World's Great Philosophers:
The Early Greeks
Socrates And Plato
Epicurus, Zeno, Pyrrho
Read More Articles About: World's Great Philosophers
Epicurus, Zeno, Pyrrho
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
But the Greeks who were contemporary with Aristotle, and some who followed, set up new doctrines and founded schools of their own. Some of these retain keen interest for us to-day, if for no other reason than that their thoughts live with us, their names are synonymous with types of men, and their philosophies, too often misunderstood, abide with us in imperishable fame.
Epicure, Stoic, Sceptic? Who does not make use of these words almost daily? And it is by no means an exaggeration of the truth to say that these three words have all but lost their original significance, and that not one in a thousand who is glib enough in that use ever thinks of its source or doubts that the commonplace is the classic meaning that attaches to the words themselves. Yet we shall presently see how far usage has varied the ideas that were in the minds of the men who gave these words to civilization.
No doubt it will surprise all those who are not well informed in ancient Greek philosophy to hear that Epicurus, the founder of Epicureanism, lived upon bread and water and upon the simple fruits and vegetables that grew in his own garden. Water-cress, a radish, a fig, made a substantial meal for the greatest of all the epicures, Epicurus himself. Now and then the philosopher called for a portion of milk or for a little cheese, saying at the same time, "I must occasionally make merry !" Diogenes Laertius, that mine of philosophical anecdote, writing of this, is moved to say : "Behold the manner of his living, he who has been misrepresented as the greatest voluptuary." And Cicero says : "Ah ! With how little was Epicurus con-tented." All of the Epicureans in that day, in the day of Epicurus, fared as did their master. They ate pulse, drank milk, and smiled at the folly of men whose palates were placed above their reason.
How comes it then (and the question thrusts itself upon us) that Epicurus has been so outrageously maligned? The answer is conveyed in the orthography of the modern word : for an epicure is one kind of a man, and an Epicurean is another, and both exist to-day. When we come to the doctrines of Epicurus we will inquire into this distinction more fully. Here it will not be amiss to say who and what was Epicurus, and how he was regarded among the people of his own day.
If Socrates is fortunate in his biographers, Epicurus is no less the reverse. Almost everything that was to his derogation was said of him. Most of these slanders if indeed not all are to be traced to Diotimus, a follower of Zeno, and a Stoic. Diotimus manifestly hated Epicurus for what the Stoic probably considered the affectation of simplicity on the part of the founder of Epicureanism. It is said that Diotimus published fifty letters of the most obscene character and attributed all of them to Epicurus. Diotimus had a number of imitators among the members of his own school, and the most outrageous sentiments were attributed by these to the hated one.
Posidonius, Nicolaus, and Sotion have abused him roundly. It was said that the mother of Epicurus was a scrub-woman, and that the son assisted her in her work. It was charged that he was a most immoral man and a profligate; that he lived with a notorious Athenian courtesan; that he claimed to be the originator of the atomic theory of Democritus; that he had no right to Athenian citizenship; that he was a base flatterer of tyrants and of the minions of tyrants; that he crawled before men of wealth and literary reputation; that he was a betrayer of friendships and dishonorable to the wives of his benefactors; that he advised his young admirers to eschew education of all kinds, and that he was in correspondence with three or four of the most flagrant women in Greece.
Epictetus accuses him of being a base debauchee, and Timocrates charges him with excesses of all kinds, presenting Epicurus as a habitual drunkard and ignorant pretender. The latter biographer likewise says that Epicurus had so debauched himself that for years he was unable to rise from his couch, in which he had served him daily the most sumptuous banquets. These men denounce him as a slave, as a slanderer, as a ribald who spat upon Plato's followers. They say he called Aristotle a glutton (!) and an apothecary, Protagoras a valet, Heraclitus a disturber of the peace, Democritus a silly fellow, the Cynics enemies of Greece, and Pyrrho an ignoramus. So much for the slanderers of the good and great man.
To all this may be opposed one sentence from Fénelon, the celebrated French poet, and an incomparable scholar. In his superb little work, "Lives of Ancient Philosophers,"
the author of "Telemachus" says : "Epicurus taught that virtue is the most efficient means of making life happy in so far as there can be nothing more satisfactory than to abide by the rules of wisdom and righteousness; to have no occasion for self-reprobation; to be stained with no crime; to injure no one; to do all the good that is within us; in short, to fail in none of the duties of life, and from this he infers that it is only the good can be happy and that without virtue there can be no pleasure." The judgment of Fénelon is the judgment of all who have carefully weighed the evidence for and against the noble Greek philosopher.
