the value of Cicero’s testimony also depends on what courses he followed in the Garden – if he only took lessons in physics, his testimony would be right but quite uncharitable – and on the question of whether we can indeed take the claim of numquam audivi at face value, but in the not unlikely case that we are indeed entitled to do so, this passage offers us an interesting glimpse into internal school discussions of the Garden in Cicero’s day.
(b) Cicero emphatically presents the great achievements of the past as something typically Roman. He contemptuously admits that the Greeks could adduce a few examples of heroic behavior, but insists that many more examples of such heroic self-sacrifice in the service of the public interest can be found in Roman history (2.62). The question, of course, is whether this is more than a piece of overblown rhetoric. The Greeks, one may presume, had no real difficulty in enumerating a list of analogous examples from their own history. In this respect, Plutarch’s Parallel Lives are the perfect reply to Cicero. This suggests that Cicero’s passing remark is ultimately little more than a challenging hyperbole inspired by unwarranted chauvinism.
However, there may be more to it than this. In order to understand fully Cicero’s argument from illustrious Roman history, we should consider it in light of the philosophical tradition. For the core of Cicero’s argument can indeed be traced back to a rich (Greek) tradition of anti-Epicurean polemics. Plutarch, for instance, is offended at Epicurus’ criticism of great heroes such as Themistocles, Aristides and Epaminondas, and he extols their virtues against the trivial results obtained by the Epicureans.Footnote 55 Fundamentally, Cicero and Plutarch perfectly agree on this point, but Plutarch of course takes his examples from his own, Greek tradition. In other words, their concrete examples differ, but their basic argument is the same. Against that background, it should not surprise us that both Cicero and Torquatus conclude their discussion of concrete examples with a general phrase: In 1.24 Cicero deals with optimus quisque and in 1.37 Torquatus refers to “the glorious exploits and achievements of the heroes of renown.” Such general phrases in fact express the gist of the argument, which can easily be made more concrete in different contexts. Cicero, then, is borrowing an argument from the philosophical tradition while giving it a “Roman flavor.” This adaptation may have been partly motivated by his popularizing goalsFootnote 56 – turning the introduction to philosophy into an introduction to the great Roman past – but Cicero’s popularizing aim is no sufficient explanation. The focus on the Roman tradition is also a necessary condition for the efficiency and persuasiveness of the argument.Footnote 57 The more strongly these great examples appeal to the readers, the more cogent the argument becomes. What Cicero needs, then, is models that are well known to his readers, that are part and parcel of their intellectual world; in short, models like Lucretia and Regulus (2.65–66) rather than Epaminondas or Cimon, or models indeed like T. Manlius Torquatus Imperiosus (1.23; 2.60; 2.72–73; 2.105), one of the direct ancestors of his friend Torquatus.
In that sense, Cicero’s focus on the “typically Roman” tradition is no less the result of his enthusiasm for the mos maiorum than of his familiarity with the philosophical school tradition and the demands of rhetorical persuasiveness. For Cicero indeed realized very well that for his aristocratic readers it was hard to reject any such argument. They could ridicule famous Graeculi, perhaps, but it was not so easy to laugh at the distinguished Romans of old. And Torquatus could make use of Principal Doctrines 6 and 7 in order to reinterpret the great deeds of his own ancestors from an Epicurean point of view, but this argument has its limits in that it cannot be used in order to save all heroic achievements in the history of Rome. What about the rest, then? Was Marcus Regulus a simple fool, like Lucretia and Lucius Verginius? Epicurus was prepared to take the consequences and make fun of great paradigmatic figures such as Epaminondas, even if he knew that this would be very offensive to many people, because he did not pursue the favor of the multitude.Footnote 58 It is not evident, however, that an aristocrat like Torquatus would be as ready to neglect the demands of decorum. This brings us to our last point.
In the second book of On Ends, Cicero blames Torquatus for an embarrassing inconsistency. Whereas Torquatus claims to do everything for the sake of pleasure, he cannot possibly maintain this stance while addressing the senate (2.74–77). On such occasions, he prefers to dwell on duty, fair-dealing, moral worth and so on; in short, to switch to the vocabulary of the Stoics and Peripatetics. And not without reason, for to be honest about his real political motivations when talking to the senators would almost surely ruin his later political career (2.76). And thus, Cicero concludes, Torquatus is forced to employ artificial language in order to conceal what he really thinks, or “change his opinions like his clothes,” confining his true convictions to a small circle of intimate friends and defending counterfeit opinions in public (2.77). This, to my mind, is one of the strongest arguments in Book 2 of On Ends. Cicero knew very well what kind of discourse was usually heard in the Roman senate and saw an obvious contrast with Torquatus’ Epicurean ideals. The whole passage is characterized by a strong rhetorical tone,Footnote 59 but also makes a valid philosophical point, on the basis of the specifically Roman political context. What could Torquatus say in reply to this challenge?
At first sight, hardly anything at all. Nowhere in On Ends 1–2 does Torquatus develop new arguments that take into account the political context at Rome. He could have pointed to the exceptional situation at the end of the Republic, which required political engagement, but apparently did not think of this line of reasoning.Footnote 60 Nor is there any trace in Torquatus’ exposition of an “over-riding sense of obligation to […] non-philosophical fellow-citizens.”Footnote 61 Even Principal Doctrines 6 and 7 are not used as an argument in favor of political engagement. We have seen that Torquatus used these doctrines as keys for an Epicurean interpretation of history, and that is probably what they were also meant for. Of course, they also offer interesting opportunities: If earlier politicians were right in pursuing their personal security and pleasure through a political career, the same argument may be valid for contemporary politicians, too.Footnote 62 Yet it is probably no coincidence that such an argument can nowhere be found in our extant sources. Principal Doctrines 6 and 7 focus on the past rather than the present, and prove especially useful as a defense against polemical attacks. They were never meant as a positive argument in favor of a political career, and later Epicureans never understood them as such. Epicurus was open-minded, no doubt, and made room for exceptions, but usually he rather recalled people from politics than stimulating them to all the dangers and pains that a political career necessarily involves.
In On Ends, Torquatus brings forward only one argument in reply to Cicero’s attack. At the very end of Book 2 he confidently asserts that he can fall back on greater authorities, namely, on Siro and Philodemus (2.119). For the time being, Cicero and Triarius kindly enough accept this argument ex auctoritate, although Torquatus has clearly failed to convince them. On that point, the dialogue ends, but we may well go on and wonder whether Philodemus could really help Torquatus on this issue. As far as I can see, he could not.
That is not to say, however, that Philodemus would run into problems himself. In his Rhetoric he makes an interesting distinction between the task of the philosopher, who should give his advice to the politician, and that of the politician, who should take into account this philosophical advice while making his political decisions. Such a collaboration between philosopher and politician yields advantages for the whole community (Rhet. III, col. 14a, 30–15a, 31 Ham.).Footnote 63 An interesting illustration of Philodemus’ theoretical view may be found in the political career of Piso, who opted for a friendly, reconciliatory political course and avoided excessive ambitions that were a menace to the existing political order.Footnote 64 But Philodemus’ position rests on a fundamental dichotomy between the field of the philosopher and that of the politician, both of which have their own autonomy.Footnote 65 Philodemus, then, adopts the perspective of the professional philosopher who looks at politics as an outsider. He has an interesting reply to Cicero’s attack, but this reply cannot simply be taken over by a politician such as Torquatus.
Does this imply, then, that all the Roman Epicureans who engaged in politics indeed had a problem and that Cicero’s criticism was correct? Not necessarily. One can take Piso as an example and assume, for the sake of argument (and perhaps correctly), that he indeed regarded himself as an Epicurean: Was such self-understanding credible at all? In my view, Piso’s Epicureanism was no less credible than that of the simple farmer Gorgias with whom we began. Of course, there are some obvious differences between the two. Since Piso was an intellectual, we can presume a greater acquaintance with the theoretical details of Epicurean philosophy. He probably had no fundamental problem in accepting the great outlines of Epicurean physics: atomism, the mortality of body and soul, and even the conception of the gods. The Epicurean epistemology and canon were equally unproblematic, as was the basic goal of pleasure and even its implications, such as the interpretation of pleasure as absence of pain, the simple life concerned with the gratification of limited natural pleasures or the interpretation of virtue as a means for pleasure.Footnote 66 If Piso could readily endorse all of these doctrines, his philosophical outlook is not to be seen as “Epicureanism light” but as genuine Epicureanism adapted to his own situation.
Furthermore, the most important adaptation was probably his political career. Here we come across a problem, a problem that should not be overemphasized, perhaps, but is still real, and Cicero was right in detecting it. The question is, however, whether this suffices to undermine fully the credibility of Piso’s claim to be an Epicurean. Much depends on how careful Piso’s calculus of pleasure and pain was. If he could, in the long run, derive more pleasure than pain from his political career, this career could be perfectly justifiable from an Epicurean point of view. And as a matter of fact, it has been repeatedly argued that the choice of an unnoticed life would have been much more difficult for an aristocratic man like Piso, who was born into a family that already counted many consular members.Footnote 67 If he had preferred private pleasures to the public cursus honorum, he would have fallen short of expectations. This is an important observation indeed, and in all likelihood it at least partly influenced Piso’s course of action. Yet it is only one side of the coin. If we for a moment stick to the Epicurean point of view, we may insist that political commitment also entailed much trouble – even Cicero agreed on that (Rep. 1.4–6; Orat. 3.63) – and that most of Epicurus’ arguments against participation in politics remain valid in Piso’s case. We may presume, for instance, that Cicero’s vitriolic speech Against Piso did not really contribute to Piso’s Epicurean pleasures.
Thus, Piso faced the challenge of having to judge whether the choice for politics was, rebus sic stantibus, the one that would maximize his personal pleasures. All in all, Epicurus might well have recalled Piso (cf. Cicero, Rep. 1.3) as he recalled Idomeneus (Seneca, Ep. 22.5–6 = fr. 133 U), adding, though, that he should wait for the right opportunityFootnote 68 and that the decision ultimately lies with Piso himself. The choice is not self-evident, and scholars may disagree on what Piso should have chosen if he consistently followed the Epicurean criterion of pleasure (cf. KD 25); but even if his calculus is wrong, he need not be embarrassed by Cicero’s argument, for Piso can simply regard himself as a politician who listens to the advice of an Epicurean philosopher while retaining his own autonomy as a politician. From Philodemus’ perspective, Piso occupies the place of the politician, not that of the professional philosopher, and in this capacity he should not meet the same demands of strict philosophical consistency.Footnote 69
It is clear, then, that neither Philodemus nor Piso should be troubled by Cicero’s argument. Torquatus, however, does have a problem. We have seen that he wants to be taken seriously as a full member of the Epicurean school. In that respect he assumes, as it were, the role of the professional philosopher. At the same time, he is about to assume the praetorship (2.74) and thus also plays the part of the politician. He thus combines the positions of Philodemus and Piso, and there the problem arises: Torquatus wants to have his cake and eat it, too, and Cicero is absolutely right in making this point. At the end of the second book of On Ends, he puts Torquatus on the spot. He should either opt for pleasure or become a benefactor of the entire human race (2.118). In other words, he has to choose between the role of the professional Epicurean philosopher who is pursuing his individual pleasures and that of the statesman whose concern is with the public interest. A combination of both roles is out of the question. And strikingly enough, Metrodorus agrees. He points out to his brother Timarchus that there is no need to save Greece, but to eat and drink in a way that will do the flesh no hurt and gratify it.Footnote 70 Metrodorus and Cicero thus agree on the basic opposition between the alternatives and on the need to choose between them (though not, of course, on what would be the correct choice). Torquatus for his part muddles up things by combining what is incompatible. In this respect, Cicero’s criticism is entirely correct.
At this point, however, it is necessary to underline an obvious fact that is all too often forgotten: The Torquatus of On Ends is a literary fiction.Footnote 71 It is far from certain whether the historical Torquatus took the same course. Probably he indeed regarded himself as an Epicurean,Footnote 72 but in this he may have followed the course we attributed above to Piso. If so, he probably answered Cicero’s argument from inconsistency with a shrug. The Torquatus of On Ends is different: For him, the demand of philosophical consistency between words and deeds is much more urgent. The historical Torquatus can regard the choice between pleasure and a political career as a “false dilemma,” but Torquatus the literary character is less entitled to do so. This implies that Cicero’s argument is only valid in the specific argumentative context he has carefully constructed himself. In other words, Cicero’s argument is especially revealing for his own attitude towards philosophy (not for the general outlook of people like Piso or the historical Torquatus). Ultimately, he cannot prove that a Roman aristocrat (even a consul) can never be an Epicurean, but he at least makes the point that a professional Epicurean philosopher cannot easily become a consul without betraying his own philosophical convictions. Cicero’s criticism of the character he has created in his dialogue is convincing, but his literary Torquatus is in the end a chimaera.
In this chapter we have examined whether Epicurean philosophy could be applied in the late Roman Republic, or whether the new context also entailed new problems that required modifications and innovations.
We have seen that Torquatus saw no problems in presenting his Epicurean convictions as relevant for his own life and that he did not feel the need for far-reaching compromises or adaptations. Instead, the Romans rather appropriated the Greek intellectual perspective. As we have seen, the general theoretical framework of the discussions in On Ends 1–2 is that of the Greek school tradition. Whenever Torquatus mentions new developments in Epicurean doctrine, these prove to be the products of the school tradition rather than modifications inspired by specifically Roman circumstances. And whenever Cicero refers to the Roman tradition in his critical reply, his references prove to rest on argumentative patterns that can already be found in the Greek tradition. What we have only rarely found in On Ends 1–2 is the development of new insights that are based on the peculiar context of Rome as opposed to that of Athens. The most interesting argument in this respect is probably that against the political engagement of the Roman Epicureans. This, as we have seen, is a clever and convincing argument that seems to be directly derived from the concrete Roman political situation, although it does not entirely reflect historical reality but is based on a theoretical construct of Cicero.
All this has implications for the current hypothesis that Epicurean philosophy is fundamentally opposed to the typically Roman tradition, and that Stoic and Peripatetic philosophy yield much better opportunities to assimilate the traditional mos maiorum.Footnote 73 The principal problem with this view is that it rests, at least to a certain extent, on ideological presuppositions and constructs that unduly privilege specific interpretations of the Roman tradition, developed by men such as Cicero. But what is “typically Roman” or “typically Greek”? Such clear-cut oppositions and oversimplifying labels repeatedly occur in the rhetorical proems of Cicero’s dialogues (and elsewhere, too), but they do no justice to the complexity of this matter. Cicero himself agrees – in no less rhetorical vein – that the Epicureans “occupied all Italy” (Tusc. 4.7). Even if this is rhetorical hyperbole, the statement may at least not be totally unfounded. But if Epicureanism were incompatible with “typically Roman” culture, then its success would be hard to explain. Moreover, we should then have to conclude that men like Torquatus and Cassius were not true Romans,Footnote 74 that Lucretius was not a true Roman, that even Atticus was not a true Roman. In spite of all his rhetoric, Cicero could never go that far.
It is perhaps unfair to the Epicureans that one of the richest – or, at least, one of the best-preserved – sources for Epicurean thought is also one of its most vocal critics. But fair or not, over the course of the last decade of his life, Cicero made the Epicureans a regular feature of the philosophical and ethical dialogues that constituted much of his public voice at the time. Cicero’s critiques of Epicureanism are further augmented by the fact that for him – orator, statesman, philosopher – the Epicureans are consistent antagonists across several spheres of his own activity and thought. For example, not only does Cicero take issue as a philosopher with the Epicurean finis of pleasure, but, as a statesman, he also disagrees with the Epicurean aversion to (or at least reticence regarding) political involvement.Footnote 1 And as an orator, Cicero claimed no benefit could be derived from the Epicureans, who, he seems to have believed, rejected παιδεία and had little need for a skill so entwined with public deliberation.Footnote 2
In truth, for Cicero these spheres of thought were not distinct. The Scipio of On the Republic claims at the end of Book 6 that the highest virtue involves service to the state (Rep. 6.29). Crassus makes clear throughout On the Orator that genuine oratory is likewise ingrained in public service (e.g., 3.76). And in Cicero’s first book of Tusculan Disputations the lead interlocutor presents an argument for an immortal soul that closely recalls the activity of the orator.Footnote 3 Each of the three spheres to which Cicero most fully devotes himself – oratory, politics, philosophy – informs and depends on the others. The union of these three spheres is part of what Robert Hariman calls “Cicero’s republican style.”Footnote 4 Cicero spent much of his life and career trying to articulate, validate and perform this “style,” this unified approach to public living and private morality.
It just so happened that the Epicureans were at odds with him in each facet of his program. For the Epicureans, these spheres of activity were not a program per se; the overlap between them did not play for them the privileged role it did for Cicero. Cicero was developing a socio-political system, whereas the Epicureans were developing a philosophical one. As a result, not only did Cicero feel the need to criticize the individual tenets of Epicureanism, but he did so from a very specific paradigm and according to a specific set of rules. Cicero and the Epicureans were not playing on the same field, so to speak; this, however, never stopped Cicero from criticizing Epicureans as if they were supposed to be on his field and playing his game.
