Epicurus was born in Samos to Athenian emigres Neocles and Chaerestrate. He started teaching in 311 BC in Lesbos, moving later to Lampsacus, Asia Minor, where he founded a school. The disciples that flocked to his side managed to collect the sum of 80 mnae with which he bought a house with a large garden in Athens, the so-called "Garden of Epicurus". His disciples - who came from all walks of life - came to be known as belonging to the Garden. Epicurus died at age 72 in Athens.
Epicurus wrote over 300 manuscripts according to Diogenes of Oenoanda but much of that has been lost. What remains is:
- Fragments of 80 manuscripts found in the Vatican Library in 1888.
- 37 books on his work "On Nature"
- A letter to Herodotus on physics
- A letter to Menoeceus on ethics
- A letter to Pythocleus on meteorology
His "Epicurean paradox" argues against the existence of an all-powerful and providential God:
"God either wants to eliminate bad things and cannot, or can but does not want to, or neither wishes to nor can, or both wants to and can. If he wants to and cannot, he is weak -- and this does not apply to god. If he can but does not want to, then he is spiteful -- which is equally foreign to god's nature. If he neither wants to nor can, he is both weak and spiteful and so not a god. If he wants to and can, which is the only thing fitting for a god, where then do bad things come from? Or why does he not eliminate them?"
Epicurus' philosophy is based on the theory that all good and bad derive from sensation: Pleasureable sensations are good, painful sensations bad. Although Epicurus was commonly misunderstood to advocate the rampant pursuit of pleasure, what he was really after was the absence of pain (both physical and mental, i.e., anxiety).
Although Epicurus believed in pursuing pleasure, he was by no means a hedonist in our modern sense of the word. He explicitly warned against overindulgence because it often leads to pain. For instance, Epicurus warned against pursuing love too ardently, as it often leads to pain. However, having a circle of friends you can trust is one of the most important means for securing a tranquil life.
Epicurus also believed (in contradistinction to Aristotle) that death was not to be feared. According to Epicurus, unpleasant sensations cannot exist without pain. When man is alive, he does not feel the pain of death because he is not experiencing death. When a man dies, he does not feel the pain of death because he is dead and, since death is annihilation, he feels nothing. Therefore, as Epicurus famously said, "death is nothing to us."
In contrast to the Stoics, Epicureans showed little interest in participating in the politics of the day, since doing so leads to trouble. He instead advocated seclusion. His garden can be compared to present-day communes.
The most well-known Epicurean verse, which epitomizes his philosophy, λάθε βιώσας meaning "live secretly", "get through life without drawing attention to yourself", i. e. live without pursuing glory or wealth or power, but anonymously, enjoying little things like food, the company of friends, etc.
- GardenofEpicurus.com - A Directory of Epicurean Gardens, FAQ, and information on how to become an Epicurean.
- Epicurus.info - Epicurean Philosophy Online: features classical e-texts & photos of Epicurean artifacts.
- Epicurus.net - Epicurus and Epicurean Philosophy
- Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Entry for "Epicurus"
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Entry for "Epicurus"
- Epicurus & Lucretius - Small article by "P. Dionysius Mus"
- The Epicurean Group - Yahoo Discussion Group
- The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature - Karl Marx’s doctoral thesis.