For today’s Twentieth post I would like to focus on a single thought; the importance of reading the original texts of Epicurus for yourself, putting aside all preconceptions about what you THINK Epicurus was talking about.
Much misinformation arises — even among fans of Epicurus — when people think they know going in, from their general absorption of the culture around us, what Epicurus was all about. In my own case, I know now from my own reading that I have a very different view of Epicurus from when I first started reading his works several years ago.
Epicurus’ perspective in many areas was in strong disagreement with majority views both in his own time and today. This poses a challenge for new students who neither expect the depth of his revolutionary ideas nor have enough context to understand how those ideas were revolutionary.
It is therefore very important to read the major ancient texts on Epicurus for yourself. If you are a fan of Epicurus and you have not read the Diogenes Laertius biography in full, you must put that on your reading list. Then, after that, it is VERY helpful to read Lucretius. Lucretius spends more time on atoms – for purposes of showing that the universe operates on Natural principles rather than at the whim of gods – than most of us need today. But do not let your sense of scientific superiority deceive you – most of the value in Lucretius is in his THOUGHT PROCESS, where you can see illustrated the principles of thinking that Epicurus advised. Also, don’t fail to read Cicero’s extended essay in the name of Torquatus, and the remnants of the wall of Diogenes of Oenoanda. All of these are linked on my website and at Epicurus.info and Epicurus.net as well.
And if you come to the subject of Epicurus without a grounding in the basic ideas of ancient philosophy, you will need a commentary to assist you, and as always I recommend Norman DeWitt’s “Epicurus and His Philosophy” as the place to start for that context.
So if you are a fan of Epicurus, check your preconceptions at the door and dive in to the ancient texts.
As Seneca recorded: Sic fac omnia tamquam spectet Epicurus! So do all things as though watching were Epicurus!
And as Philodemus wrote: “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.“