Epicurus was born in 340 BC and was raised at Samos by his schoolmaster father. As an Athenian citizen he reported for two years of military service when he was eighteen. He taught philosophy in Asia Minor before buying a home and the Garden at Athens, where he taught from 306 BC until his death in 270 BC. According to the biography by Diogenes Laertius, Epicurus wrote extensively, but only a few letters and short sayings remain. His atomistic philosophy was later described in the poem On the Nature of Things by Lucretius. The ethical teachings of Epicurus are summarized in his Letter to Monoeceus and his forty Authoritative Doctrines. A 14th-century manuscript discovered in 1888 from the Vatican library included many more sayings by Epicurus and is entitled Pronouncements of Epicurus. Other "fragments" are Quotations of Epicurus from other classical writers. The quote in the Letter to Monoeceus about dying soon after being born is from the poet Theognis.
This has been published in the WISDOM BIBLE as a book. For ordering information, please click here.
Epicurus to Menoeceus, greeting:
Let no one who is young delay loving wisdom
nor let the aging tire of philosophy;
for no age is too early or too late for a healthy soul.
Saying that the season for loving wisdom
has not arrived or that it is past
is like saying that the time for happiness
has not yet come or is gone.
Therefore both young and old must love wisdom
so that while aging one may be young in good things
by the grace of what has been
while the young may at the same time also be old
because of not fearing the future.
So we should care for the things that make happiness,
since if this is present, we have everything;
but if it is absent, everything we do is to gain this.
I have been constantly recommending
that you practice and care for these things,
holding them to be the elements of a beautiful life.
First think of the living God, immortal and blessed,
as the common idea of God is engraved on minds
and do not attribute to this anything alien
to its incorruptibility or its blessedness,
but believe about this
all that upholds its incorruptiblity and blessedness.
For gods do exist.
The knowledge of them is clear,
but they are not what many think,
for most do not uphold the same ideas about them.
And impious is not the one who denies the gods of many
but the one who imposes on the gods the opinions of many.
For the statements of many about the gods
are not true conceptions but false assumptions,
thus it is that great harms come to the bad
from the gods and help to the good.
For being accustomed to their own virtues
they welcome those like themselves
while rejecting all others as alien.
Accustom yourself to thinking that death is nothing to us;
for all good and bad is in perception,
and death is the deprivation of perception.
Thus the right understanding that death is nothing to us
makes the mortality of life enjoyable,
not by adding to life infinite time
but by removing the yearning for immortality.
For life has no terror for the one who truly understands
that there is nothing terrible in not living.
So one is foolish saying one is afraid of death,
not because it will be painful in the future but in the present.
For whatever does not annoy in the present
is a meaningless pain in expectation.
So the most terrifying of evils, death, is nothing to us,
since when we are, it is not present;
and when death is present, then we do not exist.
So it is nothing either to the living or to those who have ended,
since for the former it does not exist,
and the latter no longer exist.
But many avoid death now as the greatest of evils
but then welcome it as rest from things in life.
The wise neither declines life nor fears not living;
for life does not offend him
nor does he believe that not being alive is bad.
Just as food is not chosen
only for the larger portion but for the more pleasant,
so the wise enjoy the time that is not longer but happier.
The one who advises the young to live well
and the aging to make a fine end is foolish,
not only because of life being welcome
but also because a fine life and dying well are the same care.
Much worse is the one who says it is well not to be born.
"But once born pass quickly through the gates of Hades."
For if one says this from conviction
why does he not depart from life?
For it is easy to do this if one is firmly resolved on this;
but if mocking, it is vain to those allowing it.
We must remember that the future is neither ours
nor wholly not ours
so that we cannot completely expect it as existing
nor despair of it completely as not existing.
It should also be recognized that of desires
some are natural, but others are vain.
Of the natural some are also necessary,
and others are only natural.
Of the necessary desires some are necessary for happiness,
some for the repose of the body, and others for life itself.
For whoever has a clear and certain understanding
of these things will direct every preference and aversion
toward the health of the body and an untroubled soul,
since this is the goal of a blessed life.
For we do all things for the sake of this,
how to have neither grief nor fear.
Once this has occurred for us,
the storm of the soul is dissolved,
and the living creature does not have to proceed
searching for what is lacking nor for anything else
by which the good of the soul and the body will be fulfilled.
