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Epicurus, ''Epíkouros'', "ally, comrade" (341–270 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher and sage who founded
Epicureanism Epicureanism is a system of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Ph ...
, a highly influential school of
philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, language. Such questio ...

philosophy
. He was born on the Greek island of
Samos Samos (, also ; el, Σάμος ) is a Greece, Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea, south of Chios, north of Patmos and the Dodecanese, and off the coast of western Turkey, from which it is separated by the -wide Mycale Strait. It is also a sep ...

Samos
to
Athenian , image_skyline = File:Athens Montage L.png, center, 275px, alt=Athens montage. Clicking on an image in the picture causes the browser to load the appropriate article. rect 15 15 985 460 Acropolis of Athens The Acropo ...
parents. Influenced by
Democritus Democritus (; el, Δημόκριτος, ''Dēmókritos'', meaning "chosen of the people"; – ) was an Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , o ...

Democritus
,
Aristippus Aristippus of Cyrene Cyrene may refer to: Antiquity * Cyrene (mythology), an ancient Greek mythological figure * Cyrene, Libya, an ancient Greek colony in North Africa (modern Libya) ** Crete and Cyrenaica, a province of the Roman Empire ** Cyr ...

Aristippus
,
Pyrrho Pyrrho of Elis (; grc, Πύρρων ὁ Ἠλεῖος, Pyrrhо̄n ho Ēleios; ), born in Elis Elis or Ilia ( el, Ηλεία, ''Ileia'') is a historic region in the western part of the Peloponnese The Peloponnese (), Peloponnesia, or P ...
, and possibly the Cynics, he turned against the
Platonism Platonism is the philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of ...
of his day and established his own school, known as "the Garden", in Athens. Epicurus and his followers were known for eating simple meals and discussing a wide range of philosophical subjects. He openly allowed women and slaves to join the school as a matter of policy. Epicurus is said to have originally written over 300 works on various subjects, but the vast majority of these writings have been lost. Only three letters written by him—the letters to ''
Menoeceus In Greek mythology Greek mythology is the body of myth Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief ...
'', ''Pythocles'', and ''Herodotus''—and two collections of quotes—the ''Principal Doctrines'' and the ''Vatican Sayings''—have survived intact, along with a few fragments of his other writings. Most knowledge of his teachings comes from later authors, particularly the biographer
Diogenes Laërtius Diogenes Laërtius ( ; grc-gre, Διογένης Λαέρτιος, Dīogénēs Lāértios; ) was a biographer of the Ancient Greece, Greek philosophers. Nothing is definitively known about his life, but his surviving ''Lives and Opinions of Em ...
, the Epicurean Roman poet
Lucretius Titus Lucretius Carus ( , ; 99 – c. 55 BC) was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened to ''Rom ...
and the Epicurean philosopher
Philodemus Philodemus of Gadara ( grc-gre, Φιλόδημος ὁ Γαδαρεύς, ''Philodēmos'', "love of the people"; c. 110 – prob. c. 40 or 35 BC) was a Syrian Epicurean Epicureanism is a system of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the ...
, and with hostile but largely accurate accounts by the Pyrrhonist philosopher
Sextus Empiricus Sextus Empiricus ( grc-gre, Σέξτος Ἐμπειρικός; c. 160 – c. 210 AD) was a Ancient Greece, Greek Pyrrhonism, Pyrrhonist philosopher and a physician. His philosophical works are the most complete surviving account of ancient Gree ...
, and the Academic Skeptic and statesman
Cicero Marcus Tullius Cicero ( ; ; 3 January 106 BC – 7 December 43 BC) was a Ancient Rome, Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, philosopher and Academic skepticism, Academic Skeptic, who tried to uphold optimate principles during crisis of ...

Cicero
. For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to help people attain a happy ('' eudaimonic''), tranquil life characterized by ''
ataraxia ''Ataraxia'' (Greek: ἀταραξία, from alpha privativeAn alpha privative or, rarely, privative a (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin ...
'' (peace and freedom from fear) and ''
aponia "Aponia" ( grc, ἀπονία) means the absence of pain Pain is a distressing feeling often caused by intense or damaging stimuli. The International Association for the Study of Pain The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP ...
'' (the absence of pain). He advocated that people were best able to pursue philosophy by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. He taught that the root of all human neurosis is death denial and the tendency for human beings to assume that death will be horrific and painful, which he claimed causes unnecessary anxiety, selfish self-protective behaviors, and hypocrisy. According to Epicurus, death is the end of both the body and the soul and therefore should not be feared. Epicurus taught that although the gods exist, they have no involvement in human affairs. He taught that people should behave ethically not because the gods punish or reward people for their actions, but because amoral behavior will burden them with guilt and prevent them from attaining ''ataraxia''. Like Aristotle, Epicurus was an
empiricist In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, l ...
, meaning he believed that the senses are the only reliable source of knowledge about the world. He derived much of his physics and cosmology from the earlier philosopher Democritus ( 460– 370 BC). Like Democritus, Epicurus taught that the universe is infinite and eternal and that all matter is made up of extremely tiny, invisible particles known as ''
atoms An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of ato ...
''. All occurrences in the natural world are ultimately the result of atoms moving and interacting in empty space. Epicurus deviated from Democritus by proposing the idea of atomic "swerve", which holds that atoms may deviate from their expected course, thus permitting humans to possess
free will Free will is the capacity of agents to choose between different possible courses of action ACTION is a bus operator in , Australia owned by the . History On 19 July 1926, the commenced operating public bus services between Eastlake ( ...

free will
in an otherwise
deterministic Determinism is the philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence Existence is the ability of an entity to interact with physical or mental reality Reality is the ...
universe. Though popular, Epicurean teachings were controversial from the beginning. Epicureanism reached the height of its popularity during the late years of the
Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the classical Roman civilization, run through public In public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an indiv ...
. It died out in late antiquity, subject to hostility from
early Christianity The history of Christianity concerns the Christian religion Christianity is an Abrahamic The Abrahamic religions, also referred to collectively as the world of Abrahamism and Semitic religions, are a group of Semitic-originated religi ...
. Throughout the
Middle Ages In the history of Europe The history of Europe concerns itself with the discovery and collection, the study, organization and presentation and the interpretation of past events and affairs of the people of Europe since the beginning of ...
Epicurus was popularly, though inaccurately, remembered as a patron of drunkards, whoremongers, and gluttons. His teachings gradually became more widely known in the fifteenth century with the rediscovery of important texts, but his ideas did not become acceptable until the seventeenth century, when the French Catholic priest
Pierre Gassendi Pierre Gassendi (; also Pierre Gassend, Petrus Gassendi; 22 January 1592 – 24 October 1655) was a French philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental que ...
revived a modified version of them, which was promoted by other writers, including
Walter Charleton Walter Charleton (2 February 1619 – 24 April 1707) was a natural philosopher and English people, English writer. According to Jon Parkin, he was "the main conduit for the transmission of Epicurean ideas to England".Jon Parkin, ''Science, Relig ...
and
Robert Boyle Robert Boyle (; 25 January 1627 – 31 December 1691) was an Anglo-Irish Anglo-Irish () is a term which was more commonly used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to identify an ethnic group An ethnic group or ethnicity is a group ...

Robert Boyle
. His influence grew considerably during and after the
Enlightenment Enlightenment, enlighten or enlightened may refer to: Age of Enlightenment * Age of Enlightenment, period in Western intellectual history from the late 17th to late 18th century, centered in France but also encompassing: ** Midlands Enlightenment ...
, profoundly impacting the ideas of major thinkers, including
John Locke John Locke (; 29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment Enlightenment, enlighten or enlightened may refer to: Age of Enlightenment * ...

John Locke
,
Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and Founding Father The following list of national founding figures is a record, by country, of people who were cr ...

