Diogenes Laertius : Principal Doctrines of Epicurus

Book 10, Sections 84-154

The Lives of the Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius, is the most comprehensive ancient account of the lives of the early Greek philosophers. Book 10 contains the life and doctrines of Epicurus.

This translation is by C.D.Yonge (1895). The section numbers in the Greek text are shown in red and the section numbers in the translation are shown in green. Click on the G symbols to go to the Greek text for each section.

  Letter to Pythocles (84-121),   Letter to Menoeceus (122-138)   Principal Doctrines [Kuriai Doxai] (139-154)

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{25} About the heavenly bodies he writes thus:

THE LETTER TO PYTHOCLES, about the heavenly bodies

Epicurus to Pythocles, wishing he may do well.

[84] G   Cleon has brought me your letter, in which you continue to evince towards me an affection worthy of the friendship which I have for you. You devote all your care, you tell me, to engraving in your memory those ideas which contribute to the happiness of life; and you entreat me at the same time to send you a simple abridgment and abstract of my ideas on the heavenly phenomena, in order that you may without difficulty preserve the recollection of them. For, say you, what I have written on this subject in my other works is difficult to recollect, even with continual study.

I willingly yield to your desire, and I have good hope, [85] G   that in fulfilling what you ask, I shall be useful too to many others, especially to those who are as yet novices in the real knowledge of nature, and to those to whom the perplexities and the ordinary affairs of life leave but little leisure. Be careful then to seize on those precepts thoroughly, engrave them deeply in your memory, and meditate on them with the abridgment addressed to Herodotus, which I also send you.

Know then, that the only aim of the knowledge of the heavenly phenomena, both those which are spoken of in contact with one another, and of those which have a spontaneous existence, is that freedom from anxiety, and that calmness which is derived from a firm belief; and this is the aim of every other science.

[86] G   It is not good to desire what is impossible, and to endeavour to enunciate a uniform theory about everything; accordingly, we ought not here to adopt the method, which we have followed in our researches into ethics, or in the solution of problems of natural philosophy. We there said, for instance, that there are other things, except bodies and the void, and that the atoms are the principles of things, and so the rest. In a word, we gave a precise and simple explanation for every fact, conformable to appearances.

We cannot act in the same way with respect to the heavenly phenomena; these productions may depend upon several different causes, and we may give many different explanations on this subject, equally agreeing with the impression of the senses. Besides, it is not here a question about reasoning on new principles, and of laying down, priori, rules for the interpretation of nature; the only guides for us to follow are the appearances themselves; [87] G   for that which we have in view is not a set of systems and vain opinions, but much rather a life exempt from every kind disquietude.

The heavenly phenomena do not inspire those who give different explanations of them, conformable with appearances, instead of explaining them by hypothesis, with any alarm. But if, abandoning hypothesis, one at the same time renounces the attempt to explain them by means of analogies founded on appearances, then one is placing one's self altogether at a distance from the science of nature, in order to fall into fables.

It is possible that the heavenly phenomena may present some apparent characteristics which appear to assimilate them to those phenomena which we see taking place around ourselves, without there being any real analogy at the bottom. For the heavenly phenomena may depend for their production on many different causes; [88] G   nevertheless, we must observe the appearances presented by each, and we must distinguish the different circumstances which attach to them, and which can be explained in different manners by means of analogous phenomena which arise under our eyes.

The world is a collection of things embraced by the heaven, containing the stars, the earth, and all visible objects. This collection, separated from the infinite, is terminated by an extremity, which is either rare, or dense, or revolving, or in a state of repose, or of a round, or triangular, or some shape or other in fact, for it may be any shape the dissolution of which must bring the destruction of everything which they embrace. In fact, it can take place in every sort of way, since there is not one of those things that are seen in this world which proves otherwise, and in which we cannot detect any extremity; [89] G   and that such worlds are infinite in number is easily seen, and in the metakosmion, as we call the space between the worlds, being a huge space made up of matter and void, but not, as some philosophers pretend, an immensity of space absolutely empty. This production of a world may be explained thus: seeds suitably appropriated to such an end may emanate either from one or from several worlds, or from the space that separates them; they flow towards a particular point where they become collected together and organized; after that, other seeds come to unite them together in such a way as to form a durable whole, a basis, a nucleus to which all successive additions unite themselves.

[90] G   One must not content one's self in this question with saying, as one of the natural philosophers has done, that there is a reunion of the elements, or a violent motion in the void under the influence of necessity, and that the body which is thus produced increases until it come to crash against some other; for this doctrine is contrary to appearances.

The sun, the moon, and the other stars, were originally formed separately, and were afterwards comprehended in the entire total of the world. All the other objects which our world comprises, for instance, the earth and the sea, were also formed spontaneously, and subsequently gained size, by the addition and violent movement of light substances, composed of elements of fire and air, or even of these two principles at once. This explanation, moreover, is in accordance with the impressions of the senses.

[91] G   As to the magnitude of the sun and of the other stars, it is, as far as we are concerned, such as it appears to us to be.   (This same doctrine is reproduced, and occurs again in the eleventh book of his treatise on Nature; where he says, "if the distance has made it lose is size, a fortiori, it would take away its brilliancy; for colour has not, any more than size, the property of traversing distance without alteration.")

But considered by itself, the sun may be a little greater or a little smaller than it appears; or it may be just such as it looks; for that is exactly the case with the fires of common occurrence among men, which are perceived by the senses at distance. Besides, all the difficulties on this subject will be easily explained if one attends to the clear evidence of the perceptions, as I have shown in my books about Nature.

[92] G   The rising and setting of the sun, of the moon, and of the stars, may depend on the fact of their becoming lighted up, and extinguished alternately, and in the order which we behold. One may also give other reasons for the phenomenon, which are not contradicted by any sensible appearances; accordingly, one might explain them by the passage of the stars above and below the earth, for the impressions of the senses agree also with this supposition.

As to their motion, one may make that depend on the circular movement of the entire heaven. One may also suppose that the stars move, while the heaven itself is immovable; for there is nothing to prevent the idea that originally, before the formation of the world, they may have received, by the appointment of fate, an impulse from east to west, [93] G   and that now their movement continues in consequence of their heat, as the fire naturally proceeds onwards in order to seek the nourishment which suits it.

The inter-tropical movements of the sun and moon may depend, either on the obliquity impressed by fate on the heaven at certain determined epochs, or on the resistance of the air, or on the fact that these ignited bodies stand in need of being nourished by a matter suitable to their nature, and that this matter fails them; or finally, they may depend on the fact their having originally received an impulse which compels them to move as they do, describing a sort of spiral figure. The sensible evidence does not in the least contradict these different suppositions, and all those of the same kind which one can form, having always a due regard to what is possible, and can bring back each phenomenon to its analogous appearances in sensible facts, without disquieting one's self about the miserable speculations of the astrologers.

[94] G   The waning and subsequent replenishing of the moon may depend either on a conversion of this body, or on the different forms which the air when in a fiery state can adopt, or perhaps to the interposition of another body, or lastly, to some one of the causes by which one gives account of the analogous phenomena which pass under our eyes. Provided, however, that one does not obstinately adopt an exclusive mode of explanation; and that, for want of knowing what is possible for a man to explain, and what is inaccessible to his intelligence, one does not throw one's self into interminable speculations.

It may also be possibly the case that the moon has a light of her own, or that she reflects that of the sun. [95] G   For we see around us many objects which are luminous of themselves, and many other which have only a borrowed light. In a word, one will not be arrested by any of the celestial phenomena, provided that one always recollects that there are many explanations possible; that one examines the principles and reasons which agree with this mode of explanation, and that one does not proceed in accounting for the facts which do not agree with this method, to suffer one's self to be foolishly carried away, and to propose a separate explanation for each phenomenon, sometimes in one way, and sometimes in another.

The appearance of a face in the orb of the moon, may depend either on a displacement of its parts, or on the interposition of some obstacle, or on any other cause capable of accounting for such an appearance. [96] G   For one must not neglect to apply this same method to all the heavenly phenomena; for, from the moment when one comes to any point of contradiction to the evidence of the senses, it will be impossible to posses perfect tranquillity and happiness.

The eclipses of the sun and moon may depend either on the fact that these celestial bodies extinguish themselves, a phenomenon which we often see produced under our eyes, or on the fact of other bodies, the earth, the heaven, or something else of the same kind interposing, between them and us. Besides, we must compare the different modes of explanation appropriate to phenomena, and recollect that it is not impossible that many causes may at one and the same time concur in their production.   (He says the same thing in the twelfth book of his treatise on Nature; and adds that the eclipses of the sun arise from the fact that it penetrates into the shade of the moon, to quit it again presently; and the eclipse of the moon from the fact of its entering into the shade of the earth. [97] G   We also find the same doctrine asserted by Diogenes, the Epicurean, in the first book of his Select Opinions.)

The regular and periodical march of these phenomena has nothing in it that ought to surprise us, if we only attend to the analogous facts which take place under our eyes. Above all things let us beware of making the Deity interpose here, for that being we ought to suppose exempt from all toil and perfectly happy; otherwise we shall be only giving vain explanations of the heavenly phenomena, as has happened already to a crowd of authors. Not being able to recognize what is really possible, they have fallen into vain theories, in supposing that for all phenomena there was but one single mode of production, and in rejecting all other explanations which are founded on probability; they have adopted the most unreasonable opinions, for want of placing in the front the study of heavenly phenomena, and of sensible facts, which ought to serve to explain the first.

[98] G   The differences in the length of nights and days may arise from the fact that the passage of the sun above the earth is more or less rapid; and more or less slow, according to the length of the regions which it as to pass through. Or, again, to the fact certain regions are passed through more rapidly than others, as is seen to be the case by our own eyes, in those things to which we can compare the heavenly phenomena. As to those who on this point admit only one explanation as possible, they put themselves in opposition to facts, and lose sight of the bounds set to human knowledge.

The prognostics which are derived from the stars may, like those which we borrow from animals, arise from a simple coincidence. They may also have other causes, for example, some change in the air; for these two suppositions both harmonize equally with facts; [99] G   but it is impossible to distinguish in what case one is to attribute them to the one cause or to the other.

The clouds may be formed either by the air condensed under the pressure of the winds, or by the agency of atoms set apart for the end, or by emanations from the earth and waters, or by other causes. For there are a great number which are all equally able to produce this effect. When the clouds clash with one another, or undergo any transformation, they produce showers; [100] G   and the long rains are caused by the motion of the clouds when moved from places suitable to them through the air, when a more violent inundation than usual takes place, from collections of some masses calculated to produce these effects.

Thunder possibly arises from the movement of the winds revolving in the cavities of the clouds; of which we may see an image in vessels in our own daily use. It may also arise from the noise of fire acted upon by the wind in them, and from the tearings and ruptures of the clouds when they have received a sort of crystalline consistency. In a word, experience drawn from our sense, teaches us that all these phenomena, and that one in particular, may be produced in many different manners.

[101] G   One may also assign different causes to lightning; either the shock and collision of the clouds produce a fiery appearance, which is followed by lightning; or the lighting up of the clouds by the winds, produces this luminous appearance; or the mutual pressure of the clouds, or that of the wind against them, disengages the lightning. Or, one might say, that the interception of the light diffused from the stars, arrested for a time in the bosom of the clouds, is driven from them subsequently by their own movements, and by those of the winds, and so escapes from their sides; that the lightning is an extremely subtle light that evaporates from the clouds; that the clouds which carry the thunder are collected masses of fire; that the lightning arises from the motion of the fire, or from the conflagration of the wind, in consequence of the rapidity and continuousness of its motion. [102] G   One may also attribute the luminous appearance of lightning to the rupture of the clouds under the action of the winds, or to the fall of inflammable atoms. Lastly, one may easily find a number of other explanations, if one applies to sensible facts, in order to search out the analogies which they present to the heavenly phenomena.

Lightning precedes thunder, either because it is produced at the same moment that the wind falls on the cloud, while the noise is only heard at the instant when the wind has penetrated into the bosom of the cloud; or, perhaps, the two phenomena being simultaneous, the lightning arrives among us more rapidly than the noise of the thunder-bolt, [103] G   as is in fact remarked in other cases when we see at a instance the clash of two objects.

The thunderbolt may be produced either by a violent condensation of the winds, or by their rapid motion and conflagrations. It may arise from the fact of the winds meeting in places which are too dense, in consequence of the accumulation of clouds, and then a portion of the current detaches itself and proceeds towards the lower situations; or else it may be caused by the fire which is contained in the bosom of the clouds precipitating itself downwards. As one may suppose that an immense quantity of fire being accumulated in the clouds dilates, violently bursting the substance which envelops it, because the resistance of the centre hinders it from proceeding further. This effect is especially produced in the neighbourhood of high mountains; and, accordingly, they are very frequently struck with the thunderbolts. [104] G   In short, one may give a number of explanations of the thunderbolt; but we ought, above all things, to be on our guard against fables, and this one will easily be, if one follows faithfully the observable phenomena in the explanation of these things, which are not perceived, except indirectly.

Hurricanes may be caused either by the presence of a cloud, which a violent wind sets in motion and precipitates with a spiral movement towards the lower regions, or by a violent gust which bears a cloud into the neighbourhood of some other current, or else by the mere agitation of the wind by itself, when air is brought together from the higher regions and compressed without being able to escape on either side, in consequence of the resistance of the air which surrounds it; [105] G   when the hurricane descends towards the earth, then there result whirlwinds in proportion to the rapidity of the wind that has produced them; and this phenomenon extends over the sea also.

Earthquakes may arise from the wind penetrating into the interior of the earth, or from the earth itself receiving incessantly the addition of exterior particles, and being in incessant motion as to its constituent atoms, being in consequence disposed to a general vibration. That which permits the wind to penetrate is the fact that falls take place in the interior, or that the air being impressed by the winds insinuates itself into the subterranean caverns. The movement which numberless falls and the reaction of the earth communicates to the ground, when this motion meets bodies of greater resistance and solidity, is sufficient to explain the earthquakes. [106] G   One might, however, give an account of them in several other ways.

Winds are caused, either by the successive and regular addition of some foreign matter, or else by the reunion of a great quantity of water; and the differences of the winds may arise from the fact that some portions of this same matter fall into the numerous cavities of the earth, and are divided there.

Hail is produced by an energetic condensation acting on the ethereal particles which the cold embraces in every direction; or, in consequence of less violent condensation acting however on aqueous particles, and accompanied by division, in such a manner as to produce, at the same time, the reunion of certain elements and of the collective masses; or by the rupture of some dense and compact mass which would explain at the same time, the numerousness of the particles and their individual hardness. [107] G   As to the spherical form of the hail, one may easily account for that by admitting that the shocks which it receives in every direction make all the angles disappear, or else that at the moment when the different fragments are formed, each of them is equally embraced on all sides by aqueous or ethereal particles.

Snow may be produced by a light vapour full of moisture which the clouds allow to escape by passage intended for that end, when they are pressed, in a corresponding manner, by other clouds, and set in motion by the wind. Subsequently, these vapours become condensed in their progress under the action of the cold which surrounds the clouds in the lower regions. It may also be the case that this phenomena is produced by clouds of slight density as they become condensed. In this case the snow which escapes from the clouds would be the result of the contact, or approximation of the aqueous particles, which in a still more condensed state produce hail. This effect is most especially produced in the spring. [108] G   Snow again, may result from the collection of clouds previously condensed and solidified; or from a whole army of other causes.

Dew proceeds from a reunion of particles contained in the air calculated to produce this moist substance. These particles may be also brought from places which are moist or covered with water (for in those places, above all others, it is that dew is abundant). These then reunite, again resume their aqueous form, and fall down. The same phenomena takes place in other cases before our own eyes under many analogies.

[109] G   Hoarfrost is dew congealed by the influence of the cold air that surrounds it.

Ice is formed either by the wearing away of round atoms contained in the water, and the reunion at scalene and acute angles of the atoms which exist in the water, or by an addition from without of these latter particles, which penetrating into the water, solidify it by driving away an equal amount of round atoms.

The rainbow may be produced by the reflection of the solar rays on the moist air; or it may arise from a particular property of light and air, in virtue of which these particular appearances of colour are formed, either because the shades which we perceive result directly from this property, or because, on the contrary, it only produces a single shade, which, reflecting itself on the nearest portion of the air, communicates to them the tints which we observe. [110] G   As to the circular form of the rainbow, that depends either on the fact of the sight perceiving an equal distance in every direction, or the fact of the atoms taking this form when reuniting in the air; or it may be caused by its detaching from the air which moves towards the moon, certain atoms which, being reunited in the clouds, give rise to this circular appearance.

The lunar halo arises from the fact of the air, which moves towards the moon from all quarters, uniformly intercepting the rays emitted by this heavenly object, in such a way as to form around it a sort of circular cloud which partially veils it. It may also arise from the fact of the moon uniformly rejecting from all quarters, the air which surrounds it, in such a manner as to produce this circular and opaque covering. [111] G   And perhaps this opaqueness may be caused by some particle which some current brings from without; perhaps also, the heat communicates to the moon the property of emitting by the pores in its surface, the particles by which this effect is produced.

Comets arise either from the fact, that in the circumstances already stated, there are partial conflagrations in certain points of the heaven; or, that at certain periods, the heaven has above our heads a particular movement which causes them to appear. It may also be the case, that being themselves endowed with a peculiar movement, they advance at the end of certain periods of time, and in consequence of particular circumstances, towards the places which we inhabit. The opposite reasons explain their disappearance.

[112] G   Certain stars return to the same point in accomplishing their revolutions; and this arises, not only as has been sometimes believed, from the fact of the pole of the world, around which they move, being immovable, but also from the fact that the gyrations of the air which surrounds them, hinder them from deviations like the wandering stars. Perhaps also, this may be caused by the fact, that except in the route in which they move, and in which we perceive them, they do not find any material suitable to their nature. One may also explain this phenomenon in many other manners, reasoning according to observable facts; thus, it is possible that certain stars may be wandering because that is the nature of their movements, [113] G   and, for the same reason, others may be immovable. It is also possible, that the same necessity which has originally given them their circular movement, may have compelled some to follow their orbit regularly, and have subjected others to an irregular process; we may also suppose that the uniform character of the centre which certain stars traverse favours their regular march, and their return to a certain point; and that in the case of others, on the contrary, the differences of the centre produce the changes which we observe. Besides, to assign one single cause to all these phenomena, when the experience of our senses suggests us several, is folly. It is the conduct of ignorant astrologers covetous of a vain knowledge, who assigning imaginary causes to facts, wish to leave wholly to the Deity the care of the government of the universe.

[114] G   Some stars [the planets] appear to be left behind by others in their progress; this arises either from the fact of their having a slower motion, though traversing the same circle; or, because, though they are drawn on by the same propelling power, they have, nevertheless, a movement proper to themselves in a contrary direction; or it may be caused by the fact that, though all are placed in the same sphere of movement, still some have more space to traverse, and others less. To give one uniform and positive explanation of all these facts, is not consistent with the conduct of any people but those who love to flash prodigies in the eyes of the multitude.

Falling stars may be particles detached from the stars, or fragments resulting from their collision; they may also be produced by the fall of substances which are set on fire by the action of the wind; [115] G   by the reunion of inflammable atoms which are made to come together so as to produce this effect by a sort of reciprocal attraction; or else by the movement which is produced in consequence of the reunion of atoms in the very place where they meet. It may also happen that the light vapours reunite and become condensed under the form of clouds, that they then take fire in consequence of their rotary motion, and that, bursting the obstacles which surround them, they proceed towards the places whither the force by which they are animated drags them. In short, this phenomenon also may admit a great number of explanations.

The forecasts which are drawn from certain animals arise from a fortuitous concourse of circumstances; for there is no necessary connection between certain animals and winter. They do not produce it; nor is there any divine nature sitting aloft watching the exits of these animals, and then fulfilling signs of this kind. [116] G   Nor can such folly as this occur to any being who is even moderately comfortable, much less to one which is possessed of perfect happiness.

Imprint all these precepts in your memory, O Pythocles, and so you will easily escape fables, and it will be easy for you to discover other truths analogous to these. Above all, apply yourself to the study of general principles, of the infinite, and of questions of this kind, and to the investigation of the different criteria and of the passions, and to the study of the chief good, with a view to which we prosecute all our researches. When these questions are once resolved, all particular difficulties will be made plain to you. As to those who will not apply themselves to these principles, they will neither be able to give a good explanation of these same questions, nor to reach that end to which all our researches tend.

[117] G   {26} Such are his sentiments on the heavenly phenomena, But concerning the rules of life, and how we ought to choose some things, and avoid others, he writes thus. But first of all, let us go through the opinions which he held, and his disciples held about the wise man.

He said that injuries existed among men, either in consequence of hatred, or of envy, or of contempt, all which the wise man overcomes by Reason. Also, that a man who has once been wise can never receive the contrary dispositions, nor can he of his own accord invent such a state of things as that he should be subjected to the dominion of the passions; nor can he hinder himself in his progress towards wisdom. That the wise man, however, cannot exist in every state of body, nor in every nation. [118] G   That even if the wise man were to be put to the torture, he would still be happy. That the wise man will only feel gratitude to his friends, but to them equally whether they are present or absent. Nor will he groan and howl when he is put to the torture. Nor will he marry a wife whom the laws forbid, as Diogenes says, in his epitome of the Ethical Maxims of Epicurus. He will punish his servants, but also pity them, and show indulgence to any that are virtuous. They do not think that the wise man will ever be in love, nor that he will be anxious about his burial, nor that love is a passion inspired by the gods, as Diogenes says in his twelfth book. They also assert that he will be indifferent to the study of oratory. Intercourse, say they, is never any good to a man, and we must be quite content if it does no harm; [119] G   and the wise man will never marry or beget children, as Epicurus himself lays it down, in his Problems and in his treaties on Nature. Still, under certain circumstances of life, he will forsake these rules and marry. Nor will he ever indulge in drunkenness, says Epicurus, in his Banquet, nor will he entangle himself in affairs of state (as he says in his first book on Lives). Nor will he become a tyrant. Nor will he become a Cynic (as he says in his second book about Lives), nor a beggar. And even, though he should lose his eyes, he will still partake of life (as he says in the same book).

The wise man will not be subject to grief, as Diogenes says, in the fifth book of his Select Opinions; [120a] he will also not object to go to law. He will leave books and memorials of himself behind him, but he will not be fond of frequenting assemblies. He will take care of his property, and provide for the future. He will like being in the country, he will resist fortune, and will grieve none of his friends. He will show a regard for a fair reputation to such an extent as to avoid being despised; and he will find more pleasure than other men in speculations. [121b] The wise man may raise statues if it suits his inclination, if it does not then it does not matter. The wise man is the only person who can converse correctly about music and poetry, but he will not actively compose poems.

It is possible for one wise man to be wiser than another. The wise man will also, if he is in need, earn money, but only by his wisdom; he will appease an absolute ruler when occasion requires, and will humour him for the sake of correcting his habits; he will have a school, but not on such a system as to draw a crowd about him; he will also recite in a multitude, but that will be against his inclination; he will pronounce dogmas, and will express no doubts; he will be the same man asleep and awake; and he will be willing even to die for a friend.

[120b] All faults are not equal. Health is good for some people, but a matter of indifference to others. Courage is a quality which does not exist by nature, but which is engendered by a consideration of what is suitable. Friendship is caused by one's wants; but it must be begun on our side. For we sow the earth; and friendship arises from a community of, and participation in, pleasures. [121a] Happiness must be understood in two senses; the highest happiness, such as is that of a god, which admits of no increase; and another kind, which admits of the addition or abstraction of pleasures.

These are the Epicurean doctrines.

{27} We must now proceed to his letter:


Epicurus to Menoeceus, Greeting.

[122] G   Let no one delay to study philosophy while he is young, and when he is old let him not become weary of the study; for no man can ever find the time unsuitable or too late to study the health of his soul. And he who asserts either that it is not yet time to philosophise, or that the hour is passed, is like a man who should say that the time is not yet come to be happy, or that it is too late. So that both young and old should study philosophy, the one in order that, when he is old, he many be young in good things through the pleasing recollection of the past, and the other in order that he may be at the same time both young and old, in consequence of his absence of fear for the future.

It is right then for a man to consider the things which produce happiness, since, if happiness is present, we have everything, and when it is absent, we do everything with a view to possess it. [123] G   Now, what I have constantly recommended to you, these things I would have you do and practice, considering them to be the elements of living well.

First of all, believe that a god is an incorruptible and happy being, as the common opinion of the world dictates; and attach to your theology nothing which is inconsistent with incorruptibility or with happiness; and think that a deity is invested with everything which is able to preserve this happiness, in conjunction with incorruptibility. For there are gods; for our knowledge of them is distinct. But they are not of the character which people in general attribute to them; for they do not pay a respect to them which accords with the ideas that they entertain of them. And that man is not impious who discards the gods believed in by the many, but he who applies to the gods the opinions entertained of them by the many. [124] G   For the assertions of the many about the gods are not anticipations, but false opinions. And in consequence of these, the greatest evils which befall wicked men, and the benefits which are conferred on the good, are all attributed to the gods; for they connect all their ideas of them with a comparison of human virtues, and everything which is different from human qualities, they regard as incompatible with the divine nature.

Accustom yourself also to think death a matter with which we are not at all concerned, since all good and all evil is in sensation, and since death is only the privation of sensation. On which account, the correct knowledge of the fact that death is no concern of ours, makes the mortality of life pleasant to us, inasmuch as it sets forth no illimitable time, but relieves us for the longing for immortality. [125] G   For there is nothing terrible in living to a man who rightly comprehends that there is nothing terrible in ceasing to live; so that he was a silly man who said that he feared death, not because it would grieve him when it was present, but because it did grieve him while it was future. For it is very absurd that that which does not distress a man when it is present, should afflict him only when expected. Therefore, the most formidable of evils, death, is nothing to us, since, when we exist, death is not present to us; and when death is present, then we have no existence. It is no concern then either of the living or of the dead; since to the one it has no existence, and the other class has no existence itself. But people in general, at times flee from death as the greatest of evils, and at times wish for it as a rest from the evils in life. [126] G   [The wise man neither rejects life] nor is he afraid of not-living, since living is not connected with it: nor does he think not-living an evil; but, just as he chooses food, not preferring that which is most abundant, but that which is nicest; so too, he enjoys time, not measuring it as to whether it is of the greatest length, but as to whether it is most agreeable. And, they say, he who enjoins a young man to live well, and an old man to die well, is a simpleton, not only because of the constantly delightful nature of life, but also because the care to live well is identical with the care to die well. And he was still more wrong who said [ Theognis_427 ]:
  'Tis well to taste life, and then when born
  To pass with quickness to the gates of Hades.

[127] G   For if this really was his opinion, why did he not quit life? For it was easily in his power to do so, if it really was his belief. But if he was joking, then he was talking foolishly in a case where it ought not to be allowed; and, we must recollect, that the future is not our own, nor, on the other hand, is it wholly not our own, I mean so that we can never altogether await it with a feeling of certainty that it will be, nor altogether despair of it as what will never be.

And we must consider that some of the passions are natural, and some empty; and of the natural ones some are necessary, and some merely natural. And of the necessary ones, some are necessary to happiness, and others, with regard to the exemption of the body from trouble; and others with respect to living itself; [128] G   for a correct theory, with regard to these things, can refer all choice and avoidance to the health of the body and the freedom from disquietude of the soul. Since this is the aim of living happily; for it is for the sake of this that we do everything, wishing to avoid grief and fear; and when once this is the case, with respect to us, then the storm of the soul is, as I may say, put an end to; since the animal is unable to go as if to something deficient, and to seek something different from that by which the good of the soul and body will be perfected.

For then we have need of pleasure when we grieve, because pleasure is not present; but when we do not grieve, then we have no need of pleasure; and on this account, we affirm, that pleasure is the beginning and end of living happily; for we have recognized this as the first good, being innate in us; [129] G   and with reference to it, we begin every choice and avoidance; and to this we come as if we judged of all good by passion as the standard; and, since this is the first good and innate in us, on this account we do not choose every pleasure, but at times we pass over many pleasures when any difficulty is likely to ensue from them; and we think many pains better than pleasures, when a greater pleasure follows them, if we endure the pain for time.

Every pleasure is therefore a good on account of its own nature, but it does not follow that every pleasure is worthy of being chosen; just as every pain is an evil, and yet every pain must not be avoided. [130] G   But it is right to estimate all these things by the measurement and view of what is suitable and unsuitable; for at times we may feel the good as an evil, and at times, on the contrary, we may feel the evil as good. And, we think contentment a great good, not in order that we may never have but a little, but in order that, if we have not much, we may make use of a little, being genuinely persuaded that those men enjoy luxury most completely who are the best able to do without it; and that everything which is natural is easily provided, and what is useless is not easily procured. And simple flavours give as much pleasure as costly fare, when everything that can give pain, and every feeling of want, is removed; [131] G   and bread and water give the most extreme pleasure when any one in need eats them. To accustom one's self, therefore, to simple and inexpensive habits is a great ingredient in the perfecting of health, and makes a man free from hesitation with respect to the necessary uses of life. And when we, on certain occasions, fall in with more sumptuous fare, it makes us in a better disposition towards it, and renders us fearless with respect to fortune. When, therefore, we say that pleasure is a chief good, we are not speaking of the pleasures of the debauched man, or those which lie in sensual enjoyment, as some think who are ignorant, and who do not entertain our opinions, or else interpret them perversely; but we mean the freedom of the body from pain, and the soul from confusion. [132] G   For it is not continued drinking and revelling, or intercourse with boys and women, or feasts of fish and other such things, as a costly table supplies, that make life pleasant, but sober contemplation, which examines into the reasons for all choice and avoidance, and which puts to flight the vain opinions from which the greater part of the confusion arises which troubles the soul.

Now, the beginning and the greatest good of all these things is prudence, on which account prudence is something more valuable than even philosophy, inasmuch as all the other virtues spring from it, teaching us that it is not possible to live pleasantly unless one also lives prudently, and honourably, and justly; and that one cannot live prudently, and honestly, and justly, without living pleasantly; for the virtues are allied to living agreeably, and living agreeably is inseparable from the virtues. [133] G   Since, who can you think better than that man who has holy opinions respecting the gods, and who is utterly fearless with respect to death, and who has properly contemplated the purpose of nature, and who comprehends that the chief good is easily perfected and easily provided; and the greatest evil lasts but a short period, and causes but brief pain. He has no belief in necessity, which is set up by some as the mistress of all things, but he refers some things to fortune, some to ourselves, because necessity is an irresponsible power, and because he sees that fortune is unstable, while our own will is free; and this freedom constitutes, in our case, a responsibility which makes us encounter blame and praise. [134] G   Since it would be better to follow the fables about the gods than to be a slave to the fate of the natural philosopher; for the fables which are told give us a sketch, as if we could avert the wrath of god by paying him honour; but the other presents us with an inexorable necessity.

And he does not consider fortune a goddess, as most men esteem her (for nothing is done at random by a god), nor a cause which no man can rely on, for he thinks that good or evil is not given by her to men so as to make them live happily, but that the principles of great goods, or great evils are supplied by her; [135] G   thinking it better to be unfortunate in accordance with reason, than to be fortunate irrationally; for that those actions which are judged to be the best, are rightly done in consequence of reason.

Do you then study these precepts, and those which are akin to them, by all means day and night, pondering on them by yourself, and discussing them with any one like yourself, and then you will never be disturbed by either sleeping or waking fancies, but you will live like a god among men; for a man living amid immortal gods, is in no respect like a mortal being.   (In other works, he discards divination; and also in his Little Epitome. And he says divination has no existence; but, if it has any, still we should think that what happens according to it is nothing to us.)

These are his sentiments about the things which concern the life of man, and he has discussed them at greater length elsewhere.

[136] G   {28} Now, he differs from the Cyrenaics about pleasure. For they do not admit that to pleasure can exist as a state, but place it wholly in motion. He, however, admits both kinds to be pleasure, namely, that of the soul, and that of the body, as he says in his treatise on Choice and Avoidance; and also in his work on the Chief Good; and in the first book of his treatise on Lives, and in his Letter against the Mytilenian Philosophers. And in the same spirit, Diogenes, in the seventeenth book of his Select Discourses, and Metrodorus, in his Timocrates, speak thus. "But when pleasure is understood, I mean both that which exists in motion, and that which is a state . . . ." And Epicurus, in his treatise on Choice, speaks thus: "Now, freedom from disquietude, and freedom from pain, are states of pleasure; but joy and cheerfulness are beheld in motion and energy."

[137] G   {29} For the Cyrenaics make out the pains of the body to be worse than those of the mind; accordingly, those who do wrong, are punished in the body. But he considers the pains of the soul the worst; for that the flesh is only sensible to present affliction, but the soul feels the past, the present, and the future. Therefore, in the same manner, he contends that the pleasure of the soul are greater than those of the body; and he uses as proof that pleasure is the chief good, the fact that all animals from the moment of their birth are delighted with pleasure, and are offended with pain by their natural instinct, and without the employment of Reason. Therefore, too we, of our own inclinations, flee from pain; so that Heracles, when devoured by his poisoned tunic cries out [ Sophocles, Trach_787 ]:
  Shouting and groaning, and the rocks around
  Re-echoed his sad wails, the mountain heights
  Of Locrian lands, and sad Euboea's hills.

[138] G   {30} And we choose the virtues for the sake of pleasure, and not on their own account; just as we seek the skill of the physician for the sake of health, as Diogenes says, in the twentieth book of his Select Discourses, where he also calls virtue alone is inseparable from pleasure, but that every thing else may be separated from it as mortal.

{31} Let us, however, now add the finishing stroke, as one may say, to this whole treatise, and to the life of the philosopher; giving some of his fundamental maxims, and closing the whole work with them, taking that for our end which is the beginning of happiness.