For then we have the need of pleasure
when we are pained from pleasure not being present;
but when we are not pained, we no longer need pleasure.
And because of this we say that
pleasure is the beginning and end of a blessed life.
For we recognize pleasure as the first and innate good,
and from this we originate every choice and aversion,
and we return to this as the measure of feeling
for judging every good.
Also since this is our first and native good,
for this reason we do not choose every pleasure;
but we may pass over many pleasures
when a greater annoyance accompanies them,
and often we consider pains better than pleasures
when submission to the pains for a long time
results in greater pleasure for us.
So every pleasure because of its natural relationship is good,
though not all are chosen,
just as every pain is bad,
and not all are always to be avoided.
Yet by measuring one against another
and by looking at the advantages and disadvantages
all these things must be judged.
For sometimes we experience the good as bad
and other times the bad as good.
Also we consider self-sufficiency a great good,
not so that we use little in all cases
but in order to be content with little if we do not have much,
being truly persuaded that
they have the sweetest enjoyment who least need it,
and as the natural is easily obtained; but the vain is hard.
For simple foods bring as much pleasure as expensive ones
once the pain of need has been removed;
and bread and water produce the highest pleasure
when they are brought to those in need.
Becoming accustomed therefore
to a simple and inexpensive diet
supplies both the fullest health
and makes a person alert for the necessities of life,
and it puts us in better condition
when we come at intervals to the expensive,
and it prepares us to be fearless toward chance.
So when we say that pleasure is the goal,
we do not mean
the pleasures of the prodigal and idle enjoyment
as some think in ignorance and in not agreeing
or taking it badly,
but not to feel pain in the body nor to be troubled in the soul.
For it is neither drinking nor carousing together
nor enjoying children and women
nor fish and other things brought to an expensive table
which produce a pleasant life,
but sober reasoning and examining the motives
for every choice and avoidance
and eliminating those beliefs through which
the greatest confusion takes hold of the soul.
Of all these the first and greatest good is prudence,
thus making prudence even more valued than philosophy.
From it all remaining virtues are derived
as it teaches it is not possible to live pleasantly
without living prudently, nobly, and justly,
nor can one live prudently, nobly, and justly
without living pleasantly.
For the virtues have grown into the life of pleasure,
and the life of pleasure is inseparable from these.
Then who do you think is better
than the one who has holy beliefs about the gods
and about death no fear at all
and has considered the end of nature,
and realizes that the limit of the goods
is easily fulfilled and obtained,
while the time or pain of evils is slight?
Laughing at fate brought in by some as master of all,
rather he says that some things occur by necessity,
some by chance, and others by ourselves
because of seeing that necessity is irresponsible
and chance unstable,
but what is by us is not despotic,
and to it naturally follows blame and the opposite,
since it is better to accept the myths of the gods
than to be enslaved by the fate of scientists.
For by honoring the gods one underwrites hope of intercession,
while necessity has no intercession.
Holding that chance is not a god, as many think,
for there is no disorder in the acts of God,
nor is it an uncertain cause,
he does not believe that good or evil
are given by this to people for a blessed life,
though it may supply the beginning of great good or evil,
thinking that the misfortune of the logical is better
than the good fortune of the illogical.
For it is better in this for actions well judged
not to be made right by chance.
Therefore take care of these things and related ones
by yourself and with someone like yourself day and night,
and never while awake or dreaming be disturbed,
and you will live as a god among humans.
For a human living among the immortal goods
is not like a mortal animal.
1. What is blessed and incorruptible has no troubles itself
nor does it produce them for any other,
and so it embraces neither anger nor partiality;
for all such things are in the weak.
2. Death is nothing to us;
for the dissolved has no perception,
and what has no perception is nothing to us.
3. The greatest pleasure is the removal of all pain.
When pleasure is present, as long as it is there,
there is neither pain nor mental stress nor both together.
4. Continuous pain does not last long in the flesh;
rather, extreme pain is present for the shortest time,
and even what exceeds the pleasure in the flesh
does not continue for many days.
Chronic illnesses allow more pleasure than pain in the flesh.
5. Living pleasantly is not possible
without living prudently and well and justly,
nor can one live prudently and well and justly
without living pleasantly.
