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Epicurus

“Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old.  For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul.” – Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus

Epicurus was born around 341 BC in Athens, Greece.  As a young boy, he studied under a Platonist teacher, Pamphilus.  It was with these early studies that Epicurus began to rebel against the traditional thinking of the day.  From what he observed, he could not believe the gods determined one’s fate.  Humans made choices.  Fate and perception could be altered.  He even went as far as to declare, “atoms move.”

Epicurus began teaching his strange new philosophy of obtaining a happy life through the absence of pain and fear.  He taught that one must surround themselves with friends and that pleasure and pain were what a person should use to measure what is good and bad.  He believed the universe was infinite and eternal and everything in the world was the result of atoms moving in empty space.  A belief in gods was nothing but silly superstition.  Epicurus’ teachings were not embraced and he was exiled from the city of Myteline for, “causing strife in the population.”

Epicurus returned to his home in Athens and discovered that none of the established schools wanted him as a teacher.  Since no school would have him, he began his own.  he held the classes in his garden.  The inscription above the gate read, “Stranger, here you will do well to tarry.  Here our highest good is pleasure.”  His school became simply known as The Garden and it was the first school in Greece to accept women and slaves as students.

Beyond a few remaining letters, most of Epicurus’ life is unknown.  He was dismissed in his lifetime as a radical.  Most of his papers deemed not worthy of preserving.  Only in recent history have his theories on the interactions of atoms been given validity and his philosophy of pleasure been greatly misinterpreted.

Epicurus is believed to have passed away somewhere around 270 BC at the age of 72.  His last known letter was addressed to his friend Menoeceus, “I have written this letter to you on a happy day to me, which is also the last day of my life.  For I have been attacked by a pain so violent that nothing can be added to the violence of my sufferings.  But the cheerfulness of my mind, which comes from the recollection of all my philosophical contemplation, counterbalances all my afflictions.”  It’s speculated that he drank a jug of wine and ate a loaf of bread for his supper as he did every night.  He finished his letter with, “understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable,” and passed away as he slept.

The Last Supper

Jug of Red Wine

Loaf of Bread