- Epikur. Brief an Menoikeus: Edition, Übersetzung, Einleitung und Kommentar by Jan Erik Heßler
All students of Epicureanism will be grateful for this splendid new edition of the Letter to Menoeceus. The volume, which began life as a dissertation under the direction of Michael Erler, provides an extensive introduction surveying Epicurus’ life and works, and a detailed analysis of the Letter itself, treating it for the first time as a literary work in its own right, both as an epistle and as a protreptikos logos (“Der Menoikeusbrief Epikurs wird im Allgemeinen als protreptischer Text betrachtet,” 40). This has significant implications for the interpretation of the Letter: in a propaedeutic and hortatory composition, Epicurus cannot count on readers having an extensive prior knowledge of Epicurean doctrines. [End Page 574] For example, in determining the unexpressed subject of apodekhontai in 124.2, Heßler reviews seven alternatives (the virtuous, the gods, the wise, the many, and three combinations of the foregoing). Of these, he rejects “the wise” in part because “diese Lesart scheint mir nicht geeignet für einen protreptischen Brief” (this reading does not seem to me appropriate for a protreptic letter) and “the wise and the gods” because “ist auch diese Deutung für eine erstmalige Lektüre des Briefs zu kompliziert” (this interpretation is too complicated for an initial reading of the letter). Heßler opts finally for the polloi (with Bailey), which requires that aretai be taken not as true virtues (“wahre Tugenden”) but rather as popular virtues (“Bürgertugenden”), since the Letter should be accessible to contemporaries immediately and without prior knowledge (“unmittelbar und ohne Vorkenntnisse” 188–89). The introduction offers, in addition, a valuable survey of the Letter’s language and style, on which Heßler has many excellent observations in the course of the commentary, and an overview of its principal themes: the gods (Heßler rightly, in my view, takes them to be real and not mental projections), death, pleasure, and the notion of assimilation to a god.
The introduction is followed by a text with a detailed critical apparatus and facing German translation. In establishing the text, Heßler was privileged, as he gratefully acknowledges, to have the advice of Tiziano Dorandi, whose edition of Diogenes Laertius was published in 2013, as well as of Graziano Arrighetti, who read parts of the commentary. Thanks to Heßler’s refined Sprachgefühl and keen knowledge of Epicurean doctrines, this is now the authoritative text of the Letter.
The commentary offers lemmas for each subsection of the text, in the traditional numeration, followed by an overview of the argument, discussion (where necessary) of textual problems, and analysis of specific words and phrases that require particular attention. Along the way, Heßler provides a rich selection of parallel passages that illuminate the language and doctrines under discussion. On the classification of desires as natural and necessary, natural but not necessary, and empty (commentary, 231–37), I am inclined (contrary to the majority view) to relate the first type to catastematic pleasures and the second to kinetic pleasures; but Epicurus does not touch on the matter in this Letter, and so Heßler has no occasion to discuss it.
Heßler offers two textual emendations of his own, which he defends in the commentary. At 130.1 he deletes βλέψει, for reasons, both lexical and stylistic, that seem to me entirely convincing (commentary, 261–64). At 133.3, where there is clearly some confusion in the transmitted text, Heßler supplements as follows: τὴν δὲ ὑπό τινων δεσπότιν εἰσαγομένην πάντων <εἱμαρμένην οὐκ εἰ̑ναι νομίζοντος, ἀλλὰ γίγνεσθαι κατ’ ἀνάγκην ἃ μὲν πάντων> ἀγγέλλοντος, ἃ δὲ ἀπὸ τύχης, ἃ δὲ παρ’ ἡμα̑ς διὰ τὸ τὴν μὲν ἀνάγκην ἀνυπεύθυνον εἰ̑ναι, τὴν δὲ τύχην ἄστατον ὁρα̑ν, τὸ δὲ παρ’ ἡμα̑ς ἀδέσποτον (there is a long history of emendations, which Heßler duly reports). Epicurus is speaking of the contentment of the sage, who rejects a despotic fate that governs everything and instead argues that some things at least occur also by chance and by our own will. Heßler’s supplement neatly accounts for the lacuna by haplography, but the second πάντων (κατ’ ἀνάγκην ἃ μὲν πάντων) seems otiose to me. I think a milder remedy might do the trick, e.g., τὴν δὲ ὑπό τινων δεσπότιν εἰσαγομένην πάντων ἀγγέλλοντος <οὐκ εἰ̑ναι, ἀλλ’> ἃ δὲ ἀπὸ τύχης, ἃ δὲ παρ’ ἡμα̑ς διὰ τὸ τὴν μὲν ἀνάγκην ἀνυπεύθυνον εἰ̑ναι, τὴν δὲ τύχην ἄστατον ὁρα̑ν, τὸ δὲ παρ’ ἡμα̑ς ἀδέσποτον. This sharpens the main contrast between...