Marcus Tullius Cicero (essay date c. 50 B.C.)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Marcus Tullius Cicero, &The Testimony of Cicero,& in The Epicurus Reader: Selecting Writings and Testimonia, translated and edited by Brad Inwood and L. P. Gerson, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1994, pp. 47-64.

[The following excerpts from Cicero range from the most judicious of Cicero's critiques of Epicurus, when he engages details of Epicurus's ideas, to his most vehement manifestations of dislike.]

TEXT 14: On Goals 1.18-20

18. Epicurus generally does not go far wrong when he follows Democritus … but these are the catastrophes which belong to Epicurus alone. He thinks that these same indivisible and solid bodies...

(The entire section is 8824 words.)

Plutarch (essay date c. 1st to 2nd century)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Plutarch, "The Polemic of Plutarch," in The Epicurus Reader, translated and edited by Brad Inwood and L. P. Gerson, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1994, pp. 68-74.

[In the following excerpt from Against Colotes, Plutarch seeks out logical contradictions and inconsistencies in Epicurean philosophy, focusing largely on ideas of sensation and sense perception.]

(1109a) … Anyway, he [Colotes] who even held that nothing is any more like this than like that, is using Epicurus' doctrine that all presentations received through the senses are true. (1109b) For if when two people speak and one person says that the wine is dry and the other says that it is...

(The entire section is 2314 words.)

Diogenes Laertius (essay date c. 250)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Diogenes Laertius, "Excerpts From the Life of Epicurus," in The Philosophy of Epicurus, North-western University Press, 1963, pp. 101-12.

[More than anyone, Diogenes Laertius was responsible for preserving details of Epicurus's life; most later scholarship has depended on his biography of the philosopher. The following excerpt begins with summaries of accounts meant to discredit Epicurusaccounts that portray the Epicurean life as debauched. After refuting these attacks, Diogenes Laertius walks his reader through the basics of Epicurean philosophy.]

1The Stoic Diotimus, who bore Epicurus ill will, slandered him most cruelly by publishing...

(The entire section is 5632 words.)

St. Augustine (essay date c. 413-26)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: St. Augustine, "Book VIII," in The City of God against the Pagans, translated by David S. Wiesen, Harvard University Press, 1968, pp. 1-146.

[In the following excerpt from Book VIII of The City of God, St. Augustine includes Epicureanism in his castigation of philosophies that value materialism above religious faith.]

Thus not only the doctrines of both theologies, mythical and political alike, must give way to the philosophy of the Platonists, for they have said that the true God is the author of all things, the illuminator of truth, and the bestower of happiness, but so must the other philosophers too who have adopted a belief in the material elements...

(The entire section is 537 words.)

Lorenzo Valla (essay date 1433)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Lorenzo Valla, "Book III," in On Pleasure (De voluptate), translated by A. Kent and Maristella Lorch, Abaris Books, Inc., 1977, pp. 228-327.

[Valla, an Italian intellectual, served as the Librarian of the Vatican. His Devero bono, or On Pleasure, takes the form of a letter in which the writer, who identifies himself as an Epicurean, refutes the arguments of a friend who advocates stoicism. The excerpts that follow exemplify the speaker's stance on Epicureanism.']

I believe that if this dispute about the comparative worths of pleasure and virtue should come to the vote of the people, that is, of the world (for this is a worldly contest), and if the...

(The entire section is 899 words.)

Jean Francois Sarasin (essay date c. 1645)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Jean Francois Sarasin, "An Essay in Vindication of Epicurus, and his Doctrine," in Epicurus's Morals, 1712.

[Although mistakenly attributed to St. Evremond for some decades, the essay on Epicurus's morals was actually composed by Sarasin, a seventeenth-century French intellectual and cardinal. His piece, reprinted many times in French and translated into English in 1712, represents one of the significant French attempts to revive Epicurus's reputation, particularly by reminding readers of the simplicity of his philolosophy.]

Our Modern Philosophers are very industrious to lessen the Reputation of Epicurus, they explode his Doctrine, not only as unworthy...

(The entire section is 9966 words.)

Walter Charleton (essay date c. 1656)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Walter Charleton, "An Apologie for Epicurus," in Epicurus's Morals: Collected and Faithfully Englished, Peter Davies, 1926, pp.

[Charleton's "Apology" for the mid-seventeenth-century English edition of Epicurus's writings attempts to redeem the philosopher's reputation, especially regarding religious attitude. Like Sarasin, Charleton argues that Epicurus's religious skepticism was appropriate to his pre-Christian context and that his ethical simplicity prefigured Christian morals.]


Your beloved EPICURUS, having lately learn'd English, on purpose to converse more familiarly with you; comes now at length to wait upon you, and at your vacant...

(The entire section is 6438 words.)

E. Zeller (essay date 1879)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: E. Zeller, "The Moral Science of the Epicureans: General Principles" and "The Epicurean Ethics Continued: Special Points," in The Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics, Russell & Russell, Inc., 1962, pp. 472-93.

[A professor at the University of Heidelberg, Zeller first published his landmark work on Epicurus in German. The following excerpt presents an overview of Epicureanism as a meeting of scientific and moral thought.]

The Moral Science of the Epicureans. General Principles

Natural science is intended to overcome the prejudices which stand in the way of happiness; moral science to give positive instructions as to the nature and means...

(The entire section is 4447 words.)

William Wallace (essay date 1880)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: William Wallace, "General Aspect of the System" and "The Chief Good," in Epicureanism, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1880, pp. 85-94, 125-69.

[Wallace, a British scholar who taught at Oxford, published his extensive volume on Epicureanism as the philosopher's reputation was beginning to revive after some centuries of general rejection in England. The excerpt that follows provides, first, a synopsis of Epicureanism in general and, second, a delineation of Epicurus's notion of ethics. Wallace begins with a refutation of myths and misperceptions; he concludes with an image of Epicurus as "modern" in his notion of the individual's relationship to the state.]


(The entire section is 13856 words.)

A. E. Taylor (essay date 1911)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: A. E. Taylor, "The Life of Epicurus" and "The Salvation of Man," in Epicurus, Constabel & Company Ltd., 1911, pp. 35-79, 80-96.

[In the following excerpt from his Epicurus, Taylor first places Epicurus's biography in the context of Greek culture and history and then presents his view of Epicurus's ethics. Refuting the myth of Epicurus's debauchery, Taylor instead charges the philosopher with "timidity" and "a lack of moral robustness. " His biography ends with a summary of the connection between Epicureanism and early Christianity. In his discussion of Epicurean ethics, Taylor contends that they were uniquely democratic, made accessible to the layperson as well as the...

(The entire section is 12173 words.)

W. T. Stace (lecture date 1919)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: W. T. Stace, "The Epicureans, Physics, Ethics," in A Critical History of Greek Philosophy, Macmillan & Co., Limited, 1960, pp. 354-60.

[The excerpt below, originally delivered as a lecture in 1919, encapsulates the Epicurean system, which Stace finds "amiable and shallow," and also ascribes to the general view that Epicurus was a kind of ancient decadent. Stace concludes that Epicureans are "gentle and lovable," but "lacking the stern stuff of heroes."]

Epicurus was born at Samos in 342 B.C. He founded his school a year or two before Zeno founded the Stoa, so that the two schools from the first ran parallel in time. The school of Epicurus lasted over six...

(The entire section is 1901 words.)

Cyril Bailey (essay date 1928)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Cyril Bailey, "Atoms and Space," in The Greek Atomists and Epicurus, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1928, pp. 274-99.

[Bailey's work on Epicurus has often been cited by fellow scholars as fundamental to the field—particularly his 1926 translation of the philosopher's works. The following chapter from his well-respected The Greek Atomists and Epicurus concentrates on Epicurus's concept of the atom. Bailey elucidates the originality of Epicurus's system, countering claims by earlier critics that he simply lifted Democritus 's thought.]

