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A FEW DAYS IN ATHENS – By Frances Wright
Chapter 1 – First Meeting of Theon and Epicurus
- Theon (a new student sent by his father from Corinth to Athens to learn philosophy) exits an assembly of the Stoic school. He is incensed by what he has heard about the depravity of the Epicurean school.
- Theon meets a stranger (Epicurus) on the road.
- Epicurus jokes about Theon appearing to be a follower of Plato, since he talks of gods, then jokes that Theon cannot be a Stoic if he is interested in a guide.
- Epicurus advises Theon to have confidence in himself.
- Epicurus advises Theon to visit other schools so as to learn and compare them.
- Epicurus invites Theon into his home and announces to Theon – “I am Epicurus.”
Chapter 2 – Epicurus introduces Theon to his school.
- Epicurus’ students welcome Theon; Epicurus advises them to use their own eyes and ears and not trust his endorsement.
- Introduction of Leontium, female friend and student of Epicurus.
- Leontium states that she has been studying Theophrastus (successor to Aristotle) and found him arrogant.
- Leontium states that she and Metrodorus have been debating the question “Whether the vicious were more justly objects of indignation or of contempt.”
- Epicurus gives his opinion – “neither” – and states that Time is the teacher of this verdict.
- Epicurus and Metrodorus discuss Metrodorus’ past vices and present redemption from them.
- Theon recounts that Timocrates had denounced Epicurus at the Stoic assembly.
- Theon states that Zeno must fail to understand Epicurus’ doctrine – Epicurus corrects Theon on this point.
Chapter 3 – Theon returns to the Garden for further discussion
- Epicurus explains to Theon how views virtue much differently than do the Stoics, and that virtue derives from pleasure; evil from pain.
- Epicurus says that virtue is the highest pleasure, and vice, or ungoverned passion, the worst misery, but that other pleasures are required for happiness, and other miseries are capable of destroying the peace of virtuous men.
- Epicurus says that a bad logician can have a good understanding of a thing, and a young mind can be acute.
- Theon and Epicurus arrive at a location where Metrodorus is working on a painting of Leontium.
- Leontium says (half-jokingly) that painting, music, and poetry will keep a man from wisdom.
Chapter 4 – Encounter with Gryphus the Cynic
- Sofron explains how Gryphus is about to appear in the Garden.
- Gryphus admonishes Epicurus not to continue his teaching because he is a fool.
- Epicurus responds that even if he were to restrict himself to teaching other fools, his gardens could not hold all the fools in Athens.
- Gryphus leaves; Epicurus explains to his students how Gryphus’ errors stem from his pride, vanity, and ambition.
- Epicurus describes that producing great men is not the same as producing happy men.
- Discussion of how an ambitious man of limited capacity will know his own limitations.
Chapter 5 – Theon encounters Cleanthes (a Stoic) and they argue about Epicurus
- Theon argues the Stoic doctrine that virtue can have no connection with pleasure.
- They arrive at the Stoic assembly; Cleanthes announces that they have a traitor among them (Theon).
- Cleanthes argues that the road to virtue is long and steep and those who seek after virtue can have no part of pleasure.
- Zeno arrives; Cleanthes collapses in the emotional intensity of his condemnation of Epicurus and pleasure.
Chapter 6 – Cleanthes denounces Theon to a Stoic Assembly
- Theon rushes to Cleanthes’ assistance and announces that he himself is the “traitor” to Epicurus.
- Theon defends what he has seen in the Epicurean garden and says there is truth there.
- Theon accuses Timocrates of having lied the previous day about what goes on in the Garden; Timocrates appears and says Theon is himself lying.
- Epicurus appears and accuses Timocrates of perjury.
Chapter 7 – Debate between Zeno and Epicurus
- Zeno says that Epicurean philosophy is false because it leaves an open door to vice, and that his own Stoic view of virtue is both correct and the only proper response to the decadence and the decline of civilization.
- Epicurus responds:
- Defends his conception of virtue as arising from pleasure, and shows why Zeno is wrong when he says that Epicurus leaves an open door to vice.
- Epicurus says that he accepts men as they are, not as we might wish them to be, and that his philosophy brings healing and happiness to men
- Epicurean philosophy does not seek to make men great, but to make them happy.
- When in the future both Stoicism and Epicurean philosophy are lost and denounced, the fault will not be that of Epicurus, but in his students.
- The Assembly divides.
Chapter 8 – Theon Discusses With Epicurus The Confrontation With Zeno and His Argument With Cleanthes.
- Theon reports that he and Cleanthes have argued again.
- Epicurus replies that men rarely change their minds in arguments.
- They discuss how Cleanthes came to be a spokesman for Zeno and the Stoics, and that Zeno had allowed Cleanthes to live in poverty.
- Epicurus endorses candor as an essential quality.
- Epicurus explains why he has enemies despite his mildness, candor, and good humor.
- Metrodorus says he wishes Epicurus would be more aggressive toward his enemies; Epicurus says that his course is wiser and that he has no wish for anyone to fear him.
Chapter 9 – Metrodorus, Leontium, and Theon discuss art and Epicurean philosophy
- Metrodorus and Leontium explain that Epicurus values the arts, as tools employed by true philosophy for happy living.
- Leontium says that Epicurus is criticized by the Stoics for valuing the liberal arts too much, and by the hedonists for valuing it too little.
- The example of Polyoenus, who still studies geometry, but considers it secondary to the science of happy living.
