Verses from the Cynic Philosopher Crates of Thebes

Some fragmentary verses concerning Cynic philosophy attribtued to Crates of Thebes.

Verses from the Cynic Crates

Crates-in-Book

We have several fragments of poetry attributed to Crates of Thebes, the Cynic philosopher who followed Diogenes of Sinope and was the first teacher of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism.

The first fragment, cited by Diogenes Laertius, treats their characteristic knapsack (pera) as a metonym for the Cynic life, portraying it as an ideal city, perhaps comparable to the ideal Republic postulated by philosophers of different schools.  It is surrounded by an ocean of folly, or vapour (tuphos), the Cynic’s favourite word for the illusion of conventional values, the view of the majority that prizes “external goods” such as material wealth and public acclaim, etc.  However, because this city is populated by people who live  simple and wise life, with only the most basic possessions, ironically, they do not attract foolish or lewd citizens and their poverty means there is no reason for anyone to invade them.  By “fair and fat”, he means beautiful and wealthy, in its own paradoxical way.  The word for thyme is virtually identical to the word for courage or being highly “spirited” (thumos), which is apparently a play on words: the reader is to take it that the realm of the Cynic knapsack, by consisting of simple living, is characterised by the virtue of bravery.

There is a city, Pera in the wine-dark sea of folly,

Fair and fat, though filthy, with nothing much inside.

Never does there sail to it any foolish stranger,

Or lewd fellow who takes delight in the rumps of whores,

But it merely carries thyme and garlic, figs and loaves,

Things over which people do not fight or go to war,

Nor stand they to arms for small change or glory.

Again, from Diogenes Laertius, these lines express the Cynic notion of being a citizen of the world:

Not one tower does my country have, not one roof,

But for home and city, the entire earth lies

At my disposition for a dwelling.

Crates reputedly came from a wealthy family but disposed of all his money on becoming a Cynic.  Here he refers to his former wealth as vapour (tuphos) again, implying its insubstantial and ephemeral nature.  According to Diogenes Laertius, elsewhere he wrote:

This I own, what I have learned and thought, and the Muses’

Solemn precepts; but all my riches are gone like empty smoke.

The Greek Anthology includes the following lines of his Hymn to Frugality, which describes it as a species of temperance:

Hail, Goddess and Queen, beloved of the wise,

Frugality, worthy offspring of glorious Temperance,

Your virtues are honoured by all who practise righteousness.

Plutarch, in Rules for the Preservation of Health, cites these lines, commenting that Crates “believed that civil strife and despotism were brought about in the main by luxury and extravagance”.  Lentil soup was a cheap and simple meal traditionally associated with the Cynic way of life:

Do not throw us into strife

By preferring fine dishes to lentil soup.

Teles of Megara quotes these lines, referring again to the characteristic knapsack of the Cynic, and to lupin seeds, another typically cheap meal associated with them:

You have no idea what power a knapsack holds,

And a quart of lupins, and freedom from care.

Apparently, the meals emblematic of the Cynic way of life, lupins and lentil soup, are particularly associated with flatulence, and this happens to be a topic the Cynics also liked to mention.  For example, the following anecdote is recounted by Montaigne:

In the midst of a discussion, and in the presence of his followers, Metrocles let off a fart.  To hide his embarrassment he stayed at home until, eventually, Crates came to pay him a visit; to his consolations and arguments Crates added the example of his own licence: he began a farting match with him, thereby removing his scruples and, into the bargain, converting him to the freer stoic school from the more socially oriented Peripatetics whom he had formerly followed.

The Cynic Prayer of Crates

The Cynic prayer attributed to the philosopher Crates of Thebes, student of Diogenes of Sinope.

The Cynic Prayer of Crates

Crates-in-BookCrates of Thebes was Diogenes the Cynic’s most famous pupil and the main teacher of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism.

Glorious children of Mnemosyne and Olympian Zeus,

Pierian Muses, hearken to my prayer!