In passing from Leucippus to Democritus the atomic theory … [grows] in consistency and harmony: with Epicurus the...

(The entire section is 8681 words.)

A. J. Festugière (essay date 1946)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: A. J. Festugière, "The Religion of Epicurus," in Epicurus and His Gods, translated by C. W. Chilton, Basil Blackwell, 1955, pp. 51-65.

[Originally published in France in 1946, Festugière's Epicurus and his Gods quickly became standard criticism in discussions of Epicurean theology. In the excerpt below, Festugière looks at Epicurusboth as an Athenian citizen and as a philosopherin the context of his culture's religious thought.]

Ever since men in Greece had believed in the existence of gods—and this belief seems to go back to an unfathomable antiquity—they had thought also that the gods rule human affairs. These two aspects of...

(The entire section is 6084 words.)

Norman Wentworth DeWitt (essay date 1954)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Norman Wentworth DeWitt, "A Synoptic View of Epicureanism," in Epicurus and His Philosophy, University of Minnesota Press, 1954, pp. 3-35.

[The following excerpt, arranged according to Epicurus's own principles of education, sketches DeWitt's view of Epicurus, ranging from his life and philosophy to his reputation and historical influence. DeWitt makes it his explicit goal "to create the proper attitude for a sympathetic understanding of the man and his work. "]

This book attempts to present for the first time a fairly complete account of the life and teachings of Epicurus. At the very outset the reader should be prepared to think of him at one and the same...

(The entire section is 13447 words.)

Benjamin Farrington (essay date 1967)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Benjamin Farrington, "Friendship versus Justice," in The Faith of Epicurus, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967, pp. 20-32.

[In his Faith of Epicurus Farrington stresses the centrality of friendship in Epicurean doctrine. The excerpt that follows fills out his thesis, explaining the significance of context, and, especially, of Plato "just city."]

In what remains of the writings of Epicurus we have nothing intellectually comparable to the splendid edifices raised by Plato in the Republic and the Laws. What we have of Epicurus is three letters and a handful of sayings. It is true that the more closely these are studied the clearer it becomes that...

(The entire section is 4561 words.)

A. A. Long (essay date 1974)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: A. A. Long, "Epicurus and Epicureanism," in Hellenistic Philosophy: Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics, University of California Press, 1974, pp. 14-74.

[Long offers a broad view of Epicurus's thought in the excerpt below, moving from biography and history to epistemology, and culminating with his ethical teachings.]

It has often been said that Epicurus was primarily a moralist, and if by this we mean someone who strives by theory and practice to advocate a particular way of life the description is appropriate. Epicurus thought that he could trace the causes of human unhappiness to mistaken beliefs in his society, beliefs about the gods, the destiny of the soul, and...

(The entire section is 26480 words.)

Terence Irwin (essay date 1989)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Terence Irwin, "Epicureanism," in A History of Western Philosophy: I Classical Thought, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 145-63.

[In the following excerpt, Irwin places Epicurean thought in the context of Greek political and intellectual history. He investigates the movement's doctrine using the tools of logic.]

i. The Hellenistic world1

The 'Hellenistic Age' (a term coined by modern historians, not by the Greeks) begins with the death of Alexander the Great in 323, and ends with the end of the Roman Republic and the victory of Octavian (later Augustus) in 31 BC. Alexander conquered the empires of Persia and Egypt, and his...

(The entire section is 7389 words.)

Julia Annas (essay date 1992)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Julia Annas, "Atomism and Agents," in Hellenistic Philosophy of Mind, University of California Press, 1992, pp. 123-56.

[Below, Annas examines Epicurus's physical theories in order to determine the Epicurean idea of the relationship of the human subject to the physical world, particularly to atoms, the universe, and the body.]

a) Physicalism and Reductivism

Epicurean and Stoic theories of the soul are often structurally very similar and sometimes also similar in detail. The two theories have very different metaphysical backing: the Stoics have a continuum theory of matter and hold that the universe is animate and runs by laws which...

(The entire section is 12210 words.)