How to Read Poetry about Gods
Diogenes Laertius preserves two contrasting case studies of how Epicurus came to philosophy. While both come equipped with authoritative pedigrees (and one of these impeccable), neither version is particular compelling, especially given of the hodge-podge nature of Diogenes' biography1 and the working methods of Hellenistic biographers. To make matters worse, the two accounts appear to be mutually exclusive. Taken together, however, the two anecdotes epitomize in its complexity and ambivalence the Epicurean attitude toward traditional literature, poetry, and paideia.
On good Epicurean authority, Diogenes first relates that Epicurus turned to philosophy as a youth out of disgust at the schoolmasters because they could not tell him the meaning of Chaos in Hesiod.2 We are to think of a precocious Epicurus in his perplexity coming upon the description of Chaos in the reading of Hesiod set for him by his schoolmaster ( Theogony116 "and first there was Chaos").3 When the grammar teachers fail miserably one after another in their attempts to answer the question: "What, then, preceded Chaos?" he goes off in a huff to the philosophers. Epicurus would certainly not have been the first to query the primacy of Chaos: religious____________________