Such vile slanders as have been heaped upon Epicurus bear their own condemnation. Had he lived as men say he lived, did what they say he did, taught as they say he taught, would Athens have reared statues of bronze to his memory, his pupils have clung to him as we know they clung to him, and his simple and sweet philosophy have survived to 'see contemporaneously sprung schools die and be forgot by men?
So numerous were the friends of Epicurus that it was said that whole cities would not contain them. His supreme tranquillity of mind, the Arcadian repose and sweet temper of his philosophy, his public example, his unostentatious probity and piety, the spotlessness of his private character, and the winning sunshine of his presence all these give the lie to the malicious libels of his enemies. He was grateful to his parents, kind to his pupils, liberal with his relations, considerate to his servants (who were his slaves and whom he emancipated in his will), and benevolent to all men. He did not desert Greece in her most difficult time, and to his other virtues we may add that of true patriotism. It is men such as this to whom nations raise monuments. Epicurus might have been prominent in affairs of state, but his innate modesty forbade.
As against the obscene letters imputed to him we may consider the epistle he indited just before his death to Idomeneus : "We have written this letter to you on a happy day to us, which is also the last day of our life. For strangury has attacked me, and also a dysentery, so severe that nothing can be added to the agony of my sufferings. But the cheerfulnes of my mind, which arises from the recollection of all my philosophical contemplations, counterbalances all these afflictions. I beg of you to take care of the children of Metrodorus in a manner worthy of the devotion shown by the youth to me and to philosophy."
Epicurus was born about 341 B.C. and died about 272. He was drawn into philosophy naturally, for philosophy was then the fashion in Athens. His first attempt at founding a school was a failure, why, is not known. Perhaps he changed his mind and his doctrines when he saw in the highly colored and passionate brilliance of Aristippus the germ of a noble and temperate way of life. The hedonism of Epicurus is not the hedonism of Aristippus. Pleasure with Aristippus meant everything from the sensualism of the eye to the sensualism of the appetites. With Epicurus it meant the mental repose and quietude that come with the more deeply-seated satisfactions of the intellect. Epicurus took the kernel of the Aristippian philosophy and cast away the burr. The ideal of the civilized man is found in the teachings of Epicurus. His philosophy is open to all. It asks no subscription to creed or cosmogony. Pagan, Jew, Mohammedan, Buddhist, or Christian can find therein a safe harbor. His entire philosophy can be summed up in the apothegm, "Be virtuous and you will be happy." It is to this insistence on happiness, or pleasure, that the distorted image we have of Epicurus is due. The real "epicure" of the Greeks was Aristippus—Aristippus, who could pay out of hand fifty drachmas for a partridge because his palate demanded the outlay.
But the pleasure of Epicurus was not to be purchased with coin. "It is impossible," he says, "too carefully to avoid those indulgences which destroy the health of the body and debase the soul. And though pleasure in itself be desirable, we should resolutely stand aloof when the pains which flow from it surpass the enjoyment it yields; and for the same reason that it is eligible to suffer an evil which we are sure will produce a greater good." "The body feels present pain only; but the mind feels also the past and the future."
Among the maxims of Epicurus the following may be quoted as typical :
Pleasure is never bad per se, intrinsically. But the causes of some pleasures involve reactions that are by no means pleasurable.
Power and wealth may give us security and peace so far as men are concerned; but the security of men generally depends upon the tranquillity of their minds and their freedom from ambition.
It is impossible to live pleasantly without living prudently, honorably and justly; nor to live prudently, honorably and justly without living pleasantly.
The unparalleled success of Epicurus may be attributed to the contrast his teachings presented to the mystic metaphysics of Plato on the one hand, and to the dry logic of Aristotle on the other. He did not tear men's theories to shreds, as did Socrates; flay them with his cynicisms, as did Diogenes; or make use of men's vanities as a vehicle for his selfish enjoyments and indulgences, as did Aristippus. Young men were drawn to him by his magnetic personality and the extreme respect and consideration he showed for youth; older men by his serenity and complacence. He did not pose in an Academy or a Lyceum as the grand magister. He talked in his own garden to his friends, and his friends were all those, young, middle-aged, or old, who entered. Wealth or place had little influence upon his judgments, and the poor youth, after speaking with Epicurus, felt that he could be an Epicurus himself. Epicureanism was the democracy of philosophy. Its psychology and its metaphysics were simple. It did not shatter the gates of religion, nor did it hamper philosophy with a high-sounding theology. It taught that virtue was its own reward, and that the balance-sheet of a man's merits and demerits was struck in this world and the account settled here and now.
