Tag Archives: Daily life

When parents get angry

Vatican Saying 62 (quoted below) illustrates the fact that Epicurus was interested in addressing not only general philosophical questions but practical problems of everyday life and personal relationships. A number of Vatican Sayings show him bringing observation and reason to bear in advising on standards and practices for personal and family life.

It is easy to imagine that specific incidents in the life of the Garden community may have led Epicurus to comment on such matters as: staying calm (Vatican Saying 79); making and keeping friends (28, 34, 39); the effect of separation on the affections (18); thinking philosophical thoughts during the daily round (41); having a philosophical argument (74); showing respect to a wise leader (32); being young and wild (80); impatience for variety (69); living on meagre resources (63); having or not having money (67); harbouring envy (53); and expressing condolence (66).

Vatican Saying 61, discussed yesterday (‘Harmony is beautiful’), is very specific in dealing with Epicurus’ own family (if that is the correct interpretation). The next saying, Vatican Saying 62, is also very specific, dealing with relationships between parents and children, and in particular the attitude of children to parents who are difficult to deal with. Epicurus counsels reason and diplomacy, on the grounds that thoughtful and conciliatory responses are likely to be the most effective way of handling parents who are (justifiably or unjustifiably) angry with their children.

The Greeks had long experience in living with conflict and in the bitter results of hostility and intransigence. No doubt Epicurus was keenly aware of historical examples, as well as ethical principles, relevant for dealing with personal friction. Plutarch later used the example of the Greeks when discussing a Roman willingness to end disputes by conference: ‘For the Greeks call it peace when two parties settle their quarrels by mutual conference, and not by violence’ (λόγῳ, μὴ βίᾳ, Numa 12.4, trans. B. Perrin).

In the next sentence Plutarch uses the word εὐγνωμονεῖν, to show goodwill, fairness, reasonableness, kindness. In Vatican Saying 62 Epicurus uses the same word, translated below ‘being conciliatory’. Surely with similar ideas in mind Epicurus advised against participating in the cut and thrust of politics. Gentle reason and diplomacy were preferable, and more effective.

Thoughts for the Day, September 17: ‘If parents are rightly angry with their children, it is surely pointless to retaliate and not to ask for forgiveness. If the anger is not justifiable but quite unreasonable, it is absurd – bearing in mind that unreasonableness generally tends to refusal – not to seek to deflect it by being conciliatory’ (Vatican Sayings 62).

Talking about what we value most

The text of Vatican Saying 41 has troubled scholars since its first publication in 1888. The edition of that year, by C. Wotke in collaboration with H. Usener, mistakenly read the first two words as belonging at the end of the preceding saying, where they did not fit grammatically and were corrected to suit the sentence (γελᾶν ἅμα, ‘to laugh, together with’, being changed on Usener’s suggestion to γέλων, ‘laughing’). Later editions retained the words in their original form and accorded them their proper place at the beginning of saying 41.

Usener also corrected two words later in the saying where the sense was found baffling. In Wotke’s text (p. 194) instead of καὶ μηδαμῇ λέγειν τὰς ἐκ τῆς ὀργῆς φιλοσοφίας φωνὰς ἀφιέντας we read καὶ μηδαμῇ λήγειν τὰς ἐκ τῆς ὀρθῆς φιλοσοφίας φωνὰς ἀφιέντας. Usener understood this to mean, ‘aber nimmer aufhören, die Kernsprüche aus der wahren Philosophie sich vorzusagen’ (Wotke and Usener, p. 182). A number of later editions and translations have accepted λήγειν for λέγειν and ὀρθῆς for ὀργῆς.

The latter corrections are used for the translation of the saying given below. However, the corrections, while ingenious, and limited to only two letters, assume copying changes for which there do not seem to be strong palaeographical motivations. Further work is needed to clarify questions of text and interpretation.

Thoughts for the Day, September 1: ‘While amusing ourselves and philosophizing and carrying out our daily duties and engaging in all other personal activities, we must never cease speaking words of true philosophy’ (Vatican Sayings 41). But see above.

C. [also K.] Wotke and H. Usener, ‘Epikurische Spruchsammlung’, Wiener Studien 10(2), 1888, 175-201.