Sunday, 15 March 2009

Bacon and Epicurus

Self-portrait by Francis Bacon. I have a theory about his work which I have never heard or read anywhere else, and this picture illustrates it more clearly than any other I have ever seen. I believe he got the idea for many of his paintings - self-portraits in particular - from travelling on the London Underground, which he did a lot. I myself often sat going home at night looking at my distorted reflection in the double-glazed window opposite, with the darkness of the tunnel behind it, and being fascinated by the effect.
But I am not Bacon, and did nothing about it but look and muse.
I talked with him several times in pubs and bars in the seventies and eighties, but only after I had gone to America, and after he died, did this idea occur to me.
So I have never discussed it with him.

Yesterday, I ranted on about Voltaire - what a great man he was and all. He is not the only one of course. Here are a few observations from Epicurus.
Epicureanism is generally utterly misunderstood. It does not mean living a gourmet, self-indulgent life, but virtually the opposite.

Here is a brief biog:

Epicurus : (Samos, 341 BC– Athens, 270 BC ) was a Greek philosopher and the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism. Only a few fragments and letters remain of Epicurus's 300 written works. Much of what is known about Epicurean philosophy derives from later followers and commentators.
For Epicurus, the aim was to attain tranquillity, characterized by aponia, the absence of pain and fear, and by living a self-sufficient life. Pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and bad. Death is the end of the body and the soul and should therefore not be feared.
The gods do not reward or punish humans.
The universe is infinite and eternal, and that events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space.


The first and the last in the list are my favourites, for what that is worth.

If you wish to make a man rich, do not give him more money, but show him what he can live without.

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.

I have never wished to cater to the mob; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.

If God listened to the prayers of men, all men would quickly have perished: for they are forever praying for evil against one another.

It is better for you to be free of fear lying upon a plank, than to have a golden couch and a rich table and be full of trouble.

It is folly for a man to pray to the gods for that which he has the power to obtain by himself.

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly. And it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.

It is not so much our friends' help that helps us, as the confidence of their help.

It is possible to provide security against other ills, but as far as death is concerned, we men live in a city without walls.

Justice... is a kind of compact not to harm or be harmed.

Misfortune seldom intrudes upon the wise man; his greatest and highest interests are directed by reason throughout the course of life.

Not what we have But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.

Of all the things which wisdom provides to make us entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship.

Of all things which wisdom provides to make life entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship.

Riches do not exhilarate us so much with their possession as they torment us with their loss.

Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempest.

The art of living well and the art of dying well are one.

The misfortune of the wise is better than the prosperity of the fool.

The time when most of you should withdraw into yourself is when you are forced to be in a crowd.

I would rather be first in a little Iberian village than second in Athens.


Laura said...

Thanks for these...I work in financial aid at a university and I would love to put this one on the wall behind me: "If you wish to make a man rich, do not give him more money, but show him what he can live without."
Last week I had a father try to explain to me why his income of $750,000 really should not "count" and that his daughter needs a grant or they will have to remove her from school!

Patrick O'Gara said...

Rather you deal with stuff like that than me. I find the financial world incomprehensible, these days. But I appreciate the thanks on Ep´s behalf. P