Saturday, December 8, 2007


The time of Ancient Greece was a time in which intellectuals of all categories set the standards upon which we still look to and rely on. There have been many philosophers of ancient Greece, but only a number of whom stood out and who truly made a difference. Epicurus was of those intellectuals, as he thought outside the box and was unlike any philosopher of his time. Although he set standards in science, he also achieved great discoveries in secular individualism, or the worldly pursuit of personal goals, independence, and happiness. Epicurus was an atomist, meaning he believed that all things are made of tiny particles, or atoms. He also believed, and lived by his beliefs, in the seeking of pleasure and happiness, in possessions and the accumulating of friends, while keeping those friends close at all times. Also, Epicurus disagreed with Plato's ideology of Forms, and he also denied the belief that the gods intervened in peoples' lives. (Source)

"Epicurus gathered disciples of more intense loyalty than any other philosopher in antiquity. He was also the most controversial figure in ancient philosophy, with bitter enemies as well as devoted followers." (Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Ferguson pg. 370)
Epicurus was born in 341 B.C., on the island of Samos, off the coast of Turkey in the Mediterranean Sea. Samos was an Athenian colony across the Aegean Sea from Greece. Epicurus was born of Neocles and Chaerestrata, and he was then raised in Samos until he was eighteen years old and moved to Athens in 306 B.C., where he developed his school/society known as "the Garden". Epicurus became major philosopher in the Hellenistic age who developed his first schools in Myteline, on the island of Lesbos, and Lampsacus, nearby on the mainland. The Garden was simply a house that Epicurus purchased which became his school of teaching, where he would gain loyal followers. The persons who attended the Garden didn't just go to the community of Epicurus for a certain period of time of day, but they rather stayed at the Garden with Epicurus, living out his teachings. (Source 1, Source 2, Ferguson pg. 370)

Epicurus was an avid writer, however, close to none of his works are known to us. A possible reason for so few of Epicurus' own writings are known to us is because of the rise of Christianity, as Christians saw his writings as ungodly, as well as his followers. His followers continued the philosophy after his death by kidney stones around 271 B.C. His philosophy was known as Epicureanism. We know of the philosophy of Epicurus only by the writings of later philosophers who followed his teachings. There are three primary sources which have been used to discern Epicurus' beliefs. The first is the Roman poet known as Lucretius, the second is the Roman politician Cicero, and the third is Plutarch, who was a Platonist. Although Cicero and Plutarch are used as primary sources for Epicurus, they are only used because they rejected the philosophy of Epicurus. Also, historians must use the writings of Plutarch and Cicero "gingerly", as they would sometimes extrapolate Epicurus' beliefs to serve their own purposes. (Source)

As it was mentioned in the first paragraph, Epicurus did partake in the inquisition and discovery of the sciences. Epicurus was an atomist, as he believed that all things are made of tiny, impenetrable particles called atoms. Epicurus had two essential reasons for believing that all things are made of atoms; the first being that it is obvious that bodies are in motion, and the second being that something cannot come from nothing. Epicurus believed that for something to move, there had to be empty space for that object to move in; he called this empty space "void". Also, he believed that objects consist of smaller bodies, which are able to be broken down further, however, Epicurus took note that an object cannot be broken down without end, as it would subsequently dissolve. Therefore, on this notion, Epicurus idealized that these bodies are unbreakable, or "uncuttable". (Source)

"[Epicureanism] flourished for about six centuries and then disappeared as an identifiable philosophic school. But it never ceased to attract persons for whom Epicurus taught provides a thoughtful interpretation of the nature and conduct of life." (Epicurus: His Continuing Influence and Contemporary Relevance, Gordan, Suits pg. 5)
Probably the most known philosophy of Epicurus, Epicureanism was a belief system that essentially dealt with the purpose of life being the pursuit of personal happiness. Contrary to the popular meaning of happiness, Epicurus epitomized happiness as pleasure, and the purpose of every action should be pleasure. Today's meaning of happiness, to some people, is the indulging of "things" and achieving pleasure, not acting upon pleasure itself (as Epicurus believed). Epicurus believed that one way to achieve happiness was the self-surrounding of friends; in the Garden Epicurus had many close friends who had their privacy within the house, but there were common meeting places where they would have intimate conversations and relationships. Epicurus took great emphasis on his beliefs which stated that a person should do everything with friends, for example, having a simple snack with a friend. Epicurus would only have simple meals, for when he ate it was not for the sake of eating, but for the sake of being with friends. (Source 1, Source 2)

Gordan, Dane R.; Suits, David B. Epicurus: His Continuing Influence and Contemporary Relevance. Rochester, New York: Cary Graphic Arts Press, 2003, revised and corrected 2004.

Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987, 1993, 2003.

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