Thomas Jefferson
,
Jeremy Bentham Jeremy Bentham (; 15 February 1748 Old_Style_and_New_Style_dates">O.S._4_February_1747.html" ;"title="Old_Style_and_New_Style_dates.html" ;"title="nowiki/>Old Style and New Style dates">O.S. 4 February 1747">Old_Style_and_New_Style_dates.htm ...

Jeremy Bentham
, and
Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, M ...

Karl Marx
.


Life


Upbringing and influences

Epicurus was born in the Athenian settlement on the
Aegean Aegean may refer to: *Aegean Sea *Aegean Islands *Aegean Region (geographical), Turkey *Aegean Region (statistical), Turkey *Aegean civilizations *Aegean languages, a group of ancient languages and proposed language family *Aegean Sea (theme), a n ...

Aegean
island of
Samos Samos (, also ; el, Σάμος ) is a Greece, Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea, south of Chios, north of Patmos and the Dodecanese, and off the coast of western Turkey, from which it is separated by the -wide Mycale Strait. It is also a sep ...

Samos
in February 341 BC. His parents, Neocles and Chaerestrate, were both Athenian-born, and his father was an Athenian citizen. Epicurus grew up during the final years of the Greek Classical Period. Plato had died seven years before Epicurus was born and Epicurus was seven years old when
Alexander the Great Alexander III of Macedon ( grc-gre, Αλέξανδρος}, ; 20/21 July 356 BC – 10/11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a king (''basileus ''Basileus'' ( el, βασιλεύς) is a Greek term and title A title ...

Alexander the Great
crossed the
Hellespont The Dardanelles (; tr, Çanakkale Boğazı, lit=Strait of Çanakkale, el, Δαρδανέλλια, translit=Dardanéllia), also known as Strait of Gallipoli from the Gallipoli peninsula or from Classical Antiquity as the Hellespont (; gr ...
into Persia. As a child, Epicurus would have received a typical ancient Greek education. As such, according to Norman Wentworth DeWitt, "it is inconceivable that he would have escaped the Platonic training in geometry, dialectic, and rhetoric." Epicurus is known to have studied under the instruction of a Samian Platonist named Pamphilus, probably for about four years. His ''Letter of Menoeceus'' and surviving fragments of his other writings strongly suggest that he had extensive training in rhetoric. After the death of
Alexander the Great Alexander III of Macedon ( grc-gre, Αλέξανδρος}, ; 20/21 July 356 BC – 10/11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a king (''basileus ''Basileus'' ( el, βασιλεύς) is a Greek term and title A title ...

Alexander the Great
,
Perdiccas Perdiccas ( el, Περδίκκας, ''Perdikkas''; c. 355 BC – 321/320 BC) became a general in Alexander the Great's army and participated in Alexander's campaign against Achaemenid Persia. Following Alexander's death, he rose to become supre ...
expelled the Athenian settlers on Samos to
Colophon Colophon may refer to: * Colophon (city) in ancient Greece, located in modern Turkey * Colophon (beetle), ''Colophon'' (beetle), a genus of stag beetle Books and Publishing * Colophon (publishing), a brief description of the manuscript or book t ...
, on the coast of what is now Turkey. After the completion of his military service, Epicurus joined his family there. He studied under
Nausiphanes Nausiphanes ( el, Ναυσιφάνης; lived c. 325 BC), a native of Teos, was attached to the philosophy of Democritus Democritus (; el, Δημόκριτος, ''Dēmókritos'', meaning "chosen of the people"; – ) was an Ancient Greek ...
, who followed the teachings of
Democritus Democritus (; el, Δημόκριτος, ''Dēmókritos'', meaning "chosen of the people"; – ) was an Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , o ...

Democritus
, and later those of
Pyrrho Pyrrho of Elis (; grc, Πύρρων ὁ Ἠλεῖος, Pyrrhо̄n ho Ēleios; ), born in Elis Elis or Ilia ( el, Ηλεία, ''Ileia'') is a historic region in the western part of the Peloponnese The Peloponnese (), Peloponnesia, or P ...
, whose way of life Epicurus greatly admired. Epicurus's teachings were heavily influenced by those of earlier philosophers, particularly Democritus. Nonetheless, Epicurus differed from his predecessors on several key points of determinism and vehemently denied having been influenced by any previous philosophers, whom he denounced as "confused". Instead, he insisted that he had been "self-taught". According to DeWitt, Epicurus's teachings also show influences from the contemporary philosophical school of
Cynicism Cynic or Cynicism may refer to: Modes of thought * Cynicism (philosophy), a school of ancient Greek philosophy * Cynicism (contemporary), modern use of the word for distrust of others' motives Books * ''The Cynic'', James Gordon Stuart Grant 1875 ...
. The Cynic philosopher
Diogenes of Sinope Diogenes ( ; grc, Διογένης, Diogénēs ), also known as Diogenes the Cynic (, ), was a Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynicism (philosophy), Cynic philosophy. He was born in Sinop, Turkey, Sinope, an Ionians, Ionian colony ...

Diogenes of Sinope
was still alive when Epicurus would have been in Athens for his required military training and it is possible they may have met. Diogenes's pupil
Crates of Thebes Crates is a Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately ...

Crates of Thebes
( 365 – 285 BC) was a close contemporary of Epicurus. Epicurus agreed with the Cynics' quest for honesty, but rejected their "insolence and vulgarity", instead teaching that honesty must be coupled with courtesy and kindness. Epicurus shared this view with his contemporary, the comic playwright
Menander Menander (; grc-gre, Μένανδρος ''Menandros''; c. 342/41 – c. 290 BC) was a Greek dramatist A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes play (theatre), plays. Etymology The word "play" is from Middle English pleye, from Old ...

Menander
. Epicurus's ''Letter to Menoeceus'', possibly an early work of his, is written in an eloquent style similar to that of the Athenian rhetorician
Isocrates Isocrates (; grc, Ἰσοκράτης ; 436–338 BC) was an ancient Greek rhetoric Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic – see Martianus Capella), is one of the Tri ...
(436–338 BC), but, for his later works, he seems to have adopted the bald, intellectual style of the mathematician
Euclid Euclid (; grc-gre, Εὐκλείδης Euclid (; grc, Εὐκλείδης – ''Eukleídēs'', ; fl. 300 BC), sometimes called Euclid of Alexandria to distinguish him from Euclid of Megara, was a Greek mathematician, often referre ...

Euclid
. Epicurus's epistemology also bears an unacknowledged debt to the later writings of
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questio ...

Aristotle
(384–322 BC), who rejected the Platonic idea of hypostatic
Reason Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, applying logic Logic (from Ancient Greek, Greek ...
and instead relied on nature and empirical evidence for knowledge about the universe. During Epicurus's formative years, Greek knowledge about the rest of the world was rapidly expanding due to the
Hellenization Hellenization (other British spelling Hellenisation) or Hellenism is the adoption of Greek culture Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and Norm (social), norms found in human Society, societies, as well as t ...
of the Near East and the rise of
Hellenistic kingdoms The Diadochi (; plural of Latin Diadochus, from grc-gre, Διάδοχοι, ''Diádokhoi'' "successors") were the rival generals, families, and friends of Alexander the Great who fought for control over his empire after his death in 323 B ...
. Epicurus's philosophy was consequently more universal in its outlook than those of his predecessors, since it took cognizance of non-Greek peoples as well as Greeks. He may have had access to the now-lost writings of the historian and ethnographer
Megasthenes Megasthenes ( ; grc, Μεγασθένης, c. 350BCE– c. 290 BCE) was an ancient Greek historian, diplomat and Indian ethnographer and explorer in the Hellenistic period The Hellenistic period covers the period of Mediterranean history b ...
, who wrote during the reign of
Seleucus I Nicator Seleucus I Nicator (; ; grc-gre, Σέλευκος Νικάτωρ, Séleukos Nikátōr, Seleucus the Victorious) was a Ancient Macedonians, Macedonian Greek general, a Diadochi of Alexander the Great and ultimately king who fought for control over ...
(ruled 305–281 BC).


