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), On the Nature of Things, all the works by Philodemus, Diogenes’ Wall, Diogenes Laertius, and even A Few Days in Athens. Perhaps it should even include some of Lucian’s works. All 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, 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.