Epicurus of Samos (341-270 BCE) was the founder of the philosophical system to which he gave his name: Epicureanism. It is a label that is often misused and misunderstood today, with ‘a life of pleasure’ as the key aim misinterpreted as a life of indulgence. In fact, the philosophy of Epicurus demonstrated also by his life, was anything but! He established a school in Athens called The Garden, underpinned by his system of ethics.
He promoted, by his own example, a simple, ordered, calm and reflective life.
A life of true pleasure, he proposed, is only possible when unharnessed desire for wealth, position, luxury and power has been dissolved and instead steady living and friendship are the watchwords. It is against this background that the understanding and acceptance of the vicissitudes of life, and the inevitability of death, are the rules by which to live.
This was in contrast to Platonism on the one hand and the Cynics on the other. The second major facet of Epicurus’ philosophy was his physics, in which he adopted and furthered the theory of atomism introduced by Democritus (460-370 BCE): there was no ‘first mover’, no creation myth, no afterlife. Atoms underpinned all existence. Epicurus was a prodigious author, producing many books - yet very few survive.
Diogenes Laertius, the third-century Greek biographer, in his sizeable Lives of Eminent Philosophers, devotes Book X, the final book, to Epicurus. In it he gives an account of the life of the philosopher and including three letters from Epicurus to friends, to Herodotus, Pythocles and Menoeceus.
The biography concludes with the concise The Principal Doctrines of Epicurus. Then there are various fragments which have come down to us: The Vatican Sayings (a collection found in the Vatican Library, originally compiled in the 14th century and rediscovered in the 19th century); Epicurean Fragments collected in the 19th century from many classical authors; further fragments included in the collection The Villa of the Papyri; and Diogenes’ Wall Inscription.
There are also important works clearly influenced by Epicurus, notably the long important poem De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius (c99 BCE-c55 BCE). And finally, there is a chapter on The Legacy.
This represents comments by such figures as Cicero (who though principally a Stoic clearly retained an admiration for Epicurus) and later Epicureans, including Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the US. In Epicurus of Samos, His Life and Philosophy, Hiram Crespo, (founder of the Society of Epicurus) has compiled all the source texts and provided introductions to the topic and each chapter. The title is an original commission by Ukemi Audiobooks.