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.


“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.


The ‘Good’ is An Attribute of Pleasure: Comics Mocking Epicurus

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 7.9-10

“And the same Bato, in his play called The Murderer, also mocks one of the upstanding philosophers before he continues:

When is possible to lie down with a beautiful woman
And have two small carafes of Lesbian wine—
And this is the ‘prudent man’; this is the ‘good man’?
Epicurus once said the things I am saying now.
If everyone would live the life that I live,
No one would be out of place or an adulterer

And Hegesippos adds in The Comrade-Lovers

When wise Epicurus was asked by someone
To tell him what that “good” is, which
They are always seeking, he said it was pleasure.
Well done, the man replied, best and wisest man!
There is no greater good anywhere than chewing.
And the ‘good’ is an attribute of pleasure.”


καὶ ἐν τῷ ᾿Ανδροφόνῳ δὲ ἐπιγραφομένῳ ὁ αὐτὸς Βάτων διαπαίξας τινὰ τῶν ἐπιεικῶν φιλοσόφων ἐπιφέρει (IV 500 M)·

ἐξὸν γυναῖκ’ ἔχοντα κατακεῖσθαι καλὴν
καὶ Λεσβίου χυτρῖδε λαμβάνειν δύο·
ὁ φρόνιμος <οὗτός> ἐστι, τοῦτο τἀγαθόν.
᾿Επίκουρος ἔλεγε ταῦθ’ ἃ νῦν ἐγὼ λέγω.
εἰ τοῦτον ἔζων πάντες ὃν ἐγὼ ζῶ βίον,
οὔτ’ ἄτοπος ἦν ἂν οὔτε μοιχὸς οὐδὲ εἷς.

῾Ηγήσιππος δ’ ἐν Φιλεταίροις (IV 481 M)·

᾿Επίκουρος ὁ σοφὸς ἀξιώσαντός τινος
εἰπεῖν πρὸς αὐτὸν ὅτι ποτ’ ἐστὶ τἀγαθόν,
ὃ διὰ τέλους ζητοῦσιν, εἶπεν ἡδονήν.
Β. εὖ γ’, ὦ κράτιστ’ ἄνθρωπε καὶ σοφώτατε·
τοῦ γὰρ μασᾶσθαι κρεῖττον οὐκ ἔστ’ οὐδὲ ἓν
ἀγαθόν· Α. πρόσεστιν ἡδονῇ γὰρ τἀγαθόν.

Has Your Cook Read Democritus and Epicurus? (Damoxenus, fr. 1)

This comic fragment is found in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists. The comic poet Damoxenus is from the 4th century BCE–he is known mostly from Athenaeus and has no Wikipedia page.

A. You see that I am
a disciple of the wise man Epicurus—
in his house in under than two years and ten months
I ‘boiled off’ ten talents.

B. What does this mean? Tell me? A. I ‘dedicated’ them.
That man was a cook as well, dear earth and gods!
B. What kind of a cook? A. Nature is the origin point
Of every kind of craft. B. The ‘origin point’, you scoundrel?

A. ‘There is nothing wiser than work’–
Every task or pursuit is easier when
You keep that saying in mind. Many things come to you!
This is why if you ever meet an uneducated cook,
one who hasn’t read Democritus completely
along with Epicurus’ Canon, rub shit in his face
and kick him out as they do from the academies!
For this is what he needs to know….”

Greek philosophers
Gallery of Culinary Inspiration

᾿Επικούρου δέ με
ὁρᾷς μαθητὴν ὄντα τοῦ σοφοῦ, παρ’ ᾧ
ἐν δύ’ ἔτεσιν καὶ μησὶν οὐχ ὅλοις δέκα
τάλαντ’ ἐγώ σοι κατεπύκνωσα τέτταρα.
Β. τοῦτο δὲ τί ἐστιν; εἰπέ μοι. Α. καθήγισα.
μάγειρος ἦν κἀκεῖνος, ὦ γῆ καὶ θεοί.
Β. ποῖος μάγειρος; Α. ἡ φύσις πάσης τέχνης
ἀρχέγονόν ἐστ’. Β. ἀρχέγονον, ὦλιτήριε;
Α. οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδὲν τοῦ πονεῖν σοφώτερον,
πᾶν εὐχερές τε πρᾶγμα τοῦ λόγου τριβὴν
ἔχοντι τούτου· πολλὰ γὰρ συμβάλλεται.
διόπερ μάγειρον ὅταν ἴδῃς ἀγράμματον
μὴ Δημόκριτόν τε πάντα διανεγνωκότα,
καὶ τὸν ᾿Επικούρου κανόνα, μινθώσας ἄφες
ὡς ἐκ διατριβῆς. τοῦτο δεῖ γὰρ εἰδέναι…

Theories of Vision and a “Little Taste” of Philosophy

Aulus Gellius, V.XVI:

On the Power of the Eye and the Mechanics of Vision

“We note that there are many diverse opinions held by philosophers concerning the mechanics of vision and the nature of discerning things. The Stoics say that sight is caused by an emission of rays from the eyes unto those things which are seen, in conjunction with an expansion of the air. Epicurus says that certain likenesses of the material objects themselves flow out from those objects, and that they bring themselves into the eyes and thus vision occurs. Plato thinks that there is a certain type of fire and light which comes from the eyes and that this combines with the light from the sun or some other fire, and this conjunction of its own and the external force makes it so that we see whatever it comes upon and illuminates. But we shouldn’t dilly-dally here any longer; we should make use of the precept of that same Neoptolemus of Ennius whom I wrote earlier, who thought that philosophy should be enjoyed in a tiny little taste, and not one big swill.”


De vi oculorum deque videndi rationibus.

