Influential Teachers and the Meaning of the Good: Two Anecdotes Concerning Epicurus

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.

10.6

“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.

 

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A few maxims to round things out

 

 

  1. “If fear of the skies or about death had never afflicted us—along with the ignoring of the limits of pain and desires—we never would have needed natural science”

Εἰ μηθὲν ἡμᾶς αἱ τῶν μετεώρων ὑποψίαι ἠνώχλουν καὶ αἱ περὶ θανάτου, μή ποτε πρὸς ἡμᾶς ᾖ τι, ἔτι τε τὸ μὴ κατανοεῖν τοὺς ὅρους τῶν ἀλγηδόνων καὶ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, οὐκ ἂν προσεδεόμεθα φυσιολογίας.

  1. “It is not possible to eliminate fear about the most important things unless one understands the nature of everything—otherwise, we live fearing things we heard from myths. Therefore, it is not possible to enjoy unmixed pleasures without natural science.”

XII. Οὐκ ἦν τὸ φοβούμενον λύειν ὑπὲρ τῶν κυριωτάτων μὴ κατειδότα τίς ἡ τοῦ σύμπαντος φύσις, ἀλλ’ ὑποπτευόμενόν τι τῶν κατὰ τοὺς μύθους· ὥστε οὐκ ἦν ἄνευ φυσιολογίας ἀκεραίους τὰς ἡδονὰς ἀπολαμβάνειν.

Chance, Wealth and the Wise Man: More Maxims

More of Epicurus’ Maxims from Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

“Chance only briefly impedes the wise man—reason has selected for him what is most important, it guides him throughout his life and will guide him.”

XVI. Βραχέα σοφῷ τύχη παρεμπίπτει, τὰ δὲ μέγιστα καὶ κυριώτατα ὁ λογισμὸς διῴκηκε καὶ κατὰ τὸν συνεχῆ χρόνον τοῦ βίου διοικεῖ καὶ διοικήσει.

“The just man is the least agitated; the unjust full of the most trouble.”

XVII. ῾Ο δίκαιος ἀταρακτότατος, ὁ δ’ ἄδικος πλείστης ταραχῆς γέμων.

“Pleasure for the flesh will not increase once pain from want has been removed, but it can only be varied. The contemplation of these things [which bring pleasure] and their concomitants, however, produces the limit of pleasure for the mind, insofar as it is those very things that also bring the mind the greatest fears.”

XVIII. Οὐκ ἐπαύξεται ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ ἡ ἡδονὴ ἐπειδὰν ἅπαξ τὸ κατ’ ἔνδειαν ἀλγοῦν ἐξαιρεθῇ, ἀλλὰ μόνον ποικίλλεται. τῆς δὲ διανοίας τὸ πέρας τὸ κατὰ τὴν ἡδονὴν ἀπεγέννησεν ἥ τε τούτων αὐτῶν ἐκλόγισις καὶ τῶν ὁμογενῶν τούτοις ὅσα τοὺς μεγίστους φόβους παρεσκεύαζε τῇ διανοίᾳ.

“It is not possible that the man who has transgressed one of the laws we have in common—not harming or being harmed—to believe that he will get away with it, even if he already has ten thousand times to the present day. It will be unclear whether or not he will escape right up until he dies.”

XXXV. Οὐκ ἔστι τὸν λάθρᾳ τι ποιοῦντα ὧν συνέθεντο πρὸς ἀλλήλους εἰς τὸ μὴ βλάπτειν μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι πιστεύειν ὅτι λήσει, κἂν μυριάκις ἐπὶ τοῦ παρόντος λανθάνῃ. μέχρι μὲν καταστροφῆς ἄδηλον εἰ καὶ λήσει.

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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.

10.6

“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 Useful Principles On Science and Fear

Some of Epicurus’ Maxims (taken from Diogenes Laertius‘ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers)

  1. “If fear of the skies or about death had never afflicted us—along with the ignoring of the limits of pain and desires—we never would have needed natural science”

Εἰ μηθὲν ἡμᾶς αἱ τῶν μετεώρων ὑποψίαι ἠνώχλουν καὶ αἱ περὶ θανάτου, μή ποτε πρὸς ἡμᾶς ᾖ τι, ἔτι τε τὸ μὴ κατανοεῖν τοὺς ὅρους τῶν ἀλγηδόνων καὶ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, οὐκ ἂν προσεδεόμεθα φυσιολογίας.

