Selected Fragments

by Epicurus (Ἐπίκουρος)

translated by Peter Saint-Andre (2011)

This translation renders selected fragments of Epicurus from Greek into English. The numbering follows that of Hermann Usener in his 1887 volume Epicurea.

I made the first version of this translation in 2011; as of 2018 I am adding more fragments.

  English Translation Greek Original [note]
2. Lack of mental disturbance and lack of bodily pain are static pleasures, whereas revelry and rejoicing are active pleasures involving movement. ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἀταραξία καὶ <ἡ> ἀπονία καταστηματικαί εἰσιν ἡδοναί. ἡ δὲ χαρὰ καὶ ἡ εὐφροσύνη κατὰ κίνησιν ἐνεργείᾳ βλέπονται.
18. Would a wise person do something that the laws forbid, if he knew he would escape? A simple proof is not easy to find. πράξει τινὰ ὁ σοφὸς ὧν οἱ νόμοι ἀπαγορεύουσιν, εἰδὼς ὅτι λήσει· εὔοδον τὸ ἁπλοῦν κατηγόρημα.
27. Prophecy is impossible, but even if it were possible we would consider what transpires as meaningless to us. μαντικὴ οὖσα ἀνύπαρκτος, εἰ καὶ ὑπαρκτή, οὐδὲν παρʼ ἡμᾶς ἡγητέα τὰ γινόμενα.
67. I do not think I could conceive of the good without the joys of taste, of sex, of hearing, and without the pleasing motions caused by the sight of bodies and forms. οὐδὲ γὰρ ἔγωγε ἔχω τί νοήσω τἀγαθὸν ἀφαιρῶν μὲν τὰς διὰ χυλῶν ἡδονάς, ἀφαιρῶν δὲ τὰς διʼ ἀφροδισίων, ἀφαιρῶν δὲ τὰς διʼ ἀκροαμάτῶν, ἀφαιρῶν δὲ καὶ τὰς διὰ μορφῆς κατʼ ὄψιν ἡδείας κινήσεις.
68. To those who are able to reason it out, the highest and surest joy is found in the stable health of the body and a firm confidence in keeping it. [note] τὸ γὰρ εὐσταθὲς σαρκὸς κατάστημα καὶ τὸ περὶ ταύτης πιστὸν ἔλπισμα τὴν ἀκροτάτην χαρὰν καὶ βεβαιοτάτην ἔχει τοῖς ἐπιλογίζεσθαι δυναμένοις.
70. Beauty and virtue and such are worthy of honor, if they bring joy; but if not then bid them farewell! [note] τιμητέον τὸ καλὸν καὶ τὰς ἀρετὰς καὶ τοιουτότροπα, ἐὰν ἡδονὴν παρασκευάζῃ· ἐὰν δὲ μὴ παρασκευάζῃ χαίρειν ἐατέον.
116. I summon you to sustained enjoyment and not to empty and trifling virtues, which destroy your confidence in the fruits of what you have. ἐγὼ δʼ ἐφʼ ἡδονὰς συνεχεῖς παρακαλῶ καὶ οὐκ ἐπʼ ἀρετὰς κενὰς καὶ ματαίας καὶ ταραχώδεις ἐχούσας τῶν καρπῶν ἐλπίδας.
117. Congratulations: you have entered into the search for wisdom free from all culture. [note] μακαρίζω σε, ᾧ Ἀπελλῆ, ὅτι καθαρὸς πάσης παιδείας ἐπὶ φιλοσοφίαν ὥρμησας.
135. If you want to make Pythocles wealthy, don't increase his riches but reduce his desires. εἰ βούλει πλούσιον Πυθοκλέα ποιῆσαι μὴ χρημάτων προστίθει, τῆς δὲ ἐπιθυμίας ἀφαίρει.
135a. We value self-reliance not so that we will live simply and cheaply in all things, but so that we will not be consumed by them. ἐζηλώσαμεν τὴν αὐτάρκειαν οὐχ ὅπως τοῖς εὐτελέσι καὶ λιτοῖς παντῶς χρώμεθα, ἀλλʼ ὅπως θαρρῶμεν πρὸς αὐτά.