Finally, to compound the whole picture of Cicero’s anti-Epicureanism, even as he strove to establish and fortify his brand of republicanism, he faced the ever-growing inevitability of its defeat at the hands of Julius Caesar. Caesar posed a threat to Cicero’s real Republic and his theoretical one, with the result that Cicero’s criticism of the Epicureans was further fueled by existential angst over his whole project. If indeed Caesar had Epicurean sympathies, encouraged by his father-in-law or otherwise, it can only have added to Cicero’s antipathy.Footnote 5
Taken together, these factors produce a tangled web of criticism that stretches throughout Cicero’s theoretical works. But perhaps because of Cicero’s opposition to Epicureanism on such a fundamental level, he can extend his criticism of the sect into any topic or area that he feels threatens his general republican perspective.Footnote 6 In this chapter I will focus not so much on the explicit doctrinal criticisms that Cicero levels at the Epicureans in, for example, On Ends 2 or On the Nature of the Gods,Footnote 7 but on one facet of his rhetorical criticism throughout his theoretical writings, viz., his tendency to avoid explicitly naming the Epicureans, a technique whose consistent reappearance indicates its significance for his overall project, style and literary technique.Footnote 8
When in the course of the discussions dramatized in Cicero’s dialogues an interlocutor wishes to invoke the Epicureans, he will occasionally do so by invoking the founder himself by name.Footnote 9 At other times Cicero uses the adjectival form Epicureus, either in reference to specific adherents of the school or to Epicureans as a collective. He uses it in both of these ways most often in discussions where Epicurean thought specifically is under thorough review, especially in On Ends and On the Nature of the Gods, and passim throughout On Fate, the Tusculan Disputations and the Academics.Footnote 10
But at other times, both in these works and others where Epicurean doctrines, though not the focus, still come under some consideration, the interlocutor regularly invokes the Epicureans obliquely, using a periphrasis that identifies them as “those who refer all things to pleasure” or the like.Footnote 11 Cicero uses a formulation of this sort at least twenty times in his theoretical works. At least a dozen of these formulations occur across five works where the Epicureans go unnamed in the passage or the larger context.Footnote 12 So, for example, in On Friendship Laelius offers the following judgment (32):
Ab his qui pecudum ritu ad voluptatem omnia referunt longe dissentiunt, nec mirum; nihil enim altum, nihil magnificum ac divinum suspicere possunt qui suas omnes cogitationes abiecerunt in rem tam humilem tamque contemptam.
Those people who, in the manner of beasts, refer all things to the standard of pleasure, differ greatly from these men I’ve just named [i.e. friends who esteem love over profit]. And it’s not surprising. For those who have cast all their thoughts upon a thing so base and so contemptible cannot observe anything exalted, estimable and divine.
There are several possible explanations for Cicero’s circumlocution in passages like this, and Jonathan Powell details two of the most plausible in his commentary on On Friendship. Laelius’ discourse on friendship, as he indicates, is that of a self-declared amateur. Of course, all Ciceronian interlocutors are amateurs in a certain sense, for he intentionally populates his dialogues with Roman aristocrats in lieu of philosophers in the Greek tradition.Footnote 13 Some of these speakers are still experts in their subject matter, as with Crassus in On the Orator or Scipio in On the Republic. Others are not experts but still speak and conduct themselves as if they have expertise, even if that expertise is historically implausible (e.g., Balbus in On the Nature of the Gods or Lucullus in the Prior Academics). But Laelius forswears such expertise explicitly first at On Friendship 17, where he rejects the Greek rhetoricians and the schola, then again at On Friendship 24, where he avoids the company of those qui ista disputant.Footnote 14
Powell suggests first that Laelius’ aversion to identifying the Epicureans by name extends in part from his resistance to being identified as a philosopher of the Greek sort, whose knowledge of philosophy is too specific and subtle.Footnote 15 To buttress this case, Powell also notes that Laelius avoids naming any philosophical school at all in the dialogue.Footnote 16 As a second possible explanation for the anonymity of the Epicureans, Powell proposes that Cicero himself wishes to avoid giving offense to Atticus, the dedicatee of the dialogue and the companion who was himself an Epicurean and whose friendship had in some way inspired the work.Footnote 17
This second argument is plausible but seems insufficient to explain Cicero’s pattern of describing the Epicureans while leaving them unnamed, since by 44 BC Atticus was certainly well-acquainted with Cicero’s attacks on Epicureanism.Footnote 18 The first argument, however (about Laelius avoiding Greekness), bears consideration. On the one hand, Cicero’s Laelius undoubtedly wished to avoid appearing Greek, but it is also worth noting that Laelius’ main objection is to Greek-style display centered on the rhetorical method, the fielding of any sort of question and the formulation of a clever argument in response. Crassus objects to the same kind of scenario in a mirror-passage in On the Orator 1 (98–110), and Cicero, in the process of reassuring Torquatus about his intentions, is critical of this rhetorical method in his opening words in On Ends 2.
Posing objections to Greek disputation or to the inviting of questions does not necessarily entail avoiding mention of Epicureanism. Cicero seems generally and consistently opposed to both things, but his criticisms of the two modes tend to be different. In the opening paragraphs of On Ends 2, Torquatus and Cicero have to work toward a compromise regarding modes of philosophical discourse. Cicero, without Torquatus’ objection, wants to avoid the schola (2.1–4), but Torquatus ultimately grows impatient with the dialectical approach Cicero offers in its place (2.17–18). In the end, Cicero returns to a rhetorical mode after having made his aversion to the schola clear. This compromise is one of several literary tools for suggesting that, far from being the kind of Greek philosophers that traffic in displays of cleverness, the Epicureans in fact lack subtlety and erudition (cf. 2.12–13: bonos … sed certe non pereruditos). They are not, like Greek sophists, misleading the audience; they are, as the compromise of On Ends 2 suggests, misleading themselves by failing to understand fully what they are saying.Footnote 19
Likewise, in On the Orator Crassus fully wants to avoid associations with the likes of the sophist Gorgias, but he promotes philosophical inquiry. Rejecting the Greekness of the schola does not mean rejecting philosophy or even the knowledge of philosophy. In fact, in Book 3 he mentions a number of philosophers and philosophical schools by name several times, including the Stoics,Footnote 20 but he does not name the Epicureans. Instead he resorts to the periphrastic formula, calling the Epicureans at On the Orator 3.63 hi qui nunc voluptate omnia metiuntur (“these who now measure all things on the scale of pleasure”). Then, a paragraph later, he speaks at 3.63 of ea philosophia, quae suscepit patrocinium voluptatis (“that philosophy that has taken up the patronage of pleasure”). This circumlocution seems to be a different sort of rhetorical move than the critique levelled at Greek scholastic philosophy at On the Orator 1.105, where Crassus explicitly associates such philosophy with a Peripatetic named Staseas.
So, while Powell’s suggestions tell part of the story, Cicero must have a further reason for avoiding mention of the Epicureans by name. And the reason may not in fact be all that hard to determine: Cicero identified the Epicureans as he did to place the focus on, and to avoid any confusion over, what he considered to be true Epicureanism and why he considered it a true problem.
Like the other philosophical schools, Epicureanism had to negotiate a tension in its fidelity to the principles of its founder versus its role within evolving or shifting cultural contexts.Footnote 21 This burden was particularly pronounced for the Epicureans, who had great reverence for Epicurus himself. Cicero mentions this reverence in the Tusculan Disputations (1.48):
soleo saepe mirari non nullorum insolentiam philosophorum, qui naturae cognitionem admirantur eiusque inventori et principi gratias exsultantes agunt eumque venerantur ut deum.
It is my usual tendency to marvel at the unusualness of many philosophers who themselves marvel at the study of nature, and leap to give thanks to its inventor and originator, and worship him like a god.
Philip Hardie suggests that in his reference to non nulli philosophi Cicero has in mind Lucretius in particular, but regardless of the specific identification, Cicero’s philosophi are undoubtedly the Epicureans and the inventor is Epicurus himself.Footnote 22
Here, too, Cicero avoids specific mention of Epicurus’ name, and in doing so he highlights a contrast. On the one hand, many Epicureans go so far as to worship Epicurus; on the other hand, in doing so they reveal the height of their foolishness. In Tusculan Disputations 1 they worship Epicurus for freeing them from the fear of the mythological terrors of the underworld. But since that fear is unfounded and silly to begin with, the Epicureans effectively worship Epicurus for an unfounded and silly reason. When he avoids naming them Cicero accomplishes two rhetorical effects. First, he slights them, treating them as if they are not worth naming. And secondly, he suggests that their fundamental principles, as advanced by Epicurus, are so manifestly wrong that simply by identifying what he understands those principles to be he is making a rhetorical argument against them. Giving them a name would give them credit. Withholding the name discredits them, and identifying them by one of their beliefs brings that belief under scrutiny.
Cicero is also insisting that any Romanized versions of Epicureanism are not fully genuine. Epicureanism in Rome had advanced and evolved to meet new and different cultural and moral contingencies, but Cicero uses his periphrases to orient his reader to what he considers Epicurus’ core ideas. In the response to Torquatus in On Ends 2, Cicero the interlocutor introduces a scenario where a man dying intestate asks his friend to ensure his estate passes to his daughter. Cicero assumes Torquatus, as the friend in such a situation, would oblige the dying man. But he would do so in spite of, not because of, his Epicureanism (2.58):
sed ego ex te quaero, quoniam idem tu certe fecisses, nonne intellegas eo maiorem vim esse naturae, quod ipsi vos, qui omnia ad vestrum commodum et, ut ipsi dicitis, ad voluptatem referatis, tamen ea faciatis, e quibus appareat non voluptatem vos, sed officium sequi…?
But I ask you, since you would no doubt have done the same thing, don’t you realize that the force of nature is so great that you, you who refer all things to your convenience and pleasure, as you put it, even you would do these things that make it clear that you are pursuing not pleasure, but duty…?
Here again Cicero uses the circumlocution (vos, qui omnia ad vestrum commodum et … ad voluptatem referatis) to point out what he considers one of the fundamental principles of Epicureanism and to express his belief that this core quality of Epicureanism, understood in the most straightforward way, is manifestly foolish even to Torquatus. Despite the best efforts of figures like Torquatus to Romanize Epicureanism, Cicero consistently tries to make clear that, to him, Epicureanism is ultimately defined by certain baseline qualities. At the most fundamental level, by avoiding the name of the Epicureans so often and by replacing the name with circumlocutions, Cicero concentrates on highlighting and marginalizing these basic Epicurean qualities.
And for Cicero, there are three basic qualities to which he returns, corresponding roughly with elements of Epicurean physics, logic and ethics: the mortality of the soul, an animal-like failure to employ ratio and oratio and a penchant for quantifying ethical decisions.
Following Democritus, the Epicureans famously held the soul to be a physical, mortal substance that dissolved with the rest of the body at death.Footnote 23 When Cicero needles Lucretius and the non nulli philosophi (in Tusc. 1.48, quoted above), it is because he (or his interlocutor) strongly doubts that Epicurean arguments about death come close to the mark. In two other places, On Friendship 13 and On Old Age 85, Cicero’s interlocutors scoff mildly at philosophers who deny soul immortality.
The Epicureans, of course, were not the only philosophers to claim that the soul was mortal. Cicero admits as much at Tusculan Disputations 1.77, where he mentions Dicaearchus as an example of one disbelieving in the immortal soul. But Cicero’s characteristically condescending tone in both On Friendship 13 and On Old Age 85 suggests that the Epicureans are the primary group he has in mind. At On Old Age 85, he refers to them as minuti philosophi; then in On Friendship 13, in the voice of Laelius, he describes philosophers who have “recently” (nuper) come on the scene – a sort of rhetorical deauthorization of their ideas. In all three passages (Tusc. 1.48, Sen. 85 and Amic. 13) Cicero avoids naming the Epicureans while mocking their ideas. The references are rhetorically dismissive of soul mortality. But though he scoffs, generally this core belief of the Epicureans is the one least emphasized by Cicero, perhaps because, even to Cicero, there is no prima facie evidence that a belief in a mortal soul is absurd, or perhaps because the belief was shared by non-Epicureans.
The second core characteristic he presents relates in a way to logic: Cicero regularly connects the Epicureans to beasts or animals. In On Duties 1.11, Cicero offers a Stoic-influenced understanding of how humans and animals differ.Footnote 24 He argues that both animals and humans have instincts for self-preservation and procreation, but animals lack the human capacities for ratio and oratio, i.e., for reason, which allows humans to think logically and to process the relationship between past, present and future, and for speech, which allows humans to form communities.
These two complementary ideas form the bedrock of Cicero’s work and thought. The dialogue form he so often uses embodies both reason and speech, and the fact that Cicero outlines the joint significance of ratio and oratio for humans first in the opening paragraphs of his first theoretical work (Inv. 1–2) and then returns to it in his final work (Off. 1.11) serves as another testimony to the fundamental role the paired ideas play in the theoretical works as a whole.Footnote 25
And yet, these two capacities for reason and speech are precisely the two capacities that animals lack. As a result, when Cicero compares Epicureans to animals, he is doing more than offering a simple slight. He is instead pointing to a fundamental flaw in their philosophy, one that discredits anything else they might say. They can neither synthesize ideas nor operate effectively in communities.
Cicero associates Epicureans with animals regularly. Twice in On Friendship (20, 32) Laelius makes brief, summary critiques of the Epicureans, saying first that seeking out pleasure in place of all other things is “the goal of beasts” (beluarum extremum; 20) and later that Epicureans refer all things to pleasure “in the manner of cattle” (pecudum ritu; 32). In Academics 1.6 and On Ends 2.109, where Epicureans are explicitly named, Cicero reaffirms that pleasure is the chief end for beasts and that Epicureans share this quality with them. And in On the Nature of the Gods 1.122, Cicero implies that Epicureans value and treat their friends as if they were pecudes. All of these comparisons are meant to reinforce the parallel critiques that Epicureans are irrational (fail to employ ratio), are self-interested (fail to pursue community through oratio) and are pleasure-seekers.Footnote 26
Emphasis on Measuring and Quantification
But by far the most common circumlocution, and hence the one that most closely and completely identifies the Epicureans for Cicero, is a two-part formula exemplified succinctly at On the Orator 3.62: hi qui nunc voluptate omnia metiuntur.Footnote 27 With this pattern Cicero takes aim at what he considers the Epicureans’ most fundamental flaw: their ethics. The first and most obvious part of the formula is the reference to pleasure, and Cicero considered the Epicureans hedonists fundamentally. But equally significant for the formula is the verb metiuntur. The Epicureans make two mistakes: They use pleasure as the standard and they make decisions through a process of measuring.Footnote 28
Cicero returns to this formula over and over again, with slight variations. The Epicureans regularly weigh or measure things in accordance with pleasure (or pleasure and pain) in order to make decisions.Footnote 29 Very often Cicero says specifically that the Epicureans (unnamed, except in On Ends) “refer things to pleasure” (e.g., omnia, quae faceremus, ad voluptatem esse referenda; Sen. 43).Footnote 30 The valence of the verb referre retains the sense of measuring, the idea that pleasure is a standard or calculus by which to make a judgment. In some cases the Epicureans “refer” or “measure,” but do so to or by standards apart from or in addition to pleasure. So, in On Laws 1.41 the Epicureans measure on a calculus of “convenience” (commodus; metietur suis commodis omnia), as they do at On Duties 1.5 and 3.12, while at On Ends 2.58 they refer all things ad vestrum commodum. At various times they measure by or refer to “benefit” (emolumentum), “utility” (utilitas), “reward” (praemium), “profit” (merces) and the “stomach” (venter).Footnote 31
As variations in the formula clarify, the pleasure/measure pairing has a broader application. Pleasure functions as the most common stand-in for selfishness, while measuring encompasses a decision-making process that values nothing but self-interest as inherently worthy per se.Footnote 32 That is to say, measuring denies or limits the capacity of nature to endow certain concepts with inherent value. Value is instead assessed through a process of weighing or measuring.
Both selfishness and measuring ultimately have the same fault: They undercut the function of the Republic. The threat posed to the Republic by selfishness is clear.Footnote 33 The threat of measuring is perhaps not as clear, but what is clear is that Cicero, with the rarest of exceptions, uses the rhetoric of measuring in social and ethical decision-making contexts negatively.
The examples related to Epicureans constitute the vast majority of Cicero’s appeals to measuring, but even when the Epicureans are not the specific target, measuring carries an unfavorable connotation. In On the Orator 1.7 and 2.335, Cicero mentions people who measure on a scale of utility, but in both cases they seem to be using the wrong process of decision-making because they arrive at the wrong conclusions.Footnote 34 The Epicureans are simply a subset of these individuals. Cicero describes the virtuous as measuring the highest good with honestas in On Ends, but the passage is focalized by Epicurus, who would, by Cicero’s assessment, understand the conflict between virtue and pleasure in terms of measuring.Footnote 35 In On Friendship 21, it is actually the Stoics who measure, when they overvalue the magnificentia verborum, by speaking about preferred indifferents and tightly restricting the meaning of words like bonus and sapiens. A pair of examples come in the Tusculans, at 1.90 and 5.94: In both cases the interlocutor is responding to people who use the senses or the body as a standard of decision-making, and he then offers alternative, worthier standards (the health of the Republic in the first instance, traditional Roman social divisions in the other). These examples, though more haphazard than Cicero’s association of measuring with the Epicureans, only reinforce the insufficiency of measuring as a tool for making social and ethical decisions.Footnote 36 The instrumental process of measuring requires the decision-maker to quantify ethical goods and to judge them in relation to other goods. Cicero occasionally uses such language when his interlocutor introduces it, or when another figure focalizes the words, but he avoids it when describing his preferred ethical decision-making processes.
Why, then, is Cicero so opposed to measuring? A passage from the first book of On Laws summarizes many of the different ways Cicero considers the use of measuring a threat to the Republic, beginning at 1.39. The interlocutor Cicero is making the case for natural law and the inherent value of virtue, an argument upon which the ideal laws of his ideal Republic will rest. He says:
Sibi autem indulgentes et corpori deservientes atque omnia quae sequantur in vita quaeque fugiant voluptatibus et doloribus ponderantes, etiam si vera dicant (nihil enim opus est hoc loco litibus), in hortulis suis iubeamus dicere, atque etiam ab omni societate rei publicae, cuius partem nec norunt ullam neque umquam nosse voluerunt, paulisper facessant rogemus.