  1. “It is not possible to eliminate fear about the most important things unless one understands the nature of everything—otherwise, we live fearing things we heard from myths. Therefore, it is not possible to enjoy unmixed pleasures without natural science.”

XII. Οὐκ ἦν τὸ φοβούμενον λύειν ὑπὲρ τῶν κυριωτάτων μὴ κατειδότα τίς ἡ τοῦ σύμπαντος φύσις, ἀλλ’ ὑποπτευόμενόν τι τῶν κατὰ τοὺς μύθους· ὥστε οὐκ ἦν ἄνευ φυσιολογίας ἀκεραίους τὰς ἡδονὰς ἀπολαμβάνειν.

  1. “There is no profit in making yourself secure against other people as long as you fear what happens above and below the earth or elsewhere in the endless universe.”

XIII. Οὐθὲν ὄφελος ἦν τὴν κατ’ ἀνθρώπους ἀσφάλειαν κατασκευάζεσθαι τῶν ἄνωθεν ὑπόπτων καθεστώτων καὶ τῶν ὑπὸ γῆς καὶ ἁπλῶς τῶν ἐν τῷ ἀπείρῳ.

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Governments, Fame and More Maxims from Epicurus

from Diogenes Laertius

 

6. “Whatever one can have once prepared for the sake of protecting against other men—governments or kingdoms—was good by nature”

VI. ῞Ενεκα τοῦ θαρρεῖν ἐξ ἀνθρώπων, ἦν κατὰ φύσιν [ἀρχῆς καὶ βασιλείας] ἀγαθόν, ἐξ ὧν ἄν ποτε τοῦτο οἷός τ’ ᾖ παρασκευάζεσθαι.

 

7. “Some men have wished to become famous and widely known, believing that this will make them strong against [danger from] other people. If the life of these kinds of people is really safe, then they have obtained a natural good. If it is not safe, they have not not accomplished what nature urged from the beginning.”

VII. ῎Ενδοξοι καὶ περίβλεπτοί τινες ἐβουλήθησαν γενέσθαι, τὴν ἐξ ἀνθρώπων ἀσφάλειαν οὕτω νομίζοντες περιποιήσεσθαι. ὥστ’ εἰ μὲν ἀσφαλὴς ὁ τῶν τοιούτων βίος, ἀπέλαβον τὸ τῆς φύσεως ἀγαθόν· εἰ δὲ μὴ ἀσφαλής, οὐκ ἔχουσιν οὗ ἕνεκα ἐξ
ἀρχῆς κατὰ τὸ τῆς φύσεως οἰκεῖον ὠρέχθησαν.

 

8. “No pleasure is evil on its own, but the things that produce some pleasures introduce problems far greater than the pleasures”

VIII. Οὐδεμία ἡδονὴ καθ’ ἑαυτὸ κακόν· ἀλλὰ τὰ τινῶν ἡδονῶν ποιητικὰ πολλαπλασίους ἐπιφέρει τὰς ὀχλήσεις τῶν ἡδονῶν.

 

9. “If all pleasure could be heaped up together, if it were possible for this to occur in time, through all of experience, and the most powerful parts of nature, there never would have been differences in the pleasures”

IX. Εἰ κατεπυκνοῦτο πᾶσα ἡδονή, καὶ χρόνῳ καὶ περὶ ὅλον τὸ ἄθροισμα ὑπῆρχεν ἢ τὰ κυριώτατα μέρη τῆς φύσεως, οὐκ ἄν ποτε διέφερον ἀλλήλων αἱ ἡδοναί.

 

10. “If the things that produced pleasure for the unhappy could relieve fears of the mind concerning the matters of the universe, death, and coming pain—if they could teach the limit of desires, we would never have to find any fault thing them as they overfilled with pleasures from everywhere since they would have neither physical nor mental pain which is evil.”

