With today’s release of the Letter to Pythocles, I have now completed these “ Elemental Editions” of each of Epicurus’ three letters from Diogenes Laertius, plus a. The Letter to Pythocles. CLEON brought me a letter from you in which you continue to express a kindly feeling towards me, which is a just return for my interest in. The Letter to Pythocles is a treatment of phenomena of the sky. It is possibly one of the few fully extant writings of Epicurus — the second of three.

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The Lives of the Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertiusis the most comprehensive ancient account of the lives of the early Greek philosophers.

Book 10 contains the life and doctrines of Epicurus. This translation is by C. The section numbers in the Greek text are shown in red and the section numbers in the translation are shown in green. Click on the G symbols to go to the Greek text for each section.

You devote all your care, you tell me, to engraving in your memory those ideas which contribute to the happiness of life; and you entreat me at the same time to send you a simple abridgment and abstract of my ideas on the heavenly phenomena, in order that you may without tp preserve the recollection of them.

Multiple Explanations in Epicurus’ Letter to Pythocles

For, say you, what I have written on this subject in my other works is difficult to recollect, even with continual study. Be careful then to seize on those precepts thoroughly, engrave them deeply in your memory, and meditate on them with the abridgment addressed to Herodotuswhich I also send you.

Know then, that the only aim of the knowledge of the heavenly phenomena, both those which are spoken pythoclees in contact with one another, and of those which have a spontaneous existence, is that freedom from anxiety, pytohcles that calmness which is derived from a firm belief; and this is the aim of every other science.

We there said, for instance, that there are other things, except bodies and the void, and that the atoms are the principles of things, and so the rest.

In a word, we gave a precise and simple explanation for every fact, conformable to appearances. We cannot act in the same way with respect to the heavenly phenomena; these productions may depend upon several different causes, and we may give many different explanations on this subject, equally agreeing with the impression of the senses.

The heavenly phenomena do not inspire those who give different explanations of them, conformable with appearances, instead of explaining them by hypothesis, with any alarm. But if, abandoning hypothesis, one at the same time renounces the attempt to explain them by means of analogies founded on appearances, then one is placing one’s self altogether at a distance from the science of nature, in order to fall into fables.

It is possible that the heavenly phenomena may present some apparent characteristics which appear to assimilate them to those phenomena which we see taking place around ourselves, without there being any real analogy at the bottom. The world is a collection of things embraced by the heaven, containing the stars, the earth, and all visible objects.

This collection, separated from the infinite, is terminated by an extremity, which is either rare, or dense, or revolving, or in a state of repose, or of a round, or triangular, or some shape or other in fact, for it may be any shape the dissolution of which must bring the destruction of everything which they embrace.

This production of a world may be explained thus: The sun, the moon, and the other stars, were originally formed separately, and were afterwards comprehended in the entire total of the world.

All the other objects which our world comprises, for instance, the earth and the sea, were also formed spontaneously, pyghocles subsequently gained size, by the addition and violent movement of light substances, composed of elements of fire and air, or even of these two principles at once.

This explanation, moreover, is in accordance with the impressions of the senses. This same doctrine is reproduced, and occurs again in the eleventh book of his treatise on Nature; where he says, “if the distance has made it lose is size, a fortioriit would take away its brilliancy; for colour has not, any more than size, the property of traversing distance without alteration.

Besides, all the difficulties on this subject will be easily explained if one attends to the clear evidence of the perceptions, as I have shown in my books about Nature.

One may also give other reasons for the phenomenon, which are not contradicted by any sensible appearances; accordingly, one might explain them by the passage of the stars above and below the earth, for the impressions of the senses agree also with this supposition.

As to their motion, one may make that depend on the circular movement of the entire heaven. The inter-tropical movements of the sun and moon may depend, either on the obliquity impressed by lettef on the heaven at certain determined epochs, or on the resistance of the air, or on the fact that these ignited bodies stand in need of being nourished by a matter suitable to their nature, and that ;ythocles matter fails them; or finally, they may depend on the fact their having originally received an impulse which compels them to move as they do, describing a sort of spiral figure.

The sensible evidence does not in the least contradict these different suppositions, and all those of the same kind which one can form, having always a due regard to what is possible, and can bring back each phenomenon to its analogous appearances in sensible facts, without disquieting one’s self about the miserable speculations of the astrologers. Provided, however, that one does not obstinately adopt an exclusive mode of explanation; and that, for want of knowing what is possible for a man to explain, and what is inaccessible to his intelligence, one does not throw one’s self into interminable speculations.

It may also be possibly the case that epicueus moon has a light of her own, or that she reflects that of the sun. In a word, one will not be arrested by any of the celestial phenomena, provided that one always recollects that there are many explanations possible; that one examines the principles and reasons which agree with this mode of explanation, and that one does not proceed in accounting for the facts which do not agree with this method, to suffer one’s self to be foolishly carried away, and to propose a separate explanation for each phenomenon, sometimes in one way, and sometimes in another.

The appearance of a face in the orb of the moon, may depend either on a displacement of its parts, or on the interposition of some obstacle, or on any other cause capable of accounting for such an appearance.

