Wednesday, March 06, 2013

One fewer lost work by Epicurus

I’ve been looking through Cicero’s De Divinatione today.  Here’s a nice bit of Ciceronian sarcasm that might tell us something about the contents of his library and also its state of repair.  He is countering Quintus’ defence of prophecy and divination and poo-pooing various purported portents.
Ante vero Marsicum bellum quod clipeos Lanuvii, ut a te dictum est, mures rosissent, maxumum id portentum haruspices esse dixerunt; quasi vero quicquam intersit, mures diem noctem aliquid rodentes scuta an cribra corroserint! Nam si ista sequimur, quod Platonis Politian nuper apud me mures corroserunt, de re publica debui pertimescere, aut, si Epicuri de voluptate liber rosus esset, putarem annonam in macello cariorem fore.

Cicero De Divinatione 2.59

 Here is W. A. Falconer’s translation:
‘But’, you say, ‘the fact that just before the Marsian War mice gnawed the shields at Lanuvium was pronounced by the soothsayers to be a very direful portent.’  As if it mattered a whit whether mice, which are gnawing something day and night, gnawed shields or sieves!  Hence, by the same token, the fact that, at my house, mice recently gnawed my Plato’s Republic should fill me with alarm for the Roman republic; of if they had gnawed at my Epicurus On Pleasure I should have expected a rise in the market price of food.
It’s no surprise that Cicero had a copy of Plato’s Republic (although it is perhaps a surprise that it was not kept out of harm’s way).  But it is perhaps not so obvious that he would have had a copy of Epicurus’ On Pleasure.  There’s no mention of a Peri Hēdonēs in the list of Epicurus’ works at Diog. Laert. 10.27ff., although Diogenes makes clear that his catalogue is not exhaustive.  And this mention in De Div. is the only reference given for Usener’s inclusion in his section of Perditorum librorum reliquiae of a work On Pleasure (p. 101).  I wonder if Cicero is not here referring to a work by the title Peri Hēdonēs but rather to the work On the Telos which doubtless included a lot of material ‘about pleasure’.  Peri Telous is mentioned in Diogenes’ catalogue.  And there are various references and quotations from this work under the title Peri Telous (Us. pp. 119–23), some of them from Cicero himself.  Cicero refers to Epicurus’ ‘liber de summo bono’ (Tusc. 3.41-4, Fin. 2.21) and more than once gives a Latin version of the notorious passage cited by Athenaeus (546e) where Epicurus says he cannot conceive of the good without the pleasures of sex and the senses (see Us. 67).  He also gives a Latin translation of another passage of this same work at Tusc. 3.42 (Us. 69), noting that it comes a little later than the one translated at Tusc. 3.41.  So there is every reason to think that Cicero had a copy of Epicurus Peri Telous.  There is no strong evidence that there was a separate work by Epicurus Peri Hēdonēs and therefore we might suppose that in Div. 2.59 Cicero is referring also to the Peri Telous.  In that case ‘Epicurus On Pleasure’ in Falconer’s translation should instead be: ‘Epicurus’ work on pleasure’. That would make one fewer lost work by Epicurus.

1 comment:

Manuela said...

The title had me thinking a lost work had been found!
Well, this is good news too.