Elusive Epicurus, Hellenistic Greek Philosopher In Search Of Happiness

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Aspasia surrounded by Greek philosophers, by Michel Corneille the Younger  (1670) Versailles (Public Domain)

Elusive Epicurus, Hellenistic Greek Philosopher In Search Of Happiness

Epicurus was a fourth-third century BC Hellenistic philosopher who established his school, called The Garden, in Athens, where even women and slaves were welcomed.  Epicureanism opposed Platonism and its purpose was to attain as well as to help others attain happy (eudaimonic), tranquil lives characterized by ataraxia (peace and freedom from fear) and aponia (the absence of pain). He advocated that people were best able to pursue philosophy by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends.

Diogenes of Oenoanda was an Epicurean Greek from the second century AD who carved a summary of the philosophy of Epicurus onto a portico wall in the ancient Greek city of Oenoanda in Lycia (Ansgar Bovet /CC BY-SA 3.0)

Diogenes of Oenoanda was an Epicurean Greek from the second century AD who carved a summary of the philosophy of Epicurus onto a portico wall in the ancient Greek city of Oenoanda in Lycia (Ansgar Bovet /CC BY-SA 3.0)

If little remains of Epicurus’ philosophy still less remains of Epicurus the man. Since philosophy is always autobiographical, perhaps his sayings can provide a glimpse into his mind. Epicurus said that the gods do not need offerings because what a person does not lack, he does not want. What then is one to think of a man who spent his whole life in search of the correct way to find happiness? Is the whole of Epicurean philosophy tinged with melancholy? Such questions are important if for no other reason than to serve as a reminder that philosophy is not the purely objective art it might sometimes like to paint itself as.


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