It is not to be wondered at that the fame of this novel and remarkable philosophy and its teacher spread beyond the confines of Athens, of Greece. From all parts of the country came disciples. A most heterogeneous assembly must have been that which gathered in the garden of the master. Here were all the dialects of the archipelago; brown-skinned scholars from Egypt, turbaned pundits from India, strange faces from far Asiatic countries, fire-worshiping philosophers from Persia, Jews from Syria, and others from various climes and cities who came to listen to the wise words that issued from the mouth of the celebrated hedonist. Let us hear Seneca (who was a Stoic) : "I the more freely quote the excellent maxims of Epicurus in order to convince those who become his followers from the hope of screening their vices, that to whatever sect they attach themselves, they must live virtuously. Even at the entrance of the garden they will find this inscription, 'The hospitable keeper of this mansion, where you will find pleasure the highest, will present you liberally with barley cakes and water from the spring. These gardens will not provoke your appetite by artificial dainties, but satisfy it with natural supplies. Will you not then be well entertained ?' "
The following of Epicurus differed from that of most of the other Greeks, with the exception, perhaps, of Pythagoras, in that his pupils were united in a fraternal body but in nowise a secret society. Communism was not practiced among them, systematically at least. Epicurus would not permit a common fund, saying that such a custom reflected upon the integrity and generosity of the individual rather than distinguished the school for its liberality in worldly affairs. A common purse smacked of mutual distrust rather than of the reverse. Each member of the fraternity was thrown upon his own instincts of kindness and helpfulness, and the result is said to have been most exemplary. Those who had plenty readily and eagerly supplied the wants of a less fortunate brother, while the needy ones were relieved of all embarrassments by the spontaneity with which those who had to give gave. Their needs were slight and easily satisfied and contentment reigned supreme. According to Cicero, the Epicurean community a community based on individual manhood was unapproached by aught of its kind.
As Epicurus was guiltless of the disgusting intemperance of which he was accused by his libelers, so was he innocent of their charges of incontinence. In order that he might pursue his philosophical studies more pertinently he lived the life of a celibate. He taught his pupils that subjection of all the passions promoted clarity of thought and made easy the way to that serenity of soul most to be desired by the wise ones.
Owing to the violently contradictory accounts of his character that have come down through the centuries, scholars have been at great pains to establish the veracity of his eulogists and of his detractors. The result has been all that one who admires probity and purity can desire. There is internal evidence in the charges against him of their slanderous nature. In all of them there is manifest animus. As the Stoics were his principal enemies it may be that their attacks were prompted by jealousy of the garden philosopher's great and abiding success. But even Zeno praised the personal character of Epicurus if he did not agree with Epicurean doctrine; and when Plutarch, Cicero, Valerius Maximus, Galen and numerous clear-sighted and exacting fathers of the Christian Church, men who were conspicuous for their virtues and their wisdom, find reason for thrusting aside his accusers as base maligners, there is no good reason for believing that Epicurus was not what his philosophy makes him out to have been. Indeed, his derogators overreached themselves in their animosity and hate; they overshot the mark, and their shafts fell spent on the ground. These slanderers were as much inconsistent as were certain Europeans who taught the people that Napoleon was a hideous monster whose Gorgon aspect was calculated to frighten the beholder into spasms. Such calumnies are common enough even in these times, but those who credit them are indeed the ignorant.
No other Greek philosopher was so highly honored after death as was Epicurus. His birth anniversary was celebrated as a festival. His followers committed his maxims to memory, and many memorized even great sections of his writings in order that no corruption of his teachings might be possible. His philosophy was preserved pure longer than that of any of his predecessors or successors. But slanders live and outface truth, and if the name of Epicurus carries its own condemnation nowadays that condemnation is none the less unjust.
Apart from his doctrine of Pleasure Epicurus taught little that was original. He followed Democritus in the latter's physics and his theory of sensation was cloudy and incomplete.
