Ben Gazur's "Why Epicurus Matters Today", an article for The Mantle, argues that "It is time to bring back Epicurus and hear what he has to say."
Gazur summarizes some of what the ancient philosopher Epicurus of Samos (341–270 B.C.) had to say:
"The sane and thoughtful pursuit of pleasure is the key to living well."
"Ask of each thing is it natural and is it necessary."
"Practice moderation for the maximization of pleasure."
The problems Epicurus thought he solved are timeless. Human nature changes only slowly and the laws of nature not all. His is a voice that perhaps came into the world too early.
Gazur retells a tale of Plutarch's about a philosophical dinner shared by the Epicurean philosopher Cineas and the Pyrrhus (319/318–272 B.C.), the King of Epirus who was an antagonist of early Rome.
Cineas asked the king, “Once you have beaten the Romans what shall we do?”
“Once the Romans are conquered we shall have all the riches of Italy at our disposal,” Pyrrhus answered.
Cineas paused, probably sipped from his wine and asked, “And what will we do then?”
Sicily is near! It will be an easy victory.”
Cineas thought a moment more. ”And then what shall we do?”
"Then we will take Libya and Carthage,” the king replied.
"What will we do after that?”
"We will secure all of the Greek world under my rule,” the king nodded at the thought.
“But what will we do then?” Cineas asked.
“Ah, my friend,” said Pyrrhus, ”then we shall rest. We will drink wine, and talk philosophy, and enjoy the fruits of our friendship.”
Cineas looked around. They had wine. They had friendship. They were talking. “Can’t we do what you wish now without harming anyone with war or causing pain to ourselves?”
Cineas’s question is one we must all answer. Why are we doing what we are doing? We live such busy lives with so many pressing matters that we never pause to consider what the point of it all is. Might we not be like Pyrrhus, rushing to act before we know why we doing anything at all?
Epicurus was also an atomist and rejected mysticism. He believed that the gods, if they existed, were themselves made of atoms and had no care about or involvement in human affairs.
See: The "Principal Doctrines" — a collection of forty quotes from the writings of Epicurus.
Photo by bijouchatte: Epicurus. (Pentelic marble, late A.D. 100s; Louvre, Paris.)