Teaching career

During Epicurus's lifetime, Platonism was the dominant philosophy in higher education. Epicurus's opposition to Platonism formed a large part of his thought. Over half of the forty Principal Doctrines of Epicureanism are flat contradictions of Platonism. In around 311 BC, Epicurus, when he was around thirty years old, began teaching in
Mytilene Mytilene (; el, Μυτιλήνη, Mytilíni ) is the capital city, capital of the Greece, Greek island of Lesbos, and its port. It is also the capital and administrative center of the North Aegean Region, and hosts the headquarters of the Unive ...

Mytilene
. Around this time,
Zeno of Citium Zeno of Citium (; grc-x-koine, Ζήνων ὁ Κιτιεύς, ; c. 334 – c. 262 BC) was a Hellenistic philosophy, Hellenistic philosopher from Kition, Citium (, ), Cyprus. Zeno was the founder of the Stoicism, Stoic school of philosophy, w ...

Zeno of Citium
, the founder of
Stoicism Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy Hellenistic philosophy is the period of Western philosophy Western philosophy encompasses the philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, s ...
, arrived in Athens, at the age of about twenty-one, but Zeno did not begin teaching what would become Stoicism for another twenty years. Although later texts, such as the writings of the first-century BC Roman orator
Cicero Marcus Tullius Cicero ( ; ; 3 January 106 BC – 7 December 43 BC) was a Ancient Rome, Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, philosopher and Academic skepticism, Academic Skeptic, who tried to uphold optimate principles during crisis of ...

Cicero
, portray Epicureanism and Stoicism as rivals, this rivalry seems to have only emerged after Epicurus's death. Epicurus's teachings caused strife in Mytilene and he was forced to leave. He then founded a school in
Lampsacus Lampsacus (; grc, Λάμψακος, translit=Lampsakos) was an ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), general ...
before returning to Athens in 306 BC, where he remained until his death. There he founded The Garden (κῆπος), a school named for the garden he owned that served as the school's meeting place, about halfway between the locations of two other schools of philosophy, the
Stoa A stoa (; plural, stoas,"stoa", ''Oxford English Dictionary'', 2nd Ed., 1989 stoai, or stoae ), in ancient Greek architecture Ancient Greek architecture came from the Greek-speaking people (''Hellenic'' people) whose culture Culture () is ...
and the
Academy An academy (Attic Greek Attic Greek is the Greek language, Greek dialect of the regions of ancient Greece, ancient region of Attica, including the ''polis'' of classical Athens, Athens. Often called classical Greek, it was the prestige (sociol ...
. The Garden was more than just a school; it was "a community of like-minded and aspiring practitioners of a particular way of life." The primary members were
Hermarchus Hermarchus or Hermarch ( el, Ἕρμαρχoς, ''Hermarkhos''; c. 325-c. 250 BC), sometimes incorrectly written Hermachus ( el, Ἕρμαχoς, Hermakhos), was an Epicurean Epicureanism is a system of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) i ...
, the financier
Idomeneus In Greek mythology Greek mythology is the body of myth Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belie ...
, Leonteus and his wife Themista, the
satirist This is an incomplete list of writers, cartoonists and others known for involvement in satire – humorous social criticism. They are grouped by era and listed by year of birth. Included is a list of modern satires. Early satirical authors *Aeso ...
Colotes Colotes of Lampsacus ( el, Κολώτης Λαμψακηνός, ''Kolōtēs Lampsakēnos''; c. 320 – after 268 BC) was a pupil of Epicurus Epicurus, ''Epíkouros'', "ally, comrade" (341–270 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher and sage wh ...
, the mathematician Polyaenus of Lampsacus, and Metrodorus of Lampsacus, the most famous popularizer of Epicureanism. His school was the first of the ancient Greek philosophical schools to admit women as a rule rather than an exception, and the biography of Epicurus by Diogenes Laërtius lists female students such as
Leontion Leontion ( la, Leontium, el, Λεόντιον; floruit, fl. 300 BC) was a Greeks, Greek Epicurean philosopher. Biography Leontion was a pupil of Epicurus and his philosophy. She was the companion of Metrodorus of Lampsacus (the younger), Metrodo ...
and Nikidion. An inscription on the gate to The Garden is recorded by
Seneca the Younger Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger (; AD65), usually known as Seneca, was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', ...
in epistle XXI of ''
Epistulae morales ad Lucilium The ' (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation wi ...
'': "Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our
highest good ''Summum bonum'' is a Latin expression meaning the highest or ultimate good, which was introduced by the Roman philosopher Cicero to denote the fundamental principle on which some system of ethics is based — that is, the aim of actions, which, if ...
is pleasure." According to Diskin Clay, Epicurus himself established a custom of celebrating his birthday annually with common meals, befitting his stature as ''heros ktistes'' ("founding hero") of the Garden. He ordained in his will annual memorial feasts for himself on the same date (10th of Gamelion month). Epicurean communities continued this tradition, referring to Epicurus as their "saviour" (
soter Soter derives from the (''sōtēr''), meaning a , a deliverer; initial capitalised ; fully capitalised ; feminine Soteira (Σώτειρα) or sometimes Soteria (Σωτηρία). Soter was used as: * as a title of gods: Soter, Soter, Soter, ...

soter
) and celebrating him as hero. The
hero cult at Sagalassos, Turkey Turkey ( tr, Türkiye ), officially the Republic of Turkey, is a country straddling Southeastern Europe and Western Asia. It shares borders with Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic ...
of Epicurus may have operated as a Garden variety
civic religion Civil religion, also referred to as a civic religion, is the implicit religious values of a nation, as expressed through public rituals, symbols (such as the national flag), and ceremonies on sacred days and at sacred places (such as monuments, batt ...
. However, clear evidence of an Epicurean hero cult, as well as the cult itself, seems buried by the weight of posthumous philosophical interpretation. Epicurus never married and had no known children. He was most likely a
vegetarian Vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat (red meat, poultry, seafood, and the flesh of any other animal), and it may also include abstaining from by-products of animal slaughter. Vegetarianism may be adopted for v ...

vegetarian
.


Death

Diogenes Laërtius records that, according to Epicurus's successor
Hermarchus Hermarchus or Hermarch ( el, Ἕρμαρχoς, ''Hermarkhos''; c. 325-c. 250 BC), sometimes incorrectly written Hermachus ( el, Ἕρμαχoς, Hermakhos), was an Epicurean Epicureanism is a system of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) i ...
, Epicurus died a slow and painful death in 270 BC at the age of seventy-two from a stone blockage of his urinary tract. Despite being in immense pain, Epicurus is said to have remained cheerful and to have continued to teach until the very end. Possible insights into Epicurus's death may be offered by the extremely brief ''Epistle to
Idomeneus In Greek mythology Greek mythology is the body of myth Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belie ...
'', included by Diogenes Laërtius in Book X of his ''
Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers ''Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers'' ( grc-gre, Βίοι καὶ γνῶμαι τῶν ἐν φιλοσοφίᾳ εὐδοκιμησάντων; la, Vitae Philosophorum) is a biography of the Greek philosophers attributed to Diogenes La ...
''. The authenticity of this letter is uncertain and it may be a later pro-Epicurean forgery intended to paint an admirable portrait of the philosopher to counter the large number of forged epistles in Epicurus's name portraying him unfavorably.
I have written this letter to you on a happy day to me, which is also the last day of my life. For I have been attacked by a painful inability to urinate, and also dysentery, so violent that nothing can be added to the violence of my sufferings. But the cheerfulness of my mind, which comes from the recollection of all my philosophical contemplation, counterbalances all these afflictions. And I beg you to take care of the children of Metrodorus, in a manner worthy of the devotion shown by the young man to me, and to philosophy.
Diogenes Laërtius Diogenes Laërtius ( ; grc-gre, Διογένης Λαέρτιος, Dīogénēs Lāértios; ) was a biographer of the Ancient Greece, Greek philosophers. Nothing is definitively known about his life, but his surviving ''Lives and Opinions of Em ...
, ''Lives of Eminent Philosophers''
10.22
(trans. C.D. Yonge).
If authentic, this letter would support the tradition that Epicurus was able to remain joyful to the end, even in the midst of his suffering. It would also indicate that he maintained an especial concern for the wellbeing of children.