Grant me food without fail for my belly,

Which has ever made my life simple and unenslaved…

Make me useful rather than sweet to my friends.

Glorious goods I do not wish to gather, as one

Who yearns for the wealth of a beetle or riches of an ant;

No, I wish to possess righteousness and collect riches

Which are easily borne, easily gained, and conducive to virtue.

If these I win, I will propitiate Hermes and the holy Muses

Not with costly offering but with pious virtues.

From the Emperor Julian, the Apostate’s Orations.  This is a Cynic appropriation of a famous verse-prayer by Solon, the Athenian sage and statesman.  Solon prayed for prosperity and reputation, and to be sweet (pleasing) to his friends.  Crates, makes a pointed contrast by praying instead for just enough food as the body naturally requires, enough “riches” to survive and live simply, and he seeks to be useful rather than pleasant to his friends, by helping to make them better (more virtuous) people, even if that sometimes requires harsh words or actions.  Virtue replaces wealth, throughout, as the chief good in human life, being likewise what the gods value.

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

The poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

Goethe: Aphorisms on Nature

Goethe’s Aphorisms on Nature, translated by T.H. Huxley.

Goethe: Aphorisms on Nature

T. H. Huxley

NATURE! We are surrounded and embraced by her: powerless to separate ourselves from her, and powerless to penetrate beyond her.

Without asking, or warning, she snatches us up into her circling dance, and whirls us on until we are tired, and drop from her arms.

She is ever shaping new forms: what is, has never yet been; what has been, comes not again. Everything is new, and yet nought but the old.

We live in her midst and know her not. She is incessantly speaking to us, but betrays not her secret. We constantly act upon her, and yet have no power over her.

The one thing she seems to aim at is Individuality; yet she cares nothing for individuals. She is always building up and destroying; but her workshop is inaccessible.

Her life is in her children; but where is the mother? She is the only artist; working-up the most uniform material into utter opposites; arriving, without a trace of effort, at perfection, at the most exact precision, though always veiled under a certain softness.

Each of her works has an essence of its own; each of her phenomena a special characterisation: and yet their diversity is in unity.

She performs a play; we know not whether she sees it herself, and yet she acts for us, the lookers-on.

Incessant life, development, and movement are in her, but she advances not. She changes for ever and ever, and rests not a moment. Quietude is inconceivable to her, and she has laid her curse upon rest. She is firm. Her steps are measured, her exceptions rare, her laws unchangeable.

She has always thought and always thinks; though not as a man, but as Nature. She broods over an all-comprehending idea, which no searching can find out.

Mankind dwell in her and she in them. With all men she plays a game for love, and rejoices the more they win. With many, her moves are so hidden, that the game is over before they know it.

That which is most unnatural is still Nature; the stupidest philistinism has a touch of her genius. Whoso cannot see her everywhere, sees her nowhere rightly.

She loves herself, and her innumberable eyes and affections are fixed upon herself. She has divided herself that she may be her own delight. She causes an endless succession of new capacities for enjoyment to spring up, that her insatiable sympathy may be assuaged.

She rejoices in illusion. Whoso destroys it in himself and others, him she punishes with the sternest tyranny. Whoso follows her in faith, him she takes as a child to her bosom.

Her children are numberless. To none is she altogether miserly; but she has her favourites, on whom she squanders much, and for whom she makes great sacrifices. Over greatness she spreads her shield.

She tosses her creatures out of nothingness, and tells them not whence they came, nor whither they go. It is their business to run, she knows the road.

Her mechanism has few springs — but they never wear out, are always active and manifold.

The spectacle of Nature is always new, for she is always renewing the spectators. Life is her most exquisite invention; and death is her expert contrivance to get plenty of life.

She wraps man in darkness, and makes him for ever long for light. She creates him dependent upon the earth, dull and heavy; and yet is always shaking him until he attempts to soar above it.