As Epicureanism was the refinement of Aristippianism, so was Stoicism the refinement of Cynicism. Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school, was for long a pupil of a Cynic master. He was born at Citium, in Cyprus, about 340 B. C., and died about 265. The school derived its name from the Porch ( iroá) in which Zeno taught a place that had been frequented by the poets. The modern conception of the heart of the Stoic philosophy is not far wrong, but Zeno built up about it an elaborate scheme of theology, psychology, and physics. If one were called upon to describe Stoicism in three words he could well say, "Indifference to pain."
Zeno, as his after-life amply proves, was most serious in his youth and possessed of a gravity that was certain to make his influence felt when he matured. This is evinced by his anxiety as a youth to learn and realize his proper sphere in life. To this end he consulted the Delphian Oracle and was enjoined to make himself one color with the dead. Taking the oracular advice literally he undertook the study of the writings of the ancients. How far he might have succeeded in this somewhat problematical quest will never be known, for he was soon to be diverted into other channels of thought that were to lead him to Stoicism and a state of mind much in accord with the oracle's counsel if we accept the definition of Stoicism already given. It should be stated, however, that Zeno had asked the oracle what be must do to be happy and we are justified in doubting whether, after all his Stoicism, he reached that desired state in any degree satisfactory to himself.
His diversion from the contemplation of dead men's works and words came by way of a, misadventure. Sailing from Phoenicia with a cargo of Phoenician people Zeno was shipwrecked on the Piraeus and snffered a total loss of his very valuable property. This, it would appear, left him penniless and he turned his steps to Athens the lodestone of men who, from any reason, did not care to stay at home, On arriving at the capital Zeno first entered the shop of a bookseller and, taking down a copy of Xenophon's Commentaries, was soon immersed in the historian's words so deeply that he presently forgot his recent affliction. Turning to the proprietor of the shop he asked if such men as Xenophon described were to be found in Athens and where. At that very moment Crates, the Cynic, passed by the door. "See !" exclaimed the bookseller, pointing to Crates. "Follow that man." Zeno hastened after the Cynic, and after a short conversation became his pupil. How easy was learning in those happy Athenian days!
When we regard the later life of the celebrated Cyprian it is no difficult matter to readily conceive that he could not identify himself with the Cynical school as a finality. Zeno was too decent, too refined, too earnest and too honest for that. Cynical shamelessness made him wince. Its brazen disregard for common propriety was repulsive to him. He could not inure himself to the snarls and the wanton brutality of these men, although he could not but admire their protest too severe though that protest was against the soft licentiousness of Athens. Not withstanding his strain of Phoenician blood, Zeno was a Greek, and he saw in the things around him the sad decadence into which Greece had fallen. In Cynicism he believed the remedy to lie. He took the rugged, even blasphemous morality of "the Dogs" and casting aside its blasphemy, he retained its manhood.
The story of the object lesson given him by Crates is interesting. The Cynic, seeing that his new pupil exhibited a little squeamishness about taking up the fashions of the Cynics, gave Zeno a pot of lentils and ordered him to carry it through an aristocratic portion of the town. For this task Zeno had neither relish nor ambition. Taking the pot he concealed himself in a convenient corner. Crates suspecting that his pupil was craven, followed him and found him in his retreat. Lifting his staff he smote the pottery into fragments while the lentils poured over Zeno's person. "Now, my small Phoenician," said the master, "tell me why it is that you have absconded when you have been guilty of no wrong doing ?" Zeno was delighted with such philosophy as this, and blessed the contrary winds that had despoiled him of his treasure to lead him to the feet of Crates.
After ten years of struggle with his innate sense of decency and his desire to become a philosopher, Zeno left the Cynics. He could not assume their impudicities, and yet he was attracted by their disdain of the world and their genuine indifference to misfortune or sorrow.
For a time Zeno took refuge with Stilpo, the Megaric, and when he was leaving Crates that philosopher, unlike Antisthenes, begged of him to remain with the Cynics.
"Crates," said Zeno, "you can hold a philosopher's body by force. But if you would have my mind remain with you, you must persuade me by the cogency of your logic. Prove to me that your philosophy is better than Stilpo's and I will remain. But if you fail in this, you may lock up my body in a cell but my thoughts will ever go out to Stilpo."
And Crates was persuaded. Zeno spent another ten years under Stilpo, Xenocrates, and Polemo, but these teachers satisfied him even less than did the Cynics. He decided that he would establish a sect of his own, and so we have the Stoics.
The portico or colonnade in which Zeno taught men was called the Prisanactium. It was beautifully decorated with the superb paintings of Polygnotus, and was an ideal city site for a school. The poets, as we have seen already, had been frequenters of this portico and they, too, were called Stoics for the same reason. This was, perhaps, the occasion of Zeno's school being at first called the Zenonians, but the name of Stoics triumphed and soon the Zenonians overshadowed the poets and Stoicism became synonymous with Zenoism. The new doctrines and the new master achieved a world-wide reputation and men came from all parts of Greece to hear the lectures in the Stoa.
Possibly from the extreme severity of his philosophy the life of the Stoic is lacking in many of those theatrical situations that are so common in the lives of most of the Greek philosophers. Of Zeno numerous anecdotes are told, but most of them lack the pungency of those related of Diogenes, Socrates, and Aristippus. An interesting episode of his career was his contact with King Antigonus and the clever manner in which he escaped the hazardous life of the court. Antigonus was deeply impressed with Zeno's wisdom and fortitude and enrolled himself among the Stoic's pupils. But although urgently pressed to go to the court, Zeno courteously declined. After pleading the larger uses of his site in Athens, he concludes his compliments to the King by calling attention to the impairments of age and the great risk of travel; but that the King might not be left entirely without consolation, Zeno sent him Perseus and Philonides, both able men and wise.
That he might not go to the extent of incurring the King's displeasure Zeno frequently supped with Antigonus, but avoided any public familiarity with the monarch.
The Stoic shrank from crowds. Often when the porch was uncomfortably full of listeners the master would beg of some to retire. When he walked in the streets followed by importunate admirers he used every device to rid him-self of the bores, and when he could accomplish his purpose in no other way he deliberately paid them money to go elsewhere. Unlike his contemporary, Epicurus, Zeno had no hesitancy in telling men what he thought of them in unmistakable words, and his aspect was as frigid as his reproofs. He was tall, very thin, swarthy of complexion and although it is said that he was afflicted with a deformity whereby his neck was bent to one side, he was commonly called the "Palm Tree of Egypt."
His way of life was in keeping with the rigor of his philosophy. He ate little. Honey, figs, a glass of sweet wine, some simple vegetables, these were sufficient for his keep. He was not ostentatious in dress, but he never reduced himself to the filthy level of the Cynics. Juvenal, the Satirist, said of the Stoics that the only difference between them and the Cynics was in dress; but Juvenal probably had the Romans in mind when he relieved him-self of this irony. Zeno despised the luxury of the Greeks and despised, too, all floridity of speech. He was terse and concise, even to the point of affectation. "The syllables of the wise," he would say, "are brief."
The anecdotes related of him are for the most part commonplace. Some of the brightest may be quoted. Sitting at table one day with a noted glutton, Zeno appropriated the whole of an extraordinarily large fish to his own plate. The glutton stared. "What!" exclaimed Zeno, returning the stare. "Do you desire a monopoly of this sort of thing? You should certainly permit me for once to do what is an everyday trick of your own."
Invited to a dinner at which the guests of honor were certain ambassadors from Ptolemy, Zeno sat through the meal without once speaking. The amazed visitors at last asked him if he had no message for the King. "Tell Ptolemy," he replied, "that there is a man here who can be silent."
Once when urged by a youthful Athenian with questions far above the petitioner's understanding, Zeno placed a mirror before the boy with the query, "Is there any likeness between that countenance and the questions you are asking?"
Zeno admitted no degrees of virtue. A man was either virtuous or he was not. He paralleled the paradox of Achilles and the turtle thus : "There is nothing more true than truth, and nothing more false than falsity. And, too, there is nothing better than that which is good, and nothing worse than that which is bad. A man who is only one stadium from Canope is as little in Canope as a man who is 200 stadia from it; and so he who is guilty of a slight fault is no more in virtue than the greatest offender."
There is little original in the physics and metaphysics of the Stoics. They believed that matter and God were one; that the world was animated with a soul; that the earth was the center of the universe and that the fixed stars were turned around the earth by the motion of the heavens; that the origin of the world lay in its evolution out of a fiery substance and that after the lapse of time it would return to fire again; that above all, even above God, there was a power or a law or a force or a tendency which they called Fate or Destiny.
If the Stoics had depended upon the causal or the theoretical aspect of their philosophy they had failed.