And regarding those who indulge themselves and are slaves to their bodies, and measure on a scale of pleasure and pain all the things they should do or flee from in life; even if these should speak the truth—there is no need here to go into detail about it—let us beseech them to do their talking in their little gardens, and let us ask them to retire a little from the society of the Republic, about which they neither know anything nor want to know anything.
The cluster of elements from Cicero’s formula makes the identification of the Epicureans secure, as does the reference to hortuli.Footnote 37 Here Cicero excludes the Epicureans from a discussion of the Republic by placing emphasis on their wont to “weigh on a scale of pleasure and pain” (voluptatibus et doloribus ponderantes). This characteristic is fundamentally what disqualifies them from commenting on the running of the Republic.
Just a few paragraphs later, despite his stated intention to avoid arguing against the Epicureans, Cicero repeats the same set of premises (Leg. 1.42). The discussion has moved on to the priority of universal law over the written laws of individual states. Cicero insists that without universal law, written laws have no ultimate, absolute authority to which to appeal, and may therefore be rejected in some instances. Specifically, Cicero speaks of the sort of individual (idem) who claims that everything is to be measured by “self-interest” (utilitate) and who will even break laws if he stands to profit. The same criticisms of selfishness resurface here, coupled with a reference to measuring (metienda sunt), all in the context of a rejection of nature. Here the threat of the Epicureans is even greater: Not only should they not participate in setting laws for the Republic, but their methodology poses a direct threat to the existing laws and their foundations.
In On Laws 1.49, Cicero again makes the association between Epicureans and utilitarian measuring: Qui virtutem praemio metiuntur, nullam virtutem nisi malitiam putant (“Those who measure virtue based on reward think there is no virtue but vice”). By prioritizing praemium the Epicureans devalue a whole set of virtues: beneficentia, gratia, amicitia and ultimately societas, aequalitas and iustitia (1.49–50). Such a self-interested calculus is most troubling to Cicero because it threatens the Republic, its laws and the very bonds of society.
In this way, measuring is closely connected to the parallel category of quantification and commerce. Like measuring, commerce is interested in relative value, and Cicero, on multiple occasions, connects the Epicureans with the commercialization or commoditization of friendship. Three of the most striking examples come from dialogues that engage Epicureanism explicitly (On Ends and On the Nature of the Gods). In On Ends 2, Cicero twice rejects Torquatus’ idea of Epicurean friendship by associating it with ideas of commerce. First, at 2.83, Cicero discusses the claim voiced by Torquatus (at Fin. 1.70) that the Epicureans enter into “pacts” (foedera) of friendship. He concludes:
An vero, si fructibus et emolumentis et utilitatibus amicitias colemus, si nulla caritas erit, quae faciat amicitiam ipsam sua sponte, vi sua, ex se et propter se expetendam, dubium est, quin fundos et insulas amicis anteponamus?
But if we cultivate friendships for their benefits and gains and utility, if there is no love, which produces friendship of its own accord, by its own force, sought from and for its own sake, can one doubt that we would prefer acquiring land and real estate to acquiring friends?
Foedus itself is not an explicitly commercial term. Torquatus had used it himself (1.70) to describe what he perceived as the elevated character of Epicurean friendship. Cicero here claims that, if the Epicureans can transcend their doctrine of self-seeking through contract, they might also attain to other non-Epicurean virtues through contracts.Footnote 38 In fact, though, Cicero mocks the Epicurean understanding of a foedus. Their contract is not designed to assure fairness to all parties, but to ensure the opportunity for individual profit. Cicero suggests that if friendship is a matter of this kind of contract, then friends are merely another commodity (and perhaps a less profitable one), in the vein of real estate purchases, like fundi or insulae.
In his use of fructus, utilitas and emolumentum, Cicero directly echoes his description of the Epicureans in On Laws 1.42 and 49, where measuring is designed to produce just such outcomes, and the parallel vocabulary suggests that measuring and contracting are parallel processes. The self-interested disposition typical of the Epicurean finds its complementary action in treating communal virtues as commodities through a process of measuring. In On Ends 2.83, the argument in favor of virtue is contrasted not with an argument against pleasure, but with one against commercialized friendship. That is to say, Cicero’s fundamental criticism of the Epicureans, though often connected to pleasure, can equally be expressed through a critique of ethical measuring.
Cicero again identifies Epicurean friendship as a form of commercial transaction at the end of On Ends 2 (117). Here he contrasts what he considers true friendship and its emphasis on the mutual appreciation of virtue with the utilitarian friendship of the Epicureans. Cicero explicitly connects Epicurean friendship with commodus and faeneratio.Footnote 39 In On the Nature of the Gods 1.122, the connection is even more direct. To conclude his criticism of Epicureanism in that book, Cotta states emphatically that the friend who seeks “his own benefit” (ad nostrum fructum) is participating not in “friendship” (amicitia) at all, but in “commerce” (mercatura). Friends become the equivalent of prata et arva et pecudum greges (“land and fields and herds of cattle”).Footnote 40 Here the measuring critique is paired with the animal critique, highlighting another reason the animal connection works for Cicero and synthesizing his positions. Measuring, quantifying and commoditizing friends all disembed value from nature and place the individual’s prerogative over that of the community.
The passage that best synthesizes Cicero’s periphrastic criticism of the Epicureans is On Friendship 26–32, which brings us back to the opening observation of this chapter. The last of Cicero’s dialogues, this work puts a period of sorts on several of the themes that emerge in his theoretical works of the 50s and 40s. And, as a text dedicated specifically to social attitudes and practices, On Friendship is uniquely positioned to criticize Epicureanism, if it is understood that Cicero’s basic criticism of the Epicureans is their failure to observe the natural social bonds that undergird the Republic.
Laelius insists repeatedly throughout the dialogue that friendship should not be predicated on exchange. His position implicitly obviates the need for measuring or utilitarianism. In the structure of the work, as is typical of the genre, the text begins with Fannius and Scaevola asking Laelius for his thoughts on friendship. Laelius immediately offers a brief summary of these thoughts and claims to have had his say. But his sons-in-law insist that he speak more, and so beginning at 26 he enters upon a fuller discussion. He immediately lays out two types of friendship: The first is characterized by exchange (especially dandis recipiendis meritis), while the second is attached to amicitia’s root, amor. Fannius and Scaevola, who applied a sort of overly aggressive social pressure (vim) to oblige Laelius to keep speaking, seem to have been adhering to the former, disapproved version, while Laelius naturally prefers the latter.Footnote 41 The Epicureans play no role in the discussion, but almost as if it cannot be helped, the talk of exchange relationships and the implied quantification and commercialization of friendship lead Laelius to invoke them (31–32):
Ut enim benefici liberalesque sumus, non ut exigamus gratiam (neque enim beneficium faeneramur sed natura propensi ad liberalitatem sumus), sic amicitiam non spe mercedis adducti sed quod omnis eius fructus in ipso amore inest, expetendam putamus. Ab his qui pecudum ritu ad voluptatem omnia referunt longe dissentiunt.
For just as we do not do good and show generosity so that we may extract gratia (for we do not lend good deeds at interest, but are by nature prone to generosity), so too we think friendship should be sought not because of a hope for the profit it will bring, but because its every benefit is contained in the very idea of love. These ideas differ sharply from the ideas of those who, in the manner of cattle, base all their decisions on pleasure.
The Epicurean watchwords merces, fructus, voluptas and referre appear in full force here, and the broader themes appear as well: the commercialization of friends, measuring and animals. Then, of course, all these ideas are set against concepts like beneficium, gratia, liberalitas, natura and, inevitably, amicitia. The Epicureans are Cicero’s stock foil for correct social behavior, and since right social behavior lies at the root of Cicero’s republican philosophy the Epicureans are Cicero’s most basic, most fundamental object of criticism.
Cicero spent the last decade or more of his life arguing for the value of a rational and virtuous society in the face of the looming, then realized, autocracy of Julius Caesar. He did so in the belief that the Republic represented something abstractly good. Thus, Scipio can claim in the final paragraph of his somnium that “the greatest cares are concerned with the health of the nation” (sunt autem optimae curae de salute patriae; Rep. 6.29). It is such curae that speed the soul’s ascent to the heavens at bodily death. The opposite of serving the Republic – that is, the thing that slows souls down – is capitulation to the pleasures of the body. Cicero’s great good, the Republic, found its greatest political enemy in Julius Caesar, who hastened its demise. Cicero’s Republic, however, found its greatest theoretical enemy in the Epicureans, whose recourse to measuring and quantification led them to reject the inherent good of the virtues that hold a society together. This tendency of the Epicureans to resort to measuring on a self-interested scale was such a crucial element of Cicero’s critique that he could and did use it to identify the Epicureans even without naming them explicitly.
Cicero’s periphrastic references to the Epicureans reveal that Epicureanism functions as much more than a philosophical school for him: It serves as a symbol of many of the ideas he finds most distasteful, and in the end this symbolic function most clearly and fully explains why Cicero often avoids naming them. In part he wants to discredit them, and in part he wants to foreground their core beliefs. Both of these goals, moreover, work in service to his larger goal: He does not want his criticism to be limited to a philosophical school alone but to a mindset, which, in Cicero’s understanding, the Epicureans most fully embody. It is an unnatural mindset because it promotes the comparison of relative values instead of adhering to absolute values instilled by nature. Furthermore, it is fundamentally antisocial because it uses profit, utility, pleasure, convenience and reward as its standards. In both these ways it is also an animal mindset that sets aside the human capacities for ratio (the true understanding of nature), oratio (the vehicle for social engagement) and the divine soul that houses both of them. And in all these ways it is a mindset indifferent to the foundations and institutions of the Republic.
Cicero the philosopher claims in the preface of On Divination 2 (among other places) that, in the face of an externally enforced otium, he has turned to the writing of theory as a means of serving the state. He goes on to claim that he has done so by educating the youth in the study of philosophy. But it is equally clear that he has set as his goal not educating them in Greek philosophy but in Roman philosophy. It is also clear that Roman philosophy, for Cicero at least, emanates from the institution of the Republic. At On Divination 2.7, he says: In libris enim sententiam dicebamus, contionabamur, philosophiam nobis pro rei publicae procuratione substitutam putabamus (“For it was in my books that I was offering up my opinion, in my books that I was holding forth in speeches to the assembly. I considered that philosophy had for me taken up the role of the care of the Republic”). It is no accident, then, that so many of Cicero’s works containing criticisms of Epicureanism take the form of dialogues that dramatize and exemplify the working of Roman social bonds.Footnote 42
The Epicureans are a philosophical target, to be sure, in the traditional sense: Cicero takes aim at their philosophy at length in On Ends and On the Nature of the Gods especially. But they are also a philosophical target in the context of the republicanized philosophy of Cicero because they represent an anti-republican ideology (the celebration of self-interest) and methodology (the quantification and measuring of all things, often by utilitarian criteria). They play the role of villain in both capacities in Cicero’s dialogues, and, with his rhetorical circumlocutions, Cicero repeatedly represents them as posing a grave threat to republican values.
Book 5 of On Ends opens with a vivid scene of Cicero and his friends during their student days in Athens in 79.Footnote 1 Memory plays an important role in the dialogue:Footnote 2 During a leisurely stroll each interlocutor is drawn to monuments and memories relevant to their own philosophical or literary interests. Cicero, the Academic skeptic, is drawn to the Academy and imagines the great Carneades lecturing and refuting arguments; his brother Quintus, an amateur tragic poet, claims he can almost see and hear Oedipus speaking lines from Sophocles’ plays. Their mutual friend T. Pomponius Atticus, however, thinks of Epicurus and his Garden, while offering a mild complaint about Cicero’s teasing (On Ends 5.3):
As for me, you are accustomed to harass me as being devoted to Epicurus (at ego, quem vos ut deditum Epicuro insectari soletis), and I do indeed spend a good amount of time with Phaedrus, whom you know I cherish singularly (unice diligo), in Epicurus’ Garden, which we just now passed by … even if I wanted to, I am not permitted to forget Epicurus, whose likeness my friends have not only in paintings, but even on their cups and rings.
MarcusFootnote 3 adds “our Pomponius seems to be joking” (iocari videtur). Why is Atticus joking? And what about those rings? More generally, how seriously should we read Atticus’ Epicurean interests?
There is no reason to believe that this conversation happened, but the rings did exist. A few have even survived,Footnote 4 while Pliny the Elder mentions that some Epicureans went so far as to have portraits of the Master in their bedrooms (NH 35.2.5). And Epicurean philosophers and adherents did speak as though allegiance to the master meant something life-changing. Take, for example, Philodemus of Gadara’s injunction (On Frank Criticism fr. 45.8–11 Olivieri; cf. Konstan et al.: 1998) that the basic and most important principle is that “we will obey Epicurus, according to whom we have chosen to live” (πειθαρχήσομεν Ἐπικούρῳ, καθ᾿ ὃν ζῆν ἡιρήμεθα); Caesar’s assassin Cassius’ citation of Epicurus in Greek to justify his conduct (Fam. 15.19, citing Epicurus, KD 5); the celebration of Epicurus’ birthdays;Footnote 5 or the suggestive funerary inscription of a Syrian freedman “from the joy-filled Epicurean chorus” (ex Epicureio gaudivigente choro).Footnote 6 A Greek philosopher in Naples, a Roman senator, a Syrian freedman – and Atticus, a knight: The diversity of these republican Epicureans is striking.Footnote 7
This essay considers what such a commitment might have meant to an educated Roman. What did it mean for a Roman to wear a ring of Epicurus, celebrate his birthday, present himself or herself as an Epicurean on a tombstone or “obey Epicurus”? More generally, did a commitment to the school affect the way a Roman approached politics? Or should we instead, as sometimes suggested, dismiss philosophy as an intellectual pastime segregated from real life or as the cynical manipulation of Hellenic cultural capital for political or networking purposes?Footnote 8
This chapter claims that Atticus offers a fruitful case study of Epicureanism in the late Republic and can thereby contribute to broader questions of philosophical allegiance in the ancient world.Footnote 9 There has, of course, been valuable discussion of philosophical allegiance in recent years. Some scholars have approached the question from a philosophical perspective and have examined normative statements of Greek philosophers on what philosophy should mean to an adherent;Footnote 10 others focus on the relationship between philosophical ideals and political praxis.Footnote 11 There has also been a more focused discussion that has long struggled to come to terms with the surprising fact that the late Republic saw several senators engage in politics while simultaneously claiming allegiance to a hedonistic school that has traditionally been read as hostile to political activity.Footnote 12
A reconsideration of Atticus’ Epicureanism will fruitfully extend these debates precisely because he is a not a perfect fit for any of these categories. He was not a professional philosopher; in any case, it is dangerous to assume that the thunderings of Lucretius or Philodemus on the Epicurean wise man map reliably onto the complexities of life. As for philosophical politics, Atticus’ political activity was at best indirect and informal, and scholars trying to understand the socially engaged Epicureanism of a Cassius or a Piso are tackling a very different issue than Atticus’ leisured equestrian lifestyle. Indeed, this latter strand of scholarship, which has discussed Atticus mostly fully, tends to dismiss his Epicurean interests as those of an intellectual dilettante, an unconsidered eclectic,Footnote 13 or it labels him, without much elaboration, as an exemplar of “Roman Epicureanism.” There are good reasons, then, to reexamine the rich but elusive evidence for Atticus’ Epicureanism.
Our evidence is indeed tantalizing: Atticus is present and absent. Present because we have a great deal of testimony about him from his contemporaries.Footnote 14 Cornelius Nepos, for example, was his friend and biographer, and Atticus appears in Ciceronian dialogues. Pride of place, however, goes to the sixteen books of the Letters to Atticus. On a sometimes daily basis, these letters hint at Atticus’ intellectual interests and political advice; in a few passages, Cicero quotes Atticus’ ipsissima verba. On the other hand, Atticus is absent, for characterization in an ancient biography or dialogue is never beyond suspicion; nor does our collection of letters preserve any from Atticus himself. Even if it did, their use as evidence would still demand scrutiny, since ancient letters are not neutral packages of fact untainted by political and rhetorical objectives.Footnote 15 Indeed, I will underline how previous readings of Atticus’ Epicureanism have run into problems precisely because the letters do not permit straightforward readings.
Because space is limited, this study will focus on key passages in Cicero’s letters and dialogues in order to gauge in what sense he considered Atticus to be an Epicurean. This focus has two consequences: First, it will not provide a biographical reading of Atticus’ life in light of Epicurean doctrine in order to judge the seriousness of his commitment; it seems appropriate to analyze Atticus’ life in Epicurean terms only after his allegiance has been secured by less subjective criteria.Footnote 16 Instead, I contend that an assessment of Cicero’s well-documented, cross-generic estimation of Atticus’ Epicurean beliefs provides a firmer foundation for analysis, and I argue further that Cicero was not likely to be mistaken about these convictions. The second consequence of this focus is that my engagement with Nepos’ Life of Atticus will largely be limited to chronology or basic information about its subject’s life. This is primarily because Nepos is vague on philosophical matters, including Epicureanism,Footnote 17 but also because there is so much more varied Ciceronian evidence.
