Among the highlights from the "Gods and Mortals at Olympus" exhibition are statues of four philosophers, each seated on a throne. The sculptures were uncovered in the Villa of Dionysus, a luxurious Roman residence in Dion. Inspired by models from the fourth century BCE, the figures were likely carved in the second century CE, and retouched in the early third century.
Philosophy--"love of wisdom," from the greek philos (loving) and sophos (wise)--formed a pillar of Greek and Roman education. In this Off-Center newsletter, we look back at some of the major figures in Greek and Roman thought--the kinds of philosophers whose works might have been read in the Villa of Dionysus.
In one of his few surviving texts, Epicurus lays out his hugely influential philosophy:
"When we say 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 willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of merrymaking, not sexual love, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest disturbances take possession of the soul."
In this letter, the Roman Stoic addresses himself to Paulinus, supervisor of Rome's grain supply. Among much else, Seneca expresses admiration for "the classics"-- for the writings of Greek philosophers like Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Epicurus, and Plato. It is only when we read them, Seneca writes, that we "really live."
"None of these philosophers will force you to die, but all will teach you how. None of them will diminish your years, but each will share his own years with you. With none of them will conversation be dangerous, friendship life threatening, or cultivation of them expensive. From them you'll take whatever you wish; it will be no fault of theirs if you fail to take in the very fullest amount you have room for."