X. Εἰ τὰ ποιητικὰ τῶν περὶ τοὺς ἀσώτους ἡδονῶν ἔλυε τοὺς φόβους τῆς διανοίας τούς τε περὶ μετεώρων καὶ θανάτου καὶ ἀλγηδόνων, ἔτι τε τὸ πέρας τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν ἐδίδασκεν, οὐκ ἄν ποτε εἴχομεν ὅ τι μεμψαίμεθα αὐτοῖς πανταχόθεν ἐκπληρουμένοις τῶν ἡδονῶν καὶ οὐθαμόθεν οὔτε τὸ ἀλγοῦν οὔτε τὸ λυπούμενον ἔχουσιν, ὅπερ ἐστὶ τὸ κακόν.

 

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Epicurus’ First Five Maxims

As printed in Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

1. “The blessed and imperishable neither has troubles or gives them to others, so he is bound by neither anger nor debt—for this sort of thing brings weakness.”

I. Τὸ μακάριον καὶ ἄφθαρτον οὔτε αὐτὸ πράγματα ἔχει οὔτε ἄλλῳ παρέχει, ὥστε οὔτε ὀργαῖς οὔτε χάρισι συνέχεται· ἐν ἀσθενεῖ γὰρ πᾶν τὸ τοιοῦτον. ἐν ἄλλοις (fg. 355 Us.) δέ φησι τοὺς

 

2. “Death is nothing to us. For when [the body] has broken down it perceives nothing. That which is not perceived is nothing to us.”

II. ῾Ο θάνατος οὐδὲν πρὸς ἡμᾶς· τὸ γὰρ διαλυθὲν ἀναισθητεῖ· τὸ δ’ ἀναισθητοῦν οὐδὲν πρὸς ἡμᾶς.

 

3. “The limit of pleasure’s greatness is the removal of all pain. When pleasure is here, for that amount of time, there is no physical or mental pain or the two together.”

III. ῞Ορος τοῦ μεγέθους τῶν ἡδονῶν ἡ παντὸς τοῦ ἀλγοῦντος ὑπεξαίρεσις. ὅπου δ’ ἂν τὸ ἡδόμενον ἐνῇ, καθ’ ὃν ἂν χρόνον ᾖ, οὐκ ἔστι τὸ ἀλγοῦν ἢ τὸ λυπούμενον ἢ τὸ συναμφότερον.

 

4. “Constant pain does not persist in the body, but extreme pain, when it does exist, and that which only balances out the body’s pleasure, will not persist for many days. Even long sicknesses allow an excess of bodily pleasure over pain.”

IV. Οὐ χρονίζει τὸ ἀλγοῦν συνεχῶς ἐν τῇ σαρκί, ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν ἄκρον τὸν ἐλάχιστον χρόνον πάρεστι, τὸ δὲ μόνον ὑπερτεῖνον τὸ ἡδόμενον κατὰ σάρκα οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας συμμένει. αἱ δὲ πολυχρόνιοι τῶν ἀρρωστιῶν πλεονάζον ἔχουσι τὸ ἡδόμενον ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ ἤπερ τὸ ἀλγοῦν.

 

5. “It is impossible to live pleasurably without living thoughtfully, nobly and justly; nor is it possible to live thoughtfully, nobly and justly without living pleasurably. Whenever something is missing from life, such as being thoughtful, it is not possible to live pleasurably even if one is still noble and just.”

V. Οὐκ ἔστιν ἡδέως ζῆν ἄνευ τοῦ φρονίμως καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως, <οὐδὲ φρονίμως καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως> ἄνευ τοῦ ἡδέως. ὅτῳ δὲ τοῦτο μὴ ὑπάρχει ἐξ οὗ ζῆν φρονίμως, καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως ὑπάρχει, οὐκ ἔστι τοῦτον ἡδέως ζῆν.