But they precisely did nothing of the kind. They taught that Reason was most important and the intellect the only thing worthy of consideration. The body was fit only for contempt and the less the body obtruded itself upon the intellect the happier would be the man. But much as this may sound like Epicureanism the doctrine was far otherwise in the application. The doctrine of the Stoics especially manifested itself in a superb, even admirable, contempt for physical pain with results quite different from the repose of soul that followed Epicurean theory and practice. Pain was hailed with a kind of perverse delight by Zeno's pupils. It afforded them an opportunity of showing their Stoicism. In this we behold the development of the Cynical practice as Antisthenes sought relief from pain.
In the contrast between the death of the first Cynic and the first Stoic is observed the diametrically opposed conclusions of the two masters. Zeno died like a Stoic. At the age of ninety-eight he was walking one day from the Portico. He slipped and fell, breaking one of his fingers. This accident he interpreted as a warning from Fate that he had almost outlived his usefulness. Dashing his staff upon the ground he exclaimed : "Earth, you shall have what you have demanded." He sought his home and strangled himself. In his whole century of living he had not been ill a single hour. The Athenians, although they did not follow his notable example, honored their Stoic after his death. Brass monuments were raised in his image, and a decree was issued praising his worth and appointing a committee of five eminent citizens to prepare a suitable tribute to his memory.
The exemplars of Stoicism most honored to-day for that philosophy which faces the reverses of for- tune with calm indifference are Roman, not Greek.
Our ideals of Roman statesmanship and soldiery are stoical. Zeno was the last of the philosophers in Greece who were to leave their cast among men; who were to be types. Greek thought was soon to become decrepit, to degenerate through the easy stages of skepticism and finical striving for originality into the mysticism and superstition of the neo-Platonists. Greek morals were decadent. The civilization of Hellas had reached its highest pitch and was already beginning to yield to that dispersive force which seems to attack all nations as well as individuals when the full measure of their growth has been attained. Greek art and Greek letters, too, were at their ebb. The mighty hand of Rome was even now lying upon the classic land of culture. The educated Roman was familiar with Greek literature and spoke the tongue itself. Sons of noble Roman families came to Athens and imbibed the philosophy of Stoicism at its very source and fountain. Stoicism became the national trait above all else with the Romans. Its spirit diffused itself down from the Roman general to the Roman private in the ranks; from the orator of the Senate to the boy in the gymnasium. The very word Roman itself conveys a meaning that can be conveyed by no other word except stoical. The Roman soldier obeyed orders with the precision of a machine. Spat upon by a mob, he was as unmindful, apparently 'as insensible of the insult as if he had been a man of stone. The Roman gladiator died with a smile upon his lips. The Roman father slew his child as a matter of duty. The Roman mother bred heroes of imperturbable visage.
Zeno had strangled himself. His death was the logical outcome of his philosophy. But if the soft effeminacy of the Greeks shrank from such unnatural conduct as this, Roman vigor found in it the very instrument of national progress it needed. To this peculiar fact is due the great success of Rome in the world's wars. True, there was no need of a Zeno in order that a Brutus might live and die. The Romans were all Stoics and they welcomed Stoicism because Zeno clothed with exact expression the spirit that had long animated Rome and gave to her the unique position she occupies in all history.
But with what sad results the Athenian's philosophy was applied upon a large scale may be seen in the long drawn out horror of Roman atrocity from his time until the fall of the Empire. From indifference for pain in one's self to the enjoyment of pain inflicted upon others is an easy step. In the unspeakable savagery of the arena, in the wild orgies of death and blood that fed the lusts of Rome to satiety, in suicide as a fashion and murder as a pastime, are seen the ripe fruits of the Stoic's wisdom. He who is inclined to admire the stoicism of the Athenian may well consider the ferocity of the Roman; and if Rome could never learn from Greece those arts and humanities for which she so admired the race she conquered, it is to be remembered that Zeno, who was a Roman at heart, cared little for poetry and less for painting. Holding high up as most important all that was intellectual, he brought forth in Rome a civilization if such it can be called in which the intellectual was less than nothing. Roman history is a history of war.
Pyrrho, the Skeptic, was born about 365 B. C., and died about 275. Perhaps no other word derived from the Greek is so abused as is skepticism. And while this is true, it is also true that no philosophy is so universally misunderstood. Skeptic not improperly has come to mean Doubter. The Greek word itself signifies a looking through. The Skeptics looked through things. Did they, perchance, see Truth? Skepticism was the natural outcome of the movement of Greek thought which we have been considering and which the intelligent reader has already followed with sufficient clearness to see for himself how one school and one set of opinions and speculations sprang from preceding ones.