She creates needs because she loves action. Wondrous! that she produces all this action so easily. Every need is a benefit, swiftly satisfied, swiftly renewed.— Every fresh want is a new source of pleasure, but she soon reaches an equilibrium.

Every instant she commences an immense journey, and every instant she has reached her goal.

She is vanity of vanities; but not to us, to whom she has made herself of the greatest importance. She allows every child to play tricks with her; every fool to have judgment upon her; thousands to walk stupidly over her and see nothing; and takes her pleasure and finds her account in them all.

We obey her laws even when we rebel against them; we work with her even when we desire to work against her.

She makes every gift a benefit by causing us to want it. She delays, that we may desire her; she hastens, that we may not weary of her.

She has neither language nor discourse; but she creates tongues and hearts, by which she feels and speaks.

Her crown is love. Through love alone dare we come near her. She separates all existences, and all tend to intermingle. She has isolated all things in order that all may approach one another. She holds a couple of draughts from the cup of love to be fair payment for the pains of a lifetime.

She is all things. She rewards herself and punishes herself; is her own joy and her own misery. She is rough and tender, lovely and hateful, powerless and omnipotent. She is an eternal present. Past and future are unknown to her. The present is her eternity. She is beneficient. I praise her and all her works. She is silent and wise.

No explanation is wrung from her; no present won from her, which she does not give freely. She is cunning, but for good ends; and it is best not to notice her tricks.

She is complete, but never finished. As she works now, so can she always work. Everyone sees her in his own fashion. She hides under a thousand names and phrases, and is always the same. She has brought me here and will also lead me away. I trust her. She may scold me, but she will not hate her work. It was not I who spoke of her. No! What is false and what is true, she has spoken it all. The fault, the merit, is all hers.

Stoicism in the Poetry of Persius

Excerpts from the fifth Satire of the poet Persius, a contemporary of Seneca, which deals with his own Stoic education.

Stoicism in the Poetry of Persius

Aulus-Persius-FlaccusPersius was a Roman poet and satirist (34-62 AD), who was apparently schooled in Stoic philosophy from adolescence and explicitly refers to it in his surviving writings.  He was a contemporary of the philosopher Seneca, whom he apparently met, and was friends with Seneca’s nephew, the Stoic epic-poet Lucan, although his own mentor was Lucius Annaeus Cornutus, also a Stoic.

Persius’ fifth Satire is actually dedicated to Cornutus, focuses on Stoic philosophy, and expresses his gratitude to the man who taught him “the Stoic way of life”.  Some excerpts that address relevant themes are as follows:

Has philosophy taught you to live
a good upstanding life?  Can you tell the true from the specious,
alert for the false chink of copper beneath the gold?
Have you settled what to aim for and also what to avoid,
marking the former list with chalk and the other with charcoal?
Are your wants modest, your housekeeping thrifty?  Are you nice to your friends?
Do you know when to shut your barns and throw them open? […]

Well then, two hooks are pulling on opposite ways.
Which will you follow, this or that?  Your loyalty is bound
to vacillate, obeying and desecrating each master in turn.
Even if you once succeed in making a stand and defying
their incessant orders, you can’t say ‘I’ve broken my bonds!’
For a dog may snap its fastening after a struggle, but still
as it runs away a length of chain trails from its neck.

Stoicism in Horace’s Satires

Excerpt from a Satire by the Roman poet Horace, in which he portrays his slave delivering a speech based on Stoic philosophy.

Stoicism in Horace’s Satires

The Roman poet Horace (65- 8 BC) explicitly refers to Stoicism several times in his Satires and Epistles, and there appear to be many more Stoic influences scattered throughout his work.  Horace studied philosophy in Athens but scholars disagree as to whether he was primarily a Stoic, an Epicurean, or an eclectic.

One of the Satires (2.7) describes a speech delivered to Horace during the festival of Saturnalia by his own slave, called Davus, who had learned Stoicism from a servant of the (perhaps fictional) Stoic philosopher and poet Crispinus.