Atticus’ Epicurean credentials have often been questioned or outright denigrated. For over a century the overwhelming consensus has been that Atticus’ philosophical convictions were superficial, insincere or amounted to a muddled blend of various schools. Gaston Boissier’s (1897, 131) judgment is still indicative of the conclusions of more recent treatments, as well as of the confidence with which later verdicts are expressed:
[Atticus] studied all of the schools for the pleasure that this study gave to his inquisitive mind, but he was determined not to be a slave to their systems. He had found a principle in Epicurean[ism] … that suited him, and seized it in order to justify his political conduct. As to Epicurus himself and his doctrine, he cared very little about them, and was ready to abandon them on the first pretext.
Some ninety years later, Rawson (1985, 101) offers a similar verdict with equal confidence: “It is clear that [Atticus] was not a serious Epicurean … His adhesion to the School was probably little more than a warrant for the cult of private life, simplicity and friendship … .” For others, Atticus emerges as an intellectual dilettante whose knowledge of Epicurus, much less commitment, was superficial and irrelevant. So Shackleton Bailey (1965–70, i. 8 n. 5): “[Atticus] may be supposed to have professed [Epicureanism] partly to be in the fashion and partly because as a devotee of things Hellenic he had to have a philosophy … .” Brunt (1989, 197) includes Atticus among Romans who were “light half-believers of their casual creeds,” while C. J. Castner (Reference Castner1988, 60) concludes that philosophy amounted to “a cultural mode of expression rather than a philosophical conviction or a guide to action.” Olaf Perlwitz (1992, 90–97) has developed these ideas and concludes that, even if we concede that Atticus was an Epicurean, his allegiance would nevertheless be überflüssig, “superfluous”: Roman traditions are sufficient to explain his actions, leaving no need to consider philosophy at all. Recent treatments have become suspicious of such blanket condemnations, although doubts continue to linger. Yasmina Benferhat believes Atticus was in fact an Epicurean, but that he (in a characteristically “Roman” way) avoided dogmatic allegiance;Footnote 18 Miriam Griffin also harbors doubt.Footnote 19
This review of scholarship underlines powerfully that dismissive readings of Atticus’ Epicureanism have become commonplace. These conclusions are advanced with confidence and find their way into commentaries and footnotes without discussion. Even when not described as a pseudo-intellectual, the orthodoxy of his Epicurean convictions is questioned. The occasional study that does treat Atticus’ Epicureanism seriously typically views this allegiance as straightforward and self-evident – not as a difficult concept requiring interrogation.Footnote 20
This study will challenge this dismissive consensus by examining a selection of “problem texts” that supposedly indicate superficial allegiance. I argue that these passages are allusive and complex, that they do not justify the negative conclusions drawn from them and that other readings are available that question neither Atticus’ Epicureanism nor his intelligence. Taking as a keystone for my interpretation the comment in On Ends cited above, namely, that Cicero liked to harass his friend, I suggest that the playful and charming depictions of Atticus have been read all too literally, with the result that his Epicurean beliefs and Cicero’s ironic engagement with them have been obscured.
Problem Passages and Cicero’s “Conversion Tactics”
We begin with a letter written in 50, which breezes through a variety of topics: from the health of Atticus and Tiro to Cicero’s travel plans and hopes for a triumph. After mentioning their mutual nephew Quintus, Cicero pivots from family to philosophy (Att. 7.2):
filiola tua te delectari laetor et probari tibi φυσικὴν esse τὴν <στοργὴν τὴν> πρὸς τὰ τέκνα. etenim si haec non est, nulla potest homini esse ad hominem naturae adiunctio; qua sublata vitae societas tollitur. “bene eveniat!” inquit Carneades spurce sed tamen prudentius quam Lucius noster et Patron qui, cum omnia ad se referant, <nec> quicquam alterius causa fieri putent et cum ea re bonum virum oportere esse dicant ne malum habeat non quo<d> id natura rectum sit, non intellegunt se de callido homine loqui, non de bono viro.
I am happy that your little daughter brings you delight and that you accept that there is a natural bond of affection towards our children. For if this does not exist, there can be no natural association of man to man; and if this is removed, then all society is abolished. “Let’s hope for the best!” says Carneades—foully—but nevertheless more prudently than our friends Lucius [Saufeius] and Patro, who do not understand that they are speaking of a clever man, not a good man, since they refer all things to themselves, do not think that anything should be done for the sake of another, and say that it is fitting to be a good man only in order to avoid trouble—not because it is right by nature.
Atticus apparently commented that he adored his daughter, and Cicero used this remark to embark on a philosophical sermon on the necessity of a natural social impulse for a functional society – he alludes here to a Stoic/Peripatetic doctrine, “social οἰκείωσις,” which grounds ethical obligations to other people in our natural sociability.Footnote 21 Linked with this claim is an attack on self-interested Epicurean hedonism, which notoriously denied to humanity any natural sociability.Footnote 22 The references to noster Lucius and Patro solidify the anti-Epicurean theme. Patro was the head of the Epicurean Garden after Phaedrus, an old friend and teacher of both Cicero and Atticus (cf. Fin 5.3); other letters allow us to identify “Lucius” as Lucius Saufeius, a mutual equestrian friend who had studied with Phaedrus and mingled with Epicureans in Athens for several decades.Footnote 23
Several commentators have seen here evidence for a superficial commitment or ignorance of Epicurean philosophy. Since the school rejected any natural affection for our offspring – or for that matter anyone else – Atticus should not have conceded this point. That he does so is, in the words of Shackleton Bailey, “one of the indications that the philosophy of Epicurus was not his lodestar.”Footnote 24 This is a very literal reading. There is no reason to think that Atticus, in confessing his love for his daughter, was refuting Epicurean doctrine. It is far more likely that Cicero seized on an innocent comment as an opportunity to deliver a clever philosophical provocation. There are other examples of this practice from his correspondence with philosophically literate friends. When L. Papirius Paetus, a Neapolitan Epicurean, used the word “mentula,” a coarse word for penis, Cicero latched onto it and delivered a philosophical sermon on frankness of speech.Footnote 25 In another letter, Cicero tells Cassius that the latter seemed to be present with Cicero as he was writing to him: This mundane pleasantry sets the stage for a sharp critique of Epicurean εἴδωλα (thin films of atoms emitted from objects) and their causal role in thought and imagination.Footnote 26 Cicero does something similar in Att. 7.2 by twisting for humorous purposes what was probably an offhand comment. There is no justification for the conclusion that Atticus asserted the existence of natural sociability, nor that he was an eclectic or uninformed Epicurean. This passage tells us more about Cicero, his philosophical likes and dislikes, and his epistolary technique, than it does about Atticus.
That said, this letter can help us in another way, since the correspondence reveals that Cicero assumes significant philosophical knowledge from his friend. That is to say, most letters do not namedrop Carneades, switch to Greek, or find parallels in Plutarch or Epictetus. Cicero tailored the content of his letters to the knowledge and interests of individual readers. This passage, therefore, challenges any view that Atticus had a limited understanding of philosophical matters. He is expected to get a high-level joke, and we have no reason to doubt that he did. Finally, if we take seriously the claim at On Ends 5.3 that Cicero liked to harass his friend, this letter reads as a playful attempt to pounce on Atticus’ loose language in order to trap him into confessing that his school is indefensible and that Cicero is, in fact, correct.
Next is a roughly contemporaneous passage from the unpublished On Laws (probably written in the late 50s), which may seem to support a reading that Atticus was willing to betray the principles of Epicurus at the drop of a hat. In Book 1, Quintus and Atticus suggest that Marcus compose a book of Laws, as Plato did after his Republic. Marcus agrees, but he will not talk about mundanities of civil law. Instead, he explains the origin of law by providing a Stoic-inspired theory of natural justice; but first he asks Atticus to concede (dasne igitur hoc nobis) the existence of divine providence. Atticus agrees (Leg. 1.21–22):
Atticus: Do sane, si postulas; etenim propter hunc concentum avium strepitumque fluminum non vereor condiscipulorum ne quis exaudiat.
Marcus: Atqui cavendum est; solent enim … admodum irasci, nec uero ferent, si audierint, te primum caput viri optimi prodidisse, in quo scripsit nihil curare deum nec sui nec alieni.
Atticus: Perge, quaeso. nam id quod tibi concessi quorsus pertineat exspecto.
Atticus: I certainly grant this point, if you demand it; for due to the singing of the birds and the din of the streams, I am not afraid that one of my fellow schoolmates will overhear.
Marcus: But be careful: for they tend to get quite angry … and they will not take it lightly if they hear that you’ve betrayed the first section of the book in which that excellent man has written, “God troubles himself not at all, concerning neither his own affairs nor of others.”
Atticus: Continue, please, for I am eager to see what my concession will lead to.
The terminology of condiscipuli, “schoolmates,” supports Atticus’ connection with the Garden. That said, the concession looks like a blunder, for a dedicated adherent should have denied providence: Epicurean gods take no part in human affairs.
Once again, this text does not allow a straightforward reading. Consider that Quintus, another interlocutor, is expected to accept this assumption about the gods (nam Quinti novi sententiam), and Cicero has his brother defend Stoicism’s account of divine action in Book 1 of his On Divination. It would in fact not be surprising for a Roman to express such a conviction, unless, of course, that Roman were an Epicurean, who would deny divine interference in mortal matters – as Marcus has foreseen with his Latin translation of Principle Doctrines 1. This objection would mean that the discussion of natural law had to start with a battle over the nature of the gods – in other words, the whole project of On Laws would become utterly sidetracked before it even began. Therefore, Cicero needs to signal to his readers (something he does quite explicitly)Footnote 27 that he is making a key assumption and will bracket the Epicurean objection. He does so by enacting this bracketing in the structure of the narrative: Marcus asks his friend to suspend his Epicurean complaint for the sake of argument, and Atticus politely agrees. Like On Ends 5 a decade later, this dialogue reenacts debates reminiscent of their student days in Athens.
The broader structure of Book 1 of On Laws supports this reading. Marcus makes a similar move when he anticipates the dangers of Academic skepticism for his topic: “Let us implore the Academy of Arcesilaus and Carneades to be silent, since it contributes nothing but confusion to all these problems” (Leg., 1.39). Cicero throughout his works declares that he is an Academic skeptic, a school that questioned the possibility of certain knowledge and was therefore adept at attacking providence (years later Cicero would use these arguments in On Divination 2 and On the Nature of the Gods 3). Commentators used to claim, in part on the basis of this passage, that Cicero lapsed in the 50s from skepticism to Stoicism or the school of Antiochus of Ascalon.Footnote 28 Woldemar Görler demolished this reading in an important article by collecting evidence for the practice of the ancient philosophical and rhetorical schools and showing that the use of hypotheses/concessions here is fully in line with this practice.Footnote 29 Görler’s analysis clarifies Atticus’ concession: He is playing the game of philosophical debate and concedes a point so he can hear the discussion that he requested – or rather, that Cicero the author wanted to write about.
The structural parallel of these two concessions is telling. In order to offer a treatment of natural law, Cicero needs to sideline certain Epicurean and Academic objections and does so by making Marcus and Atticus concede points to which their respective schools would object. The concessions mirror each other, and, unless we go back to doubting Cicero’s Academic allegiance (something nobody really does anymore), this passage supports the claim that Cicero considered Atticus to be a serious Epicurean.Footnote 30 Nor does this passage provide evidence for superficial or confused eclecticism. Finally, we once again see Cicero gleefully putting very un-Epicurean ideas into the mouth of his friend; there are touches of irony and playfulness when “Atticus” hopes the din of the streams will prevent his condiscipuli from hearing “his” concession.
The next problem text arises in a celebrated letter to C. Memmius, which is given a prominent position at the beginning of Letters to Friends 13 as an example of how to ask a favor politely. Other letters provide context:Footnote 31 Memmius, the exiled politician and dedicatee of Lucretius, either owned or had control of Epicurus’ house. He had apparently planned something drastic, but what exactly he proposed to do to the house – demolish it, renovate it or something else – is unclear. What is clear is that these plans horrified Patro, now head of the Athenian Garden. Patro pressed Atticus and Cicero to write to Memmius, leading to 13.1.
The letter begins by noting that Patro had entreated Cicero earlier in Rome. He ignored the request because he did not wish to interfere with Memmius. When Patro repeated his plea and after Memmius had dropped his building plans, Cicero felt comfortable interceding. He summarizes Patro’s request, citing the latter’s officium, reverence for the auctoritatem Epicuri, the memory of Phaedrus and the importance of preserving the “tracks of great men” (vestigia summorum virorum). But thereafter Cicero distances himself from Patro: He disagrees with Epicureanism, his support stemmed from fondness for Phaedrus and he concedes that Patro acted boorishly. Atticus clinches Cicero’s request: Stressing his friend’s close ties to Epicureans, above all to Phaedrus, Cicero underlines Atticus’ insistence on the matter. A later letter suggests Atticus was grateful for this intercession – there Atticus is, as in On Laws, called a condiscipulus of the Garden.Footnote 32
We see, therefore, Atticus working to help two successive Greek heads of the Athenian Garden in a dispute with the dedicatee of Lucretius over the house of Epicurus. Atticus’ efforts here and his connections with such a range of Roman and Greek Epicureans over two decades suggests a strong affinity for Epicureanism. This letter has, nevertheless, prompted dismissive readings. The sticking point is the distancing of Atticus from Patro and other Epicureans (Fam. 13.1.5):
is—non quo sit ex istis; est enim omni liberali doctrina politissimus, sed valde diligit Patronem, valde Phaedrum amavit—sic a me hoc contendit, homo minime ambitiosus, minime in rogando molestus, ut nihil umquam magis.
Now [Atticus]—not because he is one of those people, for he’s very polished in every branch of refined culture—has great regard for Patro and had great love for Phaedrus—this Atticus, a man not at all self-seeking or troublesome in his requests, pressed me on this point as never before.
Cicero alludes to Epicurus’ notorious advice to “set sail from all paideia” as well as to his charges elsewhere that Epicureans were bad stylists or myopically fixed on their school’s literature.Footnote 33 On this reading, Atticus’ culture and distance from Patro reveal insincere convictions.Footnote 34
A comparison of the language in this letter and Cicero’s characterizations of Epicureans elsewhere dissolves this problem. In On Ends 1.13, the Epicurean spokesman Torquatus is described as “a man skilled in every branch of learning” (homine omni doctrina erudito), and one may compare the “omni liberali doctrina politissimus” of Fam. 13.1. In On the Nature of the Gods, the Epicurean Velleius is complimented as “more ornate in his language than [Epicureans] tend to be” (ornatius quam solent vestri, 1.58); Zeno of Sidon, Phaedrus’ predecessor as scholarch, is praised for his wide learning and style (1.59; cf. Tusc. 3.38). Even more strikingly, Philodemus is complimented in Against Piso.Footnote 35 While Piso is savaged for his crude, debauched Epicureanism, the Greek is characterized in much the same way as Atticus, Torquatus and Velleius: “I am speaking of a man who is exceedingly polished not just in philosophy, but also in other studies as well (ceteris studiis … perpolitus), something which they say that the rest of the Epicureans commonly neglect” (Pis. 70). In each case Cicero politely compliments his friends and distances them from negative stereotypes about crude Epicurean sectarians. If we want to deny that Atticus was an Epicurean on the basis of this letter, then we must do the same for these other Romans and even prominent Greek philosophers like Zeno and Philodemus. That seems a bit extreme. Cicero treats Atticus as he does his other Epicurean friends: He courteously exempts them from his contemptuous attacks on the learning and polish of other devotees of the Garden. This passage provides no grounds to dismiss Atticus’ Epicurean credentials; on the contrary, it offers evidence of substantial involvement in the affairs of his life-long Epicurean friends, teachers and even the house of Epicurus.Footnote 36
There is one last problem text, from a letter to Atticus written in late May of 44. Caesar had been dead for two months; Marcus Antonius was pressing his influence. In an effort at jocularity, Cicero writes, “and so it is foolish now to console ourselves with the Ides of March … Let us then go back, as you often say, to the Tusculan Disputations. Let us keep Saufeius in the dark about you; I will never give you away!” (itaque stulta iam Iduum Martiarum est consolatio … redeamus igitur, quod saepe usurpas, ad Tusculanas disputationes. Saufeium de te celemus; ego numquam indicabo; Att. 15.4.2; cf. 15.2.4). We meet again L. Saufeius, schoolmate of both correspondents and friend of two Epicurean scholarchs. As before, Saufeius serves as a shorthand for Epicureanism (Castner: 1988, 66). The implication is that this indefatigable Epicurean diehard would not approve of Atticus’ appreciation for the Tusculan Disputations. The supposed problem is the dialogue’s content, an extended discussion of emotions and cognitive therapy indebted to Stoic ideas, in which Epicurus suffers heated criticism, especially in Book 3. Atticus, then, must have been some sort of eclectic interested in Stoicism or, according to Castner (Reference Castner1988, 60–61), have broken away from a youthful enthusiasm for the Garden.
It is impossible to determine exactly why Atticus enjoyed the Tusculan Disputations, but there are several plausible explanations. For example, Atticus could have simply appreciated the work as literature. That is to say, given his literary interests, he could have valued Cicero’s claims that Latin was no worse than Greek and might have enjoyed the abundant literary and philosophical translations. If so, we have seen that wide reading and style is no strike against a serious commitment to Epicureanism. Second, Cicero drew on a wide range of consolatory traditions – e.g. the treatment of death in Book 1, which included material to which an Epicurean might not object. Alternatively, Atticus might have simply have been complimenting his friend’s newest treatise. If so, Cicero has yet again seized on a passing comment to claim that he had at last convinced Atticus of the error of his Epicurean ways (and out of courtesy he would not tattle on Atticus to Saufeius). On this reading, Cicero has enacted an imaginary philosophical victory when the chances of a political victory looked increasingly uncertain. These interpretations are speculative but no less plausible than dismissive readings, and this line of argument holds for other problem texts, which should no longer require discussion. To take just one example, Atticus had a bust of Aristotle in a villa and was a fan of the Peripatetic Dicaearchus – evidence, we are told, of an impure, eclectic Epicureanism.Footnote 37 It should be clear by now that neither literary taste nor Aristotle’s bust justifies the abuse Atticus has taken.