Whenever one of these is not there, such as living prudently,
even though both living well and justly are there,
it is not possible to live pleasantly.
6. In order to be courageous in regard to people
any way of procuring this is a natural good.
7. Some people intended to become notable and admired,
thinking this would make them secure from people.
So if the life of such people really was secure,
they attained the natural good;
but if it was not secure, they have not attained
what they sought at the beginning by natural instinct.
8. No pleasure is by itself bad;
but the things which produce some pleasures
bring on disturbances many times greater than the pleasures.
9. If every pleasure could be intensified,
both in time and about the whole organism
or in the most important parts of nature,
the pleasures would never be different from each other.
10. If the things producing the pleasures of profligates
could loosen the fears of the mind
about the heavens and death and pain,
and if also they taught the limit of desires,
we would never have a reason to blame them;
they would be filling themselves
with pleasures from everywhere
and would have neither pain nor stress, which is the real evil.
11. If we had never been bothered by suspicions of the heavens
and about death, whether it ever affects us,
and if we did not observe the limits of pains and desires,
we would not need natural science.
12. It is impossible to dispel anxieties
about the most important things
if one does not understand the nature of the universe,
but suspects there is something in the myths.
Thus without natural science
it is impossible to attain the pleasures uncontaminated.
13. There is no profit in procuring security against people
if we suspect what is ordained from above
and from under the earth and absolutely in the infinite.
14. When security from people
based somewhat on the power of expelling occurs,
security also occurs by the simplest prosperity
from a quiet life and withdrawal from the many.
15. Nature's wealth is both limited and easy to obtain,
but that of vain fancies is driven to infinity.
16. Chance seldom interferes with the wise;
the greatest and most important things
have been, are, and will be directed by reason
throughout the time of one's life.
17. The just is most free of trouble,
but the unjust has the largest load of trouble.
18. Pleasure in the flesh is not increased
once the pain of need is removed; but it only varies.
The limit of pleasure in the mind is reached
by the calculation of these themselves and by these relations
which prepare the greatest fears for the mind.
19. Infinite and limited time have equal pleasure,
if we measure the limits by reason.
20. The flesh takes the limits of pleasure as infinite,
and infinite time is prepared for it;
but the mind taking account of the end and limit of the flesh
and banishing the fears of eternity
prepares for a complete life
and no longer requires infinite time.
Yet it does not avoid pleasure
even when circumstances prepare one
for being led out of life
so that leaving, it does not turn down the best life.
21. Whoever understands the limits of life
knows how easy it is to obtain enough
to remove the pain of need
and to establish the whole life complete;
thus one no longer needs business earned by struggle.
22. It is necessary to consider the established end
and all manifestation to which we refer our opinions;
or else everything will be full of uncertainty and confusion.
23. If you fight all the sensations
you will have no standard by which
you may judge even those which you say are false.
24. If you reject absolutely any sensation
and do not discriminate between
opinion waiting for confirmation
and what is already present in sensation and feeling
and every imagined attempt of the mind
you confuse even the remaining sensations by a rash opinion
so that you will reject the criterion altogether.
But if you consider both
what in your opinion is waiting confirmation
and what is not witnessed,
you will not escape error,
as you will be maintaining all the ambiguity
whenever judging right and not right.
25. If you do not in every case refer each of the actions
toward its natural end,
but when avoiding or choosing
turn aside to something else,
your actions will not follow your words.
26. Of desires all that do not lead to pain
when they are not gratified are not necessary,
but the craving is easily diverted
when it is difficult or expected to produce harm.
27. Of what wisdom prepares for the most blessed whole life,
by far the greatest is obtaining friends.
28. The same conviction that creates confidence
that nothing terrible is eternal or even long-lasting
also enables us to see that in these defined things
friendship especially is seen as accomplishing security.
29. Of desires some are natural and necessary;
others are natural and not necessary;
others are neither natural nor necessary
but come from vain opinion.
30. Among those natural desires
which do not all lead to pain when not gratified,
though undertaken with intense effort,
these also occur because of vain opinion,
and it is not because of their own nature
but because of human vanity.
31. Natural justice is a contract of expediency
to prevent people from harming or being harmed by another.
32. Those animals which are incapable of making compacts
for the sake of not harming or being harmed,
for these nothing is either just or unjust.
