Philosophy has been called the “mother of all sciences” because its essential method was that which gave rise to all our knowledge of the world. Without a certain spirit of fable or just dreaminess, we couldn’t imagine an original human being who wondered at why we are “beings” and not nothing. Why are we alive? And is everything we see and experience governed by chance or by a specific will? What is death and what is time? In short, we ask these questions that each of us asks because it seems we all need to go back to being that very first human being.

In the whole history of philosophy – wide as it is – the philosopher, Epicurus, has an important but not always well-recognized place. Michel Onfray pointed out in Theorie Du Corps Amoureux (Theory of the Body in Love) that unfortunately, the world of the ideas of Plato and his students triumphed over celebrations of Epicurus’s earthiness. Since then, we’ve been more predisposed to attend to and to cultivate an intelligentsia rather than to ponder the nature of our own here and now. We don’t ask about what we touch, what we see and breathe, about what comes into contact with our bodies, and that which, at the same time that it touches, also transforms what it’s touching.

In the end, that’s hedonism’s proposition: to live devoted to pleasure, of course, but only after we’ve become aware of pleasure and its importance at the horizons of our existence. Pleasure guides us much more than we think, and Epicurus was, if not the first philosopher to realize it, then still one of the most ardent defenders of the necessity of addressing the issue.

The maxims shared below are sometimes, ironically, known as the “Vatican Sayings.” They were discovered by the German philologist, Karl Wotke, in 1888, after they were referenced in a manuscript by another author.

In general, this is how the thoughts of Epicurus arrived to us: fragmented, quoted by others, and incomplete. Even still, it’s possible to listen and follow, as his own students did in the legendary garden where he taught philosophy during his own lifetime.

 

9. Necessity is a bad thing, but there is no necessity to live with necessity.

10. Remember that you are mortal and that, although you have a limited lifespan, you’ve entered into discussions about nature all the time and can see “all the things that are, that will be and that were before.”

11. In most men, what is at peace is numbed and what is active is raging madly.

14. We’re born only once, and we can’t be born twice, and one must for all eternity exist no more. You are not in control of tomorrow and yet you delay your opportunity to rejoice. Life is ruined by delay, and each and every one of us dies without enjoying leisure.

27. The rewards of activities come only when people have become, with great difficulty, complete masters of the activity. But in philosophy, the pleasure accompanies the knowledge. For enjoyment doesn’t come after the learning but the learning and the enjoyment are simultaneous.

31. One can attain security against other things, but when it comes to death, all men live in a city without walls.

33. The cry of the flesh: not to be hungry, not to be thirsty, not to be cold. If someone has these things and is confident of having them in the future, he might contend even with Zeus for happiness.

34. We don’t need utility from our friends so much as we need confidence concerning that utility.

35. One shouldn’t spoil what is present by desiring what is absent, but rather reason out that these things too [i.e., what we have] were among those we might have prayed for.

41. One must philosophize and at the same time laugh and take care of one’s household and use the rest of our personal goods, and never stop proclaiming the utterances of correct philosophy.

45. Natural philosophy does not create boastful men nor chatterboxes nor men who show off the ‘culture’ which the many quarrel over, but rather strong and self-sufficient men, who pride themselves on their own personal goods, nor those of external circumstances.

46. ​​ We utterly eliminate bad habits like wicked men who have been doing great harm to us for a long time.

48. We should try to make the later stretch of the road more important than the earlier one, as long as we are on the road; and when we get to the end of the road, we should feel a smooth contentment.

52. Friendship dances around the world announcing to all of us that we must wake up to blessedness.

53. One should envy no one. For the good are not worthy of envy, and the more good fortune the wicked have, the more they spoil it for themselves.

55. Misfortunes must be cured by a sense of gratitude for what has been and the knowledge that what is past cannot be undone.

59. The stomach is not insatiable, as say the many, but rather the opinion that the stomach requires an unlimited amount of filling is false

61. The sight of one’s neighbors is most beautiful if the first meeting brings concord or at least produces a serious commitment to it.

63. There is also a proper measure for parsimony, and he who does not reason it out is just as badly off as he who goes wrong by the total neglect of limits.

64. Praise from other men must come of its own accord, and we must be concerned with healing ourselves.

65. It is pointless to ask from the gods what one is fully able to supply for oneself.

68. Nothing is enough to someone for whom enough is little.

71. One should bring this question to bear on all one’s desires: what will happen to me if what is sought by desire is achieved, and what will happen if it is not?

This selection omits many other no-less vital sayings. Epicurus is one of those authors it’s possible to keep always at hand as if he were a friend or a counselor. Somehow, he’ll always tell us something that we either hadn’t heard at all or which, in light of some new circumstances in our lives, now takes on another nuance.

In addition to Epicurus’s own writings (published in English by several publishers, notably Hackett Classics and Penguin) we recommend Walter F. Otto’s essay, Epicurus and the classic poem by Lucretius, “De Rerum Natura” (“On the nature of things”), which follows in the Epicurean spirit of a celebration of life.

 

Also in Faena Aleph: Five Essential Philosophical Schools for Understanding (and Loving) Existence

 

 

Image:​ Wellcome Images

Philosophy has been called the “mother of all sciences” because its essential method was that which gave rise to all our knowledge of the world. Without a certain spirit of fable or just dreaminess, we couldn’t imagine an original human being who wondered at why we are “beings” and not nothing. Why are we alive? And is everything we see and experience governed by chance or by a specific will? What is death and what is time? In short, we ask these questions that each of us asks because it seems we all need to go back to being that very first human being.

In the whole history of philosophy – wide as it is – the philosopher, Epicurus, has an important but not always well-recognized place. Michel Onfray pointed out in Theorie Du Corps Amoureux (Theory of the Body in Love) that unfortunately, the world of the ideas of Plato and his students triumphed over celebrations of Epicurus’s earthiness. Since then, we’ve been more predisposed to attend to and to cultivate an intelligentsia rather than to ponder the nature of our own here and now. We don’t ask about what we touch, what we see and breathe, about what comes into contact with our bodies, and that which, at the same time that it touches, also transforms what it’s touching.

In the end, that’s hedonism’s proposition: to live devoted to pleasure, of course, but only after we’ve become aware of pleasure and its importance at the horizons of our existence. Pleasure guides us much more than we think, and Epicurus was, if not the first philosopher to realize it, then still one of the most ardent defenders of the necessity of addressing the issue.

The maxims shared below are sometimes, ironically, known as the “Vatican Sayings.” They were discovered by the German philologist, Karl Wotke, in 1888, after they were referenced in a manuscript by another author.

In general, this is how the thoughts of Epicurus arrived to us: fragmented, quoted by others, and incomplete. Even still, it’s possible to listen and follow, as his own students did in the legendary garden where he taught philosophy during his own lifetime.

 

9. Necessity is a bad thing, but there is no necessity to live with necessity.

10. Remember that you are mortal and that, although you have a limited lifespan, you’ve entered into discussions about nature all the time and can see “all the things that are, that will be and that were before.”

11. In most men, what is at peace is numbed and what is active is raging madly.

14. We’re born only once, and we can’t be born twice, and one must for all eternity exist no more. You are not in control of tomorrow and yet you delay your opportunity to rejoice. Life is ruined by delay, and each and every one of us dies without enjoying leisure.

27. The rewards of activities come only when people have become, with great difficulty, complete masters of the activity. But in philosophy, the pleasure accompanies the knowledge. For enjoyment doesn’t come after the learning but the learning and the enjoyment are simultaneous.

31. One can attain security against other things, but when it comes to death, all men live in a city without walls.

33. The cry of the flesh: not to be hungry, not to be thirsty, not to be cold. If someone has these things and is confident of having them in the future, he might contend even with Zeus for happiness.

34. We don’t need utility from our friends so much as we need confidence concerning that utility.

35. One shouldn’t spoil what is present by desiring what is absent, but rather reason out that these things too [i.e., what we have] were among those we might have prayed for.

41. One must philosophize and at the same time laugh and take care of one’s household and use the rest of our personal goods, and never stop proclaiming the utterances of correct philosophy.

45. Natural philosophy does not create boastful men nor chatterboxes nor men who show off the ‘culture’ which the many quarrel over, but rather strong and self-sufficient men, who pride themselves on their own personal goods, nor those of external circumstances.

46. ​​ We utterly eliminate bad habits like wicked men who have been doing great harm to us for a long time.

48. We should try to make the later stretch of the road more important than the earlier one, as long as we are on the road; and when we get to the end of the road, we should feel a smooth contentment.

52. Friendship dances around the world announcing to all of us that we must wake up to blessedness.

53. One should envy no one. For the good are not worthy of envy, and the more good fortune the wicked have, the more they spoil it for themselves.

55. Misfortunes must be cured by a sense of gratitude for what has been and the knowledge that what is past cannot be undone.

59. The stomach is not insatiable, as say the many, but rather the opinion that the stomach requires an unlimited amount of filling is false

61. The sight of one’s neighbors is most beautiful if the first meeting brings concord or at least produces a serious commitment to it.

63. There is also a proper measure for parsimony, and he who does not reason it out is just as badly off as he who goes wrong by the total neglect of limits.

64. Praise from other men must come of its own accord, and we must be concerned with healing ourselves.

65. It is pointless to ask from the gods what one is fully able to supply for oneself.

68. Nothing is enough to someone for whom enough is little.

71. One should bring this question to bear on all one’s desires: what will happen to me if what is sought by desire is achieved, and what will happen if it is not?

This selection omits many other no-less vital sayings. Epicurus is one of those authors it’s possible to keep always at hand as if he were a friend or a counselor. Somehow, he’ll always tell us something that we either hadn’t heard at all or which, in light of some new circumstances in our lives, now takes on another nuance.

In addition to Epicurus’s own writings (published in English by several publishers, notably Hackett Classics and Penguin) we recommend Walter F. Otto’s essay, Epicurus and the classic poem by Lucretius, “De Rerum Natura” (“On the nature of things”), which follows in the Epicurean spirit of a celebration of life.

 

Also in Faena Aleph: Five Essential Philosophical Schools for Understanding (and Loving) Existence

 

 

Image:​ Wellcome Images