To sum up, Cicero repeatedly links Atticus with Epicureanism in his letters and dialogues. Scholarship favors literal readings of allusive and playful passages. In contrast, I have argued these passages do not offer evidence for a muddled eclecticism or a superficial commitment to, much less ignorance of, the Garden. Furthermore, I have offered readings which make better contextual sense of these complex passages. It turns out that, as often, Cicero is really talking more about himself, but he does so in a way that does not make sense if he did not think Atticus was an Epicurean. Cicero could be wrong, but in light of the consistency of Atticus’ treatment across genres and decades, their shared philosophical education in Athens and Cicero’s intimate relationship with him, we have good reason to take Cicero’s testimony as correct, whereas doubt would be overly skeptical. Finally, I have suggested that Cicero delights, privately and in published works, in “harassing” his friend, depicting him to say very un-Epicurean things and presenting him as finally giving into Cicero’s arguments.
Does It Matter?
Cicero thought Atticus was an Epicurean, and, barring evidence to the contrary, we should believe him. But what does it mean to be a “serious” Epicurean? I now tackle one aspect of this slippery question by analyzing the role Epicureanism played in Atticus’ political advice to Cicero, in order to see how philosophy interacted with politics. I begin with two letters in which Atticus seems to have made explicit mention of the Epicurean dictum “stay out of politics” (μὴ πολιτεύεσθαι). Both letters were written in 44, shortly after the death of Caesar, and the correspondents were deeply worried about the increasing power of the consul Antonius. At the time of the first letter (early May), Antonius was making a power play: He had been assigned Macedonia as his province but was preparing to force through legislation to swap this for the two Gauls, along with an extended term and several legions. This was of course eerily similar to Caesar’s recent actions in Gaul, so Atticus and Cicero were deliberating their courses of action.
In the first letter Cicero replies to three letters of Atticus and addresses various issues his friend had raised. Sandwiched between discussion of their nephew Quintus and efforts to win the support of the consuls designate Hirtius and Pansa, Cicero indignantly writes, “you make mention of Epicurus and dare to tell me to ‘stay out of politics’? Isn’t Brutus’ look enough to frighten you away from that kind of talk?” (Epicuri mentionem facis et audes dicere μὴ πολιτεύεσθαι? non te Bruti nostri vulticulus ab ista oratione deterret?, Att. 14.20). Atticus provided advice that explicitly appealed to Epicurus, but skeptics have argued that μὴ πολιτεύεσθαι is a “cultural mode of expression” (Castner: 1988, 60), a trendy line quoted for effect; or alternatively, that philosophy is superfluous, since Atticus would have advised the same thing anyway. Before adjudicating this question, let us turn to the second letter, which has not received the attention it deserves.
Att. 16.7 is dated August 19, by which point Antonius had forced through the provincial swap, Brutus and Cassius were losing ground and hope for a peaceful solution seemed unlikely. Cicero decided in June to take a trip to Athens, ostensibly to check on his son’s studies. Elsewhere, however, Cicero speaks of a massacre and says that he is departing not to escape but in the hope of “a better death” (mortis melioris; Att. 15.20.2). Over the next two months, Cicero hesitated and delayed, and one recalls his troubled mind in 49.Footnote 38 After he finally departed, however, Piso spoke out in the senate against Antonius. Cicero’s absence was sorely criticized, his presence required. He returned to Rome and began his final political struggle, which resulted in his Philippics, proscription and dismemberment. His return demanded that he justify his departure and sudden change of mind; Atticus anticipated these criticisms and urged Cicero to reconsider. Luckily for us, Cicero was sufficiently annoyed to quote Atticus’ words (indicated by scripsisti his verbis … deinceps igitur haec, etc.), highlighted in bold (Att. 16.7.3–4):
illud admirari satis non potui quod scripsisti his verbis: “bene igitur tu qui εὐθανασίαν, bene, relinque patriam.” an ego relinquebam aut tibi tum relinquere videbar? tu id non modo non prohibebas verum etiam adprobabas. graviora quae restant: “velim σχόλιον aliquod elimes ad me oportuisse te istuc facere.” itane, mi Attice? defensione eget meum factum, praesertim apud te qui id mirabiliter adprobasti? ego vero istum ἀπολογισμὸν συντάξομαι, sed ad eorum aliquem quibus invitis et dissuadentibus profectus sum. etsi quid iam opus est σχολίῳ? si perseverassem, opus fuisset. “at hoc ipsum non constanter.” nemo doctus umquam (multa autem de hoc genere scripta sunt) mutationem consili inconstantiam dixit esse. deinceps igitur haec, “nam si a Phaedro nostro esses, expedita excusatio esset; nunc quid respondemus?” ergo id erat meum factum quod Catoni probare non possim?
What really did amaze me [in your letter] is what you wrote in these words: “All right then: you talk of an ‘easy death’—all right, forsake your country!” I was forsaking my country, or you thought I was doing so? You not only made no effort to stop me, but you even approved! There is worse to come: “I’d like you to polish up a little tract to show that such was your duty, and address it to me.” Really, my dear Atticus? Does my action require defense, to you of all people, who enthusiastically approved it? Yes, I will compose this apologia of yours, but I’m going to address it to one of those men who were against my departure and were dissuading me. But what need is there for a tract now? If I had stuck to my plans, there would have been. “But this is inconsistent.” In all the many writings on this theme, no philosopher has ever equated a change of plan with a lack of consistency. And then there’s this: “If you were of my friend Phaedrus’ school, it would be easy to find an excuse. As it is, what answer do we make?” So you think that I couldn’t justify my action to Cato?
Atticus was rather punchy: His mockery of Cicero’s reference to εὐθανασία (the mortis melioris of 15.20.2?) is striking, and his demand for an apologia clearly rankled Cicero. The palpable anger makes it difficult to reconstruct Atticus’ exact position, and our correspondence suggests that he had in fact approved of the trip to Athens. The key, I think, is Atticus’ charge of inconsistency: Cicero should never have left, or, since he had, he should have stuck to his guns. Additionally, Atticus had been reading for years in Cicero’s dialogues repeated denunciations of the inconstantia of Epicurus and his Roman followers (e.g. On Ends 2) and may have thrown this criticism in Cicero’s face. Cicero’s counter-arguments certainly suggest that he took the criticism as philosophical (“no philosopher has ever equated a change of plan with a lack of consistency”), and Atticus’ final words support this reading: “If you were of my friend Phaedrus’ school, it would be easy to find an excuse.” I take excusatio in its more specific sense of “exemption from public duty” (OLD s.v. excusatio 2), along the lines of Atticus’ earlier advice to μὴ πολιτεύεσθαι. Cicero would not have had a problem if, like Atticus, he sat this fight out on Epicurean grounds. But Cicero is not an Epicurean; his departure and sudden return therefore opened him up to charges of inconsistency. Atticus is rubbing the situation in Cicero’s face. In part, perhaps, to get back at all those years of Epicurus-bashing, but almost certainly to press home the danger of leaping into the struggle against Antonius, who, unlike Cicero, had an army.
Atticus’ invocation of Phaedrus shows, furthermore, that philosophy offered more than clever one-liners. Atticus does not quote a Greek proverb; he makes a specific allusion to philosophical allegiance and its political consequences, expressed in terms of his personal relationship with Phaedrus. Both correspondents are taking philosophy seriously at a time of crisis. This exchange, then, shows that philosophy helped justify and frame political activity; it also reveals the difficulties Atticus faced when advising Cicero. The Equestrian Atticus urged Epicurean otium, advice which Cicero was simply not inclined to take. These two letters reveal the tension that resulted from fundamental differences in perspective – and anger: Cicero very rarely writes to Atticus so sharply. Epicureanism is not a joke anymore.
We can now consider the charge of Perlwitz and others that Atticus’ Epicureanism was “superfluous” or a mere pretext: Equestrian life would have advised sitting out the fight, so Epicureanism does not matter.Footnote 39 It is true that Atticus might have acted the same without philosophy. This dichotomy between tradition and philosophy is, however, misleading. As soon as a Roman uses philosophy to support prior preferences or shape political deliberation, this belief or motivation is no longer the same: It is hybridized by tapping into some five centuries of philosophical debate. We should not expect philosophy to make Atticus act completely differently but we should rather search for him (or others) using arguments and philosophical principles to structure possible courses of action, and to act with firmness and conviction based on these principles.Footnote 40 If we can find evidence of this, and I have argued we can, then we have good grounds for claiming that philosophy should be considered a factor relevant to historical analysis.
By way of conclusion I offer a few suggestions as to what a biographical reading that takes Atticus’ Epicureanism seriously might look like. First, Atticus – unlike contemporaries like Cassius, Piso or Torquatus – emerges as a textbook example of an Epicurean intellectual avoiding political office while cultivating friendship. His wide-ranging financial dealings should not surprise, either: Philodemus’ contemporary treatise, On Property Management, shows that a committed Epicurean could engage in commerce if he understood money had no intrinsic value – there are no signs that Atticus hankered after ostentatious luxury.Footnote 41 Indeed, Atticus’ financial support to his friends and his survival of wars and proscriptions are perfectly in line with Epicurean doctrine.Footnote 42
Was Julius Caesar an Epicurean? It seems unlikely. No ancient source identifies him as an adherent of the Garden, nor are we told that he studied with Greek philosophers of any persuasion, as so many of his peers did both at Rome and abroad. In addition, the man who ambitiously maneuvered himself into the power-sharing arrangement known as the First Triumvirate, spent years battling the Gauls, started and won a civil war and then ruled Rome as a quasi-monarch until being assassinated would appear to be an improbable follower of a school that counseled political quietism and the cultivation of simple pleasures. On the contrary, Caesar might be seen as a perfect example of the wretched individual who, in the words of Lucretius, “strives day and night with the utmost toil to reach a position of prominence and assume power” (noctes atque dies niti praestante labore | ad summas emergere opes rerumque potiri, 2.12–13). It is on men like these that the enlightened Epicurean looks down with quiet self-satisfaction from the serene temples of the wise.
That Caesar’s ambition could be viewed by his contemporaries as the very antithesis of Epicurean ideals is apparent from a passage in Cicero’s invective Against Piso of 55 BC. Among many other criticisms, Cicero reproaches Piso for his perverted Epicureanism, which has led this Roman aristocrat to his highly un-Roman refusal to seek a triumph for his military exploits in Macedonia. L. Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, the patron of Philodemus and indeed well-known for his Epicurean leanings,Footnote 1 was also the father of Caesar’s wife, a fact that enables Cicero to suggest sarcastically that Piso give an Epicurean lecture to his son-in-law, telling him that public thanksgivings and triumphs are just so many meaningless baubles, “almost the playthings of children” (delectamenta paene puerorum, 60).Footnote 2 As Cicero goes on to point out, Caesar would be anything but receptive to this kind of argument: “Believe me, that man is carried on by glory; he is aflame, he burns with the desire for a grand and deserved triumph. He has not learned those same things as you” (fertur ille vir, mihi crede, gloria; flagrat, ardet cupiditate iusti et magni triumphi. non didicit eadem ista quae tu, 59).
Despite these obstacles, however, scholars have over the past few decades repeatedly ascribed some form of Epicureanism to Caesar.Footnote 3 While the evidence, such as it is, is well known and has been discussed from many different angles, it will be worthwhile to consider the question once more. There has been a recent surge of interest – of which this volume is an excellent example – in Roman philosophy in general and Roman Epicureanism in particular, with special attention paid to the intersections of philosophy and politics in the turbulent period of the late Republic.Footnote 4 Given that Caesar was the era’s foremost political figure, as well as a formidable intellectual,Footnote 5 we would like to know what, if anything, he thought about philosophy and especially about the school most popular among his contemporaries, that of Epicurus.
That Caesar was informed about Epicureanism is without doubt. Even if he had undergone no specifically philosophical training himself,Footnote 6 basic knowledge concerning the major philosophical schools was, by the first century BC, part and parcel of the Roman aristocracy’s cultural competence, and Caesar can hardly have failed to pick up the principles of Rome’s most fashionable philosophical creed. Furthermore, as has often been pointed out, many of Caesar’s friends and followers were Epicureans. These include not only his father-in-law Piso, but also his trusted lieutenant C. Vibius Pansa Caetronianus and the jurist C. Trebatius Testa. In the case of such other Caesarians as L. Cornelius Balbus, A. Hirtius and C. Matius, we cannot be sure about their philosophical allegiance, but Epicurean leanings have often been suggested.Footnote 7 While older views that Epicureanism provided a political ideology for the Caesarian party have long been debunked,Footnote 8 and it is well established that Epicureans stood on both sides of the Civil War, the concentration of putative Epicureans in Caesar’s circle is still worth noting.
What is especially interesting is the evidence for Epicurean activity in the Caesarian camp during the campaigns in Gaul, Germany and Britain. Trebatius, who had joined Caesar’s staff on the recommendation of Cicero, converted to Epicureanism in 53 BC, apparently under the influence of Pansa. His mentor back in Rome reacted in mock horror: “My friend Pansa tells me you have become an Epicurean. That’s a great camp you got there!” (indicavit mihi Pansa meus Epicureum te esse factum. o castra praeclara!, Fam. 7.12.1). Just a year earlier, the leisure hours of the campaigning Caesarian officers may have been taken up with studying Lucretius’ brand-new poem. As Christopher Krebs has shown, following F. R. Dale, Caesar himself must have read On the Nature of Things in 54, to judge from striking verbal echoes in Books 5, 6 and 7 of his Gallic War.Footnote 9 It is possible that Caesar, and perhaps other philosophically interested members of his staff, were introduced to Lucretius by Quintus Cicero, who knew the poem by February 54 (Cic. QFr. 2.10.3) and joined Caesar’s campaign shortly thereafter. Dale (1958, 182) fondly imagines that Caesar “read Lucretius with Quintus in Britain, on a summer evening in his tent.”
Familiarity with Epicureans and knowledge of Epicurean writing, however, do not an Epicurean make (after all, the decidedly non-Epicurean Cicero had many Epicurean friends and read Lucretius’ poem). What did Caesar actually believe? In the absence of ancient claims that he espoused Epicurean views, all the evidence is circumstantial, which means that the man’s philosophical opinions, if any, need to be inferred from his behavior and oral and written utterances. I will not here review all the characteristics of Caesar that have been adduced to demonstrate his Epicureanism. Scholars have pointed to his rationalism and cool aiming at utilitas, his religious skepticism, his flair for friendship, his policy of clementia or even his entire political trajectory and program as indications of Caesar’s allegiance to the Garden.Footnote 10 Obviously, such arguments are highly speculative. If we assume for the sake of argument that Caesar in fact possessed all the traits ascribed to him (which is not a given), they are far too unspecific to prove his philosophical views. If we knew for certain that Caesar espoused Epicureanism, then we might be justified in wondering to what extent his displayed character, behavior and decisions might have been informed by his creed.Footnote 11 In the absence of a more obviously smoking gun, a mere cool and rational religious skeptic and good friend with an aversion to the needless bloodshed of his peers cannot as such be convicted of Epicureanism.
There is, however, one additional and promising set of evidence that scholars have often pointed to and that concerns Caesar’s attitude to death. According to Epicurus, of course, fear of death is – together with fear of the gods – the main obstacle to attaining a happy life, and a person cannot achieve ἀταραξία without having internalized the truth that “death is nothing to us” (ὁ θάνατος οὐδὲν πρὸς ἡμᾶς, KD 2).Footnote 12 Whatever his other philosophical beliefs may or may not have been, Caesar on a number of occasions displayed a contempt for death that might be seen as at least Epicurean-inflected. Passing over his well-attested physical courage and death-defying acts during his military campaigns, I will concentrate in what follows on a few attested utterances, which combine to allow perhaps some insight into Caesar’s views on life and death.
The first is an argument Caesar reportedly made in his speech on December 5, 63 BC, when the senate debated the fate of the convicted Catilinarians. After the consul-designate Silanus had proposed the death penalty and the subsequent speakers had seconded his motion, Caesar suggested instead lifelong imprisonment without the possibility of parole. While the greater part of his speech as reconstructed by Sallust in his War against Catiline is concerned with cautioning the senators against approving a measure of questionable legality, Caesar also offers a striking argument against the death penalty itself (Sall. BC 51.20):
de poena possum equidem dicere, id quod res habet, in luctu atque miseriis mortem aerumnarum requiem, non cruciatum esse; eam cuncta mortalium mala dissolvere; ultra neque curae neque gaudio locum esse.
About the punishment I can speak according to the facts: in sorrow and misery death is a relief from grief, not a torture. It dissolves all human ills, and beyond it, there is place for neither care nor joy.
While Sallust is not quoting Caesar verbatim, he presumably availed himself of the senatorial archives in reconstructing the speeches,Footnote 13 and the historicity of the remarks on death is confirmed not only by the fact that Sallust’s Cato, in responding to Caesar, refers back to them, but crucially also by Cicero’s own summary of the discussion in the fourth speech Against Catiline. As for Cato, he begins his attack on Caesar’s proposal as follows (Sall. BC 52.13):
bene et conposite C. Caesar paulo ante in hoc ordine de vita et morte disseruit, credo falsa existumans ea quae de inferis memorantur, divorso itinere malos a bonis loca taetra, inculta, foeda atque formidulosa habere.