Teachings


Epistemology

Epicurus and his followers had a well-developed
epistemology Epistemology (; ) is the Outline of philosophy, branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. Epistemologists study the nature, origin, and scope of knowledge, epistemic Justification (epistemology), justification, the Reason, rationality o ...

epistemology
, which developed as a result of their rivalry with other philosophical schools. Epicurus wrote a treatise entitled , or ''Rule'', in which he explained his methods of investigation and theory of knowledge. This book, however, has not survived, nor does any other text that fully and clearly explains Epicurean epistemology, leaving only mentions of this epistemology by several authors to reconstruct it. Epicurus was an ardent
Empiricist In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, l ...
; believing that the senses are the only reliable sources of information about the world. He rejected the Platonic idea of "Reason" as a reliable source of knowledge about the world apart from the senses and was bitterly opposed to the Pyrrhonists and Academic Skeptics, who not only questioned the ability of the senses to provide accurate knowledge about the world, but also whether it is even possible to know anything about the world at all. Epicurus maintained that the senses never deceive humans, but that the senses can be misinterpreted. Epicurus held that the purpose of all knowledge is to aid humans in attaining ''ataraxia''. He taught that knowledge is learned through experiences rather than innate and that the acceptance of the fundamental truth of the things a person perceives is essential to a person's moral and spiritual health. In the ''Letter to Pythocles'', he states, "If a person fights the clear evidence of his senses he will never be able to share in genuine tranquility." Epicurus regarded gut feelings as the ultimate authority on matters of morality and held that whether a person feels an action is right or wrong is a far more cogent guide to whether that act really is right or wrong than abstracts maxims, strict codified rules of ethics, or even reason itself. Epicurus permitted that any and every statement that is not directly contrary to human perception has the possibility to be true. Nonetheless, anything contrary to a person's experience can be ruled out as false. Epicureans often used analogies to everyday experience to support their argument of so-called "imperceptibles", which included anything that a human being cannot perceive, such as the motion of atoms. In line with this principle of non-contradiction, the Epicureans believed that events in the natural world may have multiple causes that are all equally possible and probable. Lucretius writes in ''On the Nature of Things'', as translated by William Ellery Leonard:
There be, besides, some thing Of which 'tis not enough one only cause To state—but rather several, whereof one Will be the true: lo, if thou shouldst espy Lying afar some fellow's lifeless corse, 'Twere meet to name all causes of a death, That cause of his death might thereby be named: For prove thou mayst he perished not by steel, By cold, nor even by poison nor disease, Yet somewhat of this sort hath come to him We know—And thus we have to say the same In divers cases.
Epicurus strongly favored naturalistic explanations over theological ones. In his ''Letter to Pythocles'', he offers four different possible natural explanations for thunder, six different possible natural explanations for lightning, three for snow, three for comets, two for rainbows, two for earthquakes, and so on. Although all of these explanations are now known to be false, they were an important step in the history of science, because Epicurus was trying to explain natural phenomena using natural explanations, rather than resorting to inventing elaborate stories about gods and mythic heroes.


Ethics

Epicurus was a
hedonist Hedonism refers to a family of theories, all of which have in common that ''pleasure Pleasure refers to experience that feels good, that involves the enjoyment of something. It contrasts with pain or suffering, which are forms of feeling ba ...
, meaning he taught that what is pleasurable is morally good and what is painful is morally evil. He idiosyncratically defined "pleasure" as the absence of suffering and taught that all humans should seek to attain the state of ''
ataraxia ''Ataraxia'' (Greek: ἀταραξία, from alpha privativeAn alpha privative or, rarely, privative a (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin ...
'', meaning "untroubledness", a state in which the person is completely free from all pain or suffering. He argued that most of the suffering which human beings experience is caused by the irrational fears of death,
divine retribution Divine retribution is supernatural The supernatural encompasses supposed phenomena or entities that are not subject to the Scientific law, laws of nature. This term is attributed to non-physical entity, non-physical entities, such as ange ...
, and punishment in the afterlife. In his ''Letter to Menoeceus'', Epicurus explains that people seek wealth and power on account of these fears, believing that having more money, prestige, or political clout will save them from death. He, however, maintains that death is the end of existence, that the terrifying stories of punishment in the afterlife are ridiculous superstitions, and that death is therefore nothing to be feared. He writes in his ''Letter to Menoeceus'': "Accustom thyself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply sentience, and death is the privation of all sentience;... Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not." From this doctrine arose the Epicurean epitaph: ''Non fui, fui, non-sum, non-curo'' ("I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care"), which is inscribed on the gravestones of his followers and seen on many ancient gravestones of the
Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Republican Republican can refer to: Political ideology * An advocate of a republic, a type of governme ...

Roman Empire
. This quotation is often used today at
humanist Humanism is a philosophy, philosophical stance that emphasizes the individual and social potential and Agency (philosophy), agency of Human, human beings. It considers human beings as the starting point for serious moral and philosophical ...

humanist
funerals. The
Tetrapharmakos The Tetrapharmakos () "four-part remedy" is a summary of the first four of the Κύριαι Δόξαι (''Kuriai Doxai'', the forty Epicurean '' Principal Doctrines'' given by Diogenes Laërtius Diogenes Laërtius ( ; grc-gre, Διογένη ...
presents a summary of the key points of Epicurean ethics: * Don't fear god * Don't worry about death * What is good is easy to get * What is terrible is easy to endure Although Epicurus has been commonly misunderstood as an advocate of the rampant pursuit of pleasure, he, in fact, maintained that a person can only be happy and free from suffering by living wisely, soberly, and morally. He strongly disapproved of raw, excessive sensuality and warned that a person must take into account whether the consequences of his actions will result in suffering, writing, "the pleasant life is produced not by a string of drinking bouts and revelries, nor by the enjoyment of boys and women, nor by fish and the other items on an expensive menu, but by sober reasoning." He also wrote that a single good piece of cheese could be equally pleasing as an entire feast. Furthermore, Epicurus taught that "it is not possible to live pleasurably without living sensibly and nobly and justly", because a person who engages in acts of dishonesty or injustice will be "loaded with troubles" on account of his own guilty conscience and will live in constant fear that his wrongdoings will be discovered by others. A person who is kind and just to others, however, will have no fear and will be more likely to attain ''ataraxia''. Epicurus distinguished between two different types of pleasure: "moving" pleasures (κατὰ κίνησιν ἡδοναί) and "static" pleasures (καταστηματικαὶ ἡδοναί).Epicurus , Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
/ref>
Diogenes Laërtius Diogenes Laërtius ( ; grc-gre, Διογένης Λαέρτιος, Dīogénēs Lāértios; ) was a biographer of the Ancient Greece, Greek philosophers. Nothing is definitively known about his life, but his surviving ''Lives and Opinions of Em ...
, ''The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers'', X:136.
"Moving" pleasures occur when one is in the process of satisfying a desire and involve an active titillation of the senses. After one's desires have been satisfied (e.g. when one is full after eating), the pleasure quickly goes away and the suffering of wanting to fulfill the desire again returns. For Epicurus, static pleasures are the best pleasures because moving pleasures are always bound up with pain. Epicurus had a low opinion of sex and marriage, regarding both as having dubious value. Instead, he maintained that platonic friendships are essential to living a happy life. One of the ''Principle Doctrines'' states, "Of the things wisdom acquires for the blessedness of life as a whole, far the greatest is the possession of friendship." He also taught that philosophy is itself a pleasure to engage in. One of the quotes from Epicurus recorded in the ''Vatican Sayings'' declares, "In other pursuits, the hard-won fruit comes at the end. But in philosophy, delight keeps pace with knowledge. It is not after the lesson that enjoyment comes: learning and enjoyment happen at the same time." Epicurus distinguishes between three types of desires: natural and necessary, natural but unnecessary, and vain and empty. Natural and necessary desires include the desires for food and shelter. These are easy to satisfy, difficult to eliminate, bring pleasure when satisfied, and are naturally limited. Going beyond these limits produces unnecessary desires, such as the desire for luxury foods. Although food is necessary, luxury food is not necessary. Correspondingly, Epicurus advocates a life of hedonistic moderation by reducing desire, thus eliminating the unhappiness caused by unfulfilled desires. Vain desires include desires for power, wealth, and fame. These are difficult to satisfy because no matter how much one gets, one can always want more. These desires are inculcated by society and by false beliefs about what we need. They are not natural and are to be shunned. Epicurus' teachings were introduced into medical philosophy and practice by the Epicurean doctor
Asclepiades of Bithynia Asclepiades ( el, Ἀσκληπιάδης; c. 129/124 BC – 40 BC), sometimes called Asclepiades of Bithynia or Asclepiades of Prusa, was a Greek physician born at Prusias-on-Sea in Bithynia Bithynia (; Koine Greek Koine Greek (, , Greek ...
, who was the first physician who introduced Greek medicine in Rome. Asclepiades introduced the friendly, sympathetic, pleasing and painless treatment of patients. He advocated humane treatment of mental disorders, had insane persons freed from confinement and treated them with natural therapy, such as diet and massages. His teachings are surprisingly modern; therefore Asclepiades is considered to be a pioneer physician in psychotherapy, physical therapy and molecular medicine.