1 De videndi ratione deque cernendi natura diversas esse opiniones philosophorum animadvertimus. 2Stoici causas esse videndi dicunt radiorum ex oculis in ea, quae videri queunt, emissionem aerisque simul intentionem. 3 Epicurus afluere semper ex omnibus corporibus simulacra quaedam corporum ipsorum eaque sese in oculos inferre atque ita fieri sensum videndi putat. 4 Plato existimat genus quoddam ignis lucisque de oculis exire idque coniunctum continuatumque vel cum luce solis vel cum alterius ignis lumine sua vi et externa nixum efficere, ut, quaecumque offenderit inlustraveritque, cernamus. 5 Sed hic aeque non diutius muginandum, eiusdemque illius Enniani Neoptolemi, de quo supra scripsimus, consilio utendum est, qui degustandum ex philosophia censet, non in eam ingurgitandum.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 3.1-15: Epicurus, I’m Your Biggest Fan

“I follow you who first could raise so clear a light
to illuminate in so great a darkness the best parts of life,
the glory of the Greek people; and I place my feet
firmly in the signs you left behind
not for the sake of competition but because of love
I long to imitate you: for how could a swallow compete
with swans or who would think that a kid could match
his shaking limbs in a race with a mighty horse?
You, father, are the investigator of nature, and you give us
a father’s precepts drawn from your papers, famous man,
just as bees live off of everything in the flowery groves
so too we subsist on all your golden words
always most worthy of a life everlasting.”

E tenebris tantis tam clarum extollere lumen
qui primus potuisti inlustrans commoda vitae,
te sequor, o Graiae gentis decus, inque tuis nunc

Epicurus. Epi-cutest, I say.
Epicurus. Epi-cutest, I say.

ficta pedum pono pressis vestigia signis,
non ita certandi cupidus quam propter amorem
quod te imitari aveo; quid enim contendat hirundo
cycnis, aut quid nam tremulis facere artubus haedi
consimile in cursu possint et fortis equi vis?
tu, pater, es rerum inventor, tu patria nobis
suppeditas praecepta, tuisque ex, inclute, chartis,
floriferis ut apes in saltibus omnia libant,
omnia nos itidem depascimur aurea dicta,
aurea, perpetua semper dignissima vita.

Athens Gave us Everything!? (Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, 6.1-11)

“Athens, that famous name, first gave to sickly man
Fruit bearing crops long ago and with them
Created life anew and called for laws
And first offered the sweet comforts of life
When she produced a man with such a soul
That he once divulged everything from his truth-telling tongue.
Though his life has ended, thanks to his divine discoveries,
His glory has been carried abroad and now nears the heavens.
For he saw then that everything which is needed for life
Has already been set aside for mortal man and that
As far as they were able, their life was already safe…”

Primae frugiparos fetus mortalibus aegris
dididerunt quondam praeclaro nomine Athenae
et recreaverunt vitam legesque rogarunt
et primae dederunt solacia dulcia vitae,
cum genuere virum tali cum corde repertum,
omnia veridico qui quondam ex ore profudit;
cuius et extincti propter divina reperta
divolgata vetus iam ad caelum gloria fertur.

nam cum vidit hic ad victum quae flagitat usus
omnia iam ferme mortalibus esse parata
et, pro quam possent, vitam consistere tutam…


The man at Athens? Epicurus, of course.

Athens Gave us Grain, Law and Epicurus: Lucretius DRN, 6.1-9

“Athens—that famous city—long ago was the first
to give grain-bearing seed to sickly man;
She gave us a new life and created laws
and was the first to give life sweet consolations
when she bore a man blessed with such a mind
who so long ago divulged everything with a true tongue,
whose fame, thanks to his divine discoveries,
has already long been known to heaven.”

Primae frugiparos fetus mortalibus aegris
dididerunt quondam praeclaro nomine Athenae
et recreaverunt vitam legesque rogarunt
et primae dederunt solacia dulcia vitae,
cum genuere virum tali cum corde repertum,
omnia veridico qui quondam ex ore profudit;
cuius et extincti propter divina reperta
divolgata vetus iam ad caelum gloria fertur.

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 1.284-285: Epicurus’ Claim that “Death is Nothing…”

“’ Death is nothing to us’ was likely said by Sophron, but Epicurus proved it; and it is not the claiming of a thing but the proving that is a wonder. And, for that matter, Epicurus did not say that ‘death is nothing to us’ because there is no difference in living or not living—-life is preferable by far because what is good belongs to the world of perception. But where there is no perception, there is neither good nor evil. The fact that corpses do not feel is something the poet knows along with the rest of creation.”

τό τε τὸν θάνατον [μὲν] μηδὲν εἶναι πρὸς ἡμᾶς εἴρηται μὲν ἴσως τῷ Σώφρονι, ἀποδέδεικται δὲ ᾿Επικούρῳ, καὶ ἔστιν οὐ τὸ εἰπεῖν ἀλλὰ τὸ ἀποδεῖξαι θαυμαστόν. εἶτα οὐδὲ κατὰ τοῦτο ἔφησεν ὁ ᾿Επίκουρος τὸν θάνατον μηδὲν εἶναι πρὸς ἡμᾶς, καθὸ ἀδιάφορόν ἐστιν ἢ ζῆν ἢ μή• πολλῷ γὰρ αἱρετώτερον τὸ ζῆν διὰ τὸ αἰσθανομένων εἶναι τὸ ἀγαθόν• ἀλλ’ ἐν ἀναισθησίᾳ οὔτε κακόν τι εἶναι οὔτε ἀγαθόν. τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἀναισθητεῖν τὰ νεκρὰ τῶν σωμάτων οὐχ ὁ ποιητὴς μόνος οἶδεν ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ σύμπας βίος.

Sophron? Probably less of a household name than Sextus Empiricus.