A. A. Long, From Epicurus to Epictetus: Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006. Pp. xv, 439. ISBN 0-19-927912-8. $45.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Nathan Powers, Princeton University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Word count: 3476 words
Table of Contents
This volume collects 18 essays by Professor A. A. Long. All but one were previously published in a journal or multi-author volume between 1978 and 2003, but they have been revised for this collection and most of the older pieces have received a postscript that takes notice of more recent literature on the topic in question and (in some cases) replies to objections raised since the original publication. As its title indicates, the book's subject-matter is much broader in scope than that of Long's previous collection, Stoic Studies (Cambridge University Press, 1996). In addition to essays on a variety of topics in both Greek and Roman Stoicism, there are papers on Greek scepticism (in both its earlier and later phases), Epicurean physics and ethics, and the philosophy of Cicero. The collection is given a certain degree of unity by the author's emphasis on the commonalities shared by the different philosophical schools of the Hellenistic period, by the careful attention paid throughout to the cultural and literary contexts of ancient philosophy, and by an interest (displayed especially in the more recent essays) in Hellenistic theories of selfhood and personhood. It is also worth noting that, while some of these pieces are pitched towards specialists in ancient philosophy, others are intended primarily for non-specialist classicists and philosophers or for the simply curious. This produces some shifts in tone from essay to essay and has the inevitable result that no particular reader will find every part of the collection equally interesting. But it also makes it possible to recommend this well-produced book to anyone who is interested in Hellenistic or Roman intellectual life.1
The book begins with two general essays on Hellenistic ethics. The remaining papers are organized into sections by school or period: scepticism; Epicureanism; early Stoicism; and finally Roman philosophy, including both Cicero and the Roman Stoics. I shall comment on each of the papers below, preserving the order of the sections (but not the order of the papers within each section).
The volume's first general essay, "Hellenistic Ethics and Philosophical Power," asks what lies behind one of the most striking features of Hellenistic philosophy: that its prevailing schools of thought represented themselves as each being a hairesis, a choice or commitment to a distinctive way of life. To answer this question properly, Long argues, it is necessary to clear out of the way the long-standing but misleading view that Hellenistic ethical thought was essentially a response to social crisis in the Greek world after Alexander the Great, as the traditional institutions of the Greek city-state failed to give individuals sufficient guidance or satisfaction in their lives. What has helped to make that misleading view seem plausible is the looming presence of Aristotle in the background. It is easy to draw a contrast between the "individualism" of the Hellenistic schools and the traditional, aristocratic virtues codified in Aristotle's ethical theory. But Aristotle is in many respects a conservative outlier in the history of Greek ethics, and so should not be allowed to obscure the fundamental continuities between the Hellenistic schools and the Socratic/Platonic ethical project. Long characterizes that project as being above all concerned with achieving self-mastery through the radical questioning of conventional values and the eradication of desires and fears that have no rational basis. Hellenistic philosophical leaders offered self-mastery as the prize of philosophy; and, as Long emphasizes, the biographical tradition also presents them as public models of self-mastery, ascribing to Zeno, Pyrrho, and Epicurus a remarkable freedom from conventional sources of anxiety.
"Hellenistic Ethics as the Art of Life" argues that modern ethical theory could profit from attending to the ancient conception of philosophy as "the art of life," a phrase coined by the Stoics. Somewhat confusingly, however, Long does not use this phrase to signify what the Stoics (and their ancient opponents) mean by it: to wit, a secure and systematic grasp of the principles of conduct applicable to life (cf. SVF 2.94 and 3.560). Rather, by his own avowal he means something akin to what Michel Foucault calls "technology of the self," that is, an approach to ethics that centers on self-monitoring and disciplined self-transformation. He goes on to describe a number of features common to Stoic and Epicurean ethical "technologies" so understood: for example, both schools are committed to a comprehensive world-view, both seek to establish criteria for action that are tied to the long-term objective of achieving eudaimonia or happiness, and both strongly promote self-sufficiency as a value. These observations seem to me to be too general to capture what is distinctive and interesting about either Stoic or Epicurean ethics, but they may help to orient the newcomer to Hellenistic philosophy.
