2021-06-06

Ancient Philosopher Traditions Pave the Way for Jesus and Paul

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by Neil Godfrey

Let this post complement the last.

Private teachings and efforts to avoid crowds

Stilpo

When Crates asked him whether the gods take delight in prayers and adorations, he is said to have replied, “Don’t put such a question in the street, simpleton, but when we are alone!” It is said that Bion, when he was asked the same question whether there are gods, replied: Will you not scatter the crowd from me, O much-enduring elder?

Plato

Plato has employed a variety of terms in order to make his system less intelligible to the ignorant

Chrysippus

Again, when somebody who had a question to ask was steadily conversing with him in private, and then upon seeing a crowd approaching began to be more contentious

Pyrrho

He would withdraw from the world and live in solitude,

he would leave his home and, telling no one, would go roaming about with whomsoever he chanced to meet.

Staff, cloak and wallet

Bion

Then he adopted the Cynic discipline, donning cloak and wallet

Antisthenes

And he was the first, Diocles tells us, to double his cloak and be content with that one garment and to take up a staff and a wallet. Neanthes too asserts that he was the first to double his mantle. Sosicrates, however, in the third book of his Successions of Philosophers says this was first done by Diodorus of Aspendus, who also let his beard grow and used a staff and a wallet.

Diogenes (also one of several who “had nowhere to lay his head”)

He was the first, say some, to fold his cloak because he was obliged to sleep in it as well, and he carried a wallet to hold his victuals, and he used any place for any purpose, for breakfasting, sleeping, or conversing. And then he would say, pointing to the portico of Zeus and the Hall of Processions, that the Athenians had provided him with places to live in. He did not lean upon a staff until he grew infirm; but afterwards he would carry it everywhere, not indeed in the city, but when walking along the road with it and with his wallet; so say Olympiodorus,13 once a magistrate at Athens, Polyeuctus the orator, and Lysanias the son of Aeschrio. He

That famous one who carried a staff, doubled his cloak, and lived in the open air.

Menedemus

and he wore a very long beard and carried an ashen staff in his hand.

The Magi

Their dress is white, they make their bed on the ground, and their food is vegetables, cheese, and coarse bread; their staff is a reed

Many called but few chosen

Bion

And hence it came about that he is not credited with a single disciple, out of all the crowds who attended his lectures.

Diogenes

He was returning from Olympia, and when somebody inquired whether there was a great crowd, “Yes,” he said, “a great crowd, but few who could be called men.”

Despised

Zeno

And he had about him certain ragged dirty fellows, as Timon says in these lines: The while he got together a crowd of ignorant serfs, who surpassed all men in beggary and were the emptiest of townsfolk.

Crates

Zeno of Citium in his Anecdotes relates that in a fit of heedlessness he sewed a sheepskin to his cloak. He was ugly to look at, and when performing his gymnastic exercises used to be laughed at. He was accustomed to say, raising his hands, “Take heart, Crates, for it is for the good of your eyes and of the rest of your body. You will see these men, who are laughing at you, tortured before long by disease, counting you happy, and reproaching themselves for their sluggishness.”

All things in common

Bion

He was extremely selfish and insisted strongly on the maxim that “friends share in common.”

Diogenes

The wise are friends of the gods, and friends hold things in common. Therefore all things belong to the wise.”

He maintained that all things are the property of the wise, and employed such arguments as those cited above. All things belong to the gods. The gods are friends to the wise, and friends share all property in common; therefore all things are the property of the wise

Zeno

Friendship, they declare, exists only between the wise and good, by reason of their likeness to one another. And by friendship they mean a common use of all that has to do with life, wherein we treat our friends as we should ourselves.

Pythagoras

According to Timaeus, he was the first to say, “Friends have all things in common” and “Friendship is equality”; indeed, his disciples did put all their possessions into one common stock.

Epicurus

He further says that Epicurus did not think it right that their property should be held in common, as required by the maxim of Pythagoras about the goods of friends; such a practice in his opinion implied mistrust, and without confidence there is no friendship.

Some went further and taught that wives and children should also be “in common”.

Criticizes a host at dinner

Menedemus

Not being able to curb the extravagance of someone who had invited him to dinner, he said nothing when he was invited, but rebuked his host tacitly by confining himself to olives.

Empedocles

With this Timaeus agrees, at the same time giving the reason why Empedocles favoured democracy, namely, that, having been invited to dine with one of the magistrates, when the dinner had gone on some time and no wine was put on the table, though the other guests kept quiet, he, becoming indignant, ordered wine to be brought.

Wrote Letters that were preserved by disciples 

Not all, but some “wrote a few letters”. Example:

Epicurus

Epicurus to Menoeceus, greeting.

Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search thereof when he is grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come. So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions are directed toward attaining it.

Those things which without ceasing I have declared unto thee, those do, and exercise thyself therein, holding them to be the elements of right life. First believe that God is a living being immortal and blessed, . . . . 

. . . . .

Accustom thyself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply sentience, and death is the privation of all sentience; therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life an illimitable time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality.

For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly apprehended that there are no terrors for him in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatsoever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation.

Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.  But in the world, at one time men shun death as the greatest of all evils, and at another time choose it as a respite from the evils in life. The wise man does not deprecate life nor does he fear the cessation of life. The thought of life is no offence to him, nor is the cessation of life regarded as an evil. And even as men choose of food not merely and simply the larger portion, but the more pleasant, so the wise seek to enjoy the time which is most pleasant and not merely that which is longest. And he who admonishes the young to live well and the old to make a good end speaks foolishly, not merely because of the desirableness of life, but because the same exercise at once teaches to live well and to die well.

Much worse is he who says that it were good not to be born, but when once one is born to pass with all speed through the gates of Hades.

. . . . .

When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or wilful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. 

. . . . .

Exercise thyself in these and kindred precepts day and night, both by thyself and with him who is like unto thee; then never, either in waking or in dream, wilt thou be disturbed, but wilt live as a god among men. For man loses all semblance of mortality by living in the midst of immortal blessings.


Diogenes Laertius. Lives of the Eminent Philosophers. Edited by James Miller. Translated by Pamela Mensch. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.


 

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Neil Godfrey

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One thought on “Ancient Philosopher Traditions Pave the Way for Jesus and Paul”

  1. This is not surprising if we view Mark as an author of a story in which the heavenly intermediary, Jesus, comes to earth in order to die and rise. Mark had to give Jesus a career that would hold the audience’s interest, allow him to spout wisdom, come into conflict with someone who would kill him (in this case, the religious Establishment), and give him a second character to talk to (the disciple Peter).

    Once the Jesus-on-earth “biography” was established (Mark’s story, expanded in the canonical gospels), it set the boundaries for what was acceptable to the orthodox. I am constantly amazed by the narrowness and deliberate repetitiveness of the human stories at the base of the early (canonical) Christian texts, and the lives of the martyrs and saints. They are emulations on top of emulations. Jesus’s biography as it expanded through the centuries is that of a philosopher because of its root in Mark’s aesthetic decision.

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