ancient.gif (10064 bytes)

Epicurus, 341-270 B.C.

epicurus.jpg (6088 bytes)Epicurus was born of Athenian parents on the island of Samos. He began his philosophical studies at an early age on the islands of the Aegean and the coast of Asia Minor, where he encountered the followers of Plato and Democritus. He first taught at Mytilene, on Lesbos (c.311), and soon moved to Lampsacus on the Hellespont. Around 307 he established in Athens an Epicurean community called the Garden.

The Garden became the prototype of most Epicurean groups at the time. Its members included women and at least one slave. The fact that the Epicureans accepted courtesans exposed them to the ridicule of their opponents. However, even the enemies of Epicurus admired their ability to cultivate such close friendships. After his death in 270, the followers of Epicurus celebrated his memory at a monthly feast and his teaching spread rapidly throughout the Greek world.

Three letters containing summaries of Epicurean doctrine have been preserved in Diogenes Laertius' Life of Epicurus (see below): To Herodotus (on atomic theory); To Pythocles (on astronomy and meteorology); and To Menoeceus (on ethics).

Epicureanism became a way of life with set prescriptions laid down for the guidance of the novice. Geometry does not describe the world as we experience it. Rhetoric is an abuse of language. Music and poetry are not fit for conversation. Epicurus also warned his followers against assuming heavy responsibilities and instead praised the life that escapes man's notice. While such a philosophy of uninvolvement alienated the Epicureans from the intellectual elites of the day, the Epicurean lifestyle was now within the reach of a wider of circle of people who did not enjoy the advantages of wealth or education. To these people, Epicurus recommended the cultivation of friendship and the enjoyment of simple pleasures.

*          *          *

The Principle Doctrines (from Diogenes Laertius' Lives (Book X, 139-154)

I  What is blessed and indestructible has no troubles itself, nor does it give trouble to anyone else, so that its is not affected by feelings of anger or gratitude. For all such things are a sign of weakness.
II  Death is nothing to us. For what has been dissolved has no sense-experience, and what has no sense-experience is nothing to us.
V  It is impossible to live pleasantly without living prudently, honorably, and justly and impossible to live prudently, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly. And whoever lacks this cannot live pleasantly.
VIII  No pleasure is a bad thing in itself. But the things which produce certain pleasures bring troubles many times greater than the pleasures.
X  If the things which produce the pleasures of profligate men dissolved the intellect's fears about the phenomena of the heavens and about death and pains and, moreover, if they taught us the limit of our desires, then we would not have reason to criticize them, since they would be filed with pleasures from every source and would contain no feeling of pain or distress from any source -- and that is what is bad.
XVII  The just life is most free from disturbance, but the unjust life is full of the greatest disturbance.
XXVII  Of the things which wisdom provides for the blessedness of one's whole life, by far the greatest is the possession of friendship.

More Information
Epicureanism (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Epicurus entry
Epicurus entry
(Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Epicurus entry
(Garth Kemerling)
The Philosophy Garden

| Return to the Lecture |

| The History Guide |

copyright 2000 Steven Kreis
Last Revised -- October 11, 2006
Conditions of Use