The volume's second section contains five essays on scepticism. "Aristotle and the History of Greek Scepticism" sets the stage by investigating the extent to which Aristotle was aware of possible sceptical challenges to knowledge and what resources he could draw upon to meet those challenges. The essay focuses primarily on Posterior Analytics 1.3 and Book Gamma of the Metaphysics, where Aristotle registers his awareness of (and objects to) certain lines of argument that bear at least a family resemblance to arguments that came to be of central importance to Greek scepticism after Aristotle's lifetime. Long is careful throughout to avoid claiming that Aristotle directly influenced later debates between sceptics and dogmatists, preferring to leave that question open.
"Scepticism About Gods" focuses on an interesting puzzle about the strategy pursued by the sceptical Academy in arguments against Stoic theology. The puzzle is as follows. The standard Stoic argument for the existence of the gods begins from the assumption that "gods" are animate, sentient, and supremely virtuous beings. The Stoics then seek to demonstrate that the cosmos taken as a whole, and also certain privileged parts of the world (such as the stars), possess these divine attributes, and therefore are gods. Now, one line of sceptical response to such demonstrations is to argue that no body is everlasting, which precludes any body's being divine (on the assumption that the gods are immortal). But the Stoics do not claim that immortality is essential to the gods; why then should the sceptics attack them on precisely this point? Long suggests that our sources reflect a compression of several stages of a long-running debate. Early Stoics believed that the world was of finite duration, and therefore did not hold the gods (or at least, the gods who are parts of the world) to be immortal. These sceptical arguments may then be targeting certain later Stoics, starting with Diogenes of Babylon, who admitted at least the possibility that the world is everlasting. The suggestion is plausible, although it seems possible to me that sceptics could have advanced such arguments against early Stoics precisely with the intention of highlighting or making more explicit their opponents' view that the gods are not immortal, which most philosophical and non-philosophical Greeks alike would have found quite unpalatable.2
"Astrology: pro and contra" is a concise scholarly gem and should be read by anyone with an interest in how exactly astrology fits into the story of ancient philosophy. Horoscopic astrology became a subject of philosophical discussion starting in the second century BC, when the practice received some support from the Stoics (although, as Long convincingly argues, that support was more limited than has often been supposed), and thereafter it became a topic of great controversy. The technique of casting horoscopes underwent considerable development over time, in parallel with advances in astronomy; the philosophical discussion, however, was not centered on technical objections to astrology, but rather on a group of more general dialectical objections, the core set of which was influentially promulgated by Cicero in his De divinatione. Long traces the stages in the controversy after Cicero, paying attention especially to Ptolemy's sophisticated defense of horoscopes in the opening chapters of his Tetrabiblos, and ending with developments in later antiquity, when figures such as Plotinus and Augustine weigh in against astrology.
Two valuable studies of individual sceptics round out this section. "Timon of Phlius: Pyrrhonist and Satirist" is the oldest paper in the volume, but it remains the most comprehensive general study of this enigmatic figure, to whom we ultimately owe most or all of our information about the founding father of Greek scepticism, Pyrrho of Elis--including, Long argues, the biographical information in Diogenes Laertius' life of Pyrrho (9.61-9). "Arcesilaus in His Time and Place" examines Diogenes Laertius' life of Arcesilaus, the extremely influential opponent of the early Stoics who was responsible for leading Plato's Academy in a sceptical direction. Most of what we know about Arcesilaus' sceptical methodology comes from late and indirect accounts. Long shows that, if Diogenes draws on witnesses contemporary to Arcesilaus (perhaps Antigonus of Carystus), then it is possible to use his text to corroborate certain aspects of those later accounts and so to increase our confidence in them. The book's third section consists of three studies on Epicureanism. "Chance and Laws of Nature in Epicureanism" asks how well Epicureans meet the challenge of accounting for regularities in the physical world, given that in explaining physical phenomena they cannot appeal (as their rivals can) to purposes inherent in nature. Long draws an important distinction between events that are due to "chance" in the sense that they are aimless and events that are due to "chance" in the sense of being contingent or indeterminate. For the Epicureans, all events are "chance" events in the first sense: nature is utterly aimless, all the way down. But only a tiny proportion of events are due to "chance" in the second sense: by and large, every event is completely determined by the state of affairs antecedent to it. The notorious exception is that, according to Epicurus, occasionally an atom will "swerve" from its course, breaking the chain of deterministic causes that otherwise prevails throughout the universe. What Long draws attention to is the fact that the Epicureans invoke the swerve only in the contexts of cosmogony and psychology. Our sources never suggest that the swerve can disrupt ongoing causal processes outside of these contexts, and even the Epicureans' ancient opponents never criticize them for introducing a wayward cause of non-psychological events in the natural world. Long plausibly speculates that that the swerve was thought of as having sufficient impact to disrupt deterministic motions only among the finest, smallest atoms--the atoms from which souls are constituted. As for why natural regularities occur, the Epicureans appeal to "seeds," which are conceived of as aggregates of atoms of such a sort as will conduce to the formation of bodies that behave in a regular, world-constituting way. On this basis they could speak of the natural world as governed by reliable "laws." I agree with Long that this was in fact the Epicurean view, but I do not share his confidence that it is a philosophically promising view. If we ask the Epicureans why they think such "seeds" exist, they can only point to the fact of regularity (e.g., biological reproduction) in the world around us: regularity is found throughout nature, and therefore there must be "seeds." But that answer seems to beg the question. What we want to know is precisely why we should think that intricately ordered and self-regulating systems can arise from nothing other than bits of matter bumping into one another.