C. Caesar a little while ago gave this order a well-phrased and well-structured lecture on life and death, apparently deeming false what is said about the underworld, namely, that divorced from the good, the wicked inhabit horrid, desolate, foul and fearful places.
Cicero, finally, paraphrases Caesar’s views on death as follows (Cat. 4.7–8):
alter intellegit mortem ab dis inmortalibus non esse supplicii causa constitutam, sed aut necessitatem naturae aut laborum ac miseriarum quietem esse. itaque eam sapientes numquam inviti, fortes saepe etiam lubenter oppetiverunt … vitam solam relinquit nefariis hominibus; quam si eripuisset, multas uno dolore animi atque corporis miserias et omnis scelerum poenas ademisset. itaque ut aliqua in vita formido inprobis esset posita, apud inferos eius modi quaedam illi antiqui supplicia impiis constituta esse voluerunt, quod videlicet intellegebant his remotis non esse mortem ipsam pertimescendam.
The other speaker understands that death was not created by the immortal gods for the sake of punishment, but is either a necessity of nature or freedom from toil and misery. Thus wise men have never undergone it unwillingly, and brave men have often even willingly sought it … He leaves only life to the criminals. If he had taken that away, he would have removed with one single pain many miseries of mind and body as well as all punishments for their crimes. Therefore, in order that there be some fear left in life for wicked men, those men of old maintained that there were some punishments of this sort set for the impious in the underworld—since of course they understood that without them, not even death would have to be feared.
Even though Caesar’s and Cato’s words are filtered through Sallust, and it is unclear to what extent Cicero is distorting or embellishing Caesar’s argument, there still emerges a reasonably clear image of what Caesar must have said. Apparently, he claimed that the death penalty was not a suitable punishment because death constitutes the absolute endpoint for human experience beyond which a person will be affected by neither good nor ill – and certainly not the punishments of the traditional underworld. As a result, death is not to be feared (non esse mortem ipsam pertimescendam, Cic. Cat. 4.8).
While the idea that “death is not an evil” is a philosophical commonplace, there is certainly an Epicurean flavor to Caesar’s argument.Footnote 14 Scholars have pointed to the language of dissolution ([mortem] cuncta mortalium mala dissolvere)Footnote 15 and to the debunking of the myths about the underworld.Footnote 16 We might also wonder whether Caesar’s statement that, beyond death, there is place for neither cura nor gaudium alludes to the two poles of Epicurean experience, (mental) pain or disturbance and (mental) pleasure. None of this amounts to a sustained exposition of Epicurean doctrine – which would at any rate be out of place in a political speech – but the passage shows that Caesar was well versed in at least some aspects of Epicurean thought. Why he chose to include those in his plea for moderation vis-à-vis the Catilinarians must remain open. Of course, Caesar may simply have been voicing his own, deeply held convictions. Perhaps, however, he was also trying to appeal to his fellow senators with philosophical aspirations: The entire speech is an attempt to induce the audience to approach the question of the conspirators’ punishment rationally rather than emotionally, and the observation that “death is nothing to us” may have served both as an argument to calm those carried away by the calls for the malefactors’ blood and as an intellectual fig leaf for those who (like Caesar himself) might have had political or private sympathies with the convicted men.
In addition to this soundbite from an early stage in Caesar’s career, we also have a number of utterances from the end of his life, when he held sway in Rome as dictator after having emerged victorious from the Civil War. A number of sources report that Caesar was wont to express a feeling that he had lived enough, with the implication that he was unafraid of death. The most prominent incident is one discussed by Cicero in his speech For Marcellus, given in the senate in 46 BC. In this rhetorical balancing act, the speaker, on the one hand, bestows extravagant praise on Caesar for his decision to pardon and recall his exiled foe M. Marcellus. On the other, he argues that it is the dictator’s duty to restore the republican form of government, insinuating that Caesar will fall short of his potential and miss out on true glory if he allows matters to persist in the present, undesirable status quo.
As part of his argument Cicero cited a phrase that Caesar himself had just used in his own speech, in which the dictator, apparently to rally senatorial sympathy and support, not only complained about Marcellus’ past enmity and mentioned current threats against his own life, but also made the resigned claim that he had “lived long enough for both nature and glory” (satis diu vel naturae vixi vel gloriae, 25). Since, in Cicero’s opinion, Caesar had not lived enough until he had done his duty by the res publica, he took it upon himself politely to combat the dictator’s assertion, constructing a philosophical counter-argument in which he clearly interprets his opponent’s view as Epicurean.Footnote 17 As Cicero recognizes, the idea of a point of “enoughness” beyond which life provides no further attractions is peculiar to the teachings of the Garden. The Epicureans held that perfect pleasure cannot be increased by the duration of time and that one may as well quit while the going is good and one has had satis of good things. Thus in her diatribe at the end of Book 3 of Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things, personified Nature tells the man unwilling to die that “there is nothing that I could additionally contrive and invent to please you: Everything is always the same” (nam tibi praeterea quod machiner inveniamque, | quod placeat, nil est: eadem sunt omnia semper, 3.944–945) and that he ought to leave while “sated and full of things” (satur ac plenus … rerum, 960). Of course, a true Epicurean has no desire for glory, but Cicero himself points out that this part of Caesar’s utterance is heterodox and not part of his Epicurean sapientia: “You will not deny that even though you are wise, you are most desirous of fame” (cuius [sc. gloriae] te esse avidissimum, quamvis sis sapiens, non negabis?, 25).Footnote 18
From Cicero’s perspective, of course, Caesar’s view is completely wrong. He may have lived enough for nature and for glory, “but not enough for the fatherland, which is the most important thing” (at, quod maximum est, patriae certe parum, 25): If Caesar quits now, he will lose his chance of leaving behind a lasting legacy. Pleasure, even the memory of past pleasure, by which the Epicureans set so much store, will end with death; only true glory lives on. Therefore, there is only one course possible for Caesar, provided that he is truly sapiens and not just imbued with Epicurean pseudo-wisdom (27):
haec igitur tibi reliqua pars est; hic restat actus, in hoc elaborandum est ut rem publicam constituas, eaque tu in primis summa tranquillitate et otio perfruare: tum te, si voles, cum et patriae quod debes solveris, et naturam ipsam expleveris satietate vivendi, satis diu vixisse dicito.
This part is left for you, this deed remains, to this you must devote your effort: Put the Republic in order, and you first and foremost will be able to profit from it in the greatest tranquility and peace. At that point, once you have paid your debt to the fatherland, and—sated with life—have satisfied nature, you may say that you have lived enough.
While it is theoretically possible that Cicero added an Epicurean slant to Caesar’s satietas vivendi, it seems to me more likely that he interpreted correctly something that was already present in Caesar’s attitude. That the dictator was in the habit, in the last months of his life, of expressing a sense that he had lived his life to the full, and a concomitant lack of fear of death is attested by a number of historical sources.Footnote 19 Suetonius reports at length the various explanations given by contemporaries of Caesar’s jaded attitude in the face of possible death through attempts on his life (Iul. 86): Was his health failing and he therefore “wished to live no longer” (neque voluisse se diutius vivere)? Did he prefer “to face danger once and for all rather than always fear it” (subire semel quam cavere semper)?Footnote 20 Or was Caesar genuinely convinced that he had lived “enough”? According to some of his friends, he was accustomed to state his view as follows:
non tam sua quam rei publicae interesse, uti salvus esset: se iam pridem potentiae gloriaeque abunde adeptum; rem publicam, si quid sibi eveniret, neque quietam fore et aliquanto deteriore condicione civilia bella subituram.
[He used to say that] his safety was not so much in his own interest as in that of the commonwealth. For he had long achieved more than enough of power and glory. But if something should happen to him, the commonwealth would not be at peace and would slide back into civil war in a rather worse condition.
This arrogant assertion almost sounds like a response to Cicero’s exhortations in For Marcellus: Rather than accept his duty to continue working for the common good, Caesar puts the ball firmly back in the court of the res publica. If his fellow Romans want peace and quiet, they need to protect Caesar’s life. As for Caesar himself, he has long fulfilled his own desires and could not care less.
Suetonius concludes with an anecdote found also in Plutarch and Appian.Footnote 21 The night before he was assassinated, Caesar attended a dinner party where the conversation turned to a discussion about what kind of death was the most desirable. The dictator (seemingly predicting his own imminent demise) declared his own preference for one that was sudden and unexpected (repentinum inopinatumque).
Considered in combination, Caesar’s reported utterances about life and death can – with all due caution – be considered evidence for an attitude in keeping with Epicurean thought. Death is not to be feared: It is a dissolution and absolute end, beyond which there is nothing that concerns us. Conversely, life is not something that can be profitably prolonged forever: Once one has lived enough, one might as well die with equanimity. This attitude is indicative of what Raphael Woolf has described as the Epicurean “small-scale” view of human existence.Footnote 22 Since all necessary desires can be easily fulfilled and the summum bonum of katastematic pleasure thus easily achieved, Epicurean life is, as it were, not a big deal and, as a result, neither is death. The person who has reached satietas vivendi has no reason not to die. As Woolf puts it, “it is only the philosophy that regards life as essentially small-scale that can regard death as essentially a matter of indifference.”
Caesar’s own life, of course, was anything but small-scale, and when he declared that he had lived enough or achieved the object of his desires, he was clearly not referring to his having met the minimalist conditions of Epicurean hedonism. It is, however, conceivable that it was a small-scale view of life and death that enabled Caesar to aim as high as he did. Someone who considers neither life nor death a big deal can take risks that others will shrink from because he is justified in being unafraid of whatever the outcome will be. The man who told his mother before his election to Pontifex Maximus that he would return as the winner or not at all, and who likened his beginning a civil war to entering a game of chance (alea iacta est), may well have been able to keep his cool in these high-risk situations because he was certain that death is nothing to us.
By this point in my discussion, individual readers may be more or less convinced by my claim that Caesar’s views on life and death owe something to Epicurean doctrine. I admit that the argument is speculative, and I am willing to push it as far as I have, and no further. If, however, merely for the sake of argument, we accept for the moment the idea that Caesar had adopted the Epicurean maxim “death is nothing to us” for his own purposes, the question still remains: Was he an Epicurean? At the risk of invoking the infamous Curate’s Egg, I would be inclined to answer, “in part.” Perhaps, though, it is time in turn to question the question and to ask ourselves what it would actually take for an ancient Greek or Roman to “qualify” as an Epicurean (or, for that matter, an adherent of any other philosophical school). Note that I am not now, as at the beginning of the chapter, concerned with the matter of evidence. The question is not how we, with our limited sources, can identify a potential adherent of the school but, rather, what conditions must be fulfilled for us to consider someone an Epicurean.
In the history of philosophy, such labels as “Academic,” “Stoic” or “Epicurean” are most often used to designate authors of philosophical works that espouse and expound the doctrine of the sect in question. Very often, such individuals were affiliated with the school as an institution or otherwise active as teachers professing a specific philosophical affiliation. Philosophical teachers who did not publish may likewise be labeled according to their school allegiance, as may philosophical writers who had no official connection to a school and did not engage in teaching. By this convention, for example, Chrysippus and Posidonius are both Stoics, as are Cicero’s teacher and houseguest Diodotus (who did not, as far as we know, write anything) and even Seneca (who had nothing to do with the Stoic school as an institution and was not a professional teacher). We are in the habit of calling all such persons “philosophers,” even if some of them would not have applied this designation to themselves,Footnote 23 and modern scholars occasionally feel that particular ancient thinkers and writers do not fit their own understanding of what philosophy is.
Terms like “Epicurean” or “Stoic,” however, clearly also have a wider application, and that is what is at issue here. It surely makes sense to use such designations for people who are not philosophers by any description but who for themselves embrace the teachings of a particular school as a convincing mode of theoretical explanation and/or guide to practical behavior. It is in this sense that we call Piso an Epicurean and the younger Cato a Stoic, and it is in this sense that we are investigating whether Julius Caesar might have been an Epicurean. The question remains: What justifies us to claim a particular individual as the adherent of a particular school, if that individual not only had no institutional affiliation but did not even teach or write philosophy? What does it take to make Piso or Caesar or, for that matter, any modern follower of Epicurus, an Epicurean?
The answer, I posit, is very simple. A person is an Epicurean (or Stoic or Academic or Peripatetic) if he or she identifies as such. If a person proclaims, te sequor, o Graiae gentis decus, or calls himself Epicuri de grege porcum, that person should be considered an Epicurean.Footnote 24 Of course, as we have already seen, in the case of many ancient figures, we lack such explicit self-identification and must carefully review whatever additional sources there may be. Thus, for example, we possess no direct testimony to the younger Cato’s ever referring to himself as a Stoic; however, the fact that his contemporary Cicero repeatedly calls him a Stoicus and considers his behavior and utterances from a Stoic perspective makes us reasonably confident that Cato himself identified as a Stoic – and thus, by my definition, was a Stoic.
The posited self-identification criterion may sound banal, but it has an important corollary for our understanding of philosophical allegiance. If, in order to qualify as, say, an Epicurean, it is sufficient merely to consider oneself an Epicurean, then Epicurean orthodoxy and orthopraxy are not necessary conditions. In other words, an Epicurean by this definition may hold opinions incompatible with Epicurean doctrine or may act in ways not conforming to Epicurean ethical teaching. As a matter of fact, unless the person in question happens to be a sage, it is highly unlikely that her thoughts and actions will be in keeping with Epicureanism at all times. As long as she identifies as an Epicurean, however, we should consider her an Epicurean. Of course, she may, as it were, be a bad Epicurean – but that is a different question.Footnote 25
The study of philosophical affiliation in ancient Rome in general and of Roman Epicureanism in particular has long suffered from anxiety over whether individual Romans were really “serious” about philosophy or qualify as, say, “real” Epicureans. Working with an expectation of doctrinal consistency (related to the charity principle conventionally applied to the interpretation of philosophical texts), scholars have struggled with a perceived lack of intellectual coherence and/or ethical commitment on the part of some of the individuals they study, and have attempted to come to terms with this problem in one of three ways. First, there has been a long tradition of flat-out denying philosophical credibility or sophistication even to Romans with proven philosophical interests and expertise. This tendency is found even among scholars who specifically study such individuals and have contributed much to our knowledge of the history of Roman thought. Thus, for example, within the scholarship of Roman Epicureanism, Catherine J. Castner’s Prosopography of Roman Epicureans (1988) is notorious for its scornful dismissal of the superficiality and “cavalier attitude” (xvii) toward Epicurean doctrine of the very men whom the author identifies as (possible) Epicureans.
Such a view has been widely felt to be unfair and unhelpful, and in recent years, important work has been dedicated to the intellectual rehabilitation of Roman philosophy and of individual Roman thinkers, including Epicureans. This second, apologetic approach has succeeded in demonstrating the high level of doctrinal knowledge and the sophistication of argument of many Romans with philosophical interests and allegiances. Focusing not only on the published works of men like Cicero but on the everyday epistolary exchanges of a wide range of individuals, such scholars as Miriam Griffin, Sean McConnell and Nathan Gilbert have put paid to the notion that Roman philosophy was just the fashionable pastime of an upper class in search of cultural capital.Footnote 26 At the same time, readings of this type, often fueled by a desire to prove the orthodoxy of the text or figure in question, run the risk of becoming over-charitable and glossing over tensions and inconsistencies. To stick with the school at issue in this chapter: Even the most learned and committed Roman Epicureans do not always conform to what we understand Epicureanism to entail.
This is where the third approach comes in. A number of scholars – first and foremost Michael Erler and Jeffrey FishFootnote 27 – have argued that Roman Epicureans adopted a form of “unorthodox” Epicureanism (cf. the title of Erler: 1992b), one that was deemed more appropriate to their society and their lifestyle as members of the Roman elite. Sometimes the practitioners in question are seen as developing this particular brand of “Roman Epicureanism” on their own, simply adjusting Epicurean teachings to a new context. Often, however, scholars assert the influence of contemporary Greek Epicureans, in particular Philodemus, the friend and protégé of Piso. A case in point is the potentially embarrassing fact that so many Roman Epicureans by no means adhered to their master’s injunction to “live unnoticed” and instead followed the typical political careers of the Roman aristocracy.Footnote 28 If it can be shown that there was instead a bona fide Epicurean point of view that condoned political engagement, then numerous “bad” Epicureans will have been saved as perfectly orthodox. The problem is that, given the fragmentary nature of Philodemus’ surviving work (and the near-total lack of information about the teaching of other Greek Epicureans active in Italy), claims of this nature are often inconclusiveFootnote 29; even so, the situatedness of Roman Epicureanism in a social and intellectual context quite different from that of Epicurus’ original Garden is a point very much worth taking. Despite the school’s well-known veneration of its founder, Epicureanism was not an unchanging monolith but developed over time, with first-century Rome and Italy providing a particularly intriguing chapter.
All three approaches discussed capture important aspects of the Epicurean scene at Rome. There are many examples of highly sophisticated orthodoxy and orthopraxy, of which Epicurus himself would have been proud. There are signs of developing new orthodoxies and Epicurean practices, whether homegrown or influenced by the thought of contemporary Greek teachers. And there certainly are cases of individuals who, despite their declared allegiance, did not, or not always or in all ways, conform to Epicurean doctrine and ethics. At the same time, all three approaches, adopting a somewhat narrow focus, risk losing sight of some aspects of Roman Epicureanism, simply because they do not fit their definitions.