Physics

Epicurus writes in his '' Letter to Herodotus'' (not the historian) that " nothing ever arises from the nonexistent", indicating that all events therefore have causes, regardless of whether those causes are known or unknown. Similarly, he also writes that nothing ever passes away into nothingness, because, "if an object that passes from our view were completely annihilated, everything in the world would have perished, since that into which things were dissipated would be nonexistent." He therefore states: "The totality of things was always just as it is at present and will always remain the same because there is nothing into which it can change, inasmuch as there is nothing outside the totality that could intrude and effect change." Like Democritus before him, Epicurus taught that all
matter In classical physics Classical physics is a group of physics theories that predate modern, more complete, or more widely applicable theories. If a currently accepted theory is considered to be modern, and its introduction represented a major ...
is entirely made of extremely tiny particles called "
atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of ato ...

atom
s" ( grc-gre, ἄτομος; ', meaning "indivisible"). For Epicurus and his followers, the existence of atoms was a matter of empirical observation; Epicurus's devoted follower, the Roman poet
Lucretius Titus Lucretius Carus ( , ; 99 – c. 55 BC) was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened to ''Rom ...
, cites the gradual wearing down of rings from being worn, statues from being kissed, stones from being dripped on by water, and roads from being walked on in ''On the Nature of Things'' as evidence for the existence of atoms as tiny, imperceptible particles. Also like Democritus, Epicurus was a
materialist Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds matter In classical physics Classical physics is a group of physics theories that predate modern, more complete, or more widely applicable theories. If a currently accepted the ...
who taught that the only things that exist are atoms and void. Void occurs in any place where there are no atoms. Epicurus and his followers believed that atoms and void are both infinite and that the universe is therefore boundless. In ''On the Nature of Things'', Lucretius argues this point using the example of a man throwing a javelin at the theoretical boundary of a finite universe. He states that the javelin must either go past the edge of the universe, in which case it is not really a boundary, or it must be blocked by something and prevented from continuing its path, but, if that happens, then the object blocking it must be outside the confines of the universe. As a result of this belief that the universe and the number of atoms in it are infinite, Epicurus and the Epicureans believed that there must also be within the universe. Epicurus taught that the motion of atoms is constant, eternal, and without beginning or end. He held that there are two kinds of motion: the motion of atoms and the motion of visible objects. Both kinds of motion are real and not illusory. Democritus had described atoms as not only eternally moving, but also eternally flying through space, colliding, coalescing, and separating from each other as necessary. In a rare departure from Democritus's physics, Epicurus posited the idea of atomic "swerve" ( '; la, clinamen), one of his best-known original ideas. According to this idea, atoms, as they are travelling through space, may deviate slightly from the course they would ordinarily be expected to follow. Epicurus's reason for introducing this doctrine was because he wanted to preserve the concepts of
free will Free will is the capacity of agents to choose between different possible courses of action ACTION is a bus operator in , Australia owned by the . History On 19 July 1926, the commenced operating public bus services between Eastlake ( ...

free will
and ethical responsibility while still maintaining the
deterministic Determinism is the philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence Existence is the ability of an entity to interact with physical or mental reality Reality is the ...
physical model of atomism. Lucretius describes it, saying, "It is this slight deviation of primal bodies, at indeterminate times and places, which keeps the mind as such from experiencing an inner compulsion in doing everything it does and from being forced to endure and suffer like a captive in chains." Epicurus was first to assert human freedom as a result of the fundamental indeterminism in the motion of atoms. This has led some philosophers to think that, for Epicurus, free will was ''caused directly by chance''. In his ''On the Nature of Things'',
Lucretius Titus Lucretius Carus ( , ; 99 – c. 55 BC) was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened to ''Rom ...
appears to suggest this in the best-known passage on Epicurus' position. In his ''Letter to Menoeceus'', however, Epicurus follows Aristotle and clearly identifies ''three'' possible causes: "some things happen of necessity, others by chance, others through our own agency." Aristotle said some things "depend on us" (''eph'hemin''). Epicurus agreed, and said it is to these last things that praise and blame naturally attach. For Epicurus, the "swerve" of the atoms simply defeated determinism to leave room for autonomous agency.


