Nil Posse Creari De Nilo! / Nothing Can Be Created From Nothing!

NewEpicurean Library

Promoting the Study of the Philosophy of Epicurus

HAJ Munro Landscape

The ancient Epicurean texts remaining to us today are available freely on the internet in many different translations, and one of the best ways to become more familiar with Epicureanism is to compare the various translations against each other and against the original Greek or Latin. Only in this way can you hope to gain a clear view of what was intended by the writer, rather than what may be a translator’s preconceived notion of what he thought the writer meant to say.

On this page we will maintain links to various translations of the core works. The content of the internet is constantly changing, so please send us an email or add a comment below if you find broken links or have suggestions for additions.

NOTE:  If you are a new student of Epicurus, this is the book you want first (click HERE for a preview at Google books; click the image to search at Abebooks):

Dewitt book cover

Professor Dewitt gives in my view by far the best overall view of Epicurus’ life and his philosophy, and having that overview before you dig into the details of the texts is very helpful.  Beyond “Epicurus and His Philosophy,” the major texts are as follows:

Note:  In my view, it is best to compare several translations for any important passage.  A key example of this is in Diogenes Laetius’ “Life of Epicurus.”  In most cases, I prefer Bailey’s translation for its more up-to-date scholarship, additional notes, and easier-to-read phrasings.  In at least one key passage regarding the crucial Canon of Truth, however, Bailey’s choice of words can obscure a major issue.  Here is a key passage, marked as paragraph 31 in Bailey and XX in Yonge:

  • Bailey:  “Logic they reject as misleading. For they say that it is sufficient for physicists to be guided by what things say if themselves.  Thus in the Canon Epicurus says that the tests of truth are the sensations and concepts and feelings; the Epicureans add to these the intuitive apprehensions of the mind.”  …   The concept they speak of as an apprehension or right idea or thought or general idea stored in the mind, that is to say a recollection of what has often been presented from without….
  • Yonge:   Dialectics they wholly reject as superfluous.  For they say that the correspondence of  words with  things  is sufficient for the  natural philosopher, so as to enable him to advance with certainty in the study of nature.   Now, in the Canon, Epicurus says that the criteria of  truth are the senses, and the preconceptions, and the passions.  But the Epicureans, in general, add also the perceptive impressions  of  the intellect. …  By  preconception,  the  Epicureans  mean a sort of comprehension as it were, or right opinion, or notion, or general idea which exists in us;  or,  in other words, the recollection of an external object often perceived anteriorly.

In my reading, most translators use the word preconception or anticipation to indicate that what Epicurus was referring to here was not simply a “logical construction” such as most of us probably think of when we use the word “concept.”  I won’t belabor this issue here (because I have elsewhere!) but would simply refer the reader to Chapters 6 and 7 of DeWitt’s Epicurus and His Philosophy for an extensive discussion of the nature of anticipations.  If the student of Epicurus is to keep in view the extent to which Epicureanism is a rejection of Platonism and Aristotelianism, it is essential that the implications of Epicurus rejecting “reason” as a component of the Canon of Truth be clearly understood.


PRIMARY SOURCES: The Original Texts


  • Diogenes Laertius: Lives And Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Chapter XII- This work is the most important remaining source of information about Epicureanism, and it contains a number of letters represented to have been written by Epicurus himself.
  • Lucretius: On The Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura) -Second only to Diogenes Laertius in importance, this Latin poem written in about 50 BC is sweeping in scope. Written as an introduction to Epicureanism by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable convert, on those areas which Lucretius’ addresses this poem provides invaluable insight into Epicureanism. Much of the poem is devoted to showing how phenomena such as lightning are caused by Nature, and not by gods, and thus to showing why men should throw off the oppression of religion. With the advance of science over the centuries these matters are not of as much immediate concern as they were in Lucretius’ time, but his poem nevertheless provides an abundance of ethical and historical insight about Epicureanism, especially in the opening sections of each of the six books.
    • H.A.J. Munro
      • 1908 Edition, Bohn’s Classical Library- Scribd – Google Books – Archive.org – This edition contains an interesting biography of Munro, who is perhaps the leading modern translator of On The Nature of Things.
      • Three Volumes, Notes, Text, and Translation, Fourth Edition, Finally Revised, Printed 1893 Deighton Bell & Co., London. This is the definitive scholarly translation by the leading 19th century scholar of Lucretius.
        • Volume 1 – Text:  Scribd – Google Books – Archive.org
        • Volume 2 – Explanatory Notes:  Scribd – Google Books – Archive.org
        • Volume 3 – Translation:  Scribd – Google Books – Archive.org
    • John Mason Good
      • 1805 Edition – This is a very flowery poetic translation which readers may find more useful for the extensive introduction, and notes, than for the actual text of the poem itself.
    • Ian Johnston, Vancouver Island University, 2010
    • Cyril Bailey
      • Oxford Press, 1910:  Scribd – Google Books – Archive.org This edition is more recent than Munro and of similar scholarly value.  Munro’s edition, and this one, are far superior in readability to the modern reader than most other editions.  Bailey published a volume with many annotations, but that does not appear to be available currently.
  • Cicero: On the Ends of Good And Evil (De Finibus Malorum et Bonorum)- Although he was not an Epicurean himself, and in some ways distorts the views of Epicurus to place them in an unflattering light, Cicero devoted long segments of his works to presentations of Epicurean positions.
    • H. Rackham – 1914 Edition of the Loeb Classical Library Volume of Cicero. – Scribd – Google Books – Archive.org -
  • Cicero: Tusculun Disputations, On The Nature of the Gods, and The Republic

  • Seneca’s Letters - Seneca, like Cicero, was not an Epicurean, but Seneca preserved a great many of Epicurus’ sayings and the views of the Epicureans on many subjects

SECONDARY SOURCES: Treatises and Commentaries



TERTIARY SOURCES: Articles and Essays

 



www.Epicurus.info and www.Epicurus.net also contain excellent material, often far beyond that which is available on this website. Both are highly recommended.  Especially be sure to check out the Etexts page at Epicurus.info.

 

Especially for those familiar with basic Epicurean concepts, the audiobook version of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura by Charlton Griffin available at Audible.com is excellent. Charlton Griffin’s verbal performance of Rolfe Humphries’ English translation is an excellent presentation of that material.

Please note:  All material on this website is from sources that are believed to be either in the public domain or usable here within proper fair use standards. In most cases and with few exceptions, text on this site has been taken from the volumes sited below. Due to the age of these volumes and the awkwardness that results from attempts at literal translations, the versions found here may contain slight paraphrasing and punctuation changes. Such editing is for purposes of clarity only, and great efforts are taken to remain true to the original meaning. Readers are always urged to consult the original volumes, in the original Latin and Greek if possible. Please email any suggestions or corrections to the this website so that updates can be made in future editions.Loeb Editions of the public domain editions for many classic Greek and Roman authors can be accessed here (Loebolus) and here Ed Donnelly.com.