David Capps

Menoeceus’ Letter to Epicurus

The Acropolis from the West with the Propylaea and the Temple of Athena Nike by Thomas Hartley Cromek

Dear Epicurus,

It’s late summer and long since we spoke. Sheep just born yearn for a return, not unlike the scent of warm bread, dakos, back into its recognizable rusk. The mothers know their scent, lap them. Could I, then, unlearn you? The shepherd’s stone path winding upward toward the blazing sun—is it the same stone path spiraling down to soft earth where yellow figs lie untrammeled, which I now follow? You speak of not fearing death, because ‘we are not death, and death is not we’, yet I feel the weight of a coin placed on each eyelid the moment sunlight enters the water, the estranged pale of long summer thoughts swinging as I walk.

You are not here to lift my eyes, disconnected from their subject and fixed to the ground, dear Epicurus. But you do not need to be. Such tears are selfish, dwelling each in unity, as the world moves in cycles of number, toward the Unlimited. Our eyes, the Pythagoreans say, are designed to look up at the stars; our ears to hear their music. There is no room for grieving in the harmony of spheres. If you have lost someone, step forth to pour pure salt, for a father, a mother who once walked hindered, now walks calmly in white robes. A lover descending the stairs, his hands caress the elongated bannister of memory. Grieving steps beyond the center of balance, which is why one should not grieve.


So it is with everyone, they say: life is fruit that doesn’t grow back. But think what awaits them in the next life: to be a fish, a plant, perhaps to live less brutally, without reason. Perhaps to remember more than you could wish: to be born into the origin of a planet. If a path to the counter-earth exists, beyond which lies the Central Fire, souls may drift along it like dust motes in sunbeams, which also know the way.

Your Menoeceus


About the writer:
David Capps is a philosophy professor at Western Connecticut State University. He is the author of two chapbooks: Poems from the First Voyage (The Nasiona Press, 2019) and A Non-Grecian Non-Urn (Yavanika Press, 2019). He lives in Hamden, CT.

Image: The Acropolis from the West with the Propylaea and the Temple of Athena Nike by Thomas Hartley Cromek (1809-1873). Watercolor over graphite. 33.3 x 56.3 cm. 1834. By free license.