Who then is free?  The wise man who is master of himself,
who remains undaunted in the face of poverty, chains and death,
who stubbornly defies his passions and despises positions of power,
a man complete in himself, smooth and round, who prevents
extraneous elements clinging to his polished surface, who is such
that when Fortune attacks him she maims only herself.  Can you
lay claim to a single one of these qualities?  A woman demands
a small fortune, bullies you, slams the door, saturates you
with cold water – and invites you back.  Tear that degrading yoke from your neck!  Come on, say you are free!  You can’t.
For a cruel master is riding your soul, jabbing the spurs
in your weary flanks, and hauling round your head when you shy. […]

Moreover, you can’t stand so much as an hour of your own company
or spend your leisure properly; you avoid yourself like a truant
or fugitive, hoping by drink or sleep to elude Angst.
But it’s no good, for that dark companion stays on your heels.

The first excerpt above resembles several passages from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD), written over 200 years later:

Are you affected by pain or pleasure? Your senses must look to that. Did something stand in the way of your impulse? If you exercised your impulse without reservation the hindrance will be detrimental to you as a rational being, but if you anticipated the obstacle, you are not yet harmed or hindered. As to the operations of your intellect, no other person is in a position to hinder them; for neither fire, nor steel, nor a tyrant, nor abuse, can affect the mind in any way. When it has become a ‘well-rounded sphere’, it always remains so. (8.41)

He repeats this metaphor of the sphere again, attributing it to the presocratic philosopher Empedocles:

There are three things of which you are composed: body, breath, and mind. Of these, the first two are your own in so far as it is your duty to take care of them; but only the third is your own in the full sense. So if you will put away from yourself—that is to say, from your mind—all that others do or say, and all that you yourself have done or said, and all that troubles you with regard to the future, and all that belongs to the body which envelops you, and to the breath conjoined with it, or is attached to you independently of your will, and all that the vortex whirling around outside you sweeps in its wake, so that the power of your mind, thus delivered from the bonds of fate, may live a pure and unfettered life alone with itself doing what is just, desiring what comes to pass, and saying what is true—if, I say, you will put away from your ruling centre all that accretes to it from the affections of the body, and all that lies in the future or in time gone by, and make yourself, in Empedocles’ words, ‘a well-rounded sphere rejoicing in the solitude around it’, and strive to live only the life that is your own, that is to say, your present life, then you will be able to pass at least the time that is left to you until you die in calm and kindliness, and as one who is at peace with the guardian-spirit that dwells within him. (12.3)

Elsewhere, Marcus appears to refer once more to this Empedoclean “sphere”:

The soul is “a sphere truly shaped”, when it neither projects itself towards anything outside nor shrinks together inwardly, neither expands nor contracts, but irradiates a light whereby it sees the reality of all things and the reality that is in itself. (Meditations, 11.12)

Empedocles was a very ancient Pythagorean-influenced philosopher.  The Stoics in general make many references to Pythagorean theories and practices, which this should probably be grouped alongside.  It’s possible that Marcus had read this passage from Horace and was influenced by it.  However, it may be more likely that they are both drawing upon a third, older, unnamed Stoic source, that makes use of this concept from Empedocles.

The second excerpt from Horace above, about “that dark companion”, also resembles a Pythagorean text called The Golden Verses, which is cited by both Epictetus and Seneca, and clearly played an important role in Stoicism:

Men shall you find whose sorrows themselves have created,
Wretches who see not the Good, that is too near, nothing they hear;
Few know how to help themselves in misfortune.
That is the Fate that blinds humanity; in circles,
Hither and yon they run in endless sorrows;
For they are followed by a grim companion, disunion within themselves;
Unnoticed; never rouse him, and fly from before him!
Father Zeus, O free them all from sufferings so great,
Or show unto each the daemon, who is their guide!

