A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine

By Karsten Friis Johansen | Go to book overview

27

EPICURUS

When the life of man lay foul to see and grovelling upon the earth, crushed by the weight of religion, which showed her face from the realms of heaven, lowering upon mortals with dreadful mien, 'twas a man of Greece who dared first to raise his mortal eyes to meet her, and first to stand forth to meet her: him neither the stories of the gods nor thunderbolts checked, nor the sky with its revengeful roar, but all the more spurred the eager daring of his mind to yearn to be the first to break through the close-set bolts upon the doors of nature. And so it was that the lively force of his mind won its way, and he passed on far beyond the fiery walls of the world, and in mind and spirit traversed the boundless whole; whence in victory he brings us tidings what can come to be and what cannot, yea and in what way each thing has its power limited, and its deep-set boundary stone. And so religion in revenge is cast beneath men's feet and trampled, and victory raises us to heaven.

(Lucr. De rer. nat. I 62 ff.; trans. Bailey)

This exalted eulogy honours Epicurus. It was written more than 200 hundred years after his death by the Roman poet Lucretius, one among many enthusiastic adherents. After Pythagoras (and Empedocles?) Epicurus is probably the only philosopher in the West who gained the honour of being worshipped-almost-as a god, the saviour who had freed mankind from fear and terror. He himself is not without responsibility for this image. He had not only a philosophy but a message and he liked to present himself as an autodidact: nobody had taught him anything; he himself had found the truth. Yet he was more than a self-appointed guru. In his school-Epicurus' 'garden'-he realized his own ideal of life, to live with his friends and students in restful peace and joy, unaffected by the noise of the world. His like-minded friends met him with devotion; he is praised for his mildness and unselfishness (cf. Diog. Laert. X 9 ff.), and preserved letters to his circle show both his charm and warmth (cf. 5 ff.). He has often been underrated as a philosopher; as a psycho-therapist he surely cannot be overrated.

Not everybody considered Epicurus a mild and wise father-figure and guardian of the truth. Lucretius' contemporary, Cicero, evaluates him coolly as a philosopher: as a rule Epicurus, according to Cicero, follows Democritus, but when he tries to be independent he makes a fool of himself; his physics is queer and his ethics inconsistent,

-423-

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A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Presocratic Philosophy 9
  • 1 - Myth, Poetry and Philosophy 11
  • 2 - Ionian Natural Philosophy 20
  • 3 - Heraclitus 29
  • 4 - The Pythagoreans 36
  • 5 - The Eleatics 45
  • 6 - Post-Parmenidean Natural Philosophy 59
  • 7 - Medical Science 79
  • Part II - The Great Century of Athens 83
  • 8 - Pericles' Athens 85
  • 9 - Tragedy and View of History 88
  • 10 - The Sophists 99
  • 11 - Socrates 118
  • Part III - Plato 137
  • 12 - Life, Works and Position 139
  • 13 - What is Virtue? Can Virtue Be Taught? 160
  • 14 - Idea and Man 173
  • 15 - The Good Constitution of State and Man 198
  • 16 - The Late Dialogues: Knowledge and Being 213
  • 17 - The Late Dialogues: Nature, Man and Society 236
  • 18 - Plato and the Early Academy 254
  • Part IV - Aristotle 267
  • 19 - Life, Works and Position 269
  • 20 - Logic and Theory of Science 293
  • 21 - Natural Philosophy and Psychology 316
  • 22 - Metaphysics and Theology 343
  • 23 - Ethics and Politics 366
  • 24 - Rhetoric and Poetics 392
  • 25 - The Early Peripatetics 400
  • Part V - Hellenistic Philosophy 405
  • 26 - Science and Philosophy 407
  • 27 - Epicurus 423
  • 28 - Early Stoicism 442
  • 29 - Scepticism 471
  • 30 - Greece and Rome 484
  • Part VI - Late Antiquity 499
  • 31 - Imperial Rome 501
  • 32 - Plotinus 532
  • 33 - Late Neoplatonism 556
  • 34 - Early Christian Thought 569
  • 35 - Augustine 588
  • Abbreviations General 625
  • Bibliography 639
  • Index 663
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