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Epíkouros wrote, “When we say…that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not by an unbroken succession of drinking bouts and of revelry, not by sexual lust, nor the enjoyment of fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul.” An inscription on the gate to his school read, “Sranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.” In modern popular usage, an epicurean is a connoisseur of the arts of life and the refinements of sensual pleasures, especially good food and drink. Because Epicureanism posits that pleasure is the ultimate good, the doctrine has always been commonly misunderstood to advocate partaking in fleeting pleasures such as hedonism, sexual excess, and decadent foods. But Epíkouros actually regarded happiness to be based on ataraxia (tranquility, freedom from fear) and aponia (absence of pain) and taught that overindulgence was contrary to their attainment. “It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living pleasantly.” Pleasure and pain are measures of what is good and evil; "Death is nothing to us; for that which is dissolved, is without sensation, and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us"(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 was inscribed on the gravestones of his followers); the gods neither reward nor punish humans; the universe is infinite and eternal; everything is based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space (but he rejected the determinism inherent in the atomism of Demokritos in favor of free will); nothing should be believed except what has been tested through direct observation and logical deduction.
Epíkouros ("ally, comrade") was the son of Athenian parents who had moved to the city’s colony of Samos in the Aegean Sea about a decade before his birth; at 18 he returned to Athens to do his two years of compulsory military service and then rejoined his family at Colophon, where Perdikkas, the regent for Alexander the Great’s successor, had expelled the Samians. Though he had studied under the Platonist teacher Pamphilus as a boy and then at Colophon under Nausiphanes, a follower of Demokritos, he claimed to be self-taught, and in 306 BCE he founded The Garden in Athens, midway between the Stoa Poikile (Painted Porch), where Zeno of Citium taught Stoicism, and the Akademia, founded by Platon, and indeed his teachings became the main challenge to both doctrines. His school was the first to admit women and slaves as a rule rather than an exception, and he was one of the first Greeks to break from the god-fearing and god-worshiping tradition, though he also maintained that religious activities were a useful way to contemplate the gods. Of the 300 writings ascribed to him, the only surviving complete works are three letters in Diogenes Laërtius' “Lives of Eminent Philosophers,” which also contains several quotes; other quotes have been preserved in a manuscript from the Vatican Library; fragments of his 37-volume “On Nature”were found among charred papyrus fragments at the Villa of the Papyri (which had perhaps been owned by Julius Caesar's father-in-law) at Herculaneum, which was destroyed at the same time as Pompeii in 79, and quotations from other works were also found there; numerous fragments also exist throughout ancient Greek and Roman literature. But, due to the rise of Neo-Platonism and Christianity, the influence of Epicureanism declined in the later period of the Roman empire, leaving only the debased beliefs about its doctrines. In the 2nd century, Judah the Prince (Yehudah HaNasi) [Rabbenu HaQadosh, "our Master, the holy one"] edited the Mishnah, the first major written redaction of the oral traditions of the Pharisees that became the basis for Rabbinic literature; the Talmudic word for a heretic was "apiqoros," someone who did not have a share of the messianic "World-to-Come." So it was that Dante (Durante degli Alighieri), at the beginning of the 14th century, consigned the Epicureans, the “first heretics,” to the 6th circle of Hell. However, in the 17th century the Franciscan philosopher Pierre Gassendi revived Epicureanism, influencing the ideas of social philosophers such as David Hume, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson, though Christian attacks resumed, especially by the “Cambridge Platonists.”
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