Cato’s Speech on Stoic Philosophy from Lucan’s The Civil War

An excerpt from Lucan’s epic poem The Civil War (or Pharsalia) in which Cato the Younger delivers a speech on Stoic philosophy.

Cato’s Speech on Stoic Philosophy

From Lucan’s The Civil War

Cato-Statue(Quotations from the translation by Susan H. Braund.)

The poet Lucan (39-65 AD) was the nephew and student of the Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger (4-65 AD), and his epic The Civil War (De Bello Civili), also known as the Pharsalia after the Battle of Pharsalus, is steeped in Stoic philosophical themes and terminology.  It describes the Great Roman Civil War (49-45 BC) between Julius Caesar and the forces of the Roman Senate led by Pompey.

In the Pharsalia, Cato the Younger (95-46 BC) is portrayed as a Stoic hero or warrior-sage, because of his defence of the Roman Republic and defiance of the tyrant Julius Caesar.  In Book Two, Cato is introduced as follows by Brutus:

‘Of Virtue long ago expelled and banished from all lands
you are now the sole support, and Fortune will not with any whirlwind
strike her from you: I call on you, as I hesitate and waver,
to guide and reinforce me with your resolute strength.’

Then Cato’s character is described by Lucan:

This was the character and this the unswerving creed
of austere Cato: to observe moderation, to hold to the goal,
to follow nature, to devote his life to his country,
to believe that he was born not for himself but for all the world.
In his eyes to conquer hunger was a feast, to ward off winter
with a roof was a mighty palace, and to draw across
his limbs the rough toga in the manner of the Roman citizen of old
was a precious robe, and the greatest value of Venus
was offspring: for Rome he is father and for Rome he is husband,
keeper of justice and guardian of strict morality,
his goodness was for the state; into none of Cato’s acts
did self-centred pleasure creep in and take a share.

In Book Nine, Cato marches his beleaguered troops through the deserts of Africa, where they endure many hardships, and suffer many casualties.  However, they are inspired to persevere in the face of great adversity by Cato’s example.  At one point, Cato’s army come across the only temple to Jupiter (or Zeus), under the name of Ammon, in the surrounding lands.  A general who had defected from Caesar’s army, Labienus, urges Cato to consult the oracle about their fate in the civil war.  However, Cato refuses to do so, because of his Stoic principles, and instead becomes a kind of oracle himself, delivering a short speech on Stoic doctrine to reproach and inspire his men.

He, filled with the god he carried in his silent mind,
poured forth from his breast words worthy of the shrine:
’What question, Labienus, do you bid me ask?  Whether I prefer
to meet my death in battle, free, to witnessing a tyranny?
Whether it makes no difference if our lives be long or short?
Whether violence can harm no good man and Fortune wastes her threats
when virtue lines up against her, and whether it is enough to wish for
things commendable and whether what is upright never grows by its success?
We know the answer: Ammon will not plant it deeper in me.
We are all connected with the gods above, and even if the shrine is silent
we do nothing without God’s will; no need has deity of any
utterances: the Creator told us at our birth once and always
whatever we can know.  Did he select the barren sands
to prophesy to a few and in this dust submerge the truth
and is there any house of God except the earth and sea and air
and sky and excellence?  Why do we seek gods any further?
Whatever you see, whatever you experience, is Jupiter.
Let those unsure and always dubious of future events
require fortune-tellers: no oracles make me certain,
certain death does.  Coward and brave must fall:
it is enough that Jupiter has said this.’  So declaring
he departed from the altars with the temples credit intact,
leaving Ammon to the peoples, uninvestigated.

Some Ancient Stoic Poems

Some brief excerpts from ancient poems relating to Stoic philosophy.

Some Ancient Stoic Poems

Chrysippus Gesturing

[Zeno of Citium]
The cold of winter and the ceaseless rain
Come powerless against him: weak the dart
Of the fierce summer sun or racking pain
To bend that iron frame. He stands apart
Unspoiled by public feast and jollity:
Patient, unwearied night and day doth he
Cling to his studies of philosophy.

