Pierre Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy?
Translated by Michael Chase
My friend Pat and I have been reading and discussing via Zoom works by French philosopher Pierre Hadot since this past summer. Having previously read The Present Alone Is Our Happiness (a series of interviews) and Philosophy as a Way of Life, we are now going through What Is Ancient Philosophy? Here are some illuminating passages I’ve pulled from these recent explorations….
Horace: Think about arranging the present as best you can, with serene mind. All else is carried away as by a river…. While we are talking, jealous time has fled. So seize the day, and do not trust the morrow! … Persuade yourself that each new day those dawns will be your last. Then you will receive each unexpected hour with gratitude. 196
Epictetus: We, too, should converse with ourselves, should learn how not to need others and not to feel aimless when we are by ourselves. We must pay attention to the divine and to our real relation to the rest of the world; must consider what our attitude toward events has been and what it is now—what things cause us grief, and how they might be treated and extirpated. 202
Plotinus: If you do not see your own beauty yet, do as the sculptor does with a statue which must become beautiful: he pares away this part, scratches that other part, makes one place smooth, and cleans another, until he causes a beautiful face to appear in the statue. In the same way, you too must pare away what is superfluous, straighten what is crooked, purify all that is dark, in order to make it gleam. And never cease sculpting your own statue, until the divine light of virtue shines within you. 191
Simplicius: What place shall the philosopher occupy within the city? It will be that of a sculptor of men, and an artisan who fabricates loyal, worthy citizens. He will thus have no other trade than to purify himself and to purify others, so that everyone may live in conformity with nature, as is fitting for mankind. He will be the common father and pedagogue of all citizens—their reformer, their counselor, and their protector—offering himself to all in order to cooperate in the accomplishment of every good thing, rejoicing along with those who enjoy good fortune and offering condolences to the afflicted. 212
The Stoic wants to be active; in order to live and to act, we must make projects, and take the past into consideration in order to foresee our actions. Since all action is inevitably present, however, we must think about the past and the future only as a function of our action and insofar as such thoughts may be useful for our action. It is thus choice, decision, and action which determine the thickness of the present. 192
Epicurus: In my view, the greatest happiness–…before we return whence we came, with the greatest of haste—is to have contemplated, free of worry, these august beings: the sun which shines on all, the stars, the clouds, fire, water. Whether one lives a few years or one hundreds, this same spectacle presents itself to our eyes, and we will never see another one so worthy of our praise. 210
The plurality of ancient schools is precious. But the models they often can be actualized only if they are reduced to their essence or their most profound significance. They must be detached from their antiquated cosmological and mythical elements, so that their fundamental positions, which the schools themselves considered essential, can be brought out. … I believe these models correspond to permanent, fundamental attitudes which all human begins find necessary when they set about seeking wisdom. 278
To contemplate the world, and to contemplate wisdom, means ultimately to practice philosophy. It means carrying out an inner transformation, and a mutation of vision, which permits us to recognize simultaneously two things to which we rarely pay attention: the lender of the world and the splendor of the norm represented by the sage:”The starry sky above me, and the moral law within.” [Kant] 231