Against the Edgelords: Epicureans Rule; Stoics Drool

Seneca, Moral Epistle 25.5-6

“Act in every way as if Epicurus were watching you.” It is certainly an advantage to get yourself a minder to consult, someone you consider an overseer for your thoughts. It is far better to live as if some noble man were always in your sight, but I am happy if you do what you do as if anyone else is watching–isolation commends every kind of evil to us.

When you have advanced so far that you are also embarrassed in front of yourself, then you can dismiss your witness. In the meantime, choose some other authority as a guardian for yourself, a Cato or Scipio or Laelius or any person whose presence would curb the offenses of even the worst kind of wastrel. Do this as long as it takes to make yourself the kind of person in whose presence you wouldn’t dare to sin.

When you have accomplished this and you begin to have real self-respect, I will start to let you do what Epicurus advises in another passage: “The best time to retreat within yourself is when you are compelled to be in a crowd.”

“Sic fac,” inquit, “omnia, tamquam spectet Epicurus.” Prodest sine dubio custodem sibi inposuisse et habere, quem respicias, quem interesse cogitationibus tuis iudices. Hoc quidem longe magnificentius est, sic vivere tamquam sub alicuius boni viri ac semper praesentis oculis, sed ego etiam hoc contentus sum, ut sic facias, quaecumque facies, tamquam spectet aliquis; omnia nobis mala solitudo persuadet. Cum iam profeceris tantum, ut sit tibi etiam tui reverentia, licebit dimittas paedagogum; interim aliquorum te auctoritate custodi, aut Cato ille sit aut Scipio aut Laelius aut talis, cuius1 interventu perditi quoque homines vitia supprimerent, dum te efficis eum, cum quo peccare non audeas. Cum hoc effeceris, et aliqua coeperit apud te tui esse dignatio, incipiam tibi permittere, quod idem suadet Epicurus: “Tunc praecipue in te ipse secede, cum esse cogeris in turba.”

Diogenes Laertius 10.2

“Apollodorus the Epicurian writes in his first book of On the Life of Epicurus that the philosopher turned to the study of philosophy when he noted that his teachers could not explain to him the meaning of Chaos in Hesiod.”

᾿Απολλόδωρος δ’ ὁ ᾿Επικούρειος ἐν τῷ πρώτῳ περὶ τοῦ ᾿Επικούρου βίου φησὶν ἐλθεῖν αὐτὸν ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν καταγνόντα τῶν γραμματιστῶν ἐπειδὴ μὴ ἐδυνήθησαν ἑρμηνεῦσαι αὐτῷ τὰ περὶ τοῦ παρ’ ῾Ησιόδῳ χάους.


“I cannot conceive what the good is if I separate it from the pleasures of taste, from the pleasures of sex, from the pleasures of sound, or those of beautiful bodies.”

Οὐ γὰρ ἔγωγε ἔχω τί νοήσω τἀγαθόν, ἀφαιρῶν μὲν τὰς διὰ χυλῶν ἡδονάς, ἀφαιρῶν δὲ τὰς δι᾽ ἀφροδισίων καὶ τὰς δι᾽ ἀκροαμάτων καὶ τὰς διὰ μορφῆς.

Some Maxims

“Whoever understands the limits of life knows that it is extremely easy to take away the pain of want and to make all of life fulfilled. Then he lacks nothing which is acquired through conflicts.”

XXI. ῾Ο τὰ πέρατα τοῦ βίου κατειδὼς οἶδεν, ὡς εὐπόριστόν ἐστι τὸ <τὸ> ἀλγοῦν κατ’ ἔνδειαν ἐξαιροῦν καὶ τὸ τὸν ὅλον βίον παντελῆ καθιστάν· ὥστε οὐδὲν προσδεῖται πραγμάτων ἀγῶνας κεκτημένων.

“Of the things which wisdom provides for happiness throughout life, the greatest by far is the possession of friends”

XXVII. ῟Ων ἡ σοφία παρασκευάζεται εἰς τὴν τοῦ ὅλου βίου μακαριότητα, πολὺ μέγιστόν ἐστιν ἡ τῆς φιλίας κτῆσις.

screent shot of a book cover: living for pelasure an epicurean guide to life by Emily Austin
I like this book

“Epicurus denies there are two competing motives at war with one another. That’s not because he wants to convince you that action done from duty is actually pleasant, like you’re foolishly overlooking the joy of dutifully mowing the lawn or changing diapers. It’s the Stoics who encourage finding joy in acting from duty. The Epicureans deny that we act from duty at all.”

-Emily A. Austin, 31

More from Diogenes Laertius

“Some of our desires are natural and necessary. Others are natural and not necessary. Some more are neither natural nor necessary, but they develop thanks to meaningless beliefs.”

XXIX. Τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν αἱ μέν εἰσι φυσικαὶ καὶ <ἀναγκαῖαι· αἱ δὲ φυσικαὶ καὶ> οὐκ ἀναγκαῖαι· αἱ δὲ οὔτε φυσικαὶ οὔτ’ ἀναγκαῖαι ἀλλὰ παρὰ κενὴν δόξαν γινόμεναι.

“Nature’s justice is a representation of advantage, for not harming one another nor being harmed.”

XXXI. Τὸ τῆς φύσεως δίκαιόν ἐστι σύμβολον τοῦ συμφέροντος εἰς τὸ μὴ βλάπτειν ἀλλήλους μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι.

Cicero, De Finibus 1.64

“A subject remains which is especially important to this debate, that is friendship which, as you believe, will completely disappear if pleasure is the greatest good. Concerning friendship, Epicurus himself says that of all the paths to happiness wisdom has prepared, there is none greater, more productive, or more enchanting than this one. And he did not advocate for friendship in speech alone but much more through his life, his deeds and his customs.

Myths of the ancients illustrate how great friendship is—in those tales however varied and numerous you seek from the deepest part of antiquity and you will find scarcely three pairs of friends, starting with Theseus and up to Orestes. But, Epicurus in one single and quite small home kept so great a crowd of friends united by the depth of their love. And this is still the practice among Epicureans.”

XX Restat locus huic disputationi vel maxime necessarius, de amicitia, quam si voluptas summum sit bonum affirmatis nullam omnino fore; de qua Epicurus quidem ita dicit, omnium rerum quas ad beate vivendum sapientia comparaverit nihil esse maius amicitia, nihil uberius, nihil iucundius. Nec vero hoc oratione solum sed multo magis vita et factis et moribus comprobavit. Quod quam magnum sit fictae veterum fabulae declarant, in quibus tam multis tamque variis, ab ultima antiquitate repetitis, tria vix amicorum paria reperiuntur, ut ad Orestem pervenias profectus a Theseo. At vero Epicurus una in domo, et ea quidem angusta, quam magnos quantaque amoris conspiratione consentientes tenuit amicorum greges! quod fit etiam nunc ab Epicureis.

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