A Christmas Gift – with The Three Wise Men

3 wise men

The Three Wise Men – Google Images

A Christmas Gift to all Amateur Philosophers – with The Three Wise Men

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.” Matthew 2:1

And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him; gold, frankincense, and mryhh.” Matthew 2:12

Boxing day is a secular holiday, traditionally celebrated on the 26th of December. There are different theories as to how this day came to be, but in any case some associate this with exchange of Christmas gifts. It is in this regard, that I have decided to bring to you, all Amatuer Philosophers, this gift on Boxing Day. If you have been reading this blog, or this is your first time, then you are an amateur philosopher, and I want to say thank you with this gift. What is the gift? I will try to explain. It is not different from what I have been bringing you all along, words of wisdom from the greats. This time it is a letter from Seneca, again, only this time he tries to explain the benefits of studying wisdom to those who do so. He used the story of Epicurus and Idomeneus. Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher did not believe in Platonism which was the predominant philosophy of his time, so he founded his own school The Garden. To do this however he needed support, including financial support which he got from Idomeneus who became known as the financier of the school. When you read Seneca’s letter, you will see that Epicurus, promised Idomeneus fame if he was to apply himself to his philosophy. Although Idomeneus may not be known to many today, he is only mentioned at all today, because of his pursuit of philosophy. So in case you are getting tired of reading the excerpts I have been posting, and considering not reading this blog anymore, read Seneca’s letter, my gift to you, and remind yourself why you should continue. Unlike Epicurus, I cannot promise anyone fame or anything at all, but one thing I know is that wisdom will open unimaginable doors for you. I will assume that when Jesus Christ, the King of kings was born, many visitors would have come by, however it was the visit of the three wise men that was found worthy to be recorded; I believe, not for the kind of gifts they brought, but because of the wisdom they demonstrated in the circumstance. No wonder King Solomon said:

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Proverbs 4:7

King Solomon says “though it cost all you have get understanding!” The feedback I get most times is there is not enough time in peoples busy schedules to read this blog; but to that I will say: just remember, that though it cost you all the time you have, get understanding, then perhaps all those things which you are going after will come to you more easily.

So below is the letter, the gift, and yes this will also be a long post, because I should not give you a small gift, thus for the first time I am posting a complete letter, and not just excerpts.  It was also Epicurus who stated that the benefits of studying philosophy are different from the benefits of other studies; with other studies the benefits come at the end, but with philosophy the enjoyment occurs at the same time with the study. So with this long post I only wish to prolong your enjoyment. Read, enjoy and lets continue to try to get understanding.

Epicurus in The Garden

Epicurus and his followers in The Garden – Google Images

Letter XXI -On the Renown which my Writings will Bring you

Do you conclude that you are having difficulties with those men about whom you wrote to me? Your greatest difficulty is with yourself; for you are your own stumbling-block. You do not know what you want. You are better at approving the right course than at following it out. You see where the true happiness lies, but you have not the courage to attain it. Let me tell you what it is that hinders you, inasmuch as you do not of yourself discern it. You think that this condition, which you are to abandon, is one of importance, and after resolving upon that ideal state of calm into which you hope to pass, you are held back by the lustre of your present life, from which it is your intention to depart, just as if you were about to fall into a state of filth and darkness. This is a mistake, Lucilius; to go from your present life into the other is a promotion. There is the same difference between these two lives as there is between mere brightness and real light; the latter has a definite source within itself, the other borrows its radiance; the one is called forth by an illumination coming from the outside, and anyone who stands between the source and the object immediately turns the latter into a dense shadow; but the other has a glow that comes from within. 