I suggest that by freeing ourselves of the consistency requirement – our desire to have Epicureans think and behave in an Epicurean way, with any departure from orthodoxy considered an intellectual and ethical failure – we will be able to gain a wider and deeper appreciation of the phenomenon of Roman Epicureanism (and, indeed, Roman philosophy and the history of philosophy in general). When an upper-class Roman adopts the teachings of Epicurus for himself, it is obviously interesting to determine how sophisticated his philosophical theory and practice turn out to be, and how he goes about living according to the precepts of the Garden. It is equally interesting to see where he either consciously refuses or tacitly fails to adopt Epicurean teaching, or – to take a broader view – which aspects of Epicurean doctrine appeal to Roman society and which ones do not. Once we stop worrying whether particular individuals were “real” or even “good” Epicureans, we can gain a picture of Roman Epicureanism in all its originality, diversity and self-contradiction.
I would like to take this plea for an inclusive and holistic approach to the historical study of philosophy one step further, and this brings me back to Caesar. Was he an Epicurean or not? Even by my minimalist criterion, the answer – at least as based on the evidence we have – must surely be no. No ancient source comes even close to indicating that Caesar identified as an Epicurean, and we might therefore consider the case closed. I have been arguing, however, that Caesar held certain ideas about life and death that were informed by Epicurean doctrine: Being knowledgeable about Epicureanism, he apparently adopted and adapted some teachings for his own life without taking on board others, let alone declaring allegiance to the school as a whole. In doing so, Caesar was hardly alone. No doubt many educated Romans let themselves be influenced in one way or another by individual tenets of the various philosophical systems they encountered, just as human beings through the ages have picked and chosen from the philosophies, religions, political ideologies and other creeds available in their societies. The history of philosophy, properly understood, needs to consider not only philosophers and their declared followers, but also philosophy’s manifold manifestations in human culture as a whole. Moving out from the core of doctrine, it needs to take account of practice and of expressions in a wide variety of media and contexts. Questions of orthodoxy and orthopraxy will of necessity play an important role in this enterprise, but will not, on their own, succeed in unlocking the historical significance of philosophy in either a specific society or its development over time.
As the papers in this volume show, Epicureanism was extremely influential in ancient Rome during the last century BC and beyond, and this influence is on evidence not only in such philosophical writers as Lucretius and Cicero or such self-identified Epicureans as Cassius and Piso. It pervades Roman society as a whole, leaving its traces in poetry, oratory, inscriptions, art work and the thoughts and utterances of many people. One of them was Julius Caesar. Caesar was not an Epicurean, but he very much deserves a place in the history of Epicureanism.
Catullan amicitia vs. Epicurean φιλία
This short invective attack on Piso’s morally dubious dining companions has been the subject of much discussion amongst scholars, since Gustav Friedrich first suggested in 1908 that “Socration” should be understood as a pseudonym for Philodemus, the Epicurean philosopher and protégé of Caesar’s father-in-law, L. Calpurnius Piso.Footnote 3 The identification has been challenged, but is widely accepted amongst scholars both of the Catullan corpus and of Philodemus,Footnote 4 and points to a degree of antagonism on Catullus’ part towards Piso and his retinue and indeed towards Epicurean philosophy in general. Such a hostile attitude might appear rather surprising in a writer whose outlook on life appears in some respects so consonant with Epicurean values: Catullus’ privileging of otium and personal friendship, his bitter tirades against the corruption of public life and general dissatisfaction with the mos maiorum, his rejection of traditional poetic forms with their celebration of civic values in favor of an aesthetics of lepos and venustas, all have their analogues in contemporary Epicurean thought. Nevertheless, closer consideration of the Catullan corpus, and particularly of the marked echoes of Philodemus and his fellow-Epicurean poet Lucretius, suggests that ultimately the poet abnegates any kind of philosophical commitment; the poems’ substitution of an idealized amor/amicitia for the traditional aristocratic valorization of status and achievement in the public sphere parallels but does not, in the end, converge with the philosophical comradeship enjoyed by Philodemus and his “faithful companions” (ἑτάρους … παναληθέας, Ep. 27.5 = AP 11.44.5) or the untroubled seclusion in the “citadel of the wise” advocated by Lucretius (2.7–8).Footnote 5
Whether Catullus himself “was” an Epicurean, as argued at length by Pasquale Giuffrida, is something that we can never know, though it is my contention in what follows that nothing in the poems prompts such a supposition.Footnote 6 A question that we can legitimately pose, however, and one which may prove more fruitful, is how the poet responds to the sociopolitical crises of his era, and how much overlap we can find between his responses and those of his Epicurean contemporaries. Conversely, it seems worth asking whether the clear parallels between Catullus’ invective against (Porcius and) Socration and Cicero’s attacks on Piso and other Epicureans bespeak a rather conventional hostility towards (Epicurean) philosophy on our poet’s part.
We shall return later in this essay to Catullus 47; but before doing so, I would like to explore the implications of what is certainly the most widely recognized Philodemean echo in Catullus. Poem 13, the famous “anti-invitation” to Fabullus, may be read as a parodic response to Philodemus, Epigram 27 (AP 11.44), incidentally the most overtly Epicurean of all Philodemus’ surviving poems:Footnote 7
As indicated above, the structure of Catullus’ poem precisely mirrors that of Philodemus’ epigram (opening address with the date/time of the dinner;Footnote 9 contrasting lines on what the addressee will not find on offer and the “much sweeter” figurative “fare” to be provided by the host). But Catullus sends up the alleged modesty of Philodemus’ dwelling and the banquet to take place there: His speaker is not so much an advocate of litotes as, simply, broke, to such an extent that Fabullus must bring the dinner, the drink and even the obligatory candida puella. Reading the two poems together, we might understand this as a dig at what could be seen as hypocrisyFootnote 10 on Philodemus’ part: What begins as an invitation ends as a begging letter from Piso’s client (or parasite?).Footnote 11 Particularly important for our purposes is that what Catullus offers his friend in return for bringing his own dinner is distinctly different from the (presumably) philosophical conversation and companionship on offer at Philodemus’ party.Footnote 12 Meros amores is a disputed phrase, the interpretation of which is only made more difficult when Catullus goes on to connect it with a perfume given to his girl by the gods of love: Without entering into the long-running debate on the question, let me merely suggest that the mysterious unguentum may be understood as an emblem of the venustas and urbanitas that the poet prizes so highly in the literary, social and erotic spheres alike.Footnote 13 As a gift of the gods of charm (Venus/venus) and desire (Cupido/cupido), the perfume may be understood as embodying the smartness and elegance of the dinner party, as well as the affection (amores: Compare the end of the previous poem, 12.16–17, where the speaker celebrates his love – amem – for Fabullus and Veranius) in which both Fabullus and the puella are held, and the elegant love-poetry (amores)Footnote 14 in which this affection is enshrined. Philodemus asserts that the Epicurean φιλία he hopes to share with Piso is friendship in the truest sense (παναληθέας, 5); Catullus in response redefines “unmixed love/friendship” (meros amores, 9) in terms of a shared possession of chic, stylishness, elegance – qualities that have very little to do with voluptas in the Epicurean sense.
We should of course acknowledge in this connection that Philodemus, too, is a poet: Indeed, he draws attention to the fact in the second line of his invitation to Piso, characterizing himself as μουσοφιλής, “beloved of the Muses.” Possibly, then, the entertainment that he offers his patron should be taken to include poetry, as David Sider suggests in his commentary on Ep. 27.Footnote 15 The epigram can be understood on a metapoetic as well as a philosophical level: The elegant simplicity of Philodemus’ poems is “sweeter” than the more sumptuous style of Homeric epic.Footnote 16 Similarly Cicero – though distinctly backhanded in his compliments – praises Philodemus’ verse as ita festivum, ita concinnum, ita elegans, nihil ut fieri possit argutius (“so charming, so clever, so elegant that nothing could be neater,” Pis. 70). Here, then, we might at first glance perceive a certain convergence between Catullus’ and Philodemus’ poetics: Both express a preference for “light” verse, characterized by its charm or “sweetness” (μελιχρότερα, Philod. Ep. 27.6; suavius, Cat. 13.10); both perhaps look to Callimachus as a model.Footnote 17 Intertextual reminiscences of Philodemus in Catullus’ poetry tend to suggest antagonism or perhaps rivalry rather than approval, however, and I suggest that the needling quality of the echoes I am exploring here can be attributed to a hostility on Catullus’ part to the Greek poet’s Epicureanism, for all the superficial similarities between their literary ideals.
Above all, it is the centrality of both poetry and urbanitas to Catullus’ writing and the social relations it depicts and facilitates that drives a wedge between him and Philodemus. There is nowadays a broad scholarly consensus that orthodox Epicureanism does not permit its adherents too serious a commitment to the study or composition of poetry: Epicurus himself urged his disciple Pythocles to shun all παιδεία (fr. 163 U), and appears to have decreed that the wise man will not “devote himself to the writing of poetry” or “make a practice of writing poetry” (ποιήματα … ἐνεργείᾳ οὐκ ἂν ποιῆσαι, DL 10.121 = fr. 568 U);Footnote 18 Cicero’s Epicurean speaker Torquatus accordingly dismisses literary study as a puerilis delectatio (Fin. 1.72). Philodemus appears, in the fragments of his philosophical writing, to concur with this position, particularly in On Music, where the study of music is dismissed as too laborious and as getting in the way of more serious pursuits (Mus. 4 cols. 151–152 Delattre); in On Poems he denies that poetry can be “useful” or “beneficial,” at least qua poetry (Poem. 5 cols. 25.30–34, 32.17–19 Mangoni). As an inherently pleasurable activity, writing or listening to poetry is not to be dismissed out of hand, certainly; but it must take second place to genuinely beneficial activities – in particular, philosophical discussion and study. Sider has argued, with some plausibility, that epigram is thus the perfect literary form for the Epicurean poet, owing to the “appearance of not having required any effort” – the improvisatory quality – cultivated by the Hellenistic epigrammatists.Footnote 19
The contrast with Catullus, who praises the minute and painstaking nine-years’ labor of Cinna on his epyllion Smyrna, and pours scorn on the Suffenuses and Volusiuses who toss off thousands of lines with casual abandon, could hardly be more marked.Footnote 20 The exchange of poems and discussion of works in progress are crucial facets of the social life of Catullus and his amici as depicted in the poems; and the reading and writing of poetry has a quasi-erotic charge, strong enough to keep the poet awake all night and longing for more, or to make the listener – like Fabullus in poem 13 – long to become “all nose.”Footnote 21 The superficial similarity between Philodemus’ and Catullus’ poetics noted above must, then, be heavily qualified when the two poems are read in their broader contexts. Indeed, as I have already suggested, even within Catullus’ response to Philodemus’ epigram we can observe a crucial change of emphasis: The layering in Philodemus’ poem of the philosophical and the metapoetic, both of which are implicit in the reference to the Phaeacians, is replaced in Catullus’ case by a single, if multi-faceted, ideal: There is no separation between the different senses of meros amores, and the venustas and cupido symbolized (on my reading) by the unguentum belong equally to the spheres of poetry, amicitia and amor.
Friendship, Patronage and Politics
If Catullus’ conception of amicitia is to be contrasted, as I have suggested, with the Epicurean φιλία promised by Philodemus, it is also worth bearing in mind the quite different social dynamics of the two poems. Catullus invites a friend of (presumably) similar social status, whereas Philodemus’ poem is, in part, a request for material assistance from a social superior, his patron Calpurnius Piso.Footnote 22 I have already suggested that Catullus 13 can be read as a kind of parody of this element in Philodemus’ poem; and the relationship between friendship and patronage – both of which are subsumed under the Latin word amicitia – seems worth exploring further in each of the two poets. This brings us back to poem 47, with its depiction of Philodemus/Socration and Porcius as disreputable parasites, inexplicably favored by the equally disreputable Piso. We can hear echoes here of the anti-Epicurean polemic of Cicero’s Against Piso: The convivium de die, the dinner-party beginning before the end of the working day, is emblematic of a decadent indolence, of the kind pilloried by Cicero in his attack on Piso’s (alleged) self-indulgent hedonism (Pis. 22):
Quid ego illorum dierum epulas, quid laetitiam et gratulationem tuam, quid cum tuis sordidissimis gregibus intemperantissimas perpotationes praedicem? Quis te illis diebus sobrium, quis agentem aliquid quod esset libero dignum, quis denique in publico vidit?Footnote 23
Why need I mention the banquets of those days, your delight and rejoicing, the utterly unrestrained drinking-bouts you engaged in with your filthy flock? Who ever saw you sober during those days, who ever saw you doing anything befitting a free citizen, who ever saw you in public at all?
Like Cicero, Catullus has a specific axe to grind here: Poem 47 forms, along with 10 and 28, a kind of miniature invective cycle, in which Piso and Gaius Memmius are attacked for their supposed ill-treatment of their younger protégés, Veranius and Fabullus, and of Catullus himself while on provincial service in Macedonia and Bithynia respectively. The poet and his friends will have formed part of the entourage of junior colleagues and aides-de-camp, the cohors amicorum, personally selected by the governor from amongst his friends and acquaintances. It is clear that young men undertaking such a posting expected to make a financial profit as well as gain experience of provincial administration, and Catullus’ major complaint is that Memmius and Piso have prevented him and his friends from doing so. This high-handed behavior (as Catullus characterizes it)Footnote 24 is represented by the poet as a breakdown in the system of patronage, which has been corrupted by the arbitrary favoritism of the nobiles and their lack of interest in assisting their juniors: In vividly sexual language (10.12–13; 28.9–13), the speaker complains that he and his friends have been “screwed” by their commanding officers, and poem 28 closes with a bitter outcry against the “noble friends” who have – he claims – abused their privileged position and so disgraced the name of Romulus and Remus.Footnote 25 Each of the three poems draws an implicit contrast between the personal friendship that exists between Catullus and his sodales – Veranius and Fabullus in 28 and 47, Varus and Cinna in 10 – and the perverted, so-called amicitia of a patronage system gone awry. Catullus attests to a sense of exclusion and disempowerment amongst young members of the provincial elite, striving to find a place on the political stage of the metropolis – a stage increasingly dominated, in the mid-50s BC, by the Triumvirs and their partisans.
Whereas Philodemus, in his invitation to Piso, suggests a convergence between two senses of “friendship” (as patronage and as Epicurean φιλία), Catullus sets up an opposition between what we might call the “public” and the “private” aspects of amicitia, and tends to privilege the latter. The opening lines of poem 10, for example, seem to align personal friendship with otium, in contrast to the public sphere of the Forum (10.1–2):
The juxtaposition e foro otiosum is pointed: Varus leads Catullus away from the negotium of the Forum, inviting him into a private world of love and friendship. It is, significantly, from this decentered perspective that Memmius’ lack of concern for his cohors is denounced.
At the same time, throughout the collection Catullus represents himself and his sodales as an exclusive social circle, access to which is reserved for the urbani and venusti. If Catullus – as he depicts himself – is on the fringes of the political elite, he is very much at the center of the smart set, a position from which he is empowered to pronounce on the (un)sophisticated behavior of his peers, and to police the boundaries of the in-group. Characters such as Asinius Marrucinus (poem 12), Suffenus (22) or Egnatius (39) are excluded on the grounds of social or literary faux pas; Fabullus, Veranius, Cinna and Calvus are “in.” Of course, there is considerable irony in the fact that betrayal seems as endemic to the personal friendships the poet celebrates as to the corrupt public world he condemns: Alfenus in poem 30, Rufus in 77 and the unnamed amicus of 73 are all denounced as false friends, who – like Lesbia – fail to keep up their side of the “contract” of mutual officium. Nevertheless, the contrast with Epicurean φιλία, the brotherhood of the enlightened that is potentially accessible to all, is again marked.
In this connection, Lucretius’ dedication of his On the Nature of Things to Memmius offers a particularly instructive comparison.Footnote 26 At 1.140–142, in commenting on the difficulty of expressing the Graiorum obscura reperta, the “obscure discoveries of the Greeks,” in Latin verse, Lucretius gracefully attributes his persistence in his task to his hope of gaining Memmius’ amicitia:
It is often assumed that the reference here to amicitia amounts – like the conclusion of Philodemus’ epigram – to an appeal for patronage; but whatever the nature of the historical relationship between Lucretius and Memmius, it is clearly framed within the poem in terms of Epicurean ideals. As in Catullus, friendship is represented as something “sweet” – attractive, desirable (suavis: cf. Cat. 13.9–10 amores | seu quid suavius … est); but more than that, it is the pleasure (voluptas) that Lucretius anticipates from it that motivates him to write his poem. The pun on suavis and suadet underlines the characteristically Epicurean identification of pleasure as “the starting point of every choice and every aversion” (Men. 129); moreover, the doctrine that friendship is a pleasure worth pursuing for its own sake is amply attested in Epicurus’ surviving writings.Footnote 27 If, then, it is specifically Epicurean friendship that Lucretius seeks, this is something that will follow, presumably, from Memmius’/the reader’s successful conversion to Epicureanism. Two corrollaries follow: First, that Lucretius’ conception of friendship, in contrast to Catullus’, is inclusive – if Memmius figures in part as a kind of stand-in for the reader-in-general, then the poet may be said to seek the “friendship” of all of us: Any reader can, and indeed should, become an Epicurean.Footnote 28 Secondly, Lucretius’ implicitly professed desire to convert Memmius – to win him as an Epicurean φίλος – has potentially important consequences for the latter’s political activities, alluded to earlier in the proem.
