(341-270 B.C.E.)

“Let no one when young delay to study philosophy, nor when he is old grow weary of his study. For no one can come too early or too late to secure the health of his soul. And the man who says that the age for philosophy has either not yet come or has gone by is like the man who savs that the age for happiness is not yet come to him, or has passed away.”

Marble bust of Epicurus. Roman copy of Greek original, 3rd century BC London

Marble bust of Epicurus. Roman copy of Greek original, 3rd century BC. London.


Cambridge Classics
Edited by Hermann Usener
2010, 530 pgs.

Hermann Karl Usener (1834-1905) published his monumental Epicurea in 1887. The volume is a collection of Epicurean texts and citations from a wide range of classical authors including Arrian, Cicero, Diodorus, Euripides, Plato and Seneca. The volume includes critical texts of Epicurus’ most important letters: Letter to Menoeceus, Letter to Herodotus and Letter to Pythocles, preserved by the third-century compiler Diogenes Laertius. The letters give important summaries of Epicurus’ philosophy. Usener’s pioneering work represented the first attempt to deal critically with the manuscript traditions behind Epicurean texts. His reconstructions of the texts included in this volume are based on a thorough understanding of the trajectories of textual transmission. Each text is supported by a detailed critical apparatus, and another apparatus records manuscript glosses and scholia. This work provided for the first time accurate and reliable texts for the critical study of Epicureanism.

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Diogenes Laercio

Diogenes Laertius

This rich compendium on the lives and doctrines of philosophers ranges over three centuries, from Thales to Epicurus (to whom the whole tenth book is devoted); 45 important figures are portrayed. Diogenes Laertius carefully compiled his information from hundreds of sources and enriches his accounts with numerous quotations. Diogenes Laertius lived probably in the earlier half of the 3rd century CE, his ancestry and birthplace being unknown. His history, in ten books, is divided unscientifically into two ‘Successions’ or sections: ‘Ionian’ from Anaximander to Theophrastus and Chrysippus, including the Socratic schools; ‘Italian’ from Pythagoras to Epicurus, including the Eleatics and sceptics. It is a very valuable collection of quotations and facts. The Loeb Classical Library edition of Diogenes Laertius is in two volumes.

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De Witt“Epicurus and His Philosophy”
by Norman Wentworth DeWitt
(1954, 396 pgs)

Epicurus and His Philosophy was first published in 1954. In this volume, the first comprehensive book in English about Epicurus, existing data on the life of the ancient philosopher is related to the development of his doctrine. The result is a fascinating account that challenges traditional theories and interpretations of Epicurean philosophy. Professor DeWitt demonstrates the fallacy of centuries of abuse of Epicurus and the resulting distortion of most discussions of Epicureanism that appear in standard philosophical works…

[+] Book Review at JSTOR

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St Paul“St. Paul and Epicurus”
by Norman Wentworth DeWitt
(1954, 212 pgs.)

St. Paul and Epicurus was first published in 1954. Everyone who is interested in the meaning of the Bible will find this a revealing study, for it opens up a new window on the New Testament, a window that was walled up centuries ago by prejudice. Professor DeWitt throws new light on the writings of the Apostle Paul by showing how they were influenced by the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. That Epicureanism could have a place in Christian religion may come as a surprise to those familiar with the conventional concept of the philosophy of Epicurus. As demonstrated in the meaning of the English word epicure, derived from the name of the ancient philosopher, the modern world has long associated Epicurus with the indulgence of sensual pleasure in food and drink. But,as Professor DeWitt makes clear both in this volume and in its predecessor, Epicurus and His Philosophy, the pleasures which the ancient Greek espoused as constituting the chief good of life were not the pleasures of the flesh. The merit and the lure, however, of the Epicurean ethic, which allied happiness with pleasure, were so appealing and so widely acknowledged that Paul had no choice but to adopt it and bless it for his followers with the sanction of religion. He could not, though, admit indebtedness to a philosopher who had long been accused of sensualism and atheism, and there was no choice, therefore, but to consign Epicurus to anonymity. Through his scholarly investigation into the Epicurean source of certain portions of the Epistles, Professor DeWitt provides new explanations or translations for seventy-six biblical verses. The close scrutiny of biblical passages is carried out, not in a spirit of vandalism, but in a quest for accuracy, and the result is a challenging, readable, and absorbing book.

