Famous Epicurean Epigrams
The purpose of this quick blog post is to announce the beginning of work on a new page: “Famous Epicurean Epigrams.”
The first that come to mind are the shortest, such as:
- Seize the day. (Carpe diem.) Horace
- Meditate on death. (Meditate mortem.) from Seneca’s Letter XXVI to Lucilius
If we expand this from “epigrams” to “phrases,” and we set the rule as five Latin words or less, we get phrases like:
- The guide of life, divine pleasure. (Dux vitae, dia voluptas.) Lucretius De Rerum Natura, Book II, line 170.
- Nothing can be created from nothing. (Nil posse creari de nilo.) Lucretius De Rerum Natura
Another memorable phrase / epigram comes from Norman DeWitt’s Epicurus and His Philosophy: “Peace and Safety” — but DeWitt’s reference for this phrase appears to be I Thessalonians 5, and an original reference to an Epicurean source in the Latin (or Greek) is unclear.
Norman DeWitt also suggests that the ancient Epicureans used the phrase “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.” This comes from page 94 of Epicurus and His Philosophy, citing to Philodemus “On Frankness, ” frag.4.-9-11 but the original version is difficult to find for a citation.
And then of course there is the phrase from Seneca at the top of this blog: “So do all as if Epicurus were watching.” (Sic fac omnia tamquam spectet Epicurus.) (from Seneca’s letters XXV.5 )
The following are also from Seneca’s letters, all of which are apparent quotations from Epicurus himself:
- Whoever does not regard what he has as most ample wealth, is unhappy, though he be master of the whole world. Seneca’s letters IX
- It is wrong to live under constraint; but no man is constrained to live under constraint. Seneca’s letters XII
- He who needs riches least, enjoys riches most. Seneca’s letters XIV
- If you would enjoy real freedom, you must be the slave of Philosophy. Seneca’s letters VIII
- If you live according to nature, you will never be poor; if you live according to opinion, you will never be rich. Seneca’s letters XVI
- The acquisition of riches has been for many men, not an end, but a change, of troubles. Seneca’s letters XVII
- Ungoverned anger begets madness. Seneca’s letters XVIII
- You must reflect carefully beforehand with whom you are to eat and drink, rather than what you are to eat and drink. For a dinner of meats without the company of a friend is like the life of a lion or a wolf. Seneca’s letters XIX
- Believe me, your words will be more imposing if you sleep on a cot and wear rags. For in that case you will not be merely saying them; you will be demonstrating their truth. Seneca’s letters XX
- If you wish, said he, to make Pythocles rich, do not add to his store of money, but subtract from his desires. Seneca’s letters XXI
- Go to his Garden and read the motto carved there: “Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.” The care-taker of that abode, a kindly host, will be ready for you; he will welcome you with barley-meal and serve you water also in abundance, with these words: “Have you not been well entertained?” “This garden,” he says, “does not whet your appetite; it quenches it. Nor does it make you more thirsty with every drink; it slakes the thirst by a natural cure, a cure that demands no fee. This is the ‘pleasure’ in which I have grown old.” Seneca’s letters XXI
- Everyone goes out of life just as if he had but lately entered it. Seneca’s letters XXII
- I can give you a saying of your friend Epicurus and thus clear this letter of its obligation. “It is bothersome always to be beginning life.” Or another, which will perhaps express the meaning better: “They live ill who are always beginning to live.” Seneca’s letters XXIII
- It is absurd to run towards death because you are tired of life, when it is your manner of life that has made you run towards death. Seneca’s letters XXIV
- What is so absurd as to seek death, when it is through fear of death that you have robbed your life of peace? Seneca’s letters XXIV
- Men are so thoughtless, nay, so mad, that some, through fear of death, force themselves to die. Seneca’s letters XXIV
- The time when you should most of all withdraw into yourself is when you are forced to be in a crowd. Seneca’s letters XXV
- Real wealth is poverty adjusted to the law of Nature. Seneca’s letters XXVII
- The knowledge of sin is the beginning of salvation. Seneca’s letters XXVIII
- 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. Seneca’s letters XXIX
Please add your suggestions in the comments below, and we will begin development of a complete page as a new resource for the site. Please include both the epigram and the source from which it comes. We’ll start by adding new material to this blog post, then convert the result into a full page.