Many contemporary philosophers and intellectuals state that all great contributions of the Western civilization can be traced back to the early philosophical developments in ancient Greece.
One of the most notable thinkers of the ancient world of philosophy is the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus who was the founder of the philosophical school of Epicureanism.
Let’s take a deeper dive into his mind and explore his thoughts about life to better understand his philosophy. Here are some of the most notable sayings of Epicurus – which are as relevant as ever.
Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.
We must, therefore, pursue the things that make for happiness, seeing that when happiness is present, we have everything; but when it is absent, we do everything to possess it.
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.
I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.
The time when you should most of all withdraw into yourself is when you are forced to be in a crowd.
Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.
If the gods listened to the prayers of men, all humankind would quickly perish since they constantly pray for many evils to befall one another.
He who is not satisfied with a little, is satisfied with nothing.
Never say that I have taken it, only that I have given it back.
Let no one delay the study of philosophy while young nor weary of it when old.
Of all the means to ensure happiness throughout the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.
Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not.
He who has peace of mind disturbs neither himself nor another.
The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.
The purpose of all knowledge, metaphysical as well as scientific, is to achieve what Epicurus called ataraxia, freedom from irrational fears and anxieties of all sorts—in brief, peace of mind.
The most important consequence of self-sufficiency is freedom.
Empty is the argument of the philosopher which does not relieve any human suffering.
Misfortune seldom intrudes upon the wise man; his greatest and highest interests are directed by reason throughout the course of life.
You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.
Vain is the word of that philosopher which does not heal any suffering of man.
The noble man is chiefly concerned with wisdom and friendship; of these, the former is a mortal good, the latter and immortal one.
Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.
It is better for you to be free of fear lying upon a pallet, than to have a golden couch and a rich table and be full of trouble.
Nothing is sufficient for the person who finds sufficiency too little.
It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us as the confident knowledge that they will help us.
The wise man who has become accustomed to necessities knows better how to share with others than how to take from them, so great a treasure of self-sufficiency has he found.
To eat and drink without a friend is to devour like the lion and the wolf.
Death is nothing to us. When we exist, death is not; and when death exists, we are not. All sensation and consciousness end with death and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fear of death arises from the belief that in death, there is awareness.
I never desired to please the rabble. What pleased them, I did not learn; and what I knew was far removed from their understanding.
If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires.
The fool’s life is empty of gratitude and full of fears; its course lies wholly toward the future.
If the gods listened to the prayers of men, all men would quickly have perished: for they are forever praying for evil against one another.
We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.
Of all the things which wisdom acquires to produce the blessedness of the complete life, for the greatest is the possession of friendship.
So death, the most terrifying of ills, is nothing to us, since so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist. It does not then concern either the living or the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no more.
If a person fights the clear evidence of his senses, he will never be able to share in genuine tranquillity.
Against other things it is possible to obtain security, but when it comes to death we human beings all live in an unwalled city.
It is not the pretended but the real pursuit of philosophy that is needed for we do not need the appearance of good health but to enjoy it in truth.
If you shape your life according to nature, you will never be poor; if according to people’s opinions, you will never be rich.
Therefore, foolish is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will cause pain when it arrives but because anticipation of it is painful.
I am grateful to blessed Nature, because she made what is necessary easy to acquire and what is hard to acquire unnecessary.
Men inflict injuries from hatred, jealousy, or contempt, but the wise man masters all these passions by means of reason.
Who Was Epicurus?
It was the Greeks that were among the first to start developing complex systems of thought. It is often misunderstood that they were the first ones to look up at the sky and ask some of the deepest questions. Many different civilizations did that and developed complex ideas, but it was in the ancient Greek city-states where a breed of intellectuals started forming different schools of thought. These schools served as gathering places for all those that felt the urge to challenge the societal doctrines and beliefs. These schools were set up to collectively work to understand the deeper meaning behind life and the universe.
Epicureanism was born as a reaction to Platonism, and it is this exchange of ideas that fed the Epicurean system of thoughts. The students of Epicurus would gather with him and discuss philosophical topics. Epicurus was known for opening the debates to enslaved people and women which was not quite the standard in ancient Greece.
Today we know that one of the greatest intellectual tragedies is surely the fact that hundreds of his works are completely lost. Epicurus was one of the most fruitful philosophers of his age and he wrote more than 300 works on many different topics. Only a handful of his works remain intact. These are mostly letters written to other philosophers and brief collections of quotes. Most of what we know about Epicurus comes from the writings of other philosophers and poets.
Epicurus believed that the purpose of philosophy is not merely striving to attain new knowledge and find meaning but to help people reach happiness, peace, and freedom. Like some of his stoic counterparts, he believed that the ideal goal is to pursue a self-sufficient life in which one should not pursue loneliness but surround themselves with good people and friends.
Another fascinating aspect of his philosophy is that he felt that our fears, anxieties, and selfishness comes from the fact that we are afraid of death. Epicurus believed that death is just a mere ending of the body and soul, and nothing else.
Despite being religious he felt that humans should not strive for being good just because gods are observing our actions and out of fear that we are going to be punished. He felt that humans should be good because otherwise they will be burdened with guilt and be prevented from achieving peace and freedom from fear.
Epicurus believed in the infinite universe made out of invisible particles that we today call atoms. One of his impactful beliefs is his idea of an endless universe. He also believed that the reason behind our free will is that atoms sometimes deviate from their pre-planned and expected courses.
The teachings of Epicurus declined in popularity, especially with the rise of early Christianity and they remained obscured from sight until Enlightenment when his thoughts and ideas inspired great thinkers to push the intellectual development to much greater heights.
Epicurus was a great thinker of his time, and his works still resonate. Today, there is a real hunger for freedom from fear, worry, regret, expectations, and unnecessary possessions – more than ever before. In this sense, the teachings of Epicurus are as relevant for us in the 21st century as they were for the ancient Greeks.