Just so also are tribes which either could not or would not
make compacts for the sake of not harming or being harmed.
33. There was never any justice by itself,
but at gatherings in various times and places
a compact with each other
for the sake of not harming or being harmed.
34. Injustice by itself is not bad,
but in the feared consequence that you may be caught
by the appointed punisher of such things.
35. It is not possible for anyone secretly violating
what was agreed with others in not harming or being harmed
to believe that one will not be caught,
even if one has violated up to the present ten thousand times.
For until the catastrophe it is unclear if one will be caught.
36. In general justice is the same for all,
for it is something brought together
in community with each other;
but applied specifically in various countries and times
the same does not turn out to be just for all.
37. The testimony that is brought together
in useful ways in community with each other
being thought to be just has the character of justice,
whether or not it is the same for all.
If some law is made
but does not prove expedient with each other in community,
this no longer has the nature of the just.
Yet if the expedient according to justice changes,
and only for a time corresponds with the previous,
nevertheless for that time it was just
as long as they are not bothered by empty speeches
but look simply at the facts.
38. In cases where the circumstances are not new
and the conventional laws are shown
not to be fitting to the previous in practice,
these are not just.
But in cases where the circumstances are new,
the same actions that were held as just
no longer are expedient;
in that case they were just then when they were expedient
for each other in the community of citizens;
but later they were no longer just,
when they were not expedient.
39. Whoever is best at organizing against external danger
builds the ablest clan,
and those not able are not aliens;
but those not able who are not this are unsocial,
and it is better to exclude these.
40. Those who have the power of courage
to be prepared especially from neighbors
so live pleasantly with each other, having the surest trust,
and enjoying the fullest intimacy
they do not pity the dying as a catastrophe.
4. All pain is easily disregarded, for severe stress is brief,
and what lasts in the flesh has mild stress.
7. It is difficult for those doing wrong to escape detection,
and assurance that one will escape being caught is impossible.
9. Necessity is bad, but one need not live with necessity.
11. Most people rest in torpor and march in rage.
14. We are born once, and it is not possible to be born twice,
but for eternity must be no more.
But you, though not lord of tomorrow, put off happiness.
We waste our lives in procrastination,
and each of us dies without having had leisure.
15. We value our character as individuals for ourselves, whether we have esteem and are admired by people or not;
therefore esteem neighbors if it is fitting.
16. No one seeing the bad chooses it,
but lured as to a good better than an evil, one is caught.
17. The young is not blessed, but the old having lived well;
for the young at the height of power
is bewildered by raving chance.
But the old has anchored in old age as in a harbor
and holds in secure and happy memories unexpected goods.
18. Remove sight and company and contact,
and erotic passion is loosened.
19. One becomes old on the day
one forgets the good that has been.
21. One must not violate nature but obey;
we shall obey if we fulfill the necessary desires
and also the physical if they do not harm
while sharply rejecting the harmful.
23. Every friendship is chosen for itself,
but at the beginning it is taken for its help.
24. Dreams are drawn
neither by divine nature nor by prophetic power,
but they come from spitting images.
25. Poverty measured by the purpose of nature is great wealth;
but wealth not bounded is great poverty.
26. One must assume that the long argument and the short
are directed to the same purpose.
27. In other pursuits the fruit comes hardly after completion,
but in philosophy delight concurs with knowledge;
for enjoyment does not occur after learning,
but enjoyment and learning occur at the same time.
28. In friendship neither those at hand nor those hesitating
are to be approved;
but one must even run risks for the sake of friendship.
29. For frankly in studying nature
I would rather speak in oracles the advantages for all people,
even if no one understood,
than conform to opinions
to win the solid approval offered by many.
31. One can provide security against anything else,
but in regard to death all people live in an unfortified city.
32. Venerating the wise is a great good for those venerating.
33. The flesh cries out not to be hungry, thirsty, or cold.
For anyone having these and expecting to have them
may compete with Zeus for happiness.
34. We have need not so much of the need from friends
as of the confidence concerning the need.
35. One must not ruin the things present
with desire for things absent,
but consider that even these things were prayed for.
37. Nature is weak toward the bad, not toward the good;
for it is saved by pleasures but destroyed by pains.
38. Small in every way is the one
who has many reasons for departing from life.