138. I write to you on this blessed day, which at the same time is the last day of my life. My pains accompanying dysentery and urinary blockages cannot be surpassed in their severity; yet countering all that is the joy in my soul at the memory of our past conversations. As is worthy of one who since childhood has been devoted to me and to philosophy, please take care of the children of Metrodorus. τὴν μακαρίαν ἄγοντες καὶ ἅμα τελευτῶντες ἡμέραν τοῦ βίου ἐγράφομεν ὑμῖν ταυτί· στραγγουρικά τε παρηκολούθει καὶ δυσεντερικὰ πάθη ὑπερβολὴν οὐκ ἀπολείποντα τοῦ ἐν ἑαυτοῖς μεγέθους· ἀντιπαρετάτεττο δὲ πᾶσι τούτοις τὸ κατὰ ψυχὴν χαῖρον ἐπὶ τῇ τῶν γεγονότων ἡμῖν διαλογισμῶν μνήμῃ· σὺ δὲ ἀξίως τῆς ἐκ μειρακίου παραστάσεως πρὸς ἐμὲ καὶ φιλοσοφίαν ἐπιμελοῦ τῶν παίδων Μητροδώρου.
163. Embark on your own course: steer clear of all culture. παιδείαν δὲ πᾶσαν, μακάριε, φεῦγε τἀκάτιον ἀράμενος.
181. Living on bread and water, I rejoice in the pleasure of my body and spit upon the pleasures of extravagance, not for what they are but because of the difficulties that follow from them. βρυάζω τῷ κατὰ τὸ σωμάτιον ἡδεῖ, ὕδατι καὶ ἄρτῳ χρώμενος, καὶ προσπτύω ταῖς ἐκ πολυτελείας ἡδοναῖς οὐ διʼ αὐτάς, ἀλλὰ διὰ τὰ ἐξακολουθοῦντα αὐταῖς δυσχερῆ.
182. Send me a little vessel of cheese, so that I can feast whenever I please. πέμψον μοι τυροῦ κυθρίδιον, ἵνʼ ὅταν βούλωμαι πολυτελεύσασθαι δύνωμαι.
187. I never wanted to please the many. What pleased them, I did not learn; and what I learned, was beyond their ken. οὐδέποτε ὠρέχθην τοῖς πολλοῖς ἀρέσκειν, ἃ μὲν γὰρ ἐκείνοις ἤρεσκεν, οὐκ ἔμαθον, ἃ δʼ ᾔδειν ἐγώ μακρὰν ἦν τῆς ἐκείνων αἰσθήσεως.
200. Don't think it unnatural that when the body cries out, the soul cries also. The body says don't be hungry, don't be thirsty, don't be cold. It is difficult for the soul to prevent these cries, and dangerous for it to ignore the commands of nature because of attachment to its usual independence. ἀφυσιολόγητον μηδὲν ἡγοῦ βοώσης τῆς σαρκὸς βοᾶν τὴν ψυχὴν· σαρκὸς δὲ φωνή· μὴ πεινῆν, μὴ διψῆν, μὴ ῥιγοῦν· καὶ ταῦτα τὴν ψυχὴν χαλεπὸν μὲν κωλῦσαι, ἐπισφαλὲς δὲ παρακοῦσαι τῆς παραγγειλάσης φύσεως αὐτῇ τῆς προσφυοῦς αὑτῇ αὐταρκείας καθʼ ἡμέραν.
202. He who follows nature and not groundless opinions is completely self-reliant. With regard to what is enough by nature, everything he owns is a source of wealth; whereas with regard to unlimited desires, even the greatest wealth is poverty. [note] ὁ οὖν τῇ φύσει παρακολουθῶν καὶ μὴ ταῖς κεναῖς δόξαις ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτάρκης· πρὸς γὰρ τὸ τῇ φύσει ἀρκοῦν πᾶσα κτῆσίς ἐστι πλοῦτος, πρὸς δὲ τὰς ἀορίστους ὀρέξεις καὶ ὁ μέγιστος πλοῦτός ἐστι πενία.