Unknown author, quoted by Diogenes Laertius

[Zeno of Citium]
Here lies great Zeno, dear to Citium,
who scaled high Olympus,
though he piled not Pelion on Ossa,
nor toiled at the labours of Heracles,
but this was the path he found out to the stars
– the way of temperance alone.

The epitaph composed for him by Antipater of Sidon, from Diogenes Laertius

[Zeno of Citium]
Thou madest self-sufficiency thy rule,
Eschewing haughty wealth, O godlike Zeno,
With aspect grave and hoary brow serene.
A manly doctrine thine: and by thy prudence
With much toil thou didst found a great new school,
Chaste parent of unfearing liberty.
And if thy native country was Phoenicia,
What need to slight thee? came not Cadmus thence,
Who gave to Greece her books and art of writing?

Another epitaph, from Zenodotus, a pupil of the Stoic scholarch Diogenes of Babylon, quoted by Diogenes Laertius

[The Stoics]
O ye who’ve learnt the doctrines of the Porch
And have committed to your books divine
The best of human learning, teaching men
That the mind’s virtue is the only good!
She only it is who keeps the lives of men
And cities, – safer than high gates and walls.
But those who place their happiness in pleasure
Are led by the least worthy of the Muses.

Athenaeus the epigrammatist, quoted by Diogenes Laertius

[Epictetus]
Slave, poor as Irus, halting as I trod,
I, Epictetus, was the friend of God.

Anonymous ancient epigram.

[The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius]
If thou would’st master care and pain,
Unfold this book and read and read again
Its blessed leaves, whereby thou soon shalt see
The past, the present, and the days to be
With opened eyes; and all delight, all grief,
Shall be like smoke, as empty and as brief.

Epigram found at the end of Vatican manuscript and in the Anthologia Palatina.

[Phaenomena]
Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring…

From Aratus’ Phaenomena, quoted by St. Paul as reported in Acts (17.28)

The Hymn to Zeus by Cleanthes

Excerpts from the famous Hymn to Zeus by the Stoic philosopher Cleanthes.

The Hymn to Zeus by Cleanthes

Brief excerpt quoted in Epictetus’ Enchiridion and the Epistles of Seneca:

Lead me on, O Zeus, and thou Destiny,
To that goal long ago to me assigned.
I’ll follow readily but if my will prove weak;
Wretched as I am, I must follow still.
Fate guides the willing, but drags the unwilling.

The longer version found in the Anthology of Stobaeus begins:

Most glorious of the  immortals, called by many names, ever almighty
Zeus, leader of nature, guiding everything with law,
Hail!  For it is right that all mortals should address you,
since all are descended from you and imitate your voice,
alone of all the mortals which live and creep upon the earth.
So I will sing your praises and hymn your might always.

Contented with Little by Robert Burns

The poem “Contented with Little”, by Robert Burns, which arguably exhibits Stoic and Epicurean themes.

Contented with Little

[My translation into Standard English from The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy.  Burns’ poem arguably exhibits the influence of Stoic and Epicurean themes.]

Contented with little and joyous with more,
Whenever I meet with Sorrow and Care,
I gave them a slap, as they’re creeping along,
With a cup o’ good ale and an auld Scottish song.

I oft’ scratch the elbow o’ troublesome Thought;
But Man is a soldier, and Life must be fought.
My mirth and good humour are coin in my pouch,
And my Freedom’s my Lairdship no monarch dare touch.

A twelve-month o’ trouble, should my fortune fall,
A night o’ good fellowship fixes it all:
When at the blithe end of our journey at last,
Who the Hell ever thinks o’ the road he has passed?

Blind Chance, let her stumble and stagger on her way,
Be it to me, or from me, even, let the slut stray!
Come Ease, or come Travail, come Pleasure or Pain,
My worst words are:– “Welcome, and welcome again!”

– Robert Burns, 1794.