39. Neither the one who is always seeking help
nor the one who never has contact is a friend;
for one trades gratitude for payment,
and the other cuts off hope for the future.
40. The one saying that all things occur by necessity
has no charge against the one saying that
not all things occur by necessity;
for he says this occurs by necessity.
41. At the same time it is necessary to laugh and philosophize
and manage the household and use the remaining faculties
and never cease proclaiming
the sayings of the right philosophy.
42. The same moment is both the origin
and the enjoyment of the greatest good.
43. The love of money, if unjust, is impious,
but if just, shameful;
for to be sparing sordidly is unseemly even with justice.
44. The wise in being accustomed to necessities
is more in charge of giving a share than of receiving a share,
having found such a treasure of self-sufficiency.
45. The study of nature does not prepare one for boasting
nor for the sound of working
nor for displaying education that is fought for by many,
but for being haughty and self-sufficient
and proud of the greatness of themselves,
not of their business.
46. May we completely drive out our bad habits
like cowardly men who were doing great harm for a long time.
48. We must attempt to make the later
better than the previous as long as we are on the way;
but when we arrive at the limit, we must be equally glad.
51. I learn from you that the stimulus of the flesh
makes you too disposed to sexual intercourse.
Provided that you do not break the laws
nor the established noble customs nor annoy any neighbors
nor waste away your flesh nor squander the necessities,
you may indulge yourself as you wish.
Yet it is impractical that you will not be restrained
by one or another of these;
for sexuality has never benefited,
and one is beloved if one is not harmed.
52. Friendship dances around the world
summoning us all to awaken to the blessing.
53. Envy no one; for the good do not deserve envy,
and the wicked, the luckier they are,
the more they ruin themselves.
54. We must not pretend to study philosophy,
but really study it;
for it is not seeming healthy that we need, but true health.
55. Let us heal circumstances by gratitude for what has been
and in being aware that it is not possible
to make undone the past.
58. Let us release ourselves
from the prison of cycles and politics.
59. Insatiable is not the stomach, as many say,
but the false opinion on behalf of the stomach
that it can be indefinitely filled.
60. All go out of life as if just born.
62. For if the anger of parents for their children is needed,
it is certainly foolish to fight against it
and not to intercede for pardon;
but if it is not needed but irrational,
it is very ridiculous to ignite the irrational temper,
and not to seek amendment in other considerate ways.
63. There is also a boundary to frugality,
and whoever disregarding it sails past
may experience by no boundary a shipwreck.
64. One must follow the natural praise from others,
but our concern is our own treatment.
65. It is vain to beg from the gods
what one is competent to supply for oneself.
66. Let us sympathize with our friends,
not by mourning but by meditating.
67. A free life cannot obtain many possessions,
because business is not easy
without serving masses or dynasties;
but it has acquired all things in unfailing abundance,
and if perhaps by chance much property,
these things too are easily distributed to kind neighbors.
68. Nothing is enough for the one to whom enough is little.
69. The ungrateful greed of the soul makes the animal
into unlimited greed for a diet of variety.
70. Let nothing be done by you in life
which will cause you fear
if your neighbor becomes aware of it.
71. For all desires one must introduce this question:
what will happen to me
if the desire sought after is accomplished,
and what if it is not accomplished?
73. Also the occurrence of some pains concerning the body
is advantageous for guarding against similar ones.
74. In philosophical debate
the one defeated gains more by learning more.
75. Ungrateful to the goods one has lived
is the saying "Observe the end of a long life."
76. You are aging just as I recommend,
and you have discerned how to love wisdom
for yourself and for Greece;
I rejoice with you.
77. The greatest fruit of self-sufficiency is freedom.
78. The well-born is especially concerned
with wisdom and friendship;
of these one is a mortal good, the other immortal.
79. The untroubled for oneself and the other is undisturbed.
80. The first part of safety is watching youth
and guarding against the pestering desires
that defile all things.
81. The soul's trouble is not released
nor is worthwhile happiness created
either by possessing the greatest wealth
or by honor and respect by many
or by anything else which is from unlimited causes.
29. We admire self-sufficiency
not so that we may always use the frugal and plain
but so that we may have courage for these.
43. I never reached out to conciliate the many.
For what conciliated them I did not learn;
and what I knew was far from their perception.
44. Do not believe it unnatural
that the soul cries out when the flesh cries out.
The flesh cries not to be hungry nor thirsty nor cold.
Also it is hard for the soul to hinder these,
and it is precarious to disregard the summoning of nature
because of clinging to her own daily self-sufficiency.
45. So the one who follows nature
and not vain opinion in all things is self-sufficient;
for with what is sufficient in nature
every possession is wealth,
but with unlimited appetites
even the greatest wealth is poverty.
46. If you are in difficulty,
you are in difficulty in so far as you forget nature;
for you throw yourself into unlimited fears and desires.
48. It is better for you to have courage laying down on straw
than to be troubled having a golden couch and a rich table.
50. Sweet is the memory of a dead friend.
51. Do not avoid doing small favors,
for you will seem like one who does great ones.
52. Do not turn away from your enemy's worthy demand;
except keep yourself safe; for not one differs from a dog.
54. Vain is the argument of that philosopher,
which does not heal human suffering;
for as there is no benefit in medical treatment
if it does not expel the diseases of the body,
so there is none in philosophy
if it does not expel the suffering of the soul.
58. If God followed the prayers of humans,
all humans would quickly be destroyed,
many praying also continually against each other.
59. The beginning and root of all good
is the pleasure of the stomach;
even wisdom and extravagance have this reference.
61. What makes unsurpassed joy
is having avoided a great evil;
and this is the nature of good,
if someone applies it correctly, then establishes it,
and does not walk chattering idly about the good.
62. It is better to endure some labors
so that we may enjoy greater pleasures;
it is expedient to abstain from some pleasures
so that we may not suffer harder pain.
63. Let us not blame the flesh as the cause of great evils
nor turn to business for our troubles.
64. Great labors lead us out shortly,
but lasting ones are not great.
65. Excessive labor will bring you death.
66. By loving true philosophy
every troublesome and laborious desire is released.
67. Thanks to the blessing of nature
that made necessities easy to procure
and the things difficult to procure unnecessary.
68. It is not rare to find a person
poor toward the purpose of nature
and wealthy toward vain opinions.
For none of the fools is satisfied with what one has,
but rather is distressed about what one does not have.
Just as the feverish through the illness
always are thirsty and desire the deleterious,
so too the ones having a badly disposed soul
are always poor in everything
and by gluttony fall into ever changing desires.
69. The one not satisfied with little is satisfied with nothing.
70. The self-sufficient is most wealthy of all.
71. Most fearing frugality through this fear proceed to actions
that especially bring this about.
72. Many fortunate with wealth
have not found an escape from evils
but a change to greater ones.
73. From the work of a beast
one may heap up an abundance of substance,
but a miserable life results.
74. For through fear or unlimited and vain desire
someone may be unhappy;
which if one can restrain,
one may preserve for oneself blessed reason.
75. Labor is not being deprived of these,
but rather bearing the useless labor from vain opinion.
76. The low soul is puffed up by good times
and purged by the expedient things.
77. Nature teaches one to consider things from chance smaller,
and to know that being fortunate is unlucky,
and being unfortunate
not to assume that good fortune is great,
and to receive undisturbed the good things from chance,
and to stand prepared for the evil things
that seem to come from this;
as ephemeral is all the good and bad of the many,
and wisdom has nothing in common with chance.
78. The one least in need of tomorrow
is most glad to meet tomorrow.
79. I spit upon the beautiful and those who vainly admire it
when it never creates pleasure.
80. The greatest fruit of justice is being untroubled.
81. Laws are established for the sake of the wise,
not so that they may not do wrong
but so that they may not be wronged.
82. Even if one can escape,
it is not possible to be confident one will escape being caught;
thus fear of the future always pressing
does not let them be happy or have courage in the present.
83. When no one is present,
the one attaining the goal of the race is coming near the good.
84. The one who is causing fear is not fearless.
85. Happiness and blessing are not an abundance of property
nor a sizeable business nor having some office nor power,
but painless and gentle feelings
and a disposition of soul
according to the boundaries of nature.
86. Live unnoticed.
87. It is necessary to say
how the best may maintain the purpose of nature,
and how one will not willingly
from the first aim at public offices.
This has been published in the WISDOM BIBLE as a book. For ordering information, please click here.