203. Insofar as you forget nature, you will find yourself in trouble and create for yourself endless fears and desires. ἐφʼ ὅσον δʼ ἂν ἀμηχανῇς, λήθῃ τῆς φύσεως ἀμηχανεῖς· σαυτῷ γὰρ ἀορίστους φόβους καὶ ἐπιθυμίας προσβάλλεις.
207. Better to lie serene upon a bed of straw than to be full of troubles on a golden chair at an overflowing table. κρεῖσσον δὲ σοι θαρρεῖν ἐπὶ στιβάδος κατακειμένῳ ἢ ταράττεσθαι χρυσῆν ἔχοντι χλίνην καὶ πολυτελῆ τράπεζαν.
213. Sweet is the memory of a dead friend. ἡδὺ ἡ φίλου μνήμη τεθνηκότος.
214. Don't avoid doing small favors, lest you seem to be the same with regard to greater things. μὴ φεῦγε μικρὰ χαρίζεσθαι· δόξεις γὰρ καὶ πρὸς τὰ μεγάλα τοιοῦτος εἶναι.
221. A philosopher's words are empty if they do not heal the suffering of mankind. For just as medicine is useless if it does not remove sickness from the body, so philosophy is useless if it does not remove suffering from the soul. κενὸς ἐκείνου φιλοσόφου λόγος, ὑφʼ οὗ μηδὲν πάθος ἀνθρώπου θεραπεύεται· ὥσπερ γὰρ ἰατρικῆς οὐδὲν ὄφελος μὴ τὰς νόσους τῶν σωμάτων ἐκβαλλούσης, οὕτως οὐδὲ φιλοσοφίας, εἰ μὴ τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς ἐκβάλλει πάθος.
266. From the perspective of the infinite time that has passed, nothing novel occurs in the universe. οὐδὲν ξένον ἐν τῷ παντv ἀποτελεῖται παρὰ τὸν ἤδη γεγενημένον χρόνον ἄπειρον.
388. If god heeded the wishes of men, all men would quickly have died, because they are always wishing evils upon each other. εἰ ταῖς τῶν ἀνθρώπων εὐχαῖς ὁ θεὸς κατηκολούθει, θᾶττον ἄν ἀπώλλυντο πάντες ἄνθρωποι, συνεχῶς πολλὰ καὶ χαλεπὰ κατʼ ἀλλήλων εὐχόμενοι.
409. The beginning and root of all good is the pleasure of the stomach; even wisdom and refinements have reference to this. ἀρχὴ καὶ ῥίζα παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ ἡ τῆς γαστρὸς ἡδονή· καὶ τὰ σοφὰ καὶ τὰ περιττὰ ἐπὶ ταύτην ἔχει τὴv ἀναφοράν.
422. We need pleasure when in pain because of its absence; but when we are not experiencing such pain, and are perceiving stably, then there is no need for pleasure. For it is not the needs of nature which, from outside us, create harm, but desire driven by groundless opinions. τότε χρείαν ἔχομεν τῆς ἡδονῆς, ὅταν ἐκ τοῦ μὴ παρεῖναι αὐτὴν ἀλγῶμεν· ὅταν δὲ τοῦτο μὴ πάσχωμεν ἐν αἰσθήσει καθεστῶτες, τότε οὐδεμία χρεία τῆς ἡδονῆς· οὐ γὰρ ἡ τῆς φύσεως ἔνδεια τὴν ἀδικίαν ποιεῖ ἔξωθεν, ἀλλʼ ἡ περὶ τὰς κενὰς δόξας ὄρεξις.
423. What brings unsurpassed joy is the removal of a great evil; and this is the nature of the good, if you apply your mind rightly and then stand firm and do not stroll about chattering emptily. [note] τὸ γὰρ ποιοῦν ἀνυπέρβλητον γῆθος τὸ πάραυτα πεφυγμένον μέγα κακόν· καὶ αὕτη φύσις ἀγαθοῦ, ἄν τις ὀρθῶς ἐπιβάλῃ. ἔπειτα σταθῇ, καὶ μὴ κενῶς περιπατῇ περὶ θρυλῶν.