Theology

In his ''Letter to Menoeceus'', a summary of his own moral and theological teachings, the first piece of advice Epicurus himself gives to his student is: "First, believe that a god is an indestructible and blessed animal, in accordance with the general conception of god commonly held, and do not ascribe to god anything foreign to his indestructibility or repugnant to his blessedness." Epicurus maintained that he and his followers knew that the gods exist because "our knowledge of them is a matter of clear and distinct perception", meaning that people can empirically sense their presences. He did not mean that people can see the gods as physical objects, but rather that they can see visions of the gods sent from the remote regions of interstellar space in which they actually reside. According to George K. Strodach, Epicurus could have easily dispensed of the gods entirely without greatly altering his materialist worldview, but the gods still play one important function in Epicurus's theology as the paragons of moral virtue to be emulated and admired. Epicurus rejected the conventional Greek view of the gods as anthropomorphic beings who walked the earth like ordinary people, fathered illegitimate offspring with mortals, and pursued personal feuds. Instead, he taught that the gods are morally perfect, but detached and immobile beings who live in the remote regions of interstellar space. In line with these teachings, Epicurus adamantly rejected the idea that deities were involved in human affairs in any way. Epicurus maintained that the gods are so utterly perfect and removed from the world that they are incapable of listening to prayers or supplications or doing virtually anything aside from contemplating their own perfections. In his ''Letter to Herodotus'', he specifically denies that the gods have any control over natural phenomena, arguing that this would contradict their fundamental nature, which is perfect, because any kind of worldly involvement would tarnish their perfection. He further warned that believing that the gods control natural phenomena would only mislead people into believing the superstitious view that the gods punish humans for wrongdoing, which only instills fear and prevents people from attaining ''ataraxia''. Epicurus himself criticizes popular religion in both his ''Letter to Menoeceus'' and his ''Letter to Herodotus'', but in a restrained and moderate tone. Later Epicureans mainly followed the same ideas as Epicurus, believing in the existence of the gods, but emphatically rejecting the idea of divine providence. Their criticisms of popular religion, however, are often less gentle than those of Epicurus himself. The ''Letter to Pythocles'', written by a later Epicurean, is dismissive and contemptuous towards popular religion and Epicurus's devoted follower, the Roman poet
Lucretius Titus Lucretius Carus ( , ; 99 – c. 55 BC) was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened to ''Rom ...
( 99 BC – 55 BC), passionately assailed popular religion in his philosophical poem ''De rerum natura, On the Nature of Things''. In this poem, Lucretius declares that popular religious practices not only do not instill virtue, but rather result in "misdeeds both wicked and ungodly", citing the mythical sacrifice of Iphigenia as an example. Lucretius argues that divine creation and providence are illogical, not because the gods do not exist, but rather because these notions are incompatible with the Epicurean principles of the gods' indestructibility and blessedness. The later Pyrrhonist philosopher
Sextus Empiricus Sextus Empiricus ( grc-gre, Σέξτος Ἐμπειρικός; c. 160 – c. 210 AD) was a Ancient Greece, Greek Pyrrhonism, Pyrrhonist philosopher and a physician. His philosophical works are the most complete surviving account of ancient Gree ...
( 160 – 210 AD) rejected the teachings of the Epicureans specifically because he regarded them as theological "Dogmaticists".


Epicurean paradox

The Epicurean paradox or riddle of Epicurus or Epicurus' trilemma is a version of the problem of evil. Lactantius attributes this trilemma to Epicurus in ''De Ira Dei'', 13, 20-21:
God, he says, either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is wikt:envious, envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? Or why does He not remove them?
In ''Dialogues concerning Natural Religion'' (1779), David Hume also attributes the argument to Epicurus:
Epicurus’s old questions are yet unanswered. Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?
No extant writings of Epicurus contain this argument. However, the vast majority of Epicurus's writings have been lost and it is possible that some form of this argument may have been found in his lost treatise ''On the Gods'', which Diogenes Laërtius describes as one of his greatest works. If Epicurus really did make some form of this argument, it would not have been an argument against the existence of deities, but rather an argument against divine providence. Epicurus's extant writings demonstrate that he did believe in the existence of deities. Furthermore, religion was such an integral part of daily life in Greece during the early Hellenistic Period that it is doubtful anyone during that period could have been an atheist in the modern sense of the word. Instead, the Greek word (''átheos''), meaning "without a god", was used as a term of abuse, not as an attempt to describe a person's beliefs.


Politics

Epicurus promoted an innovative theory of justice as a social contract. Justice, Epicurus said, is an agreement neither to harm nor be harmed, and we need to have such a contract in order to enjoy fully the benefits of living together in a well-ordered society. Laws and punishments are needed to keep misguided fools in line who would otherwise break the contract. But the wise person sees the usefulness of justice, and because of his limited desires, he has no need to engage in the conduct prohibited by the laws in any case. Laws that are useful for promoting happiness are just, but those that are not useful are not just. (''Principal Doctrines'' 31–40) Epicurus discouraged participation in politics, as doing so leads to perturbation and status seeking. He instead advocated not drawing attention to oneself. This principle is epitomised by the phrase ''lathe biōsas'' (), meaning "live in obscurity", "get through life without drawing attention to yourself", i.e., live without pursuing glory or wealth or power, but anonymously, enjoying little things like food, the company of friends, etc. Plutarch elaborated on this theme in his essay ''Is the Saying "Live in Obscurity" Right?'' (, ''An recte dictum sit latenter esse vivendum'') 1128c; cf. Flavius Philostratus, ''Vita Apollonii'' 8.28.12.


Works

Epicurus was an extremely prolific writer. According to Diogenes Laërtius, he wrote around 300 treatises on a variety of subjects. More original writings of Epicurus have survived to the present day than of any other Hellenistic Greek philosopher. Nonetheless, the vast majority of everything he wrote has now been lost and most of what is known about Epicurus's teachings come from the writings of his later followers, particularly the Roman poet Lucretius. The only surviving complete works by Epicurus are three relatively lengthy letters, which are quoted in their entirety in Book X of
Diogenes Laërtius Diogenes Laërtius ( ; grc-gre, Διογένης Λαέρτιος, Dīogénēs Lāértios; ) was a biographer of the Ancient Greece, Greek philosophers. Nothing is definitively known about his life, but his surviving ''Lives and Opinions of Em ...
's ''
Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers ''Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers'' ( grc-gre, Βίοι καὶ γνῶμαι τῶν ἐν φιλοσοφίᾳ εὐδοκιμησάντων; la, Vitae Philosophorum) is a biography of the Greek philosophers attributed to Diogenes La ...
'', and two groups of quotes: the ''Principal Doctrines'' (Κύριαι Δόξαι), which are likewise preserved through quotation by Diogenes Laërtius, and the ''Vatican Sayings'', preserved in a manuscript from the Vatican Library that was first discovered in 1888. In the ''Letter to Herodotus'' and the ''Letter to Pythocles'', Epicurus summarizes his philosophy on nature and, in the ''Letter to Menoeceus'', he summarizes his moral teachings. Numerous fragments of Epicurus's lost thirty-seven volume treatise ''On Nature (Epicurus), On Nature'' have been found among the charred Papyri from Herculaneum, papyrus fragments at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. Scholars first began attempting to unravel and decipher these scrolls in 1800, but the efforts are painstaking and are still ongoing. According to Diogenes Laertius (10.27-9), the major works of Epicurus include: # On Nature, in 37 books # On Atoms and the Void # On Love # Abridgment of the Arguments employed against the Natural Philosophers # Against the Megarians # Problems # Fundamental Propositions (''Kyriai Doxai'') # On Choice and Avoidance # On the Chief Good # On the Criterion (the Canon) # Chaeridemus, # On the Gods # On Piety # Hegesianax # Four essays on Lives # Essay on Just Dealing # Neocles # Essay addressed to Themista # The Banquet (Symposium) # Eurylochus # Essay addressed to Metrodorus # Essay on Seeing # Essay on the Angle in an Atom # Essay on Touch # Essay on Fate # Opinions on the Passions # Treatise addressed to Timocrates # Prognostics # Exhortations # On Images # On Perceptions # Aristobulus # Essay on Music (i.e., on music, poetry, and dance) # On Justice and the other Virtues # On Gifts and Gratitude # Polymedes # Timocrates (three books) # Metrodorus (five books) # Antidorus (two books) # Opinions about Diseases and Death, addressed to Mithras # Callistolas # Essay on Kingly Power # Anaximenes # Letters


Legacy


Ancient Epicureanism

Epicureanism was extremely popular from the very beginning.
Diogenes Laërtius Diogenes Laërtius ( ; grc-gre, Διογένης Λαέρτιος, Dīogénēs Lāértios; ) was a biographer of the Ancient Greece, Greek philosophers. Nothing is definitively known about his life, but his surviving ''Lives and Opinions of Em ...
records that the number of Epicureans throughout the world exceeded the populations of entire cities. Nonetheless, Epicurus was not universally admired and, within his own lifetime, he was vilified as an ignorant buffoon and egoistic sybarite. He remained the most simultaneously admired and despised philosopher in the Mediterranean for the next nearly five centuries. Epicureanism rapidly spread beyond the Greek mainland all across the Mediterranean world. By the first century BC, it had established a strong foothold in Italy. The Roman orator
Cicero Marcus Tullius Cicero ( ; ; 3 January 106 BC – 7 December 43 BC) was a Ancient Rome, Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, philosopher and Academic skepticism, Academic Skeptic, who tried to uphold optimate principles during crisis of ...

