Democritus and the Orthodox Paternal Tradition

In this article we present and originally analyze seven excerpts from the ancient Greek Philosopher Democritus.

ΑΡΧΑΙΟΙ ΕΠΙΣΤΗΜΟΝΕΣ(22)

First excerpt: “Αληθομυθέεν χρεών, ου πολυλογέειν”

Meaning: “We must speak the truth, not rattle on (not speak a lot)

NovoScriptorium: The Philosopher condemns palaver/gabble here. Especially when done on purpose to hide or distort the truth. He urges everyone to speak always the truth. Obviously, he condemns lie at the same time. Orthodox Paternal Tradition urges for exactly the same. Taciturnity and silence are actually forms of Exercise, because the ‘holding of the tongue’ is crucial for anyone who desires to walk towards more spiritual roads (let us remember here that ‘strict silence exercise’ existed among the Philosophers, too. Especially among the Pythagoreans). A lot of evilness and various evils among men start from the tongue. The way speech is used is a very important issue for every kind of relationship. About the issue ‘truth-lie’ we don’t believe there is need for special analysis, as it should be considered as self-evident to everyone, and even more among people who care about self-knowledge, self-improvement and, of course, people who desire to establish a personal relationship with God Himself, who is The Truth.

Second excerpt: “Ανδρείος ουχ ο των πολεμίων μόνον, αλλά και ο των ηδονών κρέσσων. Ένιοι δε πολίων μεν δεσπόζουσι, γυναιξί δε δουλεύουσιν”

Meaning: “Brave/Gallant is not only the one who defeats the enemies, but the one who controls the pleasures, too. But some people govern cities while they are subjugated to women” (Note: the word ‘Ανδρείος’, pronounced ‘andreeos’, comes from the word ‘Ανήρ-Άνδρας’ which means ‘Man’. It is a ‘measure’ of how much of a Man someone is. We could therefore translate the word ‘Ανδρείος’ as ‘Manly’, too)

NovoScriptorium: ‘Brave/Gallant/Manly for Democritus is the person who has achieved control over the various pleasures. In other words, he who is no longer a slave to his Passions – because all the Passions relate to some form of pleasure. So, ‘Ανδρεία’ is actually a prerequisite for Freedom. Orthodox Paternal Tradition fully agrees with the above. Additionally, the issue of Polity governance by people who are subjugated to their Passions is clearly brought up. We believe the reasons why this must not happen are rather obvious. Every kind of trouble and disaster is expected for the Polity where civilians abide to be governed by such Leaders.

Finally, it is obvious that if the Polity has chosen the road of Freedom for its civilians, takes care to train and educate them in an analogous way, i.e. towards obtaining ‘Ανδρεία’, towards control of pleasures and Passions. When the opposite is observed, and with systematic intensity, then it must be realized, beyond any doubt, that the governors of the Polity aim towards the enslavement/subjugation of their civilians, in flesh and spirit; they seek Domination, after firstly transforming the civilians to  Cowards full of Fear, i.e. unmanly (‘ανάνδρους’ = without ‘Ανδρεία’).

Third excerpt: “Φειδώ τοι και λιμός χρηστή”

Meaning: “Thrift and starvation are useful

NovoScriptorium: ‘thrift’ is nothing else than ‘continence’ and ‘frugality’. ‘Starvation’ is nothing else than ‘fasting’. It is proven, beyond any doubt, that consuming small quantities or just-enough-to-live quantities of food and, indeed, fasting from time to time, have great benefits for the human body (you may find related articles in the section ‘Scientific Research’). The Philosopher though does not urge for these only for achieving good health. These were –among the Philosophers- and still are –inside the Orthodox Church and Tradition- ‘tools’ to aid the spiritual development of Man.

Fourth excerpt: “Ευγνώμων ο μή λυπεόμενος εφ’ οίσιν ουκ έχει, αλλά χαίρων εφ’ οίσιν έχει”

Meaning: “Grateful is the man who is not sad for what he does not have, but feels joy for what he has

NovoScriptorium: Here we have an accurate description of two types of people; of the grateful and of the ungrateful. He shows us the way to recognize both situations, in our own selves and around us. Grateful or ungrateful towards whom really? As far as we can understand, the reference is towards the Provider of Life, God. The man who glorifies God ‘in everything’ is truly happy, as he has completely surrendered himself to the Divine Providence and Will, and hence we shall find him full of Grace. In reality, every groaning constitutes a sign of ungratefulness and doubt towards God.

Even if we examine the matter using ‘logic’ only, and putting Theology aside for a moment, it is clear that the person who always groans, for something he does not have, creates inside and around him a permanent negativity that in many cases ends up in conditions like depression, misery, even self-destruction. It also has other negative expressions like envy against others who ‘have’ what he (thinks, believes that) lucks of. No one ever loved the ungrateful man. It is rather impressive that an increase in the numbers of people belonging to this man-type is observed; a fact that exposes, among other things, the ongoing decline of Love in our Societies.