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Konstan“A Life Worthy of the Gods: The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus”
by David Konstan
(2008, 200 pgs)

Epicurus, and his Roman disciple Lucretius, held that the primary cause of human unhappiness was an irrational fear of death. What is more, they believed that a clear understanding of the nature of the world would help to eliminate this fear; for if we recognise that the universe and everything in it is made up of atoms and empty space, we will see that the soul cannot possibly survive the extinction of the body – and no harm to us can occur after we die. This liberating insight is at the core of Epicurean therapy. In this book, Konstan seeks to show how such fears arose, according to the Epicureans, and why they persist even in modern societies. It offers a close examination of the basic principles of Epicurean psychology: showing how a system based on a materialistic world view could provide a coherent account of irrational anxieties and desires, and provide a therapy that would allow human beings to enjoy life to the fullest degree.

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Festugieres“Epicurus and His Gods”
Andre-Jean Festugière
(Harvard, 108 pgs)

Table of Contents




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Tim O Keefe“Epicurus On Freedom”
Tim O’Keefe
(Cambridge, 2005, 186 pgs)

The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-271/0 BCE) has attracted much contemporary interest. Tim O’Keefe argues that the sort of freedom which Epicurus wanted to preserve is significantly different from the ‘free will’ which philosophers debate today, and that in its emphasis on rational action has much closer affinities with Aristotle’s thought than with current preoccupations. His original and provocative book will be of interest to a wide range of readers in Hellenistic philosophy.

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Facing Death by James Warren“Facing Death”
James Warren
(Oxford, 2006, 256 pgs)

The ancient philosophical school of Epicureanism tried to argue that death is “nothing to us.” Were they right? James Warren examines the arguments they offered and evaluates their success, setting them against modern philosophical accounts of how death can be a harm. He also asks whether a life free from all fear of death is an attractive option and what the consequences would be of a full acceptance of the Epicureans’ views.

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Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition

“Epicurus and the Epicurean Tradition”
Jeffrey Fish, Kirk R. Sanders
(Cambridge, 2011, 281 pgs)

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“The Greek Atomists and Epicurus”
by Cyril Bailey
(1964, 619 pgs)

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“Lucretius and the Transformation of Greek Wisdom”
David N. Sedley
(Cambridge, 2008, 254 pgs)

This book studies the structure and origins of De Rerum Natura (On the nature of things), the great first-century BC poem by Lucretius. By showing how he worked from the literary model set by the Greek poet Empedocles but under the philosophical inspiration of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, the book seeks to characterize Lucretius’ unique poetic achivement. It is addressed to those interested both in Latin poetry and in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy.

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Lucretius2“Lucretius: On the Nature of Things (1873 press)”
Titus Lucretius Carus, translation by W.H.D. Rouse

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“The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius”
Stuart Gillespie, Philip Hardie
(Cambridge, 2007, 382 pgs)

Lucretius’ didactic poem De rerum natura (‘On the Nature of Things’) is an impassioned and visionary presentation of the materialist philosophy of Epicurus, and one of the most powerful poetic texts of antiquity. After its rediscovery in 1417 it became a controversial and seminal work in successive phases of literary history, the history of science, and the Enlightenment. In this Cambridge Companion experts in the history of literature, philosophy and science discuss the poem in its ancient contexts and in its reception both as a literary text and as a vehicle for progressive ideas. The Companion is designed both as an accessible handbook for the general reader who wishes to learn about Lucretius, and as a series of stimulating essays for students of classical antiquity and its reception. It is completely accessible to the reader who has only read Lucretius in translation.

