You are here

Epicurean Emotional Theory and Philodemus’ “On the Gods”

Sonya Wurster

University of Melbourne

This paper presents a revised text of a number of relatively well preserved columns (I0 to 15) of Philodemus' first book of De dis (On the Gods). It uses this revised text to clarify his arguments as to why the fears of animals and humans are similar but not the same. There is currently no modern, English-language edition of this text. Knut Kleve worked on the text in the 1990s, and published findings showing that the text is more than 11 columns longer than once thought. There are two main previous editions, a l9th-century edition by Walter Scott and an early 20th-century edition by Hermann Diels, both of which are problematic. Diels' edition is full of errors as he did not have access to the original papyri. Scott's edition is more reliable; however, he did not have the advantage of modern microscopes under which to examine the papyri or of the multi-spectral images (MSI). Neither Diels nor Scott provides a modern language translation of the work, which would enable a broader range of scholars to access and understand its content. My paper will outline the usefulness of the MSI at the same time as explaining that there are parts where the original papyrus is in fact more informative due to the presence of sovrapposto and sottoposto that are not visible on the MSI.

The text is important for two reasons: first, it is our best evidence for Epicurean views on the nature of the gods. Second, it provides extensive evidence for a broad Epicurean theme of the emotions, and more specifically for the emotion of fear. This paper focuses on the latter aspect of the work, examining Philodemus' argument that there are important differences between the emotions of humans and animals. As with all the Hellenistic schools, ethics were an essential part of Epicurus' philosophy: living according to his ethical theories contributed to a happy life. Epicurus and his followers argued that if four basic principles (that what is good is easy to attain, that what is bad is easy to endure, and that the gods and death should not be feared) were followed, then freedom from anxiety (ἀταραξία) could be achieved and thereby happiness. Like the vices (κακία), negative emotions (πάθη) were thought by Epicureans to inhibit the good life, and they proposed comprehensive therapeutic strategies (Tsouna 2007 & 2009) to overcome them. Philodemus provides some of our best evidence for Epicurean emotional theories, as discussed by Annas (1989), Erler (1992), Tsouna (2007, 2009 & 2011), Armstrong (2008) and Asmis (2011). The treatise clarifies two aspects of Epicurean emotional theory: first, it elucidates the way that emotions are cognitive because they are based on beliefs (see Gill 201 O; Tsouna 2007, 4 l-42; Tsouna 2009, 25l ). Second, the text shows (13.1-2) that because emotions are cognitive, people can be cured of negative ones if the underlying belief system is adjusted, particularly through the application of ἐπιλογισμός ("critical appraisal" or "empirical reasoning").

The paper will first show how my revised text of columns 10 to 15 differs from previous editions. It will then examine how a revised version has led to a clearer interpretation of Philodemus' argument that the fears of animals and humans have different causes (14.24-28). He says (13.4-19) that although both humans and animals experience impulses (ὁρμαί) toward future events, humans overlay their impulses with fears based on false beliefs. In this way, humans experience a volitional feeling/emotion that arises out of a natural impulse while animals simply have hollow or empty impulses (ναρκώδεις ὁρμαί, 13.4-5). Thus an animal's fear is simply a knee-jerk reaction to immediate stimuli, while the fear of a human is mostly caused by false beliefs. He instructs readers to overcome volitional fears about death and providence that arise from incorrect beliefs about the gods by epologistic thinking (15.25-37).

Session/Panel Title:

Herculaneum: New Technologies and New Discoveries in Art and Text

Session/Paper Number

3.5

Share This Page

© 2018, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy