Principal Doctrines

by Epicurus (Ἐπίκουρος)

translated by Peter Saint-Andre (2008)


  English Translation Greek Original [note]
1. That which is blissful and immortal has no troubles itself, nor does it cause trouble for others, so that it is not affected by anger or gratitude (for all such things come about through weakness). [note] τὸ μακάριον καὶ ἄφθαρτον οὔτε αὐτὸ πράγματα ἔχει οὔτε ἄλλῳ παρέχει· ὥστε οὔτε ὀργαῖς οὔτε χάρισι συνέχεται· ἐν ἀσθενεῖ γὰρ πᾶν τὸ τοιοῦτον.
2. Death is nothing to us; for what has disintegrated lacks awareness, and what lacks awareness is nothing to us. [note] ὁ θάνατος οὐδὲν πρὸς ἡμᾶς· τὸ γὰρ διαλυθὲν ἀναισθητεῖ, τὸ δʼἀναισθητοῦν οὐδὲν πρὸς ἡμᾶς.
3. The limit of enjoyment is the removal of all pains. Wherever and for however long pleasure is present, there is neither bodily pain nor mental distress. [note] ὅρος τοῦ μεγέθους τῶν ἡδονῶν ἡ παντὸς τοῦ ἀλγοῦντος ὑπεξαίρεσις. ὅπου δʼἂν τὸ ἡδόμενον ἐνῇ, καθʼὃν ἂν χρόνον ᾖ, ουκ ἔστι τὸ ἀλγοῦν ἢ λυπούμενον ἢ τὸ συναμφότερον.
4. Pain does not last continuously in the flesh; instead, the sharpest pain lasts the shortest time, a pain that exceeds bodily pleasure lasts only a few days, and diseases that last a long time involve delights that exceed their pains. [note] οὐ χρονίζει τὸ ἀλγοῦν συνεχῶς ἐν τῇ σαρκί, ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν ἄκρον τὸν ἐλάχιστον χρόνον πάρεστι, τὸ δὲ μόνον ὑπερτεῖνον τὸ ἡδόμενον κατὰ σάρκα οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας συμβαίνει· αἱ δὲ πολυχρόνιοι τῶν ἀρρωστιῶν πλεονάζον ἔχουσι τὸ ἡδόμενον ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ ἤπερ τὸ ἀλγοῦν.
5. It is not possible to live joyously without also living wisely and beautifully and rightly, nor to live wisely and beautifully and rightly without living joyously; and whoever lacks this cannot live joyously. [note] οὐκ ἔστιν ἡδέως ζῆν ἄνευ τοῦ φρονίμως καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως <οὐδὲ φρονίμως καὶ καλῶς καὶ δικαίως> ἄνευ τοῦ ἡδέως· ὅτῳ δὲ τοῦτο μὴ ὑπάρχει, οὐχ ἔστι τοῦτον ἡδέως ζῆν.
6. It is a natural benefit of leadership and kingship to take courage from other men (or at least from the sort of men who can give one courage). [note] ἕνεκα τοῦ θαρρεῖν ἐξ ανθρώπων ἦν κατὰ φύσιν ἀρχῆς καὶ βασιλείας ἀγαθόν, ἐξ ὧν ἄν ποτε τοῦτο οἷός τʼᾖ παρασκευάζεσθαι.
7. Some people want to be well esteemed and widely admired, believing that in this way they will be safe from others; if the life of such people is secure then they have gained its natural benefit, but if not then they have not gained what they sought from the beginning in accordance with what is naturally appropriate. [note] ἔνδοξοι καὶ περίβλεπτοί τινες ἐβουλήθησαν γενέσθαι, τὴν ἐξ ἀνθρώπων ἀσφάλειαν οὕτω νομίζοντες περιποιήσεσθαι ὤστε, εἰ μὲν ἀσφαλὴς ὁ τῶν τοιούτων βίος, ἀπέλαβον τὸ τῆς φύσεως ἀγαθόν· εἰ δὲ μὴ ἀσφαλὴς, οὐκ ἔχουσιν οὗ ἕνεκα ἐξ ἀρχῆς κατὰ τὸ τῆς φύσεως οἰκεῖον ὠρέχθησαν.
8. No pleasure is bad in itself; but the means of paying for some pleasures bring with them disturbances many times greater than the pleasures themselves. [note] οὐδεμία ἡδονὴ καθʼἑαυτὴν κακόν· ἀλλὰ τὰ τινῶν ἡδονῶν ποιητικὰ πολλαπλασίους ἐπιφέρει τὰς οχλήσεις τῶν ἡδονῶν.
9. If every pleasure were condensed and were present at the same time and in the whole of one's nature or its primary parts, then the pleasures would never differ from one another. εἰ κατεπυκνοῦτο πᾶσα ἡδονὴ τ<όπ>ῳ καὶ χρόνῳ καὶ περὶ ὅλον τὸ ἄθροισμα ὑπῆρχεν ἢ τὰ κυριώτατα μέρη τῆς φύσεως, οὐκ ἄν ποτε διέφερον ἀλλήλων αἱ ἡδοναί.
10. If the things that produce the delights of those who are decadent washed away the mind's fears about astronomical phenomena and death and suffering, and furthermore if they taught us the limits of our pains and desires, then we would have no complaints against them, since they would be filled with every joy and would contain not a single pain or distress (and that's what is bad). [note] εἰ τὰ ποιητικὰ τῶν περὶ τοὺς ἀσώτους ἡδονῶν ἔλυε τοὺς φόβους τῆς διανοίας τούς τε περὶ μετεώρων καὶ θανάτου καὶ ἀλγηδόνων, ἔτι τε τὸ πέρας τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν <καὶ τῶν ἀλγηδόνων> ἐδίδασκεν, οὐκ ἄν ποτε εἴχομεν ὅ τι μεμψαίμεθα αὐτοῖς πανταχόθεν ἐκπληρουμένοις τῶν ἡδονῶν καὶ οὐδαμόθεν οὔτε τὸ ἀλγοῦν οὔτε τὸ λυπούμενον ἔχουσιν, ὅπερ ἐστὶ τὸ κακόν.
11. If our suspicions about astronomical phenomena and about death were nothing to us and troubled us not at all, and if this were also the case regarding our ignorance about the limits of our pains and desires, then we would have no need for studying what is natural. [note] εἰ μηθὲν ἡμᾶς αἱ τῶν μετεώρων ὑποψίαι ἠνώχλουν καὶ αἱ περὶ θανάτου, μήποτε πρὸς ἡμᾶς ᾖ τι, ἔτι τε τὸ μὴ κατανοεῖν τοὺς ὅρους τῶν ἀλγηδόνων καὶ τῶν επιθυμιῶν, οὐκ ἄν προσεδεόμεθα φυσιολογίας.
12. It is impossible for someone who is completely ignorant about nature to wash away his fears about the most important matters if he retains some suspicions about the myths. So it is impossible to experience undiluted enjoyment without studying what is natural. [note] οὐκ ἦν τὸ φοβούμενον λύειν ὑπὲρ τῶν κυριωτάτων μὴ κατειδότα τίς ἡ τοῦ σύμπαντος φύσις, ἀλλʼ ὑποπτεύοντά τι τῶν κατὰ τοὺς μύθους· ὥστε οὐκ ἦν ἄνευ φυσιολογίας ἀκεραίους τὰς ἡδονὰς ἀπολαμβάνειν.
13. It is useless to be safe from other people while retaining suspicions about what is above and below the earth and in general about the infinite unknown. [note] οὐθὲν ὄφελος ἦν τὴν κατὰ ἀνθρώπους ἀσφάλειαν παρασκευάζεσθαι τῶν ἄνωθεν ὑπόπτων καθεστώτων καὶ τῶν ὑπὸ γῆς καὶ ἁπλῶς τῶν ἐν τῷ ἀπείρῳ.
14. Although some measure of safety from other people is based in the power to fight them off and in abundant wealth, the purest security comes from solitude and breaking away from the herd. [note] τῆς ἀσφαλείας τῆς ἐξ ἀνθρώπων γενομένης μέχρι τινὸς δυνάμει τε ἐξερειστικῇ καὶ εὐπορίᾳ, εἰλικρινεστάτη γίνεται ἡ ἐκ τῆς ἡσυχίας καὶ ἐκχωρήσεως τῶν πολλῶν ἀσφάλεια.
15. Natural wealth is both limited and easy to acquire, but the riches incited by groundless opinion have no end. [note] ὁ τῆς φύσεως πλοῦτος καὶ ὥρισται καὶ εὐπόριστός ἐστιν, ὁ δὲ τῶν κενῶν δοξῶν εἰς ἄπειρον ἐκπίπτει.
16. Chance steals only a bit into the life of a wise person: for throughout the complete span of his life the greatest and most important matters have been, are, and will be directed by the power of reason. [note] βραχέα σοφῷ τύχη παρεμπίπτει, τὰ δὲ μέγιστα καὶ κυριώτατα ὁ λογισμὸς διῴκηκε καὶ κατὰ τὸν συνεχῆ χρόνον τοῦ βίου διοικεῖ καὶ διοικήσει.
17. One who acts aright is utterly steady and serene, whereas one who goes astray is full of trouble and confusion. [note] ὁ δίκαιος ἀταρακτότατος, ὁ δʼ ἄδικος πλείστης ταραχῆς γήμων.
18. As soon as the pain produced by the lack of something is removed, pleasure in the flesh is not increased but only embellished. Yet the limit of enjoyment in the mind is produced by reasoning out these very things and similar things, which once provoked the greatest fears in the mind. οὐκ ἀπαύξετι ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ ἡ ἡδονή, ἐπειδὰν ἅπαξ τὸ κατʼ ἔνδειαν ἀλγοῦν ἐξαιρεθῇ, ἀλλὰ μόνον ποικίλλεται. τῆς δὲ διανοίας τὸ πέρας τὸ κατὰ τὴν ἡδονὴν ἀπεγέννησεν ἥ τε τούτων αὐτῶν ἐκλόγισις καὶ τῶν ὁμογενῶν τούτοις, ὅσα τοὺς μεγίστους φόβους παρεσκεύαζε τῇ διανοίᾳ.
19. Finite time and infinite time contain the same amount of joy, if its limits are measured out through reasoning. [note] ὁ ἄπειρος χρόνος ἴσην ἔχει τὴν ἡδονὴν καὶ ὁ πεπερασμένος, ἐάν τις αὐτῆς τὰ πέρατα καταμετρήσῃ τῷ λογισμῷ.
20. The flesh assumes that the limits of joy are infinite, and that infinite joy can be produced only through infinite time. But the mind, reasoning out the goal and limits of the flesh and dissolving fears about eternity, produces a complete way of life and therefore has no need of infinite time; yet the mind does not flee from joy, nor when events cause it to exit from life does it look back as if it has missed any aspect of the best life. ἡ μὲν σὰρξ ἀπέλαβε τὰ πέρατα τῆς ἡδονῆς ἄπειρα καὶ ἄπειρος αὐτὴν χρόνος παρεσκεύασεν· ἡ δὲ διάνοια τοῦ τῆς σαρκὸς τέλους καὶ πέρατος λαβοῦσα τὸν ἐπιλογισμὸν καὶ τοὺς ὑπὲρ τοῦ αἰῶνος φόβους ἐκλύσασα τὸν παντελῆ βίον παρεσκεύασε, καὶ οὐθὲν ἔτι τοῦ ἀπείρου χρόνου προσεδεήθη· ἀλλʼ οὔτε ἔφυγε τὴν ἡδονὴν οὐδʼ ἡνίκα τὴν ἐξαγωγὴν ἐκ τοῦ ζῆν τὰ πράγματα παρεσκεύαζεν, ὡς ἐλλείπουσά τι τοῦ ἀρίστου βίου κατέστρεψεν. [note]
21. One who perceives the limits of life knows how easy it is to expel the pain produced by a lack of something and to make one's entire life complete; so that there is no need for the things that are achieved through struggle. [note] ὁ τὰ πέρατα τοῦ βίου κατειδὼς οἶδεν ὡς εὐπόριστόν ἐστι τὸ <τὸ> ἀλγοῦν κατʼ ἔνδειαν ἐξαιροῦν καὶ τὸ τὸν ὅλον βίον παντελῆ καθιστάν· ὥστε οὐδὲν προσδεῖται πραγμάτων ἀγῶνας κεκτημένων.
22. You must reflect on the fundamental goal and everything that is clear, to which opinions are referred; if you do not, all will be full of trouble and confusion. [note] τὸ ὑφεστηκὸς δεῖ τέλος ἐπιλογίζεσθαι καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν ἐνάργειαν, ἐφʼ ἣν τὰ δοξαζόμενα ἀνάγομεν· εἰ δὲ μὴ πάντα ἀκρισίας καὶ ταραχῆς ἔσται μεστά.
23. If you fight against all your perceptions, you will have nothing to refer to in judging those which you declare to be false. [note] εἰ μαχῇ πάσαις ταῖς αἰσθήσεσιν, οὐχ ἕξεις οὐδʼ ἃς ἂν φῇς αὐτῶν διεψεῦσθαι πρὸς τί ποιούμενος τὴν ἀγωγὴν κρίνῃς.
24. If you reject a perception outright and do not distinguish between your opinion about what will happen after, what came before, your feelings, and all the layers of imagination involved in your thoughts, then you will throw your other perceptions into confusion because of your trifling opinions; as a result, you will reject the very criterion of truth. And if when forming concepts from your opinions you treat as confirmed everything that will happen and what you do not witness thereafter, then you will not avoid what is false, so that you will remove all argument and all judgment about what is and is not correct. εἰ τινʼ ἐκβαλεῖς ἁπλῶς αἴσθησιν καὶ μὴ διαιρήσεις τὸ δοξαζόμενον καὶ τὸ προσμένον καὶ τὸ παρὸν ἤδη κατὰ τὴν αἴσθησιν καὶ τὰ πάθη καὶ πᾶσαν φανταστικὴν ἐπιβολὴν τῆς διανοίας, συνταράξεις καὶ τὰς λοιπὰς αἰσθήσεις τῇ ματαίῳ δόξῃ, ὥστε τὸ κριτήριον ἅπαν ἐκβαλεῖς· εἰ δὲ βεβαιώσεις καὶ τὸ προσμένον ἅπαν ἐν ταῖς δοξαστικαῖς ἐννοίαις καὶ τὸ μὴ τὴν ἐπιμαρτύρησιν <ἔχον>, οὐκ ἐκλείψεις τὸ διεψευσμένον, ὡς τετηρηκὼς ἔσῃ πᾶσαν ἀμφισβήτησιν κατὰ πᾶσαν κρίσιν τοῦ ὀρθῶς ἢ μὴ ὀρθῶς.
25. If at all critical times you do not connect each of your actions to the natural goal of life, but instead turn too soon to some other kind of goal in thinking whether to avoid or pursue something, then your thoughts and your actions will not be in harmony. εἰ μὴ παρὰ πάντα καιρὸν ἐπανοίσεις ἕκαστον τῶν πραττομένων ἐπὶ τὸ τέλος τῆς φύσεως, ἀλλὰ προκαταστρέψεις εἴτε φυγὴν εἴτε δίωξιν ποιούμενος εἰς ἄλλο τι, οὐκ ἔσονταί σοι τοῖς λόγοις αἱ πράξεις ἀκόλουθοι.
26. The desires that do not bring pain when they go unfulfilled are not necessary; indeed they are easy to reject if they are hard to achieve or if they seem to produce harm. [note] τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν ὅσαι μὴ ἐπʼ ἀλγοῦν ἐπανάγουσιν ἐὰν μὴ συμπληρῶσιν, οὐκ εἰσιν ἀναγκαῖαι, ἀλλʼ εὐδιάχυτον τὴν ὄρεξιν ἔχουσιν, ὅταν δυσπορίστων ἤ βλάβης ἀπεργαστικαὶ δόξωσιν εἶναι.
27. Of all the things that wisdom provides for the complete happiness of one's entire life, by far the greatest is friendship. [note] ὧν ἡ σοφία παρασκευάζεται εἰς τὴν τοῦ ὅλου βίου μακαριότητα πολὺ μέγιστόν ἐστιν ἡ τῆς φιλίας κτῆσις.
28. The same judgment produces confidence that dreadful things are not everlasting, and that security amidst the limited number of dreadful things is most easily achieved through friendship. ἡ αὐτὴ γνώμη θαρρεῖν τε ἐποίησεν ὑπὲρ τοῦ μηθὲν αἰώνιον εἶναι δεινὸν μηδὲ πολυχρόνιον καὶ τὴν ἐν αὐτοῖς τοῖς ὡρισμένοις ἀσφάλειαν φιλίας μάλιστα κατεῖδε συντελουμένην.
29. Among desires, some are natural and necessary, some are natural and unnecessary, and some are unnatural and unnecessary (arising instead from groundless opinion). [note] τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν αἱ μέν εἰσι φυσικαὶ καὶ <ἀναγκαῖαι, αἱ δὲ φυσικαὶ καὶ> οὐκ ἀναγκαῖαι, αἱ δὲ οὔτε φυσικαὶ οὔτε ἀναγκαῖαι, ἀλλὰ παρὰ κενὴν δόξαν γινόμεναι.
30. Among natural desires, those that do not bring pain when unfulfilled and that require intense exertion arise from groundless opinion; and such desires fail to be stamped out not by nature but because of the groundless opinions of humankind. ἐν αἷς τῶν φυσικῶν ἐπιθμιῶν μὴ ἐπʼ ἀλγοῦν δὲ ἐπαναγουσῶν ἐὰν μὴ συντελεσθῶσιν, ὑπάρχει ἡ σπουδὴ σύντονος, παρὰ κενὴν δόξαν αὗται γίνονται, καὶ οὐ παρὰ τὴν ἑαυτῶν φύσιν οὐ διαχέονται ἀλλὰ παρὰ τὴν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου κενοδοξίαν.
31. Natural justice is a covenant for mutual benefit, to not harm one another or be harmed. [note] τὸ τῆς φύσεως δίκαιόν ἐστι σύμβολον τοῦ συμφέροντος εἰς τὸ μὴ βλάπτειν ἀλλήλους μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι.
32. With regard to those animals that do not have the power of making a covenant to not harm one another or be harmed, there is neither justice nor injustice; similarly for those peoples who have neither the power nor the desire of making a covenant to not harm one another or be harmed. ὅσα τῶν ζῴων μὴ ἐδύνατο συνθήκας ποιεῖσθαι τὰς ὑπὲρ τοῦ μὴ βλάπτειν ἄλληλα μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι, πρὸς ταῦτα οὐθὲν ἦν δίκαιον οὐδὲ ἄδικον· ὡσαύτως δὲ καὶ τῶν ἐθνῶν ὅσα μὴ ἐδύνατο ἢ μὴ ἐβούλετο τὰς συνθήκας ποιεῖσθαι τὰς ὑπὲρ τοῦ μὴ βλάπτειν μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι.
33. Justice does not exist in itself; instead, it is always a compact to not harm one another or be harmed, which is agreed upon by those who gather together at some time and place. [note] οὐκ ἦν τι καθʼ ἑαυτὸ δικαιοσύνη, ἀλλʼ ἐν ταῖς μετʼ ἀλλήλων συστροφαῖς καθʼ ὁπηλίκους δήποτε ἀεὶ τόπους συνθήκη τις ὑπὲρ τοῦ μὴ βλάπτειν ἢ βλάπτεσθαι.
34. Injustice is not bad in itself, but only because of the fear caused by a suspicion that you will not avoid those who are appointed to punish wrongdoing. ἡ ἀδικία οὐ καθʼ ἑαυτὴν κακόν, ἀλλʼ ἐν τῷ κατὰ τὴν ὑποψίαν φόβῳ, εἰ μὴ λήσει τοὺς ὑπὲρ τῶν τοιούτων ἐφεστηκότας κολαστάς.
35. It is impossible to be confident that you will escape detection when secretly doing something contrary to an agreement to not harm one another or be harmed, even if currently you do so countless times; for until your death you will be uncertain that you have escaped detection. [note] οὐκ ἔστι τὸν λάθρα τι ποιοῦντα ὧν συνέθεντο πρὸς ἀλλήλους εἰς τὸ μὴ βλάπτειν μηδὲ βλάπτεσθαι τιστεύειν ὅτι λήσει, κἄν μυριάκις ἐπὶ τοῦ παρόντος λαθάνῃ· μέχρι γὰρ καταστροφῆς ἄδηλον εἰ καὶ λήσει.
36. In general, justice is the same for all: what is mutually advantageous among companions. But with respect to the particulars of a place or other causes, it does not follow that the same thing is just for all. [note] κατὰ μὲν <τὸ> κοινὸν πᾶσι τὸ δίκαιον τὸ αὐτό· συμφέρον γάρ τι ἦν ἐν τῇ πρὸς ἀλλήλους κοινωνίᾳ· κατὰ δὲ τὸ ἴδιον χώρας καὶ ὅσων δήποτε αἰτίων οὐ πᾶσι συνέπεται τὸ αὐτὸ δίκαιον εἶναι.
37. Among things that are thought to be just, that which has been witnessed to bring mutual advantage among companions has the nature of justice, whether or not it is the same for everyone. But if someone legislates something whose results are not in accord with what brings mutual advantage among companions, then it does not have the nature of justice. And if what brings advantage according to justice changes, but for some time fits our basic grasp of justice, then for that time it is just, at least to the person who is not confused by empty prattle but instead looks to the facts. [note] τὸ μὲν ἐπιμαρτυρούμενον ὅτι συμφέρει ἐν ταῖς χρείαις τῆς πρὸς ἀλλήλους κοινωνίας τῶν νομισθέντων εἶναι δικαίων ἔχειν τοῦ δικαίου χώραν <δ>εῖ, ἐάν τε τὸ αὐτὸ πᾶσι γένηται ἐάν τε μὴ τὸ αὐτό· ἐὰν δὲ <νόμον> μόνον θῆταί τις, μὴ ἀποβαίνῃ δὲ κατὰ τὸ συμφέρον τῆς πρὸς ἀλλήλους κοινωνίας, οὐκέτι τοῦτο τὴν τοῦ δίκαιου φύσιν ἔχει· κἂν μεταπίπτῃ τὸ κατὰ τὸ δίκαιον συμφέρον, χρόνον δέ τινα εἰς τὴν πρόληψιν ἐναρμόττῃ, οὐδὲν ἦττον ἐκεῖνον τὸν χρόνον ἦν δίκαιον τοῖς μὴ φωναῖς κεναῖς ἑαυτοὺς συνταράττουσιν ἀλλʼ εἰς τὰ πράγματα βλέπουσιν.
38. When circumstances have not changed and things that were thought to be just are shown to not be in accord with our basic grasp of justice, then those things were not just. But when circumstances do change and things that were just are no longer useful, then those things were just while they brought mutual advantage among companions sharing the same community; but when later they did not bring advantage, then they were not just. [note] ἔνθα μὴ καινῶν γενομένων τῶν περιεστώτων πραγμάτων ἀνεφάνη μὴ ἁρμόττοντα εἰς τὴν πρόληψιν τὰ νομισθέντα δίκαια ἐπʼ αὐτῶν τῶν ἔρων, οὐκ ἦν ταῦτα δίκαια· ἔνθα δὲ καινῶν γενομένων τῶν πραγμάτων οὐκέτι συνέφερε τὰ αὐτὰ δίκαια κείμενα, ἐνταῦθα δὴ τότε μὲν ἦν δίκαια ὅτε σενέφερεν εἰς τὴν πρὸς ἀλλήλους κοινωνίαν τῶν συμπολιτευομένων, ὕστερον δʼ οὐκ ἦν ἔτι δίκαια ὅτε μὴ συνέφερεν.
39. The person who has put together the best means for confidence about external threats is one who has become familiar with what is possible and at least not unfamiliar with what is not possible, but who has not mixed with things where even this could not be managed and who has driven away anything that is not advantageous. ὁ <τὰ ἑαυτοῦ πρὸς> τὸ μὴ θαρροῦν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔξωθεν ἄριστα συστησάμενος, οὗτος τὰ μὲν δυνατὰ ὁμόφυλα κατεσκευάσατο, τὰ δὲ μὴ δυνατὰ οὐκ ἀλλόφυλά γε· ὅσα δὲ μηδὲ τοῦτο δυνατὸς ἦν, ἀνεπίμεικτος ἐγένετο καὶ ἐξηρείσατο ὅσα <πρὸς> τοῦτʼ ἐλυσιτέλει πράττειν.
40. All those who have the power to obtain the greatest confidence from their neighbors also live with each other most enjoyably in the most steadfast trust; and experiencing the strongest fellowship they do not lament as pitiful the untimely end of those who pass away. [note] ὅσοι τὴν δύναμιν ἔσχον τοῦ τὸ θαρρεῖν μάλιστα ἐκ τῶν ὁμορρούντων παρασκευάσασθαι, οὗτοι καὶ ἐβίωσαν μετʼ αλλήλων ἥδιστα τὸ βεβαιότατον πίστωμα ἔχοντες, καὶ πληρεστάτην οἰκειότητα ἀπολαβόντες οὐκ ὠδύραντο ὡς πρὸς ἔλεον τὴν τοῦ τελευτήσαντος προκαταστροφήν.

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). [back]

[1] The phrase "that which is blissful and immortal" is a roundabout way of referring to the gods (see the Letter to Menoeceus, Section 123, in which Epicurus exhorts the reader to "believe that god is a blissful, immortal being"). The Greek word μάκαρ, translated here as "blissful", could also be translated as "blessed" (Fragments #138 and #469) or as "completely happy" (Principal Doctrine #27). The idea that a being at peace with itself does not cause trouble for others also appears in Vatican Sayings #79. (This paragraph is the same as Vatican Sayings #1.) [back]

[2] The phrase "what has disintegrated" is a reference to a living being that has died. (This paragraph is the same as Vatican Sayings #2.) [back]

[3] The word ἡδονή is often translated solely as "pleasure"; however, depending on the context I also translate it as "joy", "delight", "enjoyment", or even "happiness" in the modern sense because the Greek word ἡδονή refers to any physical, emotional, or mental state that is filled with sweetness (ἡδύς), whereas the English word "pleasure" carries stronger connotations of a purely physical state (although compare phrases such as "the pleasures of philosophy"). Furthermore, although there is no hard and fast distinction between ἄλγος as bodily pain and λυπούμενος as mental distress, the former word tends to be used more in relation to the body and the latter more in relation to the mind or emotions; see also Principal Doctrine #10. For other texts that emphasize the concept of a natural limit to enjoyment, see Principal Doctrines #11, #15, #18, #19, #20, as well as Letter to Menoeceus, Section 133, Vatican Saying #35, and Fragment #548. [back]