In his opening prayer to Venus, Lucretius warmly praises Memmius as a man whom the goddess Venus (apparently a kind of patron deity of the family)Footnote 29 “has always wished to succeed and win honor in all things” (tempore in omni | omnibus ornatum voluisti excellere rebus, 1.26–27), and who cannot well absent himself from public life “at a time of danger for our country” (patriai tempore iniquo, 1.41–43). But this opening encomium is arguably undermined by – or at least in tension with – what the poet has to say about political life and in particular competition for status and office later in the poem.Footnote 30 In both the proem to Book 3 and the account of the origins of government at the end of Book 5, Lucretius attributes the desire for fame and success in the public sphere ultimately to the fear of death. Far from selflessly seeking their country’s good – as a Cicero would assert – politicians are motivated, he argues, by a desire for personal security, misguidedly associating power and influence with protection from their fellow-citizens (3.59–64; 5.1120–1122). On Lucretius’ analysis, however, political competition is in fact ruinous on both the individual and the collective level. In Book 5 he argues that success in the political rat-race not only involves painful effort and anxiety (sine incassum defessi sanguine sudent, | angustum per iter luctantes ambitionis, “leave them to weary themselves and sweat blood for nothing, as they struggle along the narrow path of ambition,” 1131–1132) but inevitably generates invidia, “envy” or “ill-will,” which, like lightning, is most prone to strike those who climb highest (1125–1128). So security is much more likely to be achieved by avoiding public life altogether: “Better peaceful obedience than the desire to exercise imperium” (ut satius multo iam sit parere quietum | quam regere imperio res velle), as Lucretius provocatively asserts at 1129–1130. The community, too, is adversely affected by competition for status and position: In memorable lines from the proem to Book 3 (68–77), Lucretius argues that the desire for primacy leads inexorably to the carnage of civil war – a line of argument that will have seemed highly topical and, again, provocative during the years of social and political upheaval that preceded the outbreak of hostilities between Caesar and Pompey. But this, too, is the very “time of danger for our country” which was seen to absorb Memmius’ attention in the proem to Book 1. In effect, then, Lucretius admonishes his dedicatee that he would do better, both from the personal and from the collective point of view, to withdraw altogether from public life.
In taking Epicurus’ injunction against political activity (οὐδὲ πολιτεύσεται [sc. ὁ σοφός], DL 10.119 = fr. 8 U) absolutely at face value, Lucretius seems more radical than many of his contemporaries. Roman Epicureans generally found ways of reconciling their philosophical beliefs with the practice of politics: Piso, Manlius Torquatus, the tyrannicide Cassius, even (indirectly) Cicero’s friend Atticus continued to play a prominent role in public life in spite of their professed Epicureanism.Footnote 31 Arguably, Epicurus himself leaves room for such a position: He concedes that the wise man will show concern for his reputation (though only so far as to avoid falling into contempt, DL 10.120), and, according to later writers, his injunction against political participation was qualified with an “in the normal course of things.”Footnote 32 Philodemus, in this context, takes a distinctly different line of approach from Lucretius: Whereas the latter seeks – on my reading – to divert his dedicatee from the public career on which he has embarked, the former adopts the role of philosophical adviser, dedicating his On the Good King According to Homer to Piso. Constraints of space preclude a full discussion of Philodemus’ treatise here, but it is worth noting that the fragments suggest that overriding themes were justice and ἐπιείκεια – gentleness or reasonableness – as exemplified, for example, by Nestor, or by Odysseus’ rule of Ithaca (which, according to Telemachus, was as “gentle [ἤπιος] as a father’s,” Od. 2.47).Footnote 33 It is easy to see how Philodemus’ injunctions might be viewed as cohering with the Epicurean pursuit of serenity – conciliation is arguably much more likely to foster a quiet life than competitiveness and the desire for preeminence – and it is notable that Piso’s actual political policies seem very largely to have accorded with the precepts of his mentor (Nisbet, for example, characterizes him as “moderate and statesmanlike”).Footnote 34 But Philodemus’ prescription for political harmony (or, more precisely, Homer’s prescription, on Philodemus’ Epicurean reading) certainly diverges sharply from that of Lucretius.
The “Epicurean” stance on political participation at the period that concerns us is, then, by no means straightforward; but whether we think in terms of Lucretius’ uncompromising rejection of public life or the more “engaged” approach of Piso and Philodemus, Catullus again seems to have only so much in common with either. The disenchanted attitude of the Memmius and Piso poems is not untypical of the collection as a whole: While many of the invective poems are “political” in the sense that their targets are public figures (particularly Caesar and his partisans), their overriding sentiment is one of disgust with the state of civic business in general. A representative example is poem 52, in which outrage at the political advancement of Nonius and Vatinius provokes the rhetorical question quid est, Catulle? quid moraris emori? (“What’s up with you Catullus? Why prolong your life?,” 1,4). Though he has sometimes been regarded as an anti-Caesarian partisan, it is noteworthy (as Yasmina Benferhat sagely observes) that what he professes toward Caesar is not so much hostility as studied indifference.Footnote 35 As we have seen, he shows a tendency to follow Lucretius’ implicit advice to Memmius, turning his back on the public sphere in favor of personal relationships and literary composition. But these relationships are far from bringing him the ἀταραξία that Lucretius proclaims – something which he, arguably, does not even seek, as we shall see.
It is worth observing, too, that Catullus appears deeply pessimistic about the moral condition of the human race in general, to judge at least from the concluding lines of poem 64. The downbeat coda with which the epyllion ends contrasts the virtue of the Age of Heroes with the moral bankruptcy of the present day (397–406):
We can again detect considerable irony here – given that the alleged glories of the heroic age evoked earlier in the poem include the heartless abandonment of the innocent Ariadne by Theseus (52–264), the bloody slaughter of countless Trojans by Achilles (343–360) and the gorily described sacrifice of Polyxena on the latter’s tomb (362–364).Footnote 37 Nevertheless, it is striking that these closing lines bear a strong resemblance to Lucretius’ analysis of civil strife in the proem to Book 3: In particular, the phrase perfudere manus fraterno sanguine fratres (“brothers drenched their hands in brothers’ blood,” 64.399) is similar in both cadence and sense to Lucretius’ crudeles gaudent in tristi funere fratris (“cruelly, they rejoice in a brother’s tragic death,” 3.72). Catullus, though, seems to reject, or at least ignore, the Epicurean poet’s prescription even while pointedly evoking it. Like many ancient writers and thinkers from Hesiod on, he treats human degeneracy as a tragic inevitability, leaving no room for Lucretius’ more optimistic suggestion that – at least on the individual level – escape from this bleak prospect to a life of serenity is a genuine possibility.Footnote 38
Catullus’ vehement, even passionate, expressions of affection for male amici in such poems as 9, 12, 14 and 50 are complemented by the ideal of amor-as-amicitia in his relations with Lesbia. Most pithily expressed in the phrase aeternum hoc sanctae foedus amicitiae (109.6), this ideal is explored from a variety of angles through the sequence of Lesbia-epigrams culminating in the longer, introspective poem 76. Catullus exploits the hallowed ideals of reciprocity, officium (75.2), benevolentia (72.8, 75.3; cf. 73.1) and – most startlingly – pietas (76.2, 26), to recast his admittedly adulterous affair (68.143–146) as a relationship of mutual commitment and more-than-physical affection, analogous to male–male friendship or intrafamilial relations (72.4). Lesbia, moreover, is herself idealized, both in the polymetrics and in the elegiacs. Figured as a goddess (68.70, 133–134), she is beyond compare with other women (43.7–8, 86.5–6), and has, accordingly, inspired a love greater than any woman has ever attracted in the past (87), or (even more hyperbolically) will attract in the future (8.5, 37.12). The speaker’s passion for her is assimilated to madness (7.10) or – when things go awry – to an incurable disease (76.19–26).
In various respects, this group of poems also invites comparison with both Philodemus and Lucretius. Intertextual echoes of both poets can be detected in Catullus’ Lesbia cycle, though in Lucretius’ case interpretation is problematic owing to the impossibility of determining the relative chronology of the two writers. I assume here, for the sake of argument, that Catullus echoes Lucretius rather than vice versa; but an equally good case can be made for Lucretius’ poem as the “receiving” text.Footnote 39 In any case, the essence of my argument will stand whichever way the intertextual dialogue is understood to proceed: Whether Lucretius takes Catullus as an exemplum of the evils of love or Catullus (as I argue here) ostentatiously rejects the Epicurean remedy for his ills, the essential antagonism between the two poets’ views on amor remains.
In Philodemus’ case, the matter seems more clear cut, even if we leave on one side the widely held axiom that Roman writers read the work of their Greek counterparts but not vice versa. I have already noted that Catullus 13 reads as a parody of Philodemus’ invitation poem to Piso; and much the same can be said of Catullus 43, which can be interpreted as a similarly antagonistic reworking of another of Philodemus’ epigrams, 12 Sider (= Anth. Pal. 5.132):
Both poems employ the form known as blason anatomique, whereby the woman’s body parts are itemized and each in turn praised or criticized. Striking in Catullus’ poem, though, is the technique of negative enumeration: The girl’s nose is not small, her foot not pretty, her fingers not long, and so on. Catullus’ poem, in effect, inverts Philodemus’: Where the Greek poet exclaims rapturously over Flora’s feet, eyes, hands and (notably) speech, Catullus condemns these same features – in the case of his target, the girlfriend of Mamurra (the “bankrupt of Formiae,” 5) – for their inelegance. True beauty belongs, in contrast, to Lesbia, as any generation not devoid of judgment and wit would immediately see. In contrast, Philodemus pronounces himself content with Flora, for all her lack of sophistication and culture. The reference to Lesbia seems particularly pointed in this context: The soubriquet of Catullus’ puella is of course evocative of Sappho – the most famous “woman of Lesbos” – the very poet of whom Philodemus’ Flora is said to be ignorant.Footnote 40
What is it, then, that Lesbia has and Mamurra’s girlfriend lacks? An answer is suggested by another poem that employs the blason anatomique structure, poem 86:
Catullus checks off Quintia’s qualities, in a way that recalls the lists of body parts in poem 43 and Philodemus’ epigram on Flora, but he denies that they add up to “beauty”: Quintia lacks the “grain of salt,” the indefinable sparkle, and the charm (venus) that Lesbia uniquely possesses. Again, the poem virtually reverses the sentiment of Philodemus’ epigram: Whereas Flora’s physical qualities outweigh her lack of culture, Lesbia’s desirability is founded on something very like the urbanitas that Catullus values in his male amici.Footnote 41
Catullus’ intertextual engagement with Philodemus’ poem may be seen as symptomatic of a broader contrast in outlook between the two poets. In general, it seems fair to say that Philodemus’ fairly numerous erotic epigrams largely complement the pragmatic attitude adopted in Epigram 12, and fall into line with Epicurean doctrine on love and sex, as expounded most fully by Lucretius in the finale to On the Nature of Things Book 4, where romantic love (or, in Epicurean terms, obsessive desire for an individual sex-object) is unambiguously condemned as a disturbing delusion. Prostitutes are recommended as suitable partners for casual, no-strings sex (4.1071), though Lucretius does perhaps admit a kind of de-romanticized partnership based on habit and a realistic assessment of the woman’s qualities as an acceptable alternative (4.1190–1191, 1278–1287).Footnote 42 Philodemus, admittedly, does not stick consistently to these principles, and at times portrays himself as unable to resist his desire even when he knows it will lead only to grief (Ep. 13),Footnote 43 or as rejecting the easily available ἑταίρα in favour of the cloistered virgin (Ep. 11). So, too, in the first epigram (in Sider’s numeration), Philodemus disclaims any understanding of his own passion for Xanthippe, in terms closely echoed by Catullus in the famous odi et amo (poem 85): Catullus’ nescio is particularly reminiscent of the enjambed οὐκ οἶδα at the beginning of line 4 of Philodemus’ poem. But elsewhere Philodemus’ stance seems more closely in line with Epicurean doctrine: Like Horace (who, indeed, quotes him in this context, Sat. 1.2.120–122), Philodemus ridicules those who spend a fortune on adulterous affairs with married women when cheap, casual sex is freely available (Ep. 22), and several other epigrams depict dealings with prostitutes or ἑταίραι. If SiderFootnote 44 is right to see philosophical coloring in the Xanthippe poems, we might even understand this as an instantiation of the de-romanticized marital or quasi-marital relationship apparently approved by Lucretius at the very end of Book 4: Xanthippe is perhaps depicted as Philodemus’ wife, depending on how the textual problem at 7.5 is resolved,Footnote 45 and seems to be connected with the theme of misspent youth and its end in Epigrams 4–6. Here, Philodemus hails the onset of middle age with its greying hair as the “age of understanding” (συνετῆς … ἡλικίης, Ep. 4.4, 5.4) and bids farewell to the “madness” of his youth (μανίη, Ep. 4.8; cf. 5.2 ἐμάνην), when he indulged himself in wine and women. In Epigram 4, the Muses are asked to mark a coronis – or, perhaps, to mark Xanthippe as the coronis – signalling the end of his μανία. We can perhaps detect the traces of a narrative trajectory in Philodemus’ poetry, according to which the hot passions of youth depicted in such epigrams as 11 and 13 are abandoned as a result of maturity and philosophical enlightenment (if that is the implication of the “loftier thoughts” envisaged at the end of Ep. 5). Xanthippe, on Sider’s reading, figures as a fellow-Epicurean, a worthy partner for the philosophically enlightened poet (and we should remember that Epicurus admitted female as well as male disciples to his school). At the same time, the poet declares a preference for the casual liaison (Ep. 22; cf. Ep. 17.5–6): Whether or not we choose to see a tension here with his apparent devotion to Xanthippe, this stance appears to be in keeping with Epicurean orthodoxy.
Catullus’ poetry too has its narrative aspect, and again the contrast with Philodemus is striking. Where Philodemus disclaims the μανία of youth, Catullus appears to welcome the frenzy of his passion for Lesbia, referring to himself as vesanus Catullus, “crazed” or “frenzied Catullus” (7.10), urging Lesbia to “live and love” (5.1) and refusing to be content with even an infinite number of kisses. As we have seen, he celebrates his devotion to her in terms borrowed from the lexicon of male amicitia and aristocratic obligation, and pursues an adulterous relationship in preference to the casual liaisons recommended by Horace and Lucretius. Even when things go awry between the lovers, Catullus cannot rid himself of his painful feelings for her, which wrack him like a disease (76).
It is in this last respect that intertextual connections with Lucretius seem particularly marked: The cycle of obsession, disillusion and disgust is memorably portrayed at DRN 4.1058–1140, where Lucretius asserts that the initial drop of Venus’ sweetness leads inevitably to “chill anxiety” (1060), jealousy and regret (1133–1140), and the natural desire for sex becomes a feverish madness, a festering wound that grows worse from day to day. Lucretius ridicules male idealization of women who are in reality just as flawed as any other, and the use of absurd pet-names to conceal (or even celebrate) their faults (1153–1170). Notable here is the phrase tota merum sal, literally “pure salt” (1162), applied by the deluded lover to a woman of small stature: Both the phrase and the context resonate with Catullus’ idealization of Lesbia in poem 86. Catullus, then, seems a prime example of the obsessive, romantic love which Lucretius attacks. If, as suggested above, we assume that Catullus is responding to Lucretius rather than vice versa, we can again read the intertextual relationship as one of self-conscious antagonism on Catullus’ part. The idealization of amor as a more-than-physical passion for one, exceptional individual, and as a mutual commitment analogous to male–male amicitia, is the precise inverse of Lucretius’ denunciation of emotional commitment in favour of a casual, or at most non-passionate, liaison.
Catullus seems again to recall Lucretius, somewhat sardonically, in poem 76, where he admonishes himself of the need to free himself from his longus amor (13–14):
The emphatically repeated – and somewhat prosaic – phrase difficile est is used by Lucretius in a similar context (4.1146–1150):
In what follows, Lucretius makes it clear that the remedy for the lover’s difficulties is simply to stop deluding himself and see his beloved as she really is (4.1171–1191). Catullus, in effect, rejects the prescription: Clear-eyed understanding of Lesbia’s “true” character (cf. 72.5, nunc te cognovi) has failed to cure him of his passion, and indeed inflamed his desire all the more (72.5, impensius uror), so that all he can do now, in a very un-Epicurean move, is to call upon the gods to rescue him from his predicament (76.17–26). Catullus’ Lesbia-cycle, then, both confirms and challenges Lucretius’ analysis of romantic love: Idealization is followed by disillusion, just as the Epicurean warns; but it is not clear that for Catullus this invalidates the ideal of amor-amicitia proclaimed in poem 109; nor – he implies – is it as easy to extricate oneself from the “snares of love” as Lucretius (and, in a slightly different way, Philodemus) suggests.Footnote 46
I return, in closing, to poem 47 and its invective assault on Socration/Philodemus. Philip De Lacy shows, in an important article, that Cicero’s invective against Piso relies heavily on the conventional clichés of anti-Epicurean polemic, many of which can be traced back to Epicurus’ lifetime.Footnote 47 I suggest that the same goes for Catullus. Porcius and Socration are represented as greedy and unscrupulous parasites, and their patron as a shameless lecher. Similarly, Epicurus and his earliest followers are regularly accused by hostile witnesses of preaching indulgence in the grossest physical pleasures, and of servile flattery towards the politically powerful for their own selfish ends.Footnote 48 Catullus’ characterization of Piso and his protégés coheres, I have argued, with a tendency throughout the collection to adopt a resolutely unphilosophical – or even anti-philosophical – stance: Intertextual echoes of both Lucretius and Philodemus are suggestive of antagonism rather than sympathy or philosophical alignment. There are, to be sure, points of convergence between the three poets; but ultimately these serve only to point up the markedly different ways in which the Epicurean poets, on the one hand, and the urbane neoteric, on the other, react to the turbulent times in which all three lived and wrote.