Pyrrho professed to doubt everything. "But," said the opponents of the Skeptics, "if you admit that you doubt, you admit that you exist." "Ah," replied the Skeptics, "we even doubt that we doubt. There is no centainty."
Constantly twitted with the utter impracticability of his doctrine as a rule of life, Pyrrho did his best to live his philosophy and, in a measure, succeeded. He said that truth was hidden at the bottom of a well; that in so far as no man could know nothing for certain the only rational way of looking at things was to doubt everything. "Men," he would say, "regulate their lives by received opinions. Everything is done through habit and examined with reference to the laws and customs of a peculiar country. But whether these laws be good or bad, it is impossible to determine." He denied that there was such a thing as truth and placed not the slightest faith in the evidence of the senses.
His daily habits were ordered in conformity with these singular views. It is hard not to believe that Pyrrho was playing a part in these things. However skeptical one may be in the matter of opinion, Skepticism when carried into the actual affairs of one's life must always be a failure. Repeating to one's self the formula "Nothing is certain; there is no truth," will not make one insensible to hunger, cold or pain. Pyrrho was the first and the bravest of the Skeptics. He walked about as a man in a dream. He took special care not to avoid, those things which most men shun. He was never known to turn aside for a rock or a ditch and he scorned to get out of the way of a wagon or a chariot. While he was true to his principles, he did not suffer the natural consequences of their practice, for his friends ever accompanied him and saw that he was not unduly exposed to danger. The sublime indifference with which he treated all persons must have made his personality intensely interesting. If, when in conversation with a man, his vis-a-vis turned about abruptly and left him alone, Pyrrho continued speaking until he had finished what he had to say. One day he was found talking to himself. When asked what he had been doing he replied : "Learning how to be good."
Now and then, however, his principles deserted him. This was especially true when on one occasion he was attacked by a vicious dog. The Skeptic attacked the brute in turn and drove him off. When upbraided for his lack of consistency, the sublime Pyrrho answered : "Ah, how difficult it is for a man to entirely divest himself of his prejudices !"
Overtaken by a storm at sea Pyrrho preserved great calmness of mind while his fellow passengers were shaken with fear. Pyrrho, pointing to a pig which was unconcernedly gorging itself with food, told the fearful ones that wise men could find a noble example in the greedy little animal that feared neither winds nor wrecks. Again he passed through an extremely painful surgical operation without once wincing. Whatever else he was, Pyrrho was certainly without vanity or superstition. He was not above scrubbing his own house and performing tasks that were commonly the duties of slaves. It must be remembered that the Skeptic did all these things in the way of a practical application of his philosophy. There is manifest here that unhealthy striving after something new and striking which was brought out in the conduct of the Cynics and the Stoics. If there was ever a Stoic, so far as indifference to pain is concerned, that Stoic was the founder of Skepticism, but the motive to conduct in both philosophies is entirely different.
"Dancing," says Goldsmith, in his "Citizen of the World," "is a very respectable and genteel employment. Men have a greater chance for the encouragement of their heels than their heads. One who jumps up and flourishes his toes three times before he comes to the ground may have three hundred a year; he who flourishes them four times gets four hundred; but he who arrives at five times is inestimable, and may have any salary he thinks proper." Pyrrho's conduct was not so bad as that but there is no doubt that his eccentricities and his positively insane way of life did more to make his reputation world-wide than any intrinsic merit of his doctrine. There were as honest and as earnest doubters as Pyrrho before Pyrrho's time. But Pyrrho forever fastened his name to Skepticism by his outward life. He went on his way a sublime and immovable madman ; or at least he played the part of a madman to perfection.
He was, too, a man of no mean ability with his hands. Early in life he studied painting, but he gave up art for philosophy and attached himself to Anaxarchus, whom he accompanied to India. In that land of mystery and yogism he met the fakirs and the gymnosophists and was, therefore, we may conclude, familiar with the mysticism and magic of Aryabhata. In no philosophy, not even the idealism of the Germans, is such heavy stress laid upon the insubstantiality of phenomena or material things, as in the Oriental. And what with the astounding doctrines he learned in India, together with the contradictory speculations of the Greeks, it is small wonder that Pyrrho rejected all standards of certitude and became the Skeptic he was. As opposed to the extreme of credulity and superstition Skepticism is not without its advantages, but the depths of insanity to which Skepticism was carried by Pyrrho were even worse than fatuity. For example, one day Anaxarchus, Pyrrho's master, fell in a ditch. He called aloud for help to his beloved and favorite pupil, who chanced to be passing at the moment, but Pyrrho went on his way, leaving the old man to his own devices. The philosopher who could do this was even greater than a Diogenes, and it is no wonder that the Greeks, who were straining for anything, no matter what, so long as it was not usual, erected monuments to Pyrrha and even gave him the keys of the city. Anaxarchus, by the way, highly commended his ungrateful pupil and pointed him out as a noble example of that complete apathy to which all men should aspire. This was the condition to which Greek morals had come in the days of the Skeptics.