"Pleasure and Social Utility: The Virtues of Being Epicurean" is a provocative exploration of the social and political dimensions of Epicurean ethics. Long defends the staunchly quietist Epicureans from the charge of being complacent or irresponsible citizens by emphasizing that they view peaceful social cooperation (fostered by states with functioning legal systems) as a necessary condition for the attainment of the tranquility that constitutes the human good. He also opts for the controversial view that Epicureans regard friendship as possessing intrinsic value and not just instrumental value. "Lucretius on Nature and the Epicurean Self" addresses a tendency among modern scholars to downplay the importance of natural science to the Epicureans by viewing Epicurean ethics either as a project of finding refuge from a purposeless "objective" world in a world of immediate "subjective" value, or as a primitivist project of paring down one's desires to match those of the pre-social, uncorrupted human being. Long argues by contrast for a view of Epicurean science that leaves room for the understanding of causes in nature to be both a major source of pleasure in itself and an indispensable aid to ordering one's priorities in life.
In the fourth section there are three studies of early Stoicism. "The Stoics on World-Conflagration and Everlasting Recurrence" is one of the volume's outstanding papers and is moreover the best study of its subject to date. Scholars have long been deeply puzzled by the early Stoics' insistence that our world will end in an all-consuming blaze of fire and that after this "conflagration" the same world (containing the very same persons and events) will come about again, and so on over and over. If our world is providentially arranged so as to be the best possible world, as the Stoics believe, why does their god destroy it? And can it even be coherent to claim that the same world recurs over and over again? Long's argument has two parts. First, he points out that the "fact" of conflagration is a more or less straightforward consequence of other Stoic views. Cosmologically speaking, the Stoics view the world as undergoing rarefaction--in effect, heating up--over time, as a result of the way in which the cosmos was formed in the first place. But Long avoids the mistake often made by past scholars of attributing the demise of the cosmos to unfortunate but inevitable physical processes: the Stoic god has complete control over the world, and made a choice that it would be the sort of world that ended in conflagration. The right way to look at the conflagration is as a manifestation of divine rationality: divine reason periodically sloughs off its material body (which is our world) and grows into its fullest state. And it is in precisely this condition that god is most completely realized as a providential agent, planning out the good order of the world that will unfold in its (re)creation. Long then makes an elegant proposal about how to make sense of the claim that the world is identical in every successive instantiation. After considering several rival interpretations of this claim intended to soften it (and their drawbacks), and after rejecting the proposal that the Stoic world runs in a circular time-loop (such that every moment is both before and after every other moment), he suggests that the world runs along a single finite timeline, which is reiterated. He offers the analogy of a VCR tape being played over and over: whenever it is played, each event on the tape occurs in exactly the same time relative to the order (or history) of events on the tape; but successive iterations of the entire history can be easily distinguished from the viewpoint of the person playing the tape (which, in the case of the world, would be god).
In "Zeno's Epistemology and Plato's Theaetetus" Long maintains that the founder of the Stoics drew heavily on Plato in formulating his doctrine of the "kataleptic" (or "cognitive") impression. This doctrine, according to which humans experience mental impressions of items or facts in the world that are of such a sort that they could not represent their contents falsely, is crucial to Stoic epistemology. Long's idea is not that a direct precursor to the cognitive impression is to be found in Plato's Theaetetus, but rather that Zeno found a great deal of material in the dialogue that was fruitfully suggestive for his own thinking about knowledge. There is, for example, the very notion of a perceptual criterion of truth, which is made explicit for the first time in Socrates' discussion of Protagorean relativism (178b); the metaphor of impressions being "stamped on" the soul by external objects (191d-e); the metaphor of knowing something as being a matter of "holding" it (lambanein, 199b); and the idea that knowledge (as opposed to mere belief) requires an account that distinguishes its object from anything else (208c-d). Although the connections Long discovers are mostly (as he recognizes) at the level of verbal echoes, the cumulative case he builds for Zeno as a close reader of the Theaetetus is persuasive.