[4] (This paragraph is the same as Vatican Sayings #3.) [back]

[5] The word φρονίμως, translated here as "wisely", derives from the word for practical wisdom (see also Letter to Menoeceus, Section 132); although it is often translated as "prudently", that word is no longer commonly used in current English and to the modern ear sounds positively Victorian, which is why I have opted to translate φρονίμως as "wisely". The word καλῶς, translated here as "beautifully", has many meanings, including "nobly" and "honorably"; however, the root meaning of καλός is beauty in either the aesthetic or the ethical sense. On the word δικαίως as "rightly" instead of "justly", see the note to Principal Doctrine #17. It is not clear what "this" refers to in the phrase "whoever lacks this cannot live joyously"; I take the phrase to mean that one cannot live joyously if one lacks the integration or harmony of wisdom, beauty, and rightness. (This paragraph is the same as Vatican Sayings #5 and appears almost verbatim at Letter to Menoeceus, Section 132.) [back]

[6] The phrase "taking courage" translates the verb θαρρεῖν, which is derived from the word for courage, daring, boldness, or confidence. The basic Epicurean sense I find in this paragraph is "if you were the king or a leader of men, you would take courage from the support of the men under your command (at least to the extent that they are the sort of men who can give you courage), and taking courage in that way would be a natural good for you — but for the rest of us, we must take courage not from our followers but from ourselves and from our friends." [back]

[7] As a contrast to the false sense of security engendered by being well esteemed and widely admired, see among other passages Principal Doctrines #14, #28, and 39, where Epicurus discusses more reliable foundations for safety and security, such as self-reliance, friendship, and living in accordance with reason. [back]

[8] Similar sentiments can be found at, for example, Letter to Menoeceus, Section 129 (This paragraph is the same as Vatican Sayings #50.) [back]

[10] Epicurus also mentions the pleasures or delights of decadent people at Letter to Menoeceus, Section 131. [back]

[11] I translate the word φυσιολογία as "the study of what is natural"; see the note to Vatican Sayings #29. [back]

[12] (This paragraph is the same as Vatican Sayings #49.) [back]

[13] (This paragraph is the same as Vatican Sayings #72.) [back]

[14] The word ἡσυχία, translated here as "solitude", can also mean "quietude" or "stillness" (translations that would also be quite consistent with the philosophy of Epicurus). The phrase "breaking away from the herd" is my attempt to render the Greek phrase ἐκχωρήσεως τῶν πολλῶν, which means literally "departing from the many" (οἱ πολλοί are "the masses" — a phrase so useful it has been transliterated directly in English as "hoi polloi"). Note also that although the received text reads ἐκχωρήσεως ("departing"), the Greek word ἐκχορήσεως means "stepping out from the chorus" and thus draws a vivid contrast between the vibrant leading characters and the stolid mass of citizens in ancient Greek tragedies; scribal error could account for a change from omicron to omega in the fourth character of the word, especially because ἐκχορήσεως is much less common than ἐκχωρήσεως. [back]

[15] (This paragraph is the same as Vatican Sayings #8.) [back]

[16] The contrast between chance or fate and reason or choice is explored in greater depth at Letter to Menoeceus, Section 133 and following. [back]

[17] I have expanded the translation here to capture several meanings of the key terms: ἀταρακτότατος means "utterly without disturbance" and by extension steady or serene, whereas πλείστης ταραχῆς means full of trouble, disorder, or tumult (expanded here to "full of trouble and confusion"; see also Principal Doctrine #22 and the note thereto). The words ὁ δίκαιος and ὁ ἄδικος are often translated "the just man" and "the unjust man", but the modern concept of justice is almost purely social whereas the Greek word δίκαιος has a wider range of meaning that encompasses what is right, fitting, balanced, ordered, decent, civilized, etc.; I have attempted to capture this ambiguity through the phrases "one who acts aright" and "one who goes astray". (This paragraph is the same as Vatican Sayings #12.) [back]

[19] (This paragraph is the same as Vatican Sayings #22.) [back]

[20] In the Greek, this paragraph is written in the past tense. Because it is confusing to read that way, I have rendered it in the present tense. [back]

[21] The word ἀγών, translated here as "struggle", originally referred to the contests pursued by athletes at public festivals such as the Olympic games; Epicurus is not necessarily counselling against personal discipline (such as that involved in learning true philosophy), but against the trials and dangers of action in the public arena. [back]

[22] Here the translated phrase "trouble and confusion" reflects the Greek words ἀκρισία (literally "indistinctness") and ταραχή (literally "trouble", "disorder", or "tumult"); see also Principal Doctrine #17 and the note thereto. [back]

[23] This paragraph reflects the Epicurean doctrine that all perceptions are true. [back]

[26] For related insights, see Letter to Menoeceus, Section 127 and following, Principal Doctrines #21 and #30, as well as Vatican Saying #21. [back]

[27] The concept of μακαρία, translated here as "complete happiness", is also referenced in Principal Doctrine #1 when Epicurus speaks of the gods. In Vatican Saying #78, Epicurus says that friendship is an immortal good whereas wisdom is a mortal good; it is unclear if the other things that wisdom provides for complete happiness are also immortal goods. (This paragraph is the same as Vatican Sayings #13.) [back]

[29] (This paragraph is the same as Vatican Sayings #20.) [back]

[31] The word σύμβολον refers to a covenant, contract, or other mutual agreement, especially (in a legal sense) a treaty between two city-states to safeguard trading between them. The verb βλάπτω means to hurt or damage someone or something, but not in a way that reflects willful injustice or wrongdoing (for which the verb ἀδικέω is used). [back]

[33] The word συνθήκη, translated here as "compact", means essentially the same as the word σύμβολον from Principal Doctrine #31. [back]

[35] (This paragraph is the same as Vatican Sayings #6.) [back]

[36] The word κοινωνία means a fellowship, an association, a partnership, a community; I have chosen to translate συμφέρον ἐν τῇ πρὸς ἀλλήλους κοινωνίᾳ as "what is mutually advantageous among companions" to emphasize the sense of a shared venture that is implicit in the Greek verb κοινωνέω. [back]

[37] The Greek phrase τιθέναι νόμον means to make legislation; here Epicurus contrasts man-made legislation with natural justice, which in somewhat old-fashioned English we might call natural law. The word πρόληψις has a special meaning in the philosophy of Epicurus: it is the basic grasp that one has of a concept. For other instances, see Principal Doctrine #38 and Letter to Menoeceus, Section 124. [back]

[39] For related thoughts, see Letter to Menoeceus, Section 133 and following. [back]

[40] Somewhat reluctantly, I have translated the word οἰκειότης (from the Greek word for household) as "fellowship". I say reluctantly because my preferred translation is the obsolete English word "frith", which referred to the bonds of mutual loyalty and trust between family members, kinsmen, and friends, as well as the resulting feeling of mutual security (see <http://www.friggasweb.org/frith.html>). Unfortunately, the word "frith" has passed out of common usage and therefore is not appropriate for a modern translation of Epicurus (although the concept it identifies deserves to be resurrected). Other alternatives might include "intimacy", "kindliness", "friendly relations", "friendliness", "sense of community", even "sense of belonging". [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 Principal Doctrines of Epicurus from Greek into English in the year 2008. 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 shall pass directly into the public domain.


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Last Updated: 2013-05-11


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