- Metrodorus says that Epicurus rules his garden by example and persuasion, not due to his authority.
- Epicurus discusses knowledge and what it can do to assist us in happy living.
Chapter 10 – Epicurus addresses his assembled scholars on how to live happily.
- Epicurus says that a happy life is neither a roaring torrent nor a stagnant pool, but a placid and crystal stream the flows gently and silently along.
- Epicurus shows how philosophy can heal the pains we suffer in life.
- Epicurus explains that Death is never our foe.
- Epicurus explains how to face the death of our loved ones.
- Epicurus advises us to live innocently and with tranquility and to be ready for death when it comes.
- Colotes pays his respects to Epicurus
Chapter 11 – Epicurus and Theon watch the gathering storm and rescue Hedeia from the torrential stream
- Epicurus tells Theon not to lament the passing of wise men; they will be remembered by those who appreciate wisdom.
- Theon says that he hates prejudice, and cannot hold back from being angry against it.
- Epicurus says that anger is not the correct response to prejudice.
- Epicurus and Theon watch as Hedeia gallops her horse toward the torrential stream
- Hedeia is rescued by the combination of forceful action of Theon completed by the wise and timely intervention of Epicurus.
Chapter 12 – The Banquet Celebrating the Return and Rescue of Hedeia
- Theon meets Hermarchus for the first time when Hermarchus observes that Theon has rescued a very special person.
- Polyaenus warns Theon not to be intoxicated by Hedeia’s charms.
- Hedeia recounts the story of her visit to the Pythagorean school.
- Hedeia describes how the Pythagorean school is peaceful, methodic, virtuous, learned, and absurd, and how its women are silent, obedient, ignorant, modest, and stupid.
- Hedeia asserts that her beauty and wit are sufficient to charm everyone into falling in love with her.
- Hedeia sings a tune praising pleasure.
- Epicurus warns Theon that cupid is a knavish god.
Chapter 13 Theon and Cleanthes Discuss Religion
- Cleanthes asks Theon how he deals with Epicurus’ denial of the gods and of Providence.
- Theon responds that he has never heard Epicurus say this and says he will research the matter.
Chapter 14 Epicurus and Theon discuss religion
- Epicurus says that it would be as presumptuous to assert the existence of gods as to deny their existence.
- Epicurus says that thoughts can never be considered truly criminal.
- Epicurus says he must postpone discussion of “necessity.”
- Epicurus says that a fixed basis of truth does exist – in the nature of things as revealed to us through our senses.
- Epicurus says the evidence of the senses is unchallengeable and must be trusted.
- Epicurus says that observation leads to the conclusion that the universe is boundless and eternal; that life exists on other worlds of both higher and lower gradations than our own.
- An opinion can never be a moral offense; it can be right or wrong, but it can never be a crime or a virtue.
Chapter 15 – Theon Discusses Materialism With Metrodorus and Leontium
- Metrodorus accuses Aristotle of pedantry.
- Metrodorus says that it is error to mistake mystery for wisdom, pedantry for knowledge, and prejudice for virtue.
- Metrodorus discusses cause and effect and that there is a limit to how far back we can go.
- Leontium explains how rationalism is error, and that we must focus on observation.
- Theon accuses Leontium of “materialism” and Leontium replies that a matter of fact can be neither moral nor immoral.
- Leontium says inquiry is everything; theory and hypothesis can be worse than nothing when they amount to preconceived abstractions of vice or virtue.
- Leontium says no moral truths are self evident, but require observation and reasoning to determine the consequences of actions.
- Leontium addresses the “first cause” argument and responds that the universe is eternal and has no first cause.
- Leontium addresses the argument that the universe is ‘ordered’ by observing that what we see as order is only our perception of the way things are.
- Metrodorus points out the error of considering atoms to be “inert” and asserts that life is a quality of matter.
- Leontium points out that qualities do not exist apart from the matter with which they associated, and that Aristotle was wrong in asserting the opposite.
- Frances Wright interjects an editor’s note and laments that the scientists of her day adopt Epicurean ideas without crediting Epicurus.
Chapter 16 – Epicurus Addresses an Assembly on the Evils of Religion
- Epicurus tells the crowd he will address the place of man in the universe.
- In this inquiry we must dismiss presumption and fear.
- The elements of the universe are evidently eternal and unchangeable, and that these elements make up all things and give them their qualities.
- Epicurus asks why we doubt the power of science and says that man alone doubts the power of his senses and perverts himself to poison the sources of his happiness.
- The source of this error is in the overdevelopment of our imagination – and the first link in the erroneous chain of thought is RELIGION.
- Religion is the true dethroner of human virtue and the root of all evil and misery in the world.
- The world is full of religion and also full of misery and crime.
- Gods cannot be observed, and are of such nature that they can have no relevance to men.
- Religion is not merely useless, it is mischievous by its idle terrors, its false morality, its hypocrisy, its dogmatism, and its false threats, hopes, and promises.
- The common concepts of the gods are offensive to both men and the gods.
- Whether it is a god or a philosopher who speaks, the evidence of nature is that the message of both is “Enjoy, and be happy!”
- The good is all that brings you pleasure; the evil is that which must bring you pain, and in this there is no paradox, no hidden tables.
- Just as religion is unsound, so is the common understanding of morality and “virtue.” Folly invented it, and knavery supports it. Let us arise, examine, judge, and be free!