"Stoic Psychology and the Elucidation of Language" is a helpful study of the Stoic theory of discourse, focusing mainly on parts of Diogenes Laertius' doxography of Stoic dialectic (7.41-83). The Stoics required an account of language that made it a fit instrument for human rationality, but they also needed an account compatible with their metaphysical corporealism, which entails that words and sentences are, taken by themselves, simply bodies (shaped air). Working within these constraints, the Stoics made clear distinctions among the phonetic, grammatical, and semantic levels of the structure of language, and articulated a sophisticated theory about the relationships that obtain among these levels. In doing so, they developed what we from the modern perspective can recognize as the first proper philosophy of language.
The book's final section contains five essays on Roman philosophy. Particularly rich in its implications is "Stoic Philosophers on Persons, Property-Ownership, and Community." This paper argues (drawing on a great deal of evidence from the Roman period) that Stoicism prefigures the early modern concept of "person" in significant ways--most importantly, in making self-consciousness the crucial attribute of a "person." Persons are rational beings, and rational beings are conscious of themselves in a particular way, as possessing a power to assent to (or to withhold assent from) the impressions they receive. This power of assent lies at the core of a rational self and is for the Stoics the paradigm case of property-ownership: every person owns his or her self inalienably. For the Stoics the idea of ownership is, then, grounded in human nature and tied closely to personal identity; Long examines these connections and considers their consequences for Stoic political philosophy.
"Epictetus on Understanding and Managing Emotions" begins with a brief introduction to the Stoic theory of emotions and then makes a number of observations about the particular (and sometimes peculiar) ways in which Epictetus applies the theory in his Discourses.
Two fine papers on Cicero consider the Roman orator not merely as a source of information about earlier thought but as engaged in a serious philosophical project of his own. "Cicero's Plato and Aristotle" shows that Cicero carefully deploys those two famous figures in his philosophical writings in such a way as to bolster his claims about the importance of combining the practice of philosophy with rhetoric. "Cicero's Politics in De officiis" argues that in his final major philosophical work Cicero gauges his presentation of Stoic moral theory so as to send a timely message to his fellow-citizens during the ongoing crisis of civil war. Cicero believes that tensions in Roman ideology (particularly the problematic ideal of gloria, which motivates citizens simultaneously to pursue the common good of the community and to seek their own "glorification") threaten the social fabric of the republic and that Stoic ethics holds the promise of diagnosing and mitigating these tensions.
"Seneca on the Self: Why Now?" is perhaps the least successful piece in the collection. In exploring what lies behind the recent resurgence of scholarly interest in Seneca, Long makes the surprising assertion that "Seneca's value as a theorist of selfhood is not vitiated ... if we completely reject his Stoic commitment to the divinity of human rationality, for instance, or the moral indifference of all values except virtue and vice" (p. 363). To illustrate what he finds interesting about Seneca's theory, Long relies heavily on a distinction he draws between a person's "normative identity" and "occurrent subjectivity," that is, between what a person should aspire to be and what a person's particular mindset is right now. Long identifies a variety of rhetorical strategies that Seneca uses in his Letters to encourage the reader to reflect on the gap between his or her occurrent subjectivity and normative identity and to make progress towards closing that gap. The problem here is that for Seneca, the content of a person's normative identity will surely be nothing other than the perfected (and indeed divine) rationality that orthodox Stoicism attributes to the virtuous person. Without the edifice of Stoicism to support it, Seneca's rhetorical scaffolding (skillful as it is) would collapse.
But this is a minor complaint about a collection that is generally excellent. I conclude by again recommending this book to anyone who is interested in the thought of Hellenistic and Roman times. Those who are already familiar with Professor Long's work will find here a useful compendium; those who are not will discover why several generations of scholars of ancient philosophy are indebted to him.