 

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Philosophers Hating Philosophers: Epicurus’ Insults

Diogenes Laertius, 10.8

“[Epicurus] used to call Nausiphanes a jellyfish who was illiterate, a cheat and a whore. He used to refer to Plato’s followers as the Dionysus-flatters; he called Aristotle a waste who, after he spent his interitance, fought as a mercenary and sold drugs. He maligned Protagoras as a bellboy, and called Protagoras Democritus’ secretary and a teacher from the sticks. He called Heraclitus mudman, Democritus Lerocritus [nonsense lord]. Antidorus he called Sannidôros [servile-gifter]. He named the Cynics “Greece’s enemies”; he called the dialecticians Destructionists and, according to him, Pyrrho was unlearned and unteachable.”

πλεύμονά τε αὐτὸν ἐκάλει καὶ ἀγράμματον καὶ ἀπατεῶνα καὶ πόρνην: τούς τε περὶ Πλάτωνα Διονυσοκόλακας καὶ αὐτὸν Πλάτωνα χρυσοῦν, καὶ Ἀριστοτέλη ἄσωτον, <ὃν> καταφαγόντα τὴν πατρῴαν οὐσίαν στρατεύεσθαι καὶ φαρμακοπωλεῖν: φορμοφόρον τε Πρωταγόραν καὶ γραφέα Δημοκρίτου καὶ ἐν κώμαις γράμματα διδάσκειν: Ἡράκλειτόν τε κυκητὴν καὶ Δημόκριτον Ληρόκριτον καὶ Ἀντίδωρον Σαννίδωρον: τούς τε Κυνικοὺς ἐχθροὺς τῆς Ἑλλάδος: καὶ τοὺς διαλεκτικοὺς πολυφθόρους, Πύρρωνα δ᾽ ἀμαθῆ καὶ ἀπαίδευτον.

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A Little Poem by Leo the Philosopher

This poem is a little strange and might not really project Epicurean beliefs…but I like it any way.

LEO THE PHILOSOPHER, GR. ANTH, 15.12

“Fortune, you kindly grant me Epicurus’
sweetest leisure and his delightful peace.
Why do I need the many-pained business of men?
I don’t want wealth, a blind, unstable friend,
Nor honors—human honors are a feeble dream.
Go to hell, Kirkê’s dusky cave: for I am ashamed
To eat the acorns of beasts when I am born from gods.
I hate the sweet, amnesiac fruit of the Lotus-eaters,
And I reject the seduction of the Sirens as an enemy’s song.
But I hope to obtain from the gods the soul-saving bloom,
Moly, an antidote against evil beliefs. And my ears,
I will block firmly with wax to escape innate compulsion.
May I reach the end of my life, saying and writing these things.”

Εὖγε, Τύχη, με ποεῖς ἀπραγμοσύνῃ μ’ ᾿Επικούρου
ἡδίστῃ κομέουσα καὶ ἡσυχίῃ τέρπουσα.
τίπτε δέ μοι χρέος ἀσχολίης πολυκηδέος ἀνδρῶν;
οὐκ ἐθέλω πλοῦτον, τυφλὸν φίλον, ἀλλοπρόσαλλον,
οὐ τιμάς· τιμαὶ δὲ βροτῶν ἀμενηνὸς ὄνειρος·
ἔρρε μοι, ὦ Κίρκης δνοφερὸν σπέος· αἰδέομαι γὰρ
οὐράνιος γεγαὼς βαλάνους ἅτε θηρίον ἔσθειν·
μισῶ Λωτοφάγων γλυκερὴν λιπόπατριν ἐδωδήν,
Σειρήνων τε μέλος καταγωγὸν ἀναίνομαι ἐχθρῶν·
ἀλλὰ λαβεῖν θεόθεν ψυχοσσόον εὔχομαι ἄνθος,
μῶλυ, κακῶν δοξῶν ἀλκτήριον· ὦτα δὲ κηρῷ
ἀσφαλέως κλείσας προφυγεῖν γενετήσιον ὁρμήν.
ταῦτα λέγων τε γράφων τε πέρας βιότοιο κιχείην.

Leo the Philosopher is from the 8th century CE! He is also called Leo the Mathematician.

leon

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