442. Although it is better to endure a given pain in order to experience a greater pleasure, it can also be better to abstain from a given pleasure in order to avoid an even greater pain. [note] ἀμεινόν ἐστίν ὑπομεῖναι τούσδε τινὰς τοὺς πόνους, ὅπως ἡσθῶμεν ἡδονὰς μείζους. συμφέρει τῶνδέ τινων ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν ἡδονῶν, ἵνα μὴ ἀλγῶμεν ἀλγηδόνας χαλεπωτέρας.
445. We must not blame the body for the greatest evils nor attribute our troubles to mere circumstance. Instead we seek their cause within the soul: for by giving up every trifling and fleeting desire we give birth to a confidence perfect in itself. [note] μηδὲ αἰτιώμεθα τὴν σάρκα ὡς τῶν μεγάλων κακῶν αἰτίαν μηδʼ εἰς τὰ πράγματα τρέπωμεν τὰς δυσφορίας, ἐν δὲ τῇ ψυχῇ τὰς τούτων αἰτίας μᾶλλον ζητῶμεν καὶ ἀπορρηξαντες πᾶσαν ματαίαν τῶν ἐφημέρων ὄρεξιν καὶ ἐλπίδα ὅλοι γενώμεθα ἑαυτῶν.
457. Passion for true philosophy destroys every disturbing and troublesome desire. [note] ἔρωτι φιλοσοφίας ἀληθινῆς πᾶσα ταραχώδης καὶ ἐπίπονος ἐπιθυμία ἐκλύεται.
469. Praise be to blessed Nature: she has made what is necessary easy to get, and what is not easy to get unnecessary. χάρις τῇ μακαρίᾳ φύσει ὅτι τὰ ἀναγκαῖα ἐποίησεν εὐπόριστα, τὰ δὲ δυσπόριστα οὐκ ἀναγκαῖα.
471. It is rare to find a man who is poor with regard to the aims of nature and rich in groundless desires. For a fool is never satisfied with what he has, but instead is distressed about what he doesn't have. Just as those who are feverish through the evil of their sickness are always thirsty and desiring the opposite of what they should, so those whose souls are in a bad condition are always poor in everything and through their greed fall into ever-changing desires. [note] σπάνιόν γε εὑρεῖν ἄνθρωπον <πένητα> πρὸς τὸ τῆς φύσεως τέλος καὶ πλούσιον πρὸς τὰς κενὰς δόξας. οὐδεὶς γὰρ τῶν ἀφρόνων οἷς ἔχει ἀρκεῖται, μᾶλλον δὲ οἷς οὐκ ἔχει ὀδυνᾶται. ὥσπερ οὖν οἱ πυρέττοντες διὰ κακοήθειαν τῆς νόσου ἀεὶ διψῶσι καὶ τῶν ἐναντιωτάτων ἐπιθυμοῦσιν, οὕτω καὶ οἱ τὴν ψυχὴν κακῶς ἔχοντες διακειμένην πένονται πάντων ἀεὶ καὶ εἰς πολυτρόπους ἐπιθυμίας ὑπὸ λαιμαργίας ἐμπίπτουσιν.
476. Self-reliance is the greatest wealth of all. πλουσιώτατον αὐτάρκεια πάντων.
478. Fearing an austere way of life, most people end up doing things that are exceedingly likely to result in fear. φοβούμενος ὁ πολὺς τὸ λιτὸν τῆς διαίτης διὰ τὸν φόβον ἐπὶ πράξεις πορεύεται τὰς μάλιστʼ ἂν τοῦτον παρασκευαζούσας.
479. Many of those who happen into wealth are not liberated from their troubles but merely swap them for greater ills. πολλοὶ τοῦ πλούτου τυχόντες οὔ τινʼ ἀπαλλαγὴν τῶν κακῶν εὗρον ἀλλὰ μεταβολὴν μειζόνων.