1. I noticed very few typos in the volume, and only a couple that might mislead the reader: on p. 55, final paragraph, "the beginning of Metaphysics Gamma" should read "the beginning of Chapter 6 of Metaphysics Gamma"; and on p. 231, second paragraph, the reference to "n. 16" should be to "n. 18".
2. It is worth bearing in mind that the Greeks, from Homer onwards, often referred to the gods simply as "the immortal ones" (hoi athanatoi).
Part I, Essay XV
IT is a great mortification° to the vanity of man, that his utmost art and industry can never equal the meanest of nature's productions, either for beauty or value. Art is only the under-workman,° and is employed to give a few strokes of embellishment to those pieces, which come from the hand of the master. Some of the drapery° may be of his drawing; but he is not allowed to touch the principal figure. Art may make a suit of clothes: But nature must produce a man.
Even in those productions, commonly denominated works of art, we find that the noblest of the kind are beholden for their chief beauty to the force and happy influence of nature. To thea native enthusiasm° of the poets, we owe whatever is admirable in their productions. The greatest genius, where nature at any time fails him, (for she is not equal) throws aside the lyre, and hopes not, from the rules of art, to reach that divine harmony, which must proceed from her inspiration alone. How poor are those songs, where a happy flow of fancy has not furnished materials for art to embellish and refine!
But of all the fruitless attempts of art, no one is so ridiculous, as that which the severe philosophers have undertaken, the producing of an artificial happiness, and making us be pleased by rules of reason, and by reflection. Why did none of them claim the reward, which XERXES promised to him, who should invent a new pleasure? Unless, perhaps, they invented so many pleasures for their own use, that they despised riches, and stood in no need of any enjoyments, which the rewards of that monarch could procure them. I am apt, indeed, to think, that they were not willing to furnish the PERSIAN court with a new pleasure, by presenting it with so new and unusual an object of ridicule. Their speculations, when confined to theory, and gravely delivered in the schools of GREECE, might excite admiration in their ignorant pupils: But the attempting to reduce such principles to practice would soon have betrayed their absurdity.
You pretend to make me happy by reason, and by rules of art. You must, then, create me anew by rules of art. For on my original frame and structure does my happiness depend. But you want power to effect this; and skill too, I am afraid: Nor can I entertain a less opinion of nature's wisdom than of yours. And let her conduct the machine, which she has so wisely framed. I find, that I should only spoil it by my tampering.
To what purpose should I pretend to regulate, refine, or invigorate any of those springs or principles, which nature has implanted in me? Is this the road by which I must reach happiness? But happiness implies ease, contentment, repose, and pleasure; not watchfulness, care, and fatigue. The health of my body consists in the facility, with which all its operations are performed. The stomach digests the aliments: The heart circulates the blood: The brain separates and refines the spirits: And all this without my concerning myself in the matter. When by my will alone I can stop the blood, as it runs with impetuosity° along its canals, then may I hope to change the course of my sentiments and passions. In vain should I strain my faculties, and endeavour to receive pleasure from an object, which is not fitted by nature to affect my organs with delight. I may give myself pain by my fruitless endeavours; but shall never reach any pleasure.
Away then with all those vain pretences of making ourselves happy within ourselves, of feasting on our own thoughts, of being satisfied with the consciousness of well-doing, and of despising all assistance and all supplies from external objects. This is the voice of PRIDE, not of NATURE. And it were well, if even this pride could support itself, and communicate a real inward pleasure, however melancholy or severe. But this impotent pride can do no more than regulate the outside; and with infinite pains and attention compose the language and countenance to a philosophical dignity, in order to deceive the ignorant vulgar. The heart, mean while, is empty of all enjoyment: And the mind, unsupported by its proper objects, sinks into the deepest sorrow and dejection. Miserable, but vain mortal! Thy mind be happy within itself! With what resources is it endowed to fill so immense a void, and supply the place of all thy bodily senses and faculties? Can thy head subsist without thy other members? In such a situation,
What foolish figure must it make?
Do nothing else but sleep and ake.
Into such a lethargy, or such a melancholy, must thy mind be plunged, when deprived of foreign occupations and enjoyments.
Keep me, therefore, no longer in this violent constraint. Confine me not within myself; but point out to me those objects and pleasures, which afford the chief enjoyment. But why do I apply to you, proud and ignorant sages, to shew me the road to happiness? Let me consult my own passions and inclinations. In them must I read the dictates of nature; not in your frivolous discourses.
