Tag Archives: literature

Vatican Sayings – Brief Study Guide

Someday I dream we will have an online source for all the literary works in Epicurean philosophy, all in one place and searchable, with study guides, in various languages and with various translations available for comparison for the benefit of students of Epicurean Philosophy everywhere. I think of websites like Bible Gateway and some of the online Qur’an and Bhagavad Gita translation sites available online, where students can search for a subject or word, or systematically read and study a particular chapter. I envision this Epicurean site as including the entire ancient Epitome (the works of the founders), Elemental Epicureanism, On the Nature of Things, all the works by Philodemus, Diogenes’ Wall, Diogenes Laertius, and even A Few Days in AthensPerhaps it should even include some of Lucian’s worksAll of these works are worthy of careful study by sincere students of Epicurus, and have also accumulated a growing body of commentary by devoted readers that deserves to be preserved and built on. 

In the meantime, New Epicurean has been creating audio file on many subjects, and here’s a brief thematic study guide for the Vatican Sayings for beginners. As more study material becomes available, please stay appraised by joining our online forum and community at Epicurean Friends.com!

ON HAPPINESS

14. We have been born once and cannot be born a second time; for all eternity we shall no longer exist. But you, although you are not in control of tomorrow, are postponing your happiness. Life is wasted by delaying, and each one of us dies without enjoying leisure.

IN CELEBRATION OF WISDOM

27. The benefits of other activities come only to those who have already become, with great difficulty, complete masters of such pursuits, but in the study of philosophy pleasure accompanies growing knowledge; for pleasure does not follow learning; rather, learning and pleasure advance side by side.

32. The honor paid to a wise man is itself a great good for those who honor him.

36. Epicurus’s life when compared to that of other men with respect to gentleness and self-sufficiency might be thought a mere legend.

45. The study of nature does not create men who are fond of boasting and chattering or who show off the culture that impresses the many, but rather men who are strong and self-sufficient, and who take pride in their own personal qualities not in those that depend on external circumstances.

54. It is not the pretense but the real pursuit of philosophy that is needed; for we do not need the semblance of health but rather true health.

78. The noble man is chiefly concerned with wisdom and friendship; of these, the former is a mortal good, the latter an immortal one.

ON AUTARCHY

29. To speak frankly as I study nature I would prefer to speak in oracles that which is of advantage to all men even though it be understood by none, rather than to conform to popular opinion and thus gain the constant praise that comes from the many.

35. Don’t spoil what you have by desiring what you don’t have; but remember that what you now have was once among the things only hoped for.

71. Question each of your desires: “What will happen to me if that which this desire seeks is achieved, and what if it is not?”

67. Since the attainment of great wealth can scarcely be accomplished without slavery to crowds or to politicians, a free life cannot obtain much wealth; but such a life already possesses everything in unfailing supply. Should such a life happen to achieve great wealth, this too it can share so as to gain the good will of one’s neighbors.

68. Nothing is enough to someone for whom what is enough is little.

77. Freedom is the greatest fruit of self-sufficiency.

ON DEATH

31. It is possible to provide security against other things, but as far as death is concerned, we men all live in a city without walls.

ON FRIENDSHIP

34. We do not so much need the assistance of our friends as we do the confidence of their assistance in need.

61. Most beautiful is the sight of those close to us, when our original contact makes us of one mind or produces a great incitement to this end.

66. We show our feeling for our friends’ suffering, not with laments, but with thoughtful concern.

ON WHOLESOME CHARACTER

46. Let us completely rid ourselves of our bad habits as if they were evil men who have done us long and grievous harm.

53. We must envy no one; for the good do not deserve envy and as for the bad, the more they prosper, the more they ruin it for themselves.

79. He who is calm disturbs neither himself nor another.

69. The thankless nature of the soul makes the creature endlessly greedy for variations in its lifestyle.

EPICUREAN ATTITUDE TOWARDS FATE

47. I have anticipated you, Fortune, and entrenched myself against all your secret attacks. And we will not give ourselves up as captives to you or to any other circumstance; but when it is time for us to go, spitting contempt on life and on those who here vainly cling to it, we will leave life crying aloud in a glorious triumph-song that we have lived well.

65. It is pointless for a man to pray to the gods for that which he has the power to obtain by himself.

ON CONSOLATION

55. We should find solace for misfortune in the happy memory of what has been and in the knowledge that what has been cannot be undone.

In Memory of Horace: Carpe Diem

The poet Horace (First Century BCE) was the son of a freed Roman slave. His father gave him a good education, which included philosophy, and Horace was outspoken in his Epicurean faith. He served in the Roman army under General Brutus and enjoyed the friendship of the poet Virgil and of Maecenas–a wealthy investor in the arts whose name later became synonymous with the tradition of patronizing intellectuals and artists. Although his full name was Quintus Horatius Flaccus (modern-day Spanish uses “flaco” to mean “skinny”), he was ironically and famously short and fat.

Treat every day that dawns for you as the last.
The hour that’s unhoped for will be welcome when it comes.
When you want to smile then visit me: sleek, and fat I’m a hog,
well cared-for, one of Epicurus’ herd.

Some of the Latin adages coined by Horace are still known and used today. The most famous one was the very Epicurean Carpe Diem, or “Seize the day”. Other adages are Nunc est bibendum, “Now we must drink”, and Sapere aude, or “Dare to be wise”.