1 [139] G   That which is happy and imperishable, neither has trouble itself, nor does it cause it to anything; so that it is not subject to feelings of either anger or gratitude; for these feelings only exist in what is weak.   (In other passages he says that the gods are speculated on by reason, some existing according to number, and others according to some similarity of form, arising from the continual flowing on of similar images, perfected for this very purpose in human form.)
2 Death is nothing to us; for that which is dissolved is devoid of sensation, and that which is devoid of sensation is nothing to us.
3 The limit of great pleasures is the removal of everything which can give pain. And where pleasure is, as long as it lasts, that which gives pain, or that which feels pain, or both of them, are absent.
4 [140] G   Pain does not abide continuously in the flesh, but in its extremity it is present only a very short time. That pain which only just exceeds the pleasure in the flesh, does not last many days. But long diseases have in them more that is pleasant than painful to the flesh.
5 It is not possible to live pleasantly without living prudently, and honourably, and justly; nor to live prudently, and honourably, and justly, without living pleasantly. But to whom it does not happen to live prudently, honourably, and justly cannot possibly live pleasantly.
6 For the sake of feeling confidence and security with regard to men, anything in nature is good, if it provides the means to achieve this.
7 [141] G   Some men have wished to be eminent and powerful, thinking that so they would secure safety as far as men are concerned. So that if the life of such men is safe, they have attained to the nature of good; but if it is not safe, then they have failed in obtaining that for the sake of which they originally desired power according to the order of nature.
8 No pleasure is intrinsically bad: but the effective causes of some pleasures bring with them a great many perturbations of pleasure.
9 [142] G   If every pleasure were condensed, if one may so say, and if each lasted long, and affected the whole body, or the essential parts of it, then there would be no difference between one pleasure and another.
10 If those things which make the pleasures of debauched men, put an end to the fears of the mind, and to those which arise about the heavenly bodies, and death, and pain; and if they taught us what ought to be the limit of our desires, we should have no pretence for blaming those who wholly devote themselves to pleasure, and who never feel any pain or grief (which is the chief evil) from any quarter.
11 If apprehensions relating to the heavenly bodies did not disturb us, and if the terrors of death have no concern with us, and if we had the courage to contemplate the boundaries of pain and of the desires, we should have no need of physiological studies.
12 [143] G   It would not be possible for a person to banish all fear about those things which are called most essential, unless he knew what is the nature of the universe, or if he had any idea that the fables told about it could be true; and therefore a person cannot enjoy unmixed pleasure without physiological knowledge.
13 It would be no good for a man to secure himself safety as far as men are concerned, while in a state of apprehension as to all the heavenly bodies, and those under the earth, and in short, all those in the infinite.
14 Irresistible power and great wealth may, up to a certain point, give us security as far as men are concerned; but the security of men in general depends upon the tranquillity of their souls, and their freedom from ambition.
15 [144] G   The riches of nature are defined and easily procurable; but vain desires are insatiable.
16 The wise man is but little favoured by fortune; but his reason procures him the greatest and most valuable goods, and these he does enjoy, and will enjoy the whole of his life.
17 The just man is the freest of all men from disquietude; but the unjust man is a perpetual prey to it.
18 Pleasure in the flesh is not increased, when once the pain arising from want is removed; it is only diversified. The most perfect happiness of the soul depends on these reflections, and on opinions of a similar character on all those questions which cause the greatest alarm to the mind.
19 [145] G   Infinite and finite time both have equal pleasure, if any one measures its limits by reason.
20 The flesh sets no limits to pleasure, and therefore it yearns for an eternity of time. But reason, enabling us to conceive the end and dissolution of the body, and liberating us from the fears relative to eternity, procures for us all the happiness of which life is capable, so completely that we have no further occasion to include eternity in our desires. In this disposition of mind, man is happy even when his troubles engage him to quit life; and to die thus, is for him only to interrupt a life of happiness.
21 [146] G   He who is acquainted with the limits of life knows that that which removes the pain which arises from want and which makes the whole of life perfect, is easily procurable; so that he has no need of those things which can only be attained with trouble.
22 But as to the ultimate aim, we ought to consider it with all the clearness and evidence which we refer to whatever we think and believe; otherwise, all things will be full of confusion and uncertainty of judgment.
23 If you resist all the senses, you will not even have anything left to which you can refer, or by which you may be able to judge of the falsehood of the senses which you condemn.
24 [147] G   If you simply discard a sense, and do not distinguish between the different elements of the judgment, so as to know on the one hand, the opinion which goes beyond the actual sensation, or, on the other, the actual and immediate notion, the affections, and all the conceptions of the mind which arise from the observable representation; you will be imputing trouble into the other senses, and destroying in that quarter every species of criterion. But if you allow equal authority to the ideas, which being only an opinion, require to be verified, and to those which bear about them an immediate certainty, you will not escape error; for you will be confounding doubtful opinions with those which are not doubtful, and true judgments with those of a different character.
25 [148] G   If, on every occasion, we do not refer every one of our actions to the chief end of nature, if we turn aside from that to seek or avoid some other object, there will be a want of agreement between our words and our actions.
26 All desires that lead to no pain when they remain ungratified are unnecessary, and the longing is easily got rid of, when the thing desired is difficult to procure or when the desires seem likely to produce harm.
27 Of all the things which wisdom provides for the happiness of the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friendship.
28 The same opinion encourages man to trust that no evil will be everlasting, or even of long duration; as it sees that, in the space of life allotted to us, the protection of friendship is most sure and trustworthy.
29 [149] G   Of the desires, some are natural and necessary, some natural, but not necessary, and some are neither natural nor necessary, but owe their existence to vain opinions. (Epicurus thinks that those are natural and necessary which put an end to pains as drink when one is thirsty; and that those are natural but not necessary which only diversify pleasure, but do not remove pain, such as expensive food; and that these are neither natural nor necessary, which are such as crowns, or the erection of statues.)
30 When those natural desires, which do not lead to pain if they are not satisfied, are violent and insistent, it is a proof that there is an admixture of vain opinion in them; for then energy does not arise from their own nature, but from the vain opinions of men.
31 [150] G   Natural justice is a covenant of what is suitable for leading men to avoid injuring on another, and being injured.
32 Those animals which are unable to enter into an argument of this nature, or to guard against doing or sustaining mutual injury, have no such thing as justice or injustice. And the case is the same with those nations, the members of which are either unwilling or unable to enter into a covenant to respect their mutual interests.
33 Justice has no independent existence; it results from mutual contracts, and establishes itself wherever there is a mutual engagement to guard against doing or sustaining mutual injury.
34 [151] G   Injustice is not intrinsically bad; it has this character only because there is joined with it a fear of not escaping those who are appointed to punish actions of this character.
35 It is not possible for a man who secretly does anything in contravention of the agreement which men have made with one another, to guard against doing, or sustaining mutual injury, to believe that he shall always escape notice, even if he has escaped notice already ten thousand times; for till his death, it is uncertain whether he will not be detected.
36 In a general point of view, justice is the same thing to every one; for there is something advantageous in mutual society. Nevertheless, the difference of place, and diverse other circumstances, make justice vary.
37 [152] G   From the moment that a thing declared just by the law is generally recognized as useful for the mutual relations of men, it becomes really just, whether it is universally regarded as such or not. But if, on the contrary, a thing established by law is not really useful for social relations, then it is not just; and if that which was just, inasmuch as it was useful, loses this character, after having been for some time considered so, it is not less true that during that time it was really just, at least for those who do not perplex themselves about vain words, but who prefer in every case, examining and judging for themselves.
38 [153] G   When, without any fresh circumstances arising a thing which has been declared just in practice does not agree with the impressions of reason, that is a proof that the thing was not really just. In the same way, when in consequence of new circumstances, a thing which has been pronounced just does not any longer appear to agree with utility, the thing which was just, inasmuch as it was useful to the social relations and intercourse of mankind, ceases to be just the moment when it ceases to be useful.
39 [154] G   He who desires to live tranquilly without having anything to fear from other men, ought to make himself friends; those whom he cannot make friends of, he should, at least avoid rendering enemies; and if that is not in his power, he should, as far as possible, avoid all intercourse with them, and keep them aloof, as far as it is for his interest to do so.
40 The happiest men are they who have arrived at the point of having nothing to fear from those who surround them. Such men live with one another most agreeably, having the firmest grounds of confidence in one another, enjoying the advantages of friendship in all their fullness, and not lamenting as a pitiable circumstance, the premature death of their friends.

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