Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Burning Books Written by Epicurus

Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet 47 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
Hitting upon the "Established Beliefs" of Epicurus, which is the finest of his books, as you know, and contains in summary the articles of the man's philosophic creed, he brought it into the middle of the market-place, burned it on fagots of fig-wood just as if he were burning the man in person, and threw the ashes into the sea, even adding an oracle also:
"Burn with fire, I command you, the creed of a purblind dotard!"
But the scoundrel had no idea what blessings that book creates for its readers and what peace, tranquillity, and freedom it engenders in them, liberating them as it does from terrors and apparitions and portents, from vain hopes and extravagant cravings, developing in them intelligence and truth, and truly purifying their understanding, not with torches and squills and that sort of foolery, but with straight thinking, truthfulness and frankness.

εὑρὼν γὰρ τὰς Ἐπικούρου κυρίας δόξας, τὸ κάλλιστον, ὡς οἶσθα, τῶν βιβλίων καὶ κεφαλαιώδη περιέχον τῆς τἀνδρὸς σοφίας τὰ δόγματα, κομίσας εἰς τὴν ἀγορὰν μέσην ἔκαυσεν ἐπὶ ξύλων συκίνων ὡς δῆθεν αὐτὸν καταφλέγων, καὶ τὴν σποδὸν εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν ἐξέβαλεν, ἔτι καὶ χρησμὸν ἐπιφθεγξάμενος·
Πυρπολέειν κέλομαι δόξας ἀλαοῖο γέροντος·
οὐκ εἰδὼς ὁ κατάρατος ὅσων ἀγαθῶν τὸ βιβλίον ἐκεῖνο τοῖς ἐντυχοῦσιν αἴτιον γίγνεται, καὶ ὅσην αὐτοῖς εἰρήνην καὶ ἀταραξίαν καὶ ἐλευθερίαν ἐνεργάζεται, δειμάτων μὲν καὶ φασμάτων καὶ τεράτων ἀπαλλάττον καὶ ἐλπίδων ματαίων καὶ περιττῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, νοῦν δὲ καὶ ἀλήθειαν ἐντιθὲν καὶ καθαῖρον ὡς ἀληθῶς τὰς γνώμας, οὐχ ὑπὸ δᾳδὶ καὶ σκίλλῃ καὶ ταῖς τοιαύταις φλυαρίαις, ἀλλὰ λόγῳ ὀρθῷ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ καὶ παρρησίᾳ.
Aelian, fragment 89 Hercher, tr. Emma J. Edelstein and Ludwig Edelstein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies (1945; rpt. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), pp. 201-202 (brackets in original):
The man Euphronius, a wretched creature, took pleasure in the silly talk of Epicurus and acquired two evils from this: being impious and intemperate.

He did not forget, when in such a wicked state, that shameless and impious treatise which the Gargettian [sc., Epicurus], like an offspring of the Titan brood, inflicted as a blot upon the life of men.

Being grievously afflicted with a disease (the sons of the Asclepiads call it pneumonia), he first besought the healing aid of mortals and clung to them.

The disease was stronger than the knowledge of the physicians.

When he was already tottering on the brink of death, his friends brought him to the temple of Asclepius. And as he fell asleep one of the priests seemed to say to him that there was one road to safety for the man, and only one remedy for the evils upon him, namely, if he burned the books of Epicurus, moistened the ashes of the impious, unholy, and effeminate books with melted wax and, spreading the plaster all over his stomach and chest, bound bandages all around them.

What he had heard he communicated to his friends and they were straightway filled with excessive joy because he did not come out, disdained and dishonored by the god.

And having learned a lesson from him, they followed him forthwith in a good and honorable life.
I can't find Aelian's Greek in Unicode format on the Internet, I'm unaware of any reliable and convenient optical character recognition tool for ancient Greek, and I'm too lazy to type it out myself, so faute de mieux here's an image of the Greek from Edelstein and Edelstein, pp. 200-201:

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