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The eclipses of the sun and moon may depend either on the fact that these celestial bodies extinguish themselves, a phenomenon which we often see produced under our eyes, or on the fact of other bodies, the earth, the heaven, or something else of the same kind interposing, between them and us.

Besides, we must compare the different modes of explanation appropriate to phenomena, and recollect that it is not impossible that many causes may at one and the same time concur in their production. He says the same thing in the twelfth book of his treatise on Nature; and adds that the eclipses of the sun arise from the fact that it penetrates into the shade of the moon, to quit it again presently; and the eclipse of the moon from the fact of its entering into the shade of the earth.

The regular and periodical march of these phenomena has nothing in it epicurux ought to surprise us, if we only attend to the lftter facts which take place under our eyes. Above all things let us beware of making the Deity interpose here, for that being we ought to suppose exempt from all toil and perfectly happy; otherwise we shall be only giving vain explanations of the heavenly phenomena, as has happened already to a crowd of epicurrus.

Not being able to recognize what is really possible, they have fallen into vain theories, in supposing that for all phenomena there was but one single mode of production, and in rejecting all other explanations which are founded on probability; they have adopted the most unreasonable opinions, for want of pythoclez in the front the study of heavenly phenomena, and of sensible facts, which ought to serve to explain the first.

Or, again, to the fact certain regions are passed through more rapidly than others, as is seen to be the case by our own eyes, in those things to which we can compare the heavenly phenomena. As ti those who on this point admit only one explanation as possible, they put themselves in opposition to facts, and lose sight of the bounds set to human knowledge. The prognostics which are derived from the stars may, like those which we borrow from animals, arise from a simple coincidence.

The clouds may be formed either by the air condensed under the pressure of the winds, or by the agency of atoms set apart for the end, or by emanations from the earth and waters, or by other causes. For there are a great number which are all equally able to produce this effect. Thunder possibly arises from the movement of the winds revolving in the cavities of the clouds; of which we may lftter an image in vessels in our own daily use. It may also arise from the noise of fire acted upon by the wind in them, and from the tearings and ruptures of the clouds when they have received a sort of crystalline consistency.

In a word, experience drawn from our sense, teaches us that all these phenomena, and that one in particular, may be produced in many different manners. Or, one might say, that the interception of the light diffused from the stars, arrested for a time in the bosom of the clouds, is driven from them subsequently by their own movements, and by those of the winds, and so escapes from their sides; that the lightning is an extremely subtle light that evaporates from the clouds; that the clouds which carry the thunder are collected masses of fire; that the lightning arises from the motion of the fire, or pythoclees the conflagration of the wind, in consequence of the rapidity and continuousness of its motion.

Lastly, one may easily find a number of other explanations, if one applies to sensible facts, in order to search out the analogies which they present to the heavenly phenomena. The thunderbolt may be produced either by a violent condensation of the winds, or by their rapid motion and conflagrations.

It may arise from the epicursu of the winds meeting in places which are too dense, in consequence of the accumulation of clouds, and then a portion of the current detaches itself and proceeds towards the lower situations; or else it may be caused by the fire which is contained in the bosom of the clouds precipitating itself downwards. As one may suppose that an immense quantity of fire being accumulated in the clouds dilates, violently bursting the substance which envelops it, because the resistance of the centre hinders it from proceeding further.

This effect is especially produced in epicuruz neighbourhood of high mountains; and, accordingly, they are very frequently struck with the thunderbolts. Earthquakes may arise from the wind penetrating into the interior of the epicudus, or from the earth itself receiving incessantly the addition of exterior particles, and being in incessant motion as to its constituent atoms, being in consequence disposed to a general vibration.

That which permits the wind to penetrate is the fact that falls take place in the interior, or that the air being impressed by the winds insinuates itself into the subterranean caverns. The movement which numberless falls and the reaction of the earth pyfhocles to the ground, when this motion meets bodies of greater resistance and solidity, is sufficient to explain the earthquakes.

Winds are caused, either by the successive and regular addition of some foreign matter, or else by the reunion of a great quantity of water; and the differences of the winds may arise from the fact that some portions of this same matter fall into the numerous cavities of the earth, and are divided there.

Hail is produced by an energetic condensation acting on the ethereal particles which the cold embraces in every direction; or, in consequence of less violent condensation acting however on aqueous particles, and accompanied by division, in such a manner as to produce, at the same time, the reunion of epickrus elements and of the collective masses; or by the rupture of some dense and compact mass which would explain at the same time, the numerousness of the particles and their individual hardness.

Snow may be produced by a light vapour full of moisture which the clouds allow to escape by passage intended for that end, when they are pressed, in a corresponding manner, by other clouds, and set in motion by the wind. Subsequently, these vapours become condensed in their progress under the action of the cold which surrounds the clouds in the lower regions. It may also be the case that this phenomena is produced by clouds of slight density as they become condensed. In this case the snow which escapes from the clouds would be the result of the contact, or approximation of the aqueous particles, which in a still more condensed state produce hail.

This effect is most especially produced in the spring. Dew proceeds from a reunion of particles contained in the air calculated to produce this moist substance. These particles may be also brought from places which are moist or covered with water for in those places, above all others, it is that dew is abundant. These then epicutus, again resume their aqueous form, and fall down.


The same phenomena takes place in other cases before our own eyes under many analogies. Ice is formed either by the wearing away of round atoms contained in the water, and the reunion at scalene and acute angles of the atoms which exist in the water, or by an addition from without of these latter particles, which penetrating into the pgthocles, solidify it ketter driving away an equal amount of round atoms.

Diogenes Laertius : Principal Doctrines of Epicurus

The rainbow may be produced by the reflection of the solar rays on the moist air; or it may arise from a particular property of light and air, in virtue of which these particular epicufus of colour are formed, either because the shades which we perceive result directly from this property, or because, on the contrary, it only produces a single shade, which, reflecting itself on the nearest portion of the air, communicates to them the tints which we observe.

The lunar halo arises from the fact of the air, which moves towards the moon from all quarters, uniformly intercepting the rays emitted by this heavenly object, in such a way as to form around it a sort of circular cloud which partially veils it. It may also arise from the fact of the moon uniformly pythofles from all quarters, the air which surrounds it, in such a manner as to produce this circular and opaque covering.

Comets arise either from the fact, that in the circumstances already stated, there are partial conflagrations in certain points of the heaven; or, that at certain periods, the heaven has above our heads a particular movement which causes them to appear. It may also be the case, that being themselves endowed with a peculiar movement, they advance at the end of certain periods of time, and in consequence of particular circumstances, towards the places which we inhabit. The opposite reasons explain their disappearance.

Perhaps also, this may be epivurus by the fact, that except in the route in which they move, and in which we perceive them, they do not find any material suitable to their nature. It is also possible, that the same necessity which has originally given them their circular movement, may have compelled some to follow their orbit regularly, and have subjected others to an irregular process; we may also suppose that the uniform character of the centre which certain stars traverse favours their regular march, and their return to a certain point; and that in the case of others, epicurux the contrary, the differences of the centre produce the changes which we observe.

Epicurus, Letter to Pythocles – PhilPapers

Besides, to assign one single cause to all these phenomena, when the experience of our senses suggests us several, is folly. It is the conduct of ignorant astrologers covetous of a vain knowledge, who assigning imaginary causes to facts, wish to leave wholly to the Deity the care of the government of the universe.

To give one uniform and positive explanation of all these facts, is not consistent with the conduct of any people but those who love to flash prodigies epicutus the eyes of the multitude. It may also happen that the light vapours reunite and become condensed under the form of clouds, that they then take fire in consequence of their rotary motion, and that, bursting the obstacles which surround them, they proceed towards the places whither the force by which they are animated drags them.

In short, this phenomenon also may admit a great number of explanations. The forecasts which are drawn from certain animals arise from a fortuitous concourse of circumstances; for there is no necessary connection between certain animals letfer winter.

They do not produce it; nor is there any divine nature sitting aloft watching the exits of these animals, and then fulfilling signs of this kind.

Multiple Explanations in Epicurus’ Letter to Pythocles in: Epicurean Meteorology

Imprint all these precepts in your memory, O Pythoclesand so you will easily escape fables, and it will be easy for you to epicutus other truths analogous to these. Above all, apply yourself to the study of general principles, of the infinite, and of questions of this kind, and to the investigation of the different criteria and of the passions, and to the study of the chief good, with a view to which we prosecute all our researches.

When these questions are once resolved, all particular difficulties will be made plain to you. As to those who will not apply themselves to these principles, they will neither be able to give a good explanation of these letterr questions, nor to reach that end to which all our researches tend. But first of all, let us go through the opinions which he held, epicirus his disciples held about the wise man.

He said that injuries existed among men, either in consequence of hatred, or of envy, or of contempt, all which the wise man overcomes by Reason. Also, that a man who has once been wise can never receive the contrary dispositions, nor can he of his own accord pyghocles such a state of things as that he should be subjected to the dominion of the passions; nor can he hinder himself in his progress towards wisdom.

That the wise man, however, cannot exist in every state of body, nor in every nation. That the wise man will only feel gratitude to his friends, but to them equally whether they are present or absent. Nor will he groan and howl when he is put to the torture. Nor will he marry a wife whom the laws forbid, as Diogenes says, in his epitome of the Ethical Maxims of Epicurus. He will punish wpicurus servants, but also pity them, and show indulgence to any that are virtuous.

They do not think that the wise man will ever be epidurus love, nor that he will be anxious about his burial, nor that love is a pyhocles inspired by the gods, as Diogenes says in his twelfth book. They also assert that he will be indifferent to the study of oratory. Still, under certain circumstances of life, he will forsake these rules and marry.

Nor will he ever indulge in drunkenness, says Epicurus, in his Banquet, nor will he entangle himself in affairs of state as he says in his first book on Lives. Nor will he become a tyrant. Nor will he rpicurus a Cynic as he says letrer his second book about Livesnor a beggar.