But see, propitious to my wishes, the divine, the amiable PLEASURE, the supreme love of GODS and men, advances towards me. At her approach, my heart beats with genial heat, and every sense and every faculty is dissolved in joy; while she pours around me all the embellishments of the spring, and all the treasures of the autumn. The melody of her voice charms my ears with the softest music, as she invites me to partake of those delicious fruits, which, with a smile that diffuses a glory on the heavens and the earth, she presents to me. The sportive CUPIDS, who attend her, or fan me with their odoriferous° wings, or pour on my head the most fragrant oils, or offer me their sparkling nectar in golden goblets. O! for ever let me spread my limbs on this bed of roses, and thus, thus feel the delicious moments, with soft and downy steps, glide along. But cruel chance! Whither do you fly so fast? Why do my ardent wishes, and that load of pleasures, under which you labour, rather hasten than retard your unrelenting pace? Suffer me to enjoy this soft repose, after all my fatigues in search of happiness. Suffer me to satiate myself with these delicacies, after the pains of so long and so foolish an abstinence.
But it will not do. The roses have lost their hue: The fruit its flavour: And that delicious wine, whose fumes, so late, intoxicated all my senses with such delight, now solicits in vain the sated palate. Pleasure smiles at my languor. She beckons her sister, Virtue, to come to her assistance. The gay, the frolic Virtue observes the call, and brings along the whole troop of my jovial friends. Welcome, thrice welcome, my ever dear companions, to these shady bowers,° and to this luxurious repast. Your presence has restored to the rose its hue, and to the fruit its flavour. The vapours of this sprightly nectar now again play around my heart; while you partake of my delights, and discover in your chearful° looks, the pleasure which you receive from my happiness and satisfaction. The like do I receive from yours; and encouraged by your joyous presence, shall again renew the feast, with which, from too much enjoyment, my senses were well nigh sated; while the mind kept not pace with the body, nor afforded relief to her o'erburthened partner.
In our chearful discourses, better than in the formal reasonings of the schools,° is true wisdom to be found. In our friendly endearments, better than in the hollow debates of statesmen and pretended patriots, does true virtue display itself. Forgetful of the past, secure of the future, let us here enjoy the present; and while we yet possess a being, let us fix some good, beyond the power of fate or fortune. To-morrow will bring its own pleasures along with it: Or should it disappoint our fond wishes, we shall at least enjoy the pleasure of reflecting on the pleasures of to-day.
Fear not, my friends, that the barbarous dissonance of BACCHUS, and of his revellers, should break in upon this entertainment, and confound us with their turbulent and clamorous pleasures. The sprightly muses wait around; and with their charming symphony, sufficient to soften the wolves and tygers of the savage desert, inspire a soft joy into every bosom. Peace, harmony and concord reign in this retreat; nor is the silence ever broken but by the music of our songs, or the chearful accents of our friendly voices.
But hark! the favourite of the muses, the gentle DAMON, strikes the lyre; and while he accompanies its harmonious notes with his more harmonious song, he inspires us with the same happy debauch° of fancy, by which he is himself transported. "Ye happy youth," he sings, "Ye favoured of heaven, while the wanton° spring pours upon you all her blooming honours, let not glory seduce you, with her delusive blaze, to pass in perils and dangers this delicious season, this prime of life. Wisdom points out to you the road to pleasure: Nature too beckons you to follow her in that smooth and flowery path. Will you shut your ears to their commanding voice? Will you harden your heart to their soft allurements? Oh, deluded mortals, thus to lose your youth, thus to throw away so invaluable a present, to trifle with so perishing a blessing. Contemplate well your recompence. Consider that glory, which so allures your proud hearts, and seduces you with your own praises. It is an echo, a dream, nay the shadow of a dream, dissipated by every wind, and lost by every contrary breath of the ignorant and ill-judging multitude. You fear not that even death itself shall ravish it from you. But behold! while you are yet alive, calumny° bereaves you of it; ignorance neglects it; nature enjoys it not; fancy alone, renouncing every pleasure receives this airy recompence, empty and unstable as herself."
Thus the hours pass unperceived along, and lead in their wanton train all the pleasures of sense, and all the joys of harmony and friendship. Smiling innocence closes the procession; and while she presents herself to our ravished° eyes, she embellishes the whole scene, and renders the view of these pleasures as transporting, after they have past us, as when, with laughing countenances, they were yet advancing towards us.
But the sun has sunk below the horizon; and darkness, stealing silently upon us, has now buried all nature in an universal shade. "Rejoice, my friends, continue your repast, or change it for soft repose. Though absent, your joy or your tranquillity shall still be mine." But whither do you go? Or what new pleasures call you from our society? Is there aught agreeable without your friends? And can aught please, in which we partake not? "Yes, my friends; the joy which I now seek, admits not of your participation. Here alone I wish your absence: And here alone can I find a sufficient compensation for the loss of your society."
But I have not advanced far through the shades of the thick wood, which spreads a double night around me, ere, me-thinks, I perceive through the gloom, the charming CÆLIA, the mistress of my wishes, who wanders impatient through the grove, and preventing the appointed hour, silently chides my tardy steps. But the joy, which she receives from my presence, best pleads my excuse; and dissipating every anxious and every angry thought, leaves room for nought but mutual joy and rapture. With what words, my fair one, shall I express my tenderness, or describe the emotions which now warm my transported° bosom! Words are too faint to describe my love; and if, alas! you feel not the same flame within you, in vain shall I endeavour to convey to you a just conception of it. But your every word and every motion suffice to remove this doubt; and while they express your passion, serve also to enflame mine. How amiable this solitude, this silence, this darkness! No objects now importune the ravished soul. The thought, the sense, all full of nothing but our mutual happiness, wholly possess the mind, and convey a pleasure, which deluded mortals vainly seek for in every other enjoyment.—
But whyb does your bosom heave with these sighs, while tears bathe your glowing cheeks? Why distract your heart with such vain anxieties? Why so often ask me, How long my love shall yet endure? Alas, my CÆLIA, can I resolve this question? Do I know how long my life shall yet endure? But does this also disturb your tender breast? And is the image of our frail mortality for ever present with you, to throw a damp on your gayest hours, and poison even those joys which love inspires? Consider rather, that if life be frail, if youth be transitory, we should well employ the present moment, and lose no part of so perishable an existence. Yet a little moment and these shall be no more. We shall be, as if we had never been. Not a memory of us be left upon earth; and even the fabulous° shades below will not afford us a habitation. Our fruitless anxieties, our vain projects, our uncertain speculations shall all be swallowed up and lost. Our present doubts, concerning the original cause of all things, must never, alas! be resolved. This alone we may be certain of, that, if any governing mind preside, he must be pleased to see us fulfil the ends of our being, and enjoy that pleasure, for which alone we were created. Let this reflection give ease to your anxious thoughts; but render not your joys too serious, by dwelling for ever upon it. It is sufficient, once, to be acquainted with this philosophy, in order to give an unbounded loose° to love and jollity,° and remove all the scruples of a vain superstition: But while youth and passion, my fair one, prompt our eager desires, we must find gayer subjects of discourse, to intermix with these amorous caresses.
Notes for this chapter
OR, The man of elegance and pleasure. The intention of this and the three following essays is not so much to explain accurately the sentiments of the ancient sects of philosophy, as to deliver the sentiments of sects, that naturally form themselves in the world, and entertain different ideas of human life and of happiness. I have given each of them the name of the philosophical sect, to which it bears the greatest affinity.
[Xerxes, king of Persia from 486 to 465 B.C., is most famous for his unsuccessful invasion against Greece in 480 B.C.]
[The source and author of these lines could not be located. The octosyllabic couplet was widely used in the eighteenth century in a style of satirical poetry known as Hudibrastic, the archetype for which was Samuel Butler's Hudibras (pt. I, 1663; pt. II, 1664; pt. III, 1678). See Richmond P. Bond, English Burlesque Poetry: 1700-1750 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932), pp. 145-54.]
Dia Voluptas. LUCRET. ["... divine pleasure": Lucretius, The Nature of Things 2.172].
[Bacchus was another name for Dionysus, the god of vegetation and wine, whose followers often gave way to uncontrolled emotion.]
[This name is perhaps drawn from Virgil's Eclogues, no. 8, where the goatherd Damon sings a love song with a tragic ending.]
"O Giovinetti, mentre APRILE & MAGGIO
V' ammantan di fiorité & verde spoglie," &c.
Giuresalemme liberata, Canto 14.
[Torquato Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered 14.62: "Ye happy youths, whom April fresh and May/Attire in flow'ring green of lusty age," etc. Translated by Edward Fairfax (1600) (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press, 1962).]
Part I, Essay XVI
End of Notes
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