Cicero
(106 – 43 BC), who deplored Epicurean ethics, lamented, "the Epicureans have taken Italy by storm." The overwhelming majority of surviving Greek and Roman sources are vehemently negative towards Epicureanism and, according to Pamela Gordon, they routinely depict Epicurus himself as "monstrous or laughable". Many Romans in particular took a negative view of Epicureanism, seeing its advocacy of the pursuit of ''voluptas'' ("pleasure") as contrary to the Roman ideal of ''virtus'' ("manly virtue"). The Romans therefore often stereotyped Epicurus and his followers as weak and effeminate. Prominent critics of his philosophy include prominent authors such as the Roman Stoic
Seneca the Younger Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger (; AD65), usually known as Seneca, was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', ...
( 4 BC – AD 65) and the Greek Middle Platonism, Middle Platonist Plutarch ( 46 – 120), who both derided these stereotypes as immoral and disreputable. Gordon characterizes anti-Epicurean rhetoric as so "heavy-handed" and misrepresentative of Epicurus's actual teachings that they sometimes come across as "comical". In his ''De vita beata'', Seneca states that the "sect of Epicurus... has a bad reputation, and yet it does not deserve it." and compares it to "a man in a dress: your chastity remains, your virility is unimpaired, your body has not submitted sexually, but in your hand is a Tympanum (hand drum), tympanum." Epicureanism was a notoriously conservative philosophical school; although Epicurus's later followers did expand on his philosophy, they dogmatically retained what he himself had originally taught without modifying it. Epicureans and admirers of Epicureanism revered Epicurus himself as a great teacher of ethics, a savior, and even a god. His image was worn on finger rings, portraits of him were displayed in living rooms, and wealthy followers venerated likenesses of him in marble sculpture. His admirers revered his sayings as divine oracles, carried around copies of his writings, and cherished copies of his letters like the letters of an apostle. On the Eikas, twentieth day of every month, admirers of his teachings would perform a solemn ritual to honor his memory. At the same time, opponents of his teachings denounced him with vehemence and persistence. However, in the first and second centuries AD, Epicureanism gradually began to decline as it failed to compete with Stoicism, which had an ethical system more in line with traditional Roman values. Epicureanism also suffered decay in the wake of Christianity, which was also rapidly expanding throughout the Roman Empire. Of all the Greek philosophical schools, Epicureanism was the one most at odds with the new Christian teachings, since Epicureans believed that the soul was mortal, denied the existence of an afterlife, denied that the divine had any active role in human life, and advocated pleasure as the foremost goal of human existence. As such, Christian writers such as Justin Martyr ( 100– 165 AD), Athenagoras of Athens ( 133– 190), Tertullian ( 155– 240), and Clement of Alexandria ( 150– 215), Arnobius (died 330), and Lactantius (c. 250-c.325) all singled it out for the most vitriolic criticism. In spite of this, DeWitt argues that Epicureanism and Christianity share much common language, calling Epicureanism "the first missionary philosophy" and "the first world philosophy". Both Epicureanism and Christianity placed strong emphasis on the importance of love and forgiveness and early Christian portrayals of Jesus are often similar to Epicurean portrayals of Epicurus. DeWitt argues that Epicureanism, in many ways, helped pave the way for the spread of Christianity by "helping to bridge the gap between Greek intellectualism and a religious way of life" and "shunt[ing] the emphasis from the political to the social virtues and offer[ing] what may be called a religion of humanity."


Middle Ages

By the early fifth century AD, Epicureanism was virtually extinct. The Christian Church Fathers, Church Father Augustine of Hippo (354–430 AD) declared, "its ashes are so cold that not a single spark can be struck from them." While the ideas of Plato and Aristotle could easily be adapted to suit a Christian worldview, the ideas of Epicurus were not nearly as easily amenable. As such, while Plato and Aristotle enjoyed a privileged place in Christian philosophy throughout the
Middle Ages In the history of Europe The history of Europe concerns itself with the discovery and collection, the study, organization and presentation and the interpretation of past events and affairs of the people of Europe since the beginning of ...
, Epicurus was not held in such esteem. Information about Epicurus's teachings was available, through Lucretius's ''On the Nature of Things'', quotations of it found in medieval Latin grammars and ''florilegium, florilegia'', and encyclopedias, such as Isidore of Seville's ''Etymologiae'' (seventh century) and Hrabanus Maurus's ''De universo'' (ninth century), but there is little evidence that these teachings were systematically studied or comprehended. During the Middle Ages, Epicurus was remembered by the educated as a philosopher, but he frequently appeared in popular culture as a gatekeeper to the Garden of Delights, the "proprietor of the kitchen, the tavern, and the brothel." He appears in this guise in Martianus Capella's ''Marriage of Mercury and Philology'' (fifth century), John of Salisbury's ''Policraticus'' (1159), John Gower's ''Mirour de l'Omme'', and Geoffrey Chaucer's ''The Canterbury Tales, Canterbury Tales''. Epicurus and his followers appear in Dante Alighieri's ''Inferno (Dante), Inferno'' in the Sixth Circle of Hell, where they are imprisoned in flaming coffins for having believed that the soul dies with the body.


Renaissance

In 1417, a manuscript-hunter named Poggio Bracciolini discovered a copy of Lucretius's ''On the Nature of Things'' in a monastery near Lake Constance. The discovery of this manuscript was met with immense excitement, because scholars were eager to analyze and study the teachings of classical philosophers and this previously-forgotten text contained the most comprehensive account of Epicurus's teachings known in Latin. The first scholarly dissertation on Epicurus, ''De voluptate'' (''On Pleasure'') by the Italian Humanist and Catholic priest Lorenzo Valla was published in 1431. Valla made no mention of Lucretius or his poem. Instead, he presented the treatise as a discussion on the nature of the highest good between an Epicurean, a Stoic, and a Christian. Valla's dialogue ultimately rejects Epicureanism, but, by presenting an Epicurean as a member of the dispute, Valla lent Epicureanism credibility as a philosophy that deserved to be taken seriously. None of the Quattrocento Humanists ever clearly endorsed Epicureanism, but scholars such as Francesco Zabarella (1360–1417), Francesco Filelfo (1398–1481), Cristoforo Landino (1424–1498), and Leonardo Bruni ( 1370–1444) did give Epicureanism a fairer analysis than it had traditionally received and provided a less overtly hostile assessment of Epicurus himself. Nonetheless, "Epicureanism" remained a pejorative, synonymous with extreme egoistic pleasure-seeking, rather than a name of a philosophical school. This reputation discouraged orthodox Christian scholars from taking what others might regard as an inappropriately keen interest in Epicurean teachings. Epicureanism did not take hold in Italy, France, or England until the seventeenth century. Even the liberal religious skeptics who might have been expected to take an interest in Epicureanism evidently did not; Étienne Dolet (1509–1546) only mentions Epicurus once in all his writings and François Rabelais (between 1483 and 1494–1553) never mentions him at all. Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) is the exception to this trend, quoting a full 450 lines of Lucretius's ''On the Nature of Things'' in his ''Essays (Montaigne), Essays''. His interest in Lucretius, however, seems to have been primarily literary and he is ambiguous about his feelings on Lucretius's Epicurean worldview. During the Reformation, Protestant Reformation, the label "Epicurean" was bandied back and forth as an insult between Protestantism, Protestants and Catholics.