In reality, Horace was more than a poet. He wrote the epistolary style of literature, as well as satires–many of which are for adults only–which praised Epicurean ideals, and his Ars Poetica is about more than the art and theory of poetry. It includes advise on writing and presenting plays–things like making sure that the emotions, gestures, and words displayed match and are presented in unison. The work was written in the style of an Epistle to the Pisos–the same family that financed the famous Epicurean Library and was taught philosophy by Philodemus in Herculaneum.

This rare constellation of famous names associated with Horace, together with the fact that many (including Maecenas) were believed to be Epicureans by conviction, indicates that here is a moment in history where we can get a unique glimpse into the imprint that our tradition has left, and where we can also juxtapose the ways in which the works and biographies of these personalities may have been informed by Epicurean ideas–as is the case with the time spent by Frances Wright and Thomas Jefferson in Monticello.

In his satires, Horace draws anecdotes from nature. While describing the hard-working tiny ant that “takes in its mouth whatever it can and adds it to the pile” in order to have food in a future season, he also praises the Epicurean virtue of contentment and self-sufficiency.

As if you had occasion for no more than a pitcher or glass of water, and should say, “I had rather draw [so much] from a great river, than the very same quantity from this little fountain.” Hence it comes to pass, that the rapid Aufidus carries away, together with the bank, such men as an abundance more copious than what is just delights. But he who desires only so much as is sufficient, neither drinks water fouled with the mud, nor loses his life in the waves.

But a great majority of mankind, misled by a wrong desire, cry, “No sum is enough; because you are esteemed in proportion to what you possess.”

Please enjoy the literary adventure that is Horace! The works of Horace can be found in poetryintranslation.com, or the Perseus Catalog. Here are some gleanings from his writings:

Be Happy Wherever You Are

Everyone Can Profit from Philosophy

In Praise of Simple Living

Dare to be Wise

Horace’s Epistle to the Pisos

The Miseries of the Wealthy

Miscellaneous Quotes

Further Reading:

 Horace: Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica (Loeb Classical Library, No. 194) (English and Latin Edition)

Some Epicurean Aspects of Horace’s Upbringing in Satires 1.4, and Horace, Ofellus and Philodemus of Gadara in Sermones 2.2, by Sergio Yona

Learning the Epistolary Poem: Poems that serve as letters to the world, by Hannah Brooks-Motl

An Epicurean Year

As part of an effort to continue to produce memes and content that are relevant to the happenings at different stages of the year, Society of Epicurus is joining the initiative of the Epicurus page known as An Epicurean Year. According to its proponent, “the purpose here is to create a rotation of Doctrines, Sayings, other topics and issues to help anyone integrate Epicurean Philosophy into their lives through continuous study and practice” within the Gregorian calendar.

I have gone beyond his initial proposal and added a few celebrations. “An Epicurean year begins in February … because Epicurus’ birthday is in “Gamelion”, which corresponds (more or less) to February”.

Epicureans are known to celebrate the 20th of every month as a “feast of reason”, which is why every 20th defaults to a celebration known as eikas, or “twentieth” in honor of the request made in Epicurus’ will.

JANUARY 20th. “A Feast of Brotherhood”. In his final testament, Epicurus requested that his followers “celebrate, as I have been in the habit of doing myself, the day consecrated to my brothers, in the month of Poseideon”–whichi corresponds to December-January.

FEB 12. Charles R. Darwin birthday.

FEB 16th. Foundation of the Society of Friends of Epicurus

FEB. 20th. “A Feast for Life!”, as per initial proponent. Epicurus’ birthday.

MAR. 20th. “A Feast for Happiness!”, as the UN has declared this to be the International Day of Happiness.

MAR 21. SoFE celebrates Horace Day. The literary Legacy of Horace, a self-proclaimed “pig of Epicurus’ den”, is celebrated as part of World Poetry Day.

APR 13. Hitchens – Jefferson Day, a secular holiday proposed by a blogger based on Jefferson’s Day, where humanist books should be exchanged as gifts.

APR. 20th. “A Feast for Proper Pleasures”, as per initial proponent; perhaps because Spring, and Easter in particular, has always been associated with Venus. This usually also falls around Earth Day, so it’s a celebration of this Earth.

MAY 20th. “A Feast of the Good Desires!”, as per initial proponent.

JUNE 20th. Midsummer Feast.

JULY 20th. A Feast of Wisdom, as the Panathinaia, the Festival of Athena, the Goddess of Philosophy is celebrated in Hellenismos between July and August every year.

AUGUST 20. The ancient Athenians celebrated a festival of Panathenaea around their calendar’s version of August 13th. Since this falls closest to our 20th of August, on this 20th SoFE celebrates the literary opus of Frances Wright titled A Few Days in Athens.

AUGUST 24. HERCULANEUM DAY. On this date in the year 79 of Common Era, Mount Vesuvius erupted and the library in Herculaneum was covered in volcanic ash.

SEPTEMBER 20th. POLYAENUS DAY. In his final will and testament, Epicurus instituted the celebration of a day consecrated to the memory of Polyaenus, one of the founders of Epicureanism, “in the month of Metageitnion–which corresponds to August-September in our calendar.

OCTOBER 1. It’s difficult to find the exact date for a festival in Taoism, since the Taoist calendar is lunar. Therefore, the National Day of China may be used to celebrate Chinese philosophers who have contributed to hedonism–in particular Yang Chu.

OCTOBER 19. Philodemus’ library was discovered on this date in 1752

DEC 20th. HumanLight, the Humanist Solstice celebration which began in New Jersey among humanists and is now embraced widely by the American Humanist Association and others.

Please visit the original page for An Epicurean Year for more details on the project.