480. If you work like a dog you'll have piles of stuff but a miserable life. ἐξ ἐργασίας θηριώδους οὐσίας μὲν πλῆθος σωρεύεται, βίος δὲ ταλαίπωρος συνίσταται.
485. Unhappiness is caused by fears, or by endless and empty desires; but he who is able to rein these in creates for himself a blissful understanding. ἢ γὰρ διὰ φόβον τις κακοδαιμονεῖ ἢ διʼ ἀόριστον καὶ κενὴν ἐπιθυμίαν· ἅ τις χαλινῶν δύναται τὸν μακάριον ἑαυτῷ περιποιῆσαι λογισμόν.
486. Pain does not consist in being deprived of things, but rather in bearing the avoidable distress caused by groundless opinion. οὐκ ἀπορεῖν τούτων πόνος ἐστίν, ἀλλὰ φέρειν μᾶλλον τὸν ἀνόνητον ἐκ τῶν κενῶν δοξῶν πόνον.
488. The ignoble soul is inflated by good fortune and deflated by misfortune. ἡ ταπεινὴ ψυχὴ τοῖς μὲν εὐημερήμασιν ἐχαυνώθη, ταῖς δὲ συμφοραῖς καθῃρέθη.
489. Nature teaches us to think nothing of what fortune brings, to understand that when prospering we are unfortunate and when not prospering we are fortunate, to receive undisturbed the good things that fortune brings and to stand ready for its seeming evils. For what is good or evil to most people is fleeting, and wisdom has nothing in common with fortune. καὶ τὰ παρὰ τῆς τύχης μικρότερα (ἡ φύσις) διδάσκει νομίζειν, καὶ εὐτυχοῦντας μὲν γινώσκειν ἀτυχεῖν, δυστυχοῦντας δὲ μὴ παρὰ μέγα τίθεσθαι ὄν τὸ εὐτυχεῖν, καὶ δέχεσθαι μὲν ἀθορύβως τὰ παρὰ τῆς τύχης ἀγαθά, παρατετάχσθαι δὲ πρὸς τὰ παρʼ αὐτῆς δοκοῦντα εἶναι κακά· ὡς ἐφήμερον μὲν πᾶν τὸ τῶν πολλῶν ἀγαθόν ἐστι καὶ κακὸν, σοφία δὲ οὐδαμῶς τύχῃ κοινωνεῖ.
490. He who needs tomorrow least, most gladly greets the coming day. ὁ τῆς αὔριον ἥκιστα δεόμενος ἥδιστα πρόσεισι πρὸς τὴν αὔριον.
512. I spit upon beauty and those who admire it, if it brings no joy. προπτύω τῷ καλῷ καὶ τοῖς κενῶς αὐτὸ θαυμάζουσιν, ὅταν μηδεμίαν ἡδονὴν σοιῇ.
519. The greatest fruit of justice is serenity. δικαιοσύνης καρπὸς μέγιστος ἀταραξία.
530. Laws are made for the wise: not to keep them from doing wrong, but to keep them from being wronged. οἱ νόμοι χάριν τῶν σοφῶν κεῖνται, οὐχ ὅπως μὴ ἀδικῶσιν, ἀλλʼ ὅπως μὴ ἀδικῶνται.
533. He who has achieved the goal of his kind is equally good even if no one else is present. οὐ παρόντος οὐδενὸς ὁ κεκτημένος [τὸ τοῦ] γένους τέ[λ]ος [πα]ρα[πλησίω]ς ἐστὶν ἀγαθ[ός.]
537. He who causes fear cannot be without fear. οὐκ ἔστιν ἄφοβον εἶναι φοβορὸν φαινόμενον.
548. Happiness and bliss are produced not by great riches nor vast possessions nor exalted occupations nor positions of power, but rather by peace of mind, freedom from pain, and a disposition of the soul that sets its limits in accordance with nature. τὸ εὔδαιμον καὶ μακάριον οὐ χρημάτων πλῆθος οὐδὲ πραγμάτων ὄγκος οὐδʼ ἀρχαί τινες ἔχουσιν οὐδὲ δυνάμεις, ἀλλʼ ἀλυπία καὶ πραότης παθῶν καὶ διάθεσις ψυχῆς τὸ κατὰ φύσιν ὁρίζουσα.
551. Live unknown. [note] λάθε βιώσας.

