Superphysics Superphysics
Part 1

The Birth of Epicurus

by Diogenes Laertius
7 minutes  • 1400 words
Table of contents

Metrodorus tells us in his treatise on Nobility of Birth that Epicurus was:

  • an Athenian
  • the son of Neocles and Chærestrate
  • of the burgh of Gargettus
  • of the family of the Philaidæ

Some writers such as Heraclides, in his Abridgment of Sotion, say that as the Athenians had colonised Samos, he was brought up there, and came to Athens in his 18th year while Xenocrates was president of the Academy, and Aristotle at Chalcis.

But after the death of Alexander, the Macedonian, when the Athenians were driven out of Samos by Perdiccas, Epicurus went to Colophon to his father.

There he collected some disciples and then returned to Athens in the time of Anaxicrates. For some time studied philosophy, mingling with the rest of the philosophers.

But subsequently, he some how or other established the school which was called after his name; and he used to say, that he began to study philosophy, when he was fourteen years of age; but Apollodorus, the Epicurean, in the first book of his account of the life of Epicurus, says, that he came to the study of philosophy, having conceived a great contempt for the grammarians, because they could not explain to him the statements in Hesiod respecting Chaos.

But Hermippus tells us, that he himself was a teacher of grammar, and that afterwards, having met with the books of Democritus, he applied himself with zeal to philosophy, on which account Timon says of him:

The last of all the natural philosophers, And the most shameless too, did come from Samos, A grammar teacher, and the most ill-bred And most unmanageable of mankind. And he had for his companions in his philosophical studies,[425] his three brothers, Neocles, Chæredemus, and Aristobulus, who were excited by his exhortations, as Philodemus, the Epicurean, relates in the tenth book of the Classification of Philosophers. He had also a slave, whose name was Mus, as Myronianus tells us in his Similar Historical Chapters.

3. Diotimus, the Stoic

Diotimus, the Stoic, was very hostile to him. He calumniated him most bitterly, publishing 50 obscene letters and attributing them to Epicurus under the name of Chrysippus.

These books were entitled The Refutations of Diocles having 24 volumes.

In the 12th of these books, the following also attacked him with great severity:

  • Posidonius, the Stoic
  • Nicolaus
  • Sotion
  • Dionysius, of Halicarnassus

They say that he:

  • used to:
    • accompany his mother when she went about the small cottages, performing purifications, and that
    • read the formula
    • keep a school with his father at very low terms
    • live with Leontium, the courtesan
  • as well as one of his brothers, was most profligate in his morals . claimed the books of Democritus on Atoms, and that of Aristippus on Pleasure, as his own
  • was not a legitimate citizen
    • This is asserted also by Timocrates, and by Herodotus in his treatise on the Youth of Epicurus.

They also say that he used to flatter Mithras, the steward of Lysimachus, in a disgraceful manner. He called him in his letters Pæan, and King.

He flattered Idomeneus, and Herodotus, and Timocrates who had revealed all his secret practices, and that he flattered them on this very account.

In his letters to Leontium, he says, “O king Apollo, my dear Leontium, what transports of joy did I feel when I read your charming letter.” And to Themista, the wife of Leonteus, he writes, “I am ready and prepared, if you do not come to me, to roll myself to wherever you and Themista invite me.”

He addresses Pythocles, a beautiful youth, thus, “I will sit quiet,” says he, “awaiting your longed for and god-like approach.” And at another time, writing to Themista, he says, “That he had determined to make his way with her,” as Theodorus tells us in the fourth book of his treatises against Epicurus.

He also wrote to many other courtesans, and especially to Leontium, with whom Metrodorus also was in love.

In his treatise on the Chief Good, he writes thus, “For I do not know what I can consider good, if I put out of sight the pleasures which arise from favours, and those which are derived from amatory pleasures, and from music, and from the contemplation of beauty.” And in his letter to Pythocles, he writes, “And, my dear boy, avoid all sorts of education.”

Epictetus also attacks him as a most debauched man, and reproaches him most vehemently, and so does Timocrates, the brother of Metrodorus, in his treatise entitled the Merry Guests, and this Timocrates had been a disciple in his school, though he afterwards abandoned it.. He says that he used to vomit twice a day, in consequence of his intemperance; and that he himself had great difficulty in escaping from this nocturnal philosophy, and that mystic kind of re-union.

He also accuses Epicurus of shameful ignorance in his reasoning, and still more especially in all matters relating to the conduct of life. And says that he was in a pitiable state of health, so that he could not for many years rise up from his sofa; and that he used to spend a minæ a day on his eating, as he himself states in his letter to Leontium, and in that to the philosophers at Mitylene. He also says that many courtesans used to live with him and Metrodorus; and among them Marmarium, and Hedea, and Erotium, and Nicidium.

4. His Works

He wrote 37 books on natural philosophy. But they say that:

  • he wrote many things of the same kind over and over again
  • he wrote them in contradiction of other philosophers, and especially of Nausiphanes

Epicurus: “But if any one else ever was afflicted in such a manner, then certainly this man had a continual labour, striving to bring forth the sophistical boastfulness of his mouth, like many other slaves.”

Epicurus also speaks of Nausiphanes in his letters, in the following terms: “These things led him on to such arrogance of mind, that he abused me and called me a schoolmaster.” He used also to call him Lungs, and Blockhead, and Humbug, and Fornicator. And he used to call Plato’s followers Flatterers of Dionysius, but Plato himself he called Golden. Aristotle he called a debauchee and a glutton, saying that he joined the army after he had squandered his patrimony, and[427] sold drugs. He used also to call Protagoras a porter, and the secretary of Democritus, and to say that he taught boys their letters in the streets. Heraclitus, he called a disturber; Democritus, he nicknamed Lerocritus;[138] and Antidorus, Sænidorus;[139] the Cynics he called enemies of Greece; and the Dialecticians he charged with being eaten up with envy. Pyrrho, he said, was ignorant and unlearned.

V. But these men who say this are all wrong, for there are plenty of witnesses of the unsurpassable kindness of the man to every body; both his own country which honoured him with brazen statues, and his friends who were so numerous that they could not be contained in whole cities; and all his acquaintances who were bound to him by nothing but the charms of his doctrine, none of whom ever deserted him, except Metrodorus, the son of Stratoniceus, who went over to Carneades, probably because he was not able to bear with equanimity the unapproachable excellence of Epicurus. Also, the perpetual succession of his school, which, when every other school decayed, continued without any falling off, and produced a countless number of philosophers, succeeding one another without any interruption. We may also speak here of his gratitude towards his parents, and his beneficence to his brothers, and his gentleness to his servants (as is plain from his will, and from the fact too, that they united with him in his philosophical studies, and the most eminent of them was the one whom I have mentioned already, named Mus); and his universal philanthropy towards all men.

His piety towards the Gods, and his affection for his country was quite unspeakable; though, from an excess of modesty, he avoided affairs of state. And though he lived when very difficult times oppressed Greece, he still remained in his own country, only going two or three times across to Ionia to see his friends, who used to throng to him from all quarters, and to live with him in his garden, as we are told by Apollodorus. (This garden he bought for eighty minæ.)

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