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Epicureanism is a system of philosophy founded around 307 BC based upon the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. Epicureanism was originally a challenge to Platonism. Later its main opponent became Stoicism.

Some writings by Epicurus have survived. Some scholars consider the epic poem De rerum natura (Latin for On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius to present in one unified work the core arguments and theories of Epicureanism. Many of the scrolls unearthed at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum are Epicurean texts. At least some are thought to have belonged to the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus.

Epicurus was an atomic materialist, following in the steps of Democritus. His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. Following the Cyrenaic philosopher Aristippus, Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest, sustainable pleasure in the form of a state of ataraxia (tranquility and freedom from fear) and aponia (the absence of bodily pain) through knowledge of the workings of the world and limiting desires. Correspondingly, Epicurus and his followers shunned politics because it could lead to frustrations and ambitions which can directly conflict with the Epicurean pursuit for peace of mind and virtues.[1]

Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism insofar as it declares pleasure to be its sole intrinsic goal, the concept that the absence of pain and fear constitutes the greatest pleasure, and its advocacy of a simple life, make it very different from "hedonism" as colloquially understood.

Epicureanism flourished in the Late Hellenistic era and during the Roman era, and many Epicurean communities were established, such as those in Antiochia, Alexandria, Rhodes, and Herculaneum. By the late 3rd century CE Epicureanism all but died out, being opposed by other philosophies (mainly Neoplatonism) that were now in the ascendant. Interest in Epicureanism was resurrected in the Age of Enlightenment and continues in the modern era.

While the pursuit of pleasure formed the focal point of the philosophy, this was largely directed to the "static p

While the pursuit of pleasure formed the focal point of the philosophy, this was largely directed to the "static pleasures" of minimizing pain, anxiety and suffering. In fact, Epicurus referred to life as a "bitter gift".

When we say ... that pleasure is the end and aim, we do

When we say ... that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice or wilful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not by an unbroken succession of drinking bouts and of revelry, not by sexual lust, nor the enjoyment of fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul.

— Epicurus, "Letter to Menoeceus"[18] Epicurus rejected any possibility of an afterlife, while still contending that one need not fear death: "Death is nothing to us; for that which is dissolved, is without sensation, and that which lacks sensation is nothing to us."[19] From this doctrine arose the Epicurean Epitaph: Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo ("I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind."), which is inscribed on the gravestones of his followers and seen on many ancient gravestones of the Roman Empire. This quotation is often used today at humanist funerals.[20]

Ethics

Don't fear god,
Don't worry about death;
What is good is easy to get, and
What is terrible is easy to endure.

— Philodemus, Roman writers espousing Epicureanism was Amafinius. Other adherents to the teachings of Epicurus included the poet Horace, whose famous statement Carpe Diem ("Seize the Day") illustrates the philosophy, as well as Lucretius, who wrote the poem De rerum natura about the tenets of the philosophy. The poet Virgil was another prominent Epicurean (see Lucretius for further details). The Epicurean philosopher Philodemus of Gadara, until the 18th century only known as a poet of minor importance, rose to prominence as most of his work along with other Epicurean material was discovered in the Villa of the Papyri. In the second century CE, comedian Lucian of Samosata and wealthy promoter of philosophy Diogenes of Oenoanda were prominent Epicureans.

Julius Caesar leaned considerably toward Epicureanism, which led to his plea against the death sentence during the trial against Catiline, during the Catiline conspiracy where he spoke out against the Stoic Cato.[77] His father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus was also an adept of the school.

In modern times Thomas Jefferson referred to himself as an Epicurean:

If I had time I would add to my little book the Greek, Latin and French texts, in columns side by side. And I wish I could subjoin a translation of Gassendi's Syntagma of the doctrines of Epicurus, which, notwithstanding the calumnies of the Stoics and caricatures of Cicero, is the most rational system remaining of the philosophy of the ancients, as frugal of vicious indulgence, and fruitful of virtue as the hyperbolical extravagances of his rival sects.[78]

Other modern-day Epicureans were Gassendi, Walter Charleton, Julius Caesar leaned considerably toward Epicureanism, which led to his plea against the death sentence during the trial against Catiline, during the Catiline conspiracy where he spoke out against the Stoic Cato.[77] His father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus was also an adept of the school.

In modern times Thomas Jefferson referred to himself as an Epicurean:

If I had time I would add to my little book the Greek, Latin and French texts, in columns side by side. And I wish I could subjoin a translation of Gassendi's Syntagma of the doctrines of Epicurus, which, notwithstanding the calumnies of the Stoics and caricatures of Cicero, is the most rational system remaining of the philosophy of the ancients, as frugal of vicious indulgence, and fruitful of virtue as the hyperbolical extravagances of his rival sects.[78]

Other modern-day Epicureans were Gassendi, Walter Charleton, François Bernier, Saint-Evremond, Ninon de l'Enclos, Denis Diderot, Frances Wright and Jeremy Bentham.

Christopher Hitchens referred to himself as an Epicurean.[79] In France, where perfumer/restaurateur Gérald Ghislain refers to himself as an Epicurean,[80] Michel Onfray is developing a post-modern approach to Epicureanism.[81] In his recent book titled The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt identified himself as strongly sympathetic to Epicureanism and Lucretius. Humanistic Judaism as a denomination also claims the Epicurean label.

In modern popular usage, an Epicurean is a connoisseur of the arts of life and the refinements of sensual pleasures; Epicureanism implies a love or knowledgeable enjoyment especially of good food and drink.

Because Epicureanism posits that pleasure is the ultimate good (telos), it has been commonly misunderstood since ancient times as a doctrine that advocates the partaking in fleeting pleasures such as sexual excess and decadent food. This is not the case. Epicurus regarded ataraxia (tranquility, freedom from f

Because Epicureanism posits that pleasure is the ultimate good (telos), it has been commonly misunderstood since ancient times as a doctrine that advocates the partaking in fleeting pleasures such as sexual excess and decadent food. This is not the case. Epicurus regarded ataraxia (tranquility, freedom from fear) and aponia (absence of pain) as the height of happiness. He also considered prudence an important virtue and perceived excess and overindulgence to be contrary to the attainment of ataraxia and aponia.[17]

Epicurus preferred "the good", and "even wisdom and culture", to the "pleasure of the stomach".[82] While twentieth-century commentary has generally sought to diminish this and related quotations, the consistency of the lower-case epicureanism of meals with Epicurean materialism overall has more recently been explained.[83]

While Epicurus sought moderation at meals, he was also not averse to moderation in moderation, that is, to occasional luxury. Called "The Garden" for being based in what would have been a kitchen garden, his community also became known for its feasts of the twentieth (of the Greek month).

Francis Bacon wrote an apothegm related to Epicureanism:

There was an Epicurean vaunted, that divers of other sects of philosophers did after turn Epicureans, but there was never any Epicurean that turned to any other sect. Whereupon a philosopher that was of another sect, said; The reason was plain, for that cocks may be made capons, but capons

There was an Epicurean vaunted, that divers of other sects of philosophers did after turn Epicureans, but there was never any Epicurean that turned to any other sect. Whereupon a philosopher that was of another sect, said; The reason was plain, for that cocks may be made capons, but capons could never be made cocks.[84]