Fifth excerpt: “Μεταμέλεια επ’ αισχροίσιν έργμασι βίου σωτηρίη”

Meaning: “Regretting for the obscene/shameful deeds is life-saving

NovoScriptorium: Democritus initially condemns all obscene and shameful deeds. Then, he claims that man must feel regret for his possible shameful deeds. He ends up calling this regret as ‘life-saving’. The reasons he condemns all shameful acts will not be analyzed because we consider them as self-evident. Why, though, ‘regret’ is suggested? We believe that this happens because one of the social goals of Philosophy, through Education (Παιδεία), has been to create, as much as possible, virtuous and good people. So, even if someone steps away from the proper road and loses direction, we should not reject him in his return to it, but, on the contrary we should exhort him for it, because we want the number of good people to increase, even if this happens after regret.

But why does he call regret as ‘life-saving’? Analytical Psychology and Depth Psychology help us here to reach an answer. The man whose consciousness falters, is shaking, unless he enters a procedure of regret for all those that caused this, is in danger from a lot of things. Mental health (the appropriate term here should be ‘Health of the Soul’, as the term ‘Mental’ refers to the Mind, a completely different thing than the Soul) is found, beyond doubt, to be utterly connected to physical health. Hence, there exist simultaneously serious dangers of mental disorders (disorders of Mind and Soul, two different categories, to be exact) and physical ones (such as autoimmune diseases).

In the Orthodox Church, through the Mystery of Confession, this ‘regret’ is systematically taking place under the guidance of a spiritual Father, but now it takes the name ‘Μετάνοια’ (Repentance). The reason for the name ‘Μετάνοια’ (pronounced ‘metaneea’, derives from ‘meta’, which means ‘post’ as in ‘post-modern’, and ‘nous’, which means ‘mind’) instead of ‘regret’ is because man is invited not to just regret for any shameful act, but ‘change mind’, his way of thinking and understanding, and in reality to change life, denying the dress of the ‘old man’ of Sin, wearing the dress of the ‘new man’ of Grace. Especially for books like ‘The Ladder’ of Saint John the Sinaite or ‘Philokalia of the Sacred Neptics’ of Saint Nicodemus from the Holy Mountain, special studies from experts of Depth Psychology have been done which demonstrate the great benefits of the Psychotherapy (psyche = soul, therapy = cure. This is literal; the soul is healed) that takes place inside the Orthodox Church.

Sixth excerpt: “Αγαθόν ου το μή αδικείν, αλλά το μηδέ εθέλειν”

Meaning: “Good means not merely not to do wrong, but rather not to desire to do wrong

Seventh excerpt: “Δόκιμος ανήρ και αδόκιμος ουκ εξ ων πράσσει μόνον, αλλά και εξ ων βούλεται”

Meaning: “Accomplished or unaccomplished we shall call a man not only from what he does but from what he desires, too

NovoScriptorium: In these two excerpts we notice one of Democritus’ strong stands. What is valuable to examine, he says, is the Intention of Man and then his deeds. But from where does this ‘Intention’ originate? From a ‘logical’ and measurable source or something else? Let’s focus a little on the words he uses.

‘εθέλειν’ ( =wanting) and ‘βούλεται’ ( =desires). This refers to the forces of Will and Desire. Will = Thelema, in Greek. It originates from the heart-soul (καρδία-ψυχή) and gives commands to the ‘logical’ (to the part of the soul that links to the brain). Desires = Επιθυμίες in Greek (pronounced ‘epithemeaes’). This word derives from Επί + Θυμός. ‘Θυμός’ (pronounced ‘theemos’) literally means ‘the vital potential’ (of man), i.e. all that is connected with his bodily functions. So what ‘Επιθυμίες’ actually means is something like ‘goals elaborated from the logical part, directly connected to the vital part of man, his body’. Thelema emanates from the depths of the soul, from the heart of man, while ‘Επιθυμίες’ (Desires) emanate from the junction between body and mind.

In the Orthodox Neptic Tradition it is exactly nepsis, the cleansing (catharsis) of the heart of man from Passions and every evilness, that is attempted, after the cleansing (catharsis) of nous (mind) is performed first. Neptic Fathers are crystal clear about the issue of ‘Intention’ and how much valuable and important it is, because God, before anything else, examines the heart condition of man, then his acts. As for the Desires, the true Orthodox Christian trains and educates himself in continence and the bridling, up to the point of elimination, of the Passions; Passions are nothing else rather than bad and wrong Desires.

Isidoros Aggelos

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