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“Oxford Readings in Lucretius”
Monica R. Gale
(Oxford, 2007, 400 pgs)

This book gathers together some of the most important and influential scholarly articles of the last sixty to seventy years (three of which are translated into English here for the first time) on the Roman poet Lucretius. Lucretius’ philosophical epic, the De Rerum Natura or On the Nature of the Universe (c.55 BC), seeks to convince its reader of the validity of the rationalist theories of the Hellenistic thinker Epicurus. The articles collected in this volume explore Lucretius’ poetic and argumentative technique from a variety of perspectives, and also consider the poem in relation to its philosophical and literary milieux, and to the values and ideology of contemporary Roman society. All quotations in Latin or Greek are translated.

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Lucretius Serres“The Birth of Physics”
Michel Serres
(2001, 109 pgs)

The Birth of Physics focuses on the largest text still intact to reach us from the Ancient Greek Atomists – Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura – but mobilises everything we know about the related scientific work of the time (Archemides, Epicurus et al) in order to demand a complete reappraisal of the legacy. Serres argues that the Greeks had all the mathematical resources to formulate an adequate picture of the physical principles acting on matter. Crucial to his reconception of the Atomists’ thought is a recognition that their model of atomic matter is essentially a fluid one – they are describing the actions of turbulence. Recognition of this fact throws in relief the force of this ancient thought with respect to the recent disciplines of chaos and complexity. It explains the continuing presence of Lucretius in the work of such scientific giants as Nobel Laureates Schroedinger and Prigogine. This book is truly a landmark in the study of ancient physics and will promote not only more work in the area but also stimulate a more general rebirth of philosophical interest in the ancients.


Feuerbach and the Cherry Tree: a Marxist parable


“In total contrast to German philosophy, which descends from heaven to earth, we here ascend from earth to heaven.” – KARL MARX (1846)

Walking down the streets of a big city, are we aware that we are like fishes swimming in an ocean of History? Do we realize that tall buildings, concrete roads and old churches, just to mention a few items of the urban landscape, have been erected by human labour throughout the centuries?

One of the advantages of wandering around with the brain fueled by Marxist ideas is a certain transformation of perception in which History ceases to be something buried in books and museums. History is alive and kicking: while I drift through the metropolis, I bump on it everywhere.

This awareness may be much more intense in a visit to what’s properly called an “historical city” like Québec, founded in 1608, whose  CitadelleChâteau Frontênac and monuments to European conquerors (such as Jacques Cartier and Samuel Champlain), gives one the strong impression of past-still-present. Generations ago, humans who are no longer among the living, built this awesome castle on the top of the hill, facing from the height the Saint Lawrence River below, and now those who are among the living – myself included – can’t help but notice how the Québec of nowadays is actually a product of History. It’s History incarnate.

That’s how I’m coming to understand better what Karl Marx meant by his doctrine of Historical Materialism: the material world isn’t simply a world of “natural” objects; the material world is nature transformed by human endeavour; it’s the result of the productive activities of mankind, what necessarily includes the labour of bygone generations.

One of the commonest antithesis in the history of philosophy opposes Materialism to Idealism. To even attempt to describe this controversy, in all its subtleties and historical developments, is a Herculean job that I feel unable to cope with (this task would take a much larger knowledge of the history of philosophy than I presently have). My intention in the present scribbling is merely to share some Marxist ideas which, it seems to me, enlighten the matter of Historical Materialism quite vividly. It’s well known that Karl Marx’s philosophy is accurately described as a “Materialist Conception of History”. Its inception and development seems to be one of the endeavours to which Marx and his comrade Engels devoted theirs lives to accomplish.

It’s worth remembering that the so-called “Young Marx” was already deeply interested in philosophical Materialism, so much so that Marx’s 1841 Doctorate was a thesis about the philosophies of nature of two of the most important Greek materialists, Democritus and Epicurus. It’s also well known that Marx, despite having been deeply influenced by Hegel, was far from being an orthodox disciple who would preach the Hegelian gospel like a conditioned parrot. Marx’s sharp powers of criticism and scorn were also directed against  “The German Ideology”, guilty of an idealism  that’s incarnate in the tradition of Kant, Fichte and Hegel. In Robert C. Tucker’s Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx (Cambridge University Press, 1961), we can find some help in understanding the “materialist-idealist antithesis”:

428500“The idealist starts from the ‘heaven’ of theory and attempts to descend to the ‘earth’ of practice. He proceeds from man’s ‘sacred history’ or thought-process in the effort to comprehend the historical process as a whole. The materialist, on the other hand, begins with the ‘real life-process’ or ‘practical developmental process of man’. He takes his stand on ‘earth’ and adopts man’s ‘profane history’ as the starting point for theory. Abandoning the vain effort to descend from heaven to earth, he rises from earth to heaven. He treats the sacred history as a mental reflex of the profane one, the history of mental production as an epiphenom of the history of material production. His underlying principle is that ‘Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life.’ Marx defends it on the ground that man cannot think, and cannot live at all, without producing the material means of life. Here is the doctrine of economic base and ideological superstructure, better known in Marx’s later formulation in the preface to his Critique of Political Economy: ‘The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.” (TUCKER, p. 179)

Materialism, after all, doesn’t deny the existence of ideas and ideals, of phantasies and imaginations, of all those contents that can be said to pertain to the life of the mind, to subjective space or to the psychological realm. It’s undeniable, for example, that religious ideas do exist, but not as abolute or objetive truths, but as concepts produced by the human brain. The idealist, usually infected by theological ideologies, confuses a creature of his own brain with something that exists outside himself – a critique expounded in detail by Feuerbach’s highly influential The Essence of Christianity (1841).

Historical materialism aims to understand the world around without supposing for it a divine origin or an ideal which serves as its foundation. Rather, historical materialism aims to describe the sensuous external world – that which our senses have access to – as a “materialization of all past productive activity of the human race. The sensuous world around man is a nature produced by history, or in Marx’s words ‘an historical product, the result of the activity of a whole succession of generations. He criticizes all past doctrines of materialism for the failure to grasp the external material objects as materializations of human activity.” (TUCKER, op cit, p. 182)

We’re like fishes swimming in a sea of History, but also fishes who are born into a certain stage of the process of Nature’s transformation by human labour. Each one of us has a consciousness, or an “ego”, which can only be understood as something necessarily determined and conditioned by its situation in a certain historical epoch, in a particular web of social circumstances.

Even when we presume to be witnessing Nature in its purity, we may actually be witnessing Culture and History. This is one of the cleverest criticismsMarx shoots against Feuerbach: when facing a cherry tree, Feuerbach believed it to be a sensuous object from the natural realm, but he failed to grasp that “the cherry tree was transplanted to Europe by commerce only a few centuries ago, and solely by virtue of this historical fact is it given to Feuerbach’s senses.” (TUCKER, op cit, p. 182)

# Dangerous Thoughts – Opinions on religion by Nietzsche, Epicurus, Voltaire, R. Dawkins, C. Hitchens, B. Franklin, Mark Twain, and others…


Friedrich Nietzsche was a preacher’s son, brought up in the fear of the Lord. It is the ideal training for sham-smashers and freethinkers. Let a boy of alert, restless intelligence come to early manhood in an atmosphere of strong faith, wherein doubts are blasphemies and inquiry is a crime, and rebellion is certain to appear with his beard. So long as his mind feels itself puny beside the overwhelming pomp and circumstance of parental authority, he will remain docile and even pious. But so soon as he begins to see authority as something ever finite, variable and all-too-human – when he begins to realize that his father and his mother, in the last analysis, are mere human beings, and fallible like himself – then he will fly precipitately toward the intellectual wailing places, to think his own thoughts in his own way and to worship his own gods beneath the open sky. As a child Nietzsche was holy; as a man he was the symbol and embodiment of all unholiness. At nine he was already versed in the lore of the reverend doctors, and the pulpit, to his happy mother – a preacher’s daughter a well as a preacher’s wife – seemed his logical and lofty goal; at thirty he was chief among those who held that all pulpits should be torn down and fashioned into bludgeons, to beat out the silly brains of theologians.”

The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.
3rd Edition. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 2003.

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Some of Nietzsche’s works in e-book (free download):

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You might also enjoy these other delightful provocations (click to enlarge):