It is your own studies that will make you shine and will render you eminent, Allow me to mention the case of Epicurus. He was writing to Idomeneus and trying to recall him from a showy existence to sure and steadfast renown. Idomeneus was at that time a minister of state who exercised a rigorous authority and had important affairs in hand. “If,” said Epicurus, “you are attracted by fame, my letters will make you more renowned than all the things which you cherish and which make you cherished.” Did Epicurus speak falsely? Who would have known of Idomeneus, had not the philosopher thus engraved his name in those letters of his? All the grandees and satraps, even the king himself, who was petitioned for the title which Idomeneus sought, are sunk in deep oblivion. Cicero’s letters keep the name of Atticus from perishing. It would have profited Atticus nothing to have an Agrippa for a son-in-law, a Tiberius for the husband of his grand-daughter, and a Drusus Caesar for a great-grandson; amid these mighty names his name would never be spoken, had not Cicero bound him to himself. The deep flood of time will roll over us; some few great men will raise their heads above it, and, though destined at the last to depart into the same realms of silence, will battle against oblivion and maintain their ground for long. That which Epicurus could promise his friend, this I promise you, Lucilius. I shall find favour among later generations; I can take with me names that will endure as long as mine. Our poet Vergil promised an eternal name to two heroes, and is keeping his promise:

Blest heroes twain! If power my song possess,

The record of your names shall never be

Erased from out the book of Time, while yet

Aeneas’ tribe shall keep the Capitol,

That rock immovable, and Roman

sire Shall empire hold.

Whenever men have been thrust forward by fortune, whenever they have become part and parcel of another’s influence, they have found abundant favour, their houses have been thronged, only so long as they themselves have kept their position; when they themselves have left it, they have slipped at once from the memory of men. But in the case of innate ability, the respect in which it is held increases, and not only does honour accrue to the man himself, but whatever has attached itself to his memory is passed on from one to another. In order that Idomeneus may not be introduced free of charge into my letter, he shall make up the indebtedness from his own account. It was to him that Epicurus addressed the well-known saying urging him to make Pythocles rich, but not rich in the vulgar and equivocal way. “If you wish,” said he, “to make Pythocles rich, do not add to his store of money, but subtract from his desires.” This idea is too clear to need explanation, and too clever to need reinforcement. There is, however, one point on which I would warn you, –not to consider that this statement applies only to riches; its value will be the same, no matter how you apply it. “If you wish to make Pythocles honourable, do not add to his honours, but subtract from his desires”; “if you wish Pythocles to have pleasure for ever, do not add to his pleasures, but subtract from his desires”; “if you wish to make Pythocles an old man, filling his life to the full, do not add to his years, but subtract from his desires.” There is no reason why you should hold that these words belong to Epicurus alone; they are public property. I think we ought to do in philosophy as they are wont to do in the Senate: when someone has made a motion, of which I approve to a certain extent, I ask him to make his motion in two parts, and I vote for the part which I approve. So I am all the more glad to repeat the distinguished words of Epicurus, in order that I may prove to those who have recourse to him through a bad motive, thinking that they will have in him a screen for their own vices, that they must live honourably, no matter what school they follow.

Go to his Garden and read the motto carved there:

“Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.”

The care-taker of that abode, a kindly host, will be ready for you; he will welcome you with barley-meal and serve you water also in abundance, with these words: “Have you not been well entertained?” “This garden,” he says, “does not whet your appetite; it quenches it. Nor does it make you more thirsty with every drink; it slakes the thirst by a natural cure, a cure that demands no fee. This is the ‘pleasure’ in which I have grown old.” In speaking with you, however, I refer to those desires which refuse alleviation, which must be bribed to cease. For in regard to the exceptional desires, which may be postponed, which may be chastened and checked, I have this one thought to share with you: a pleasure of that sort is according to our nature, but it is not according to our needs; one owes nothing to it; whatever is expended upon it is a free gift. The belly will not listen to advice; it makes demands, it importunes. And yet it is not a troublesome creditor; you can send it away at small cost, provided only that you give it what you owe, not merely all you are able to give. Farewell.


Excerpt from: Lucius Annaeus Seneca. Letters from a Stoic. Translated by Richard Mott Gummere


Dr Ande Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher