previous next

DXXX (F XV, 16)

I think you must be a little ashamed at this being the third letter inflicted on you before I have a page or a syllable from you. But I will not press you: I shall expect, or rather exact, a longer letter. For my part, if I had a messenger always at hand, I should write even three an hour. For somehow it makes you seem almost present when I write anything to you, and that not "by way of phantoms of images," as your new friends express it, 1 who hold that "mental pictures" are caused by what Catius called "spectres"—for I must remind you that Catius Insuber the Epicurean, lately dead, calls "spectres" what the famous Gargettius, and before him Democritus, used to call "images." Well, even if my eyes were capable of being struck by these "spectres," because they spontaneously run in upon them at your will, I do not see how the mind can be struck. You will be obliged to explain it to me, when you return safe and sound, whether the "spectre" of you is at my command, so as to occur to me as soon as I have taken the fancy to think about you; and not only about you, who are in my heart's core, but supposing I begin thinking about the island of Britain—will its image fly at once into my mind? But of this later on. I am just sounding you now to see how you take it. For if you are angry and annoyed, I shall say more and demand that you be restored to the sect from which you have been ejected by "violence and armed force." 2 In an injunction of this sort the words "within this year" are not usually added. Therefore, even if it is now two or three years since you divorced Virtue, 3 seduced by the charms of Pleasure, 4 it will still be open for me to do so. And yet to whom am I speaking? It is to you, the most gallant of men, who ever since you entered public life have done nothing that was not imbued to the utmost with the highest principle. In that very sect of yours I have a misgiving that there must be more stuff than I thought, if only because you accept it. "How did that come into your head?" you will say. Because I had nothing else to say. About politics I can write nothing: for I don't choose to write down my real opinions.

1 The Epicureans. The Greek terms which follow are those used by them-κατ᾽ εἰδώλων φαντασίας, "according to the appearance of idols" or shapes"; διανοητικὰς φαντασίας, "mental impressions." These refer to the doctrines of Democritus as to the formation of mental impressions by fine atoms thrown off the surface of things, which, retaining the same position and relation, and hurrying through the void, strike the senses, which convey these "atom-pictures" to the mind. Cicero hits the true objection, founded on the fact that we can recall these pictures at will.

2 From the Stoic sect.

3 The summum bonum of the Stoics.

4 The summum bonum of the Epicureans.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Latin (L. C. Purser)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: