273: SAGES #2: EPICURUS

“Welcome to Post 273 of Zingcreed, my ‘Christian-Atheist’ blog. In it I aim to explore the roots of religion. This journey is open ended and often takes me up paths I never expected to explore. Why not join me?” Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

It’s my contention that Jesus was a sage or teacher of wisdom, and not the son of God at all. In fact Zingcreed asserts that as no god or gods have ever existed at any time, past or present, ‘son of God’ is therefore a meaningless expression.

If one wishes to study the wisdom of the ancients, why limit oneself to the study of just one dead man? Much of what Jesus is recorded as saying is obscure or ambiguous. There are about 40,000 Christian denominations out there all disagreeing among themselves about what he really meant. The competition (e.g. Aesop, Confucius, Demosthenes, Epicurus, King Solomon) is well worth looking at. I’ve loved skimming through some of them, and I’d now like to share my findings with you. I shall list a few of their more memorable quotes under various headings – like ‘humour’, ‘love’ or ‘animals’ – as appropriate.

Epicurus (341 B.C.E. – 271 B.C.E.)

I’ll never forget my astonishment at coming home from school one day in my late teens and discovering my mother in the sitting room talking to the new vicar about the Stoics and the Epicureans. She had dug the old percolator out and filled it with Lyons coffee from the carton she kept in the Easiwork cupboard in the kitchen for special visitors. The poor man was sitting there politely sipping the bitter sludge while getting an earful from My Mum The Agnostic. I was impressed, she argued a good case. Where did she pick up all this stuff? I had no idea she was so fluent in Greek philosophy!

The Stoics and the Epicureans were 2 opposing schools of thought in Athens. The followers of Epicurus were mis-represented by Christians and other opponents as lazy-minded, shallow, pleasure-seeking, immoral and godless. Today epicureanism has come to mean a pretentious enthusiasm for rare and expensive food and drink. Let’s see what the great man actually said.

On Friends and neighbours
“Of the things which wisdom provides for the blessedness of one’s whole life, by far the greatest is the possession of friendship.”

Every friendship is worth choosing for its own sake, though it takes its origins from the benefits it confers on us.”

“One must not approve of those who are excessively eager for friendship, nor those who are reluctant. But one must be willing to run some risks for the sake of friendship.”

On Pleasure and pain
“Just as the wise man does not unconditionally choose the largest amount of food but the most pleasant food, so he savours not the longest time but the most pleasant.”

“No pleasure is a bad thing in itself. But the things which produce certain pleasures bring troubles many time greater than the pleasure.”

“The flesh took the limits of pleasure to be unlimited, but the intellect, reasoning out the goal and limit of the flesh, provides us with the perfect way of life.”

“Every pain is easy to despise. for pains which produce great distress are short in duration; and those which last for a long time in the flesh cause only mild distress.”

On Simplicity
” I am content with just water and simple bread. Send me a little pot of cheese so that I can indulge in extravagance when I wish.”

“The purest security is that which comes from a quiet life.”

“And we believe that self-sufficiency is a great good…so that if we do not have a lot we can make do with few, being genuinely convinced that those who least need extravagance enjoy it most; and that everything natural is easy to obtain and whatever is groundless is hard to obtain; and that simple flavours provide a pleasure equal to that of an extravagant lifestyle when all pain from want is removed, and barley cakes and water provide the highest pleasure when someone in want takes them. Therefore becoming accustomed to  to simple not extravagant ways of life makes one completely healthy, makes man unhesitant in the face of life’s necessary duties, puts us in a better condition for the times of extravagance which occasionally come along, and makes us fearless in the face of chance. So when we say that pleasure is the goal we do not mean the pleasures of the profligate or the pleasures of consumption, as some believe….but rather the lack of pain in the body and disturbance in the soul.”

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

On Philosophy
“For who do you believe is better than a man who has pious opinions about the gods, is always fearless about death, has reasoned out the natural goal of life and understands that the limit of good things is easy to achieve completely, and that the limit of bad things either has a short duration or causes little trouble?”

“Let no one delay the study of philosophy while young nor weary of it when old. For no one is either too young or too old for the health of the soul. He who says either that the time for philosophy has not yet come or that it has passed is like someone who says that the time for happiness has not yet come or that it has passed. Therefore, both young and old must philosophize, the latter so that, although old, he may stay young in good things owing to gratitude for what has occurred, the former so that although young he may too be like an old man owing to his lack of fear of what is to come.”

On prudence and chance
“Prudence is the greatest good, a more valuable thing than philosophy. For prudence is the source of all the other virtues, teaching that it is impossible to live pleasantly without living prudently, honourably, and justly…for the virtues are natural adjuncts of the pleasant life and the pleasant life is inseparable from them.”

“Chance has a small impact on the wise man, while reasoning will arrange for the greatest and most important matters throughout the whole of his life.”

On Death
“There is nothing fearful in life for one who has grasped that there is nothing fearful in the absence of life.”

“Death, the most frightening of bad things, is nothing to us; since when we exist, death is not yet present, and when death is present, than we do not exist.”

TO BE CONTINUED

 

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Sages #1: Solomon (Book of Proverbs)
Jesus was a sage, not a priest, prophet or king
Jesus’s 5200 authentic words

Sources:
(i) Inwood, B. & Gerson, L.P.  “The Epicurus reader. Selected writings, and testimonia” Hackett (1994)
(ii)

[273: Linked & Indexed, t&c]

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