Translator's Notes

[0] The English translation is provided under Creative Commons CC0 (for details, refer to the Publisher's Note). The Greek text is in the public domain. The text provided here generally follows that of Hermann Usener as published in his Epicurea (1887), with some attention paid to the texts of G. Arrighetti as published in Epicuro Opere (Torino: Giulio Einaudi Editore, 1960) and of A.A. Long and D.N. Sedley as published in Volume 2 of The Hellenistic Philosophers (Cambridge University Press, 1987). I have not included fragments whose meaning is very close to paragraphs from the Letter to Menoikos, the Principal Doctrines or the Vatican Sayings (e.g., fragments 447, 473, and 532), nor have I translated any fragments from Latin since those cannot possibly represent the exact words of Epicurus. [back]

[68] For related thoughts, see Vatican Saying #33. [back]

[70] When Epicurus says "if they bring pleasure", he means "if they cause no harm, do not require excessive struggle, and alleviate either bodily pain or psychological distress" -- see Vatican Saying #21, Principal Doctrine #21, Principal Doctrine #3, etc. [back]

[117] By "culture" Epicurus means the traditional form of ancient Greek enculturation and socialization (παιδεία), which he seems to have thought of as something close to indoctrination. [back]

[202] Regarding self-reliance, see Letter to Menoikos, Section 130, Vatican Saying #44, Principal Doctrine #14, etc. [back]

[423] On the simultaneity of removing a great evil and creating a great good, see Vatican Saying #42. The phrase "strolling about" (περιπατῇ) is a jibe at the Aristotelians (also called the Peripatetics), since Aristotle was known to teach while strolling about the grounds of his school in Athens. [back]

[442] On weighing the costs and benefits of pleasures and pains, see Letter to Menoikos, Section 129 and Vatican Saying #73. [back]

[445] Epicurus discusses the role of chance in life at Letter to Menoikos, Section 133 [back]

[457] The word I have rendered as "passion" is ἔρως; thus for Epicurus the love of wisdom is an erotic emotion! [back]

[471] In the second chapter of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle characterizes desires as groundless and trifling (κενὴν καὶ ματαίαν) if they are not related to or subsumed under an overarching goal of life; in this fragment and in Fragment 442, Epicurus applies the same terms to certain kinds of desires. [back]

[551] What does it mean to "live unknown"? It seems to mean that it is best to live one's life hidden from public view, unseen by prying eyes, unnoticed by the many, without fame or celebrity — even to go through life in secret. There are connections here to Epicurus's disdain for conventional culture, his raising of the simple pleasures above traditional Greek values like fame (κλέος), and his advice to not get involved in public affairs (Vatican Saying #58). [back]

Publisher's Note

The Greek text provided here is in the public domain.

The translator has provided the following statement regarding the copyright of his translation:

I, Peter Saint-Andre, made this translation of the Selected Fragments of Epicurus from Greek into English in the year 2011. By licensing this translation under Creative Commons CC0, I hereby release all legal and economic rights to this translation under all jurisdictions (including but not limited to the rights to copy, republish, translate, arrange, modify, and make derivative works from this translation), and I grant anyone the right to use this translation without conditions for any purpose. My intent is that this translation shall be free from all claims of copyright and therefore dedicated directly into the public domain.


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Last Updated: 2013-06-04

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