Revival

In the seventeenth century, the French Catholic priest and scholar
Pierre Gassendi Pierre Gassendi (; also Pierre Gassend, Petrus Gassendi; 22 January 1592 – 24 October 1655) was a French philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental que ...
(1592–1655) sought to dislodge Aristotelianism from its position of the highest dogma by presenting Epicureanism as a better and more rational alternative. In 1647, Gassendi published his book ''De vita et moribus Epicuri'' (''The Life and Morals of Epicurus''), a passionate defense of Epicureanism. In 1649, he published a commentary on Diogenes Laërtius's ''Life of Epicurus''. He left ''Syntagma philosophicum'' (''Philosophical Compendium''), a synthesis of Epicurean doctrines, unfinished at the time of his death in 1655. It was finally published in 1658, after undergoing revision by his editors. Gassendi modified Epicurus's teachings to make them palatable for a Christian audience. For instance, he argued that atoms were not eternal, uncreated, and infinite in number, instead contending that an extremely large but finite number of atoms were created by God at creation. As a result of Gassendi's modifications, his books were never censored by the Catholic Church. They came to exert profound influence on later writings about Epicurus. Gassendi's version of Epicurus's teachings became popular among some members of English scientific circles. For these scholars, however, Epicurean atomism was merely a starting point for their own idiosyncratic adaptations of it. To orthodox thinkers, Epicureanism was still regarded as immoral and heretical. For instance, Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681), the first translator of Lucretius's ''On the Nature of Things'' into English, railed against Epicurus as "a lunatic dog" who formulated "ridiculous, impious, execrable doctrines". Epicurus's teachings were made respectable in England by the natural philosopher
Walter Charleton Walter Charleton (2 February 1619 – 24 April 1707) was a natural philosopher and English people, English writer. According to Jon Parkin, he was "the main conduit for the transmission of Epicurean ideas to England".Jon Parkin, ''Science, Relig ...
(1619–1707), whose first Epicurean work, ''The Darkness of Atheism Dispelled by the Light of Nature'' (1652), advanced Epicureanism as a "new" atomism. His next work ''Physiologia Epicuro-Gassendo-Charletoniana, or a Fabrick of Science Natural, upon a Hypothesis of Atoms, Founded by Epicurus, Repaired by Petrus Gassendus, and Augmented by Walter Charleton'' (1654) emphasized this idea. These works, together with Charleton's ''Epicurus's Morals'' (1658), provided the English public with readily available descriptions of Epicurus's philosophy and assured orthodox Christians that Epicureanism was no threat to their beliefs. The Royal Society, chartered in 1662, advanced Epicurean atomism. One of the most prolific defenders of atomism was the chemist
Robert Boyle Robert Boyle (; 25 January 1627 – 31 December 1691) was an Anglo-Irish Anglo-Irish () is a term which was more commonly used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to identify an ethnic group An ethnic group or ethnicity is a group ...

Robert Boyle
(1627–1691), who argued for it in publications such as ''The Origins of Forms and Qualities'' (1666), ''Experiments, Notes, etc. about the Mechanical Origin and Production of Divers Particular Qualities'' (1675), and ''Of the Excellency and Grounds of the Mechanical Hypothesis'' (1674). By the end of the seventeenth century, Epicurean atomism was widely accepted by members of the English scientific community as the best model for explaining the physical world, but it had been modified so greatly that Epicurus was no longer seen as its original parent.


Enlightenment and after

The Anglican bishop Joseph Butler's anti-Epicurean polemics in his ''Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel'' (1726) and ''Analogy of Religion'' (1736) set the tune for what most orthodox Christians believed about Epicureanism for the remainder of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Nonetheless, there are a few indications from this time period of Epicurus's improving reputation. Epicureanism was beginning to lose its associations with indiscriminate and insatiable gluttony, which had been characteristic of its reputation ever since antiquity. Instead, the word "epicure" began to refer to a person with extremely refined taste in food. Examples of this usage include "Epicurean cooks / sharpen with cloyless sauce his appetite" from William Shakespeare's ''Antony and Cleopatra'' (Act II. scene i; 1607) and "such an epicure was Potiphar—to please his tooth and pamper his flesh with delicacies" from William Whately's ''Prototypes'' (1646). Around the same time, the Epicurean injunction to "live in obscurity" was beginning to gain popularity as well. In 1685, Sir William Temple, 1st Baronet, Sir William Temple (1628–1699) abandoned a promising career as a diplomat and instead retired to his garden, devoting himself to writing essays on Epicurus's moral teachings. That same year, John Dryden translated the celebrated lines from Book II of Lucretius's ''On the Nature of Things'': "'Tis pleasant, safely to behold from shore / The rowling ship, and hear the Tempest roar." Meanwhile,
John Locke John Locke (; 29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment Enlightenment, enlighten or enlightened may refer to: Age of Enlightenment * ...

John Locke
(1632–1704) adapted Gassendi's modified version of Epicurus's epistemology, which became highly influential on English empiricism. Many thinkers with sympathies towards the
Enlightenment Enlightenment, enlighten or enlightened may refer to: Age of Enlightenment * Age of Enlightenment, period in Western intellectual history from the late 17th to late 18th century, centered in France but also encompassing: ** Midlands Enlightenment ...
endorsed Epicureanism as an admirable moral philosophy.
Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and Founding Father The following list of national founding figures is a record, by country, of people who were cr ...

Thomas Jefferson
(1743–1826), one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, declared in 1819, "I too am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine (not imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us." The German philosopher
Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, M ...

Karl Marx
(1818–1883), whose ideas are basis of Marxism, was profoundly influenced as a young man by the teachings of Epicurus and his doctoral thesis was a Hegelian dialectical analysis of The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature, the differences between the natural philosophies of Democritus and Epicurus. Marx viewed Democritus as a rationalist skeptic, whose epistemology was inherently contradictory, but saw Epicurus as a dogmatic empiricist, whose worldview is internally consistent and practically applicable. The British poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson (1809–1892) praised "the sober majesties / of settled, sweet, Epicurean life" in his 1868 poem "Lucretius". Epicurus's ethical teachings also had an indirect impact on the philosophy of Utilitarianism in England during the nineteenth century. Friedrich Nietzsche once noted: "Even today many educated people think that the victory of Christianity over Greek philosophy is a proof of the superior truth of the former – although in this case it was only the coarser and more violent that conquered the more spiritual and delicate. So far as superior truth is concerned, it is enough to observe that the awakening sciences have allied themselves point by point with the philosophy of Epicurus, but point by point rejected Christianity."Friedrich Nietzsche: ''Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits'', p. 44. Academic interest in Epicurus and other Hellenistic philosophers increased over the course of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, with an unprecedented number of monographs, articles, abstracts, and conference papers being published on the subject. The texts from the library of Philodemus, Philodemus of Gadara in the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum, first discovered between 1750 and 1765, are being deciphered, translated, and published by scholars part of the Philodemus Translation Project, funded by the United States National Endowment for the Humanities, and part of the Centro per lo Studio dei Papiri Ercolanesi in Naples. Epicurus's popular appeal among non-scholars is difficult to gauge, but it seems to be relatively comparable to the appeal of more traditionally popular ancient Greek philosophical subjects such as Stoicism, Aristotle, and Plato.


See also

* Eikas * Epikoros * Philosophy of happiness * Separation of church and state


Notes


References


Bibliography

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Further reading

; Texts * * * * * * * Oates, Whitney J. (1940). ''The Stoic and Epicurean philosophers, The Complete Extant Writings of Epicurus, Epictetus, Lucretius and Marcus Aurelius''. New York: Modern Library. * ; Studies * Bailey C. (1928). ''The Greek Atomists and Epicurus'', Oxford: Clarendon Press. * * * * * * * * * * * William Wallace
''Epicureanism''
SPCK (1880)


External links

* * * *
''Stoic And Epicurean''
by Robert Drew Hicks (1910) (Internet Archive)
Epicurea, Hermann Usener - full text
* * .
Society of Friends of Epicurus

Discussion Forum for Epicurus and Epicurean philosophy - EpicureanFriends.com

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