But Greece was now suffering from a mania for novelty that presaged the end. The Eleans were so pleased that their city should have been the mother of such a notable man that they made Pyrrho (who believed nothing) the supreme ruler of their religious rites.
Great as was Pyrrho's disregard for the feelings, his customary nonchalance was more than once severely jolted. Becoming angered with the stupidity of his cook, who was preparing his dinner, the philosopher seized the spit and pursued the incompetent servant all the way to the Agora. Again, being completely unhorsed by the arguments of certain learned philosophers of Elis, he ran away from them in a rage, and tearing off his garments he swam the River Alpheus. Hard indeed was it even for a Pyrrho to rise above human prejudices.
The anecdotes here related of Pyrrho are cast aside by Lewes as too absurd to require refutation. The reverse of this peculiar view is probably the more rational one. If we regard them as too evidently true to require proof we shall be nearer the mark. There is every reason to believe that Pyrrho conducted himself precisely as the old stories describe him.
Theatricalness was a national characteristic of the Greeks, and especially of the Greek philosophers. They not only taught, they lived their philosophy. For the same reason that we may credit the brutalities of Diogenes and the insanities of Pyrrho are we warranted in discrediting to the full the manifest slanders against Epicurus.
Pyrrhonistic philosophy is sound enough in that rational doubt at the basis of all scientific progress. The doctrines of the Skeptics have been expounded in more recent times in other phrases than such as remain of the celebrated Elean, but his position has never been strengthened by modern doubters. His physics, metaphysics, and morality may be briefly summarized by again quoting Fénelon : "The reason assigned by this philosopher why we should suspend our judgment is that all knowledge of things is relative and that we are totally ignorant of their essential nature. Willow leaves, for example, are sweet to goats and bitter to men. By the juice of hemlock quails are fattened and men are killed. Demophon, the attendant of Alexander, was scorched in the shade and frozen by the sun; and Andron of Argos traversed the sands of Libya without needing drink. What is just in one country is unjust in another; and that which in one nation passes for virtue, in another is condemned as vice. Thus, among the Persians it was lawful for a man to marry his own daughter, while among the Greeks it is an abominable crime. Robbery is rewarded by the Sicilians and punished by the Greeks.
"Aristippus had one notion of pleasure, Antisthenes another, and Epicurus a third, differing from both. The doctrine of a God is received by some and rejected by others. The Egyptians bury their dead ; the Indians burn them, and the Phoenicians throw them into ponds. What seems one color in the light of the sun, appears another color in the light of the moon and in candle-light assumes a color resembling neither. The dove's neck shifts colors with its position. What is on the right hand for one man is on the left for another. Greece is east of Italy and west of Persia. What would be a miracle in one country is a common event in another."
As a means of clearing the ground Skepticism is excel-lent. But the Skeptics, while perceiving the truth that knowledge is relative, were at a loss to do more than offer a negative philosophy. They did not inquire into the uses of the relative. Satisfying themselves that the human mind could never know things in their essence, they gave up the problem and lay supine. Skepticism qua Skepticism is even worse than useless. The childish conceptions of things offered by many of the Greek sages were infinitely more reassuring than the bald doubt of Pyrrho. Some of the Skeptics held that the only thing of which they could be at all certain was that they were certain of nothing; and some even went farther and taught that they could not even be certain of that.
In another section we shall have to consider Agnosticism, and we shall also see that Agnosticism is by no means the same as Pyrrhonism. We shall also see how from such a barren seed as Pyrrho sowed sprang that philosophy which is today the only philosophy that is accepted by scientific thinkers as rational and sound. We shall also be enabled to note, with satisfaction, that the history of the early philosophers is the story of that noble discontent whereby man's mind has risen from small beginnings and puny efforts to arrive at truth and at some trustworthy criterion of truth, to the large and safe structure of that knowledge which cements its first foundation stone on the bed rock and bottom of experience.