Edited by Glyn Hughes
is a bad thing in itself"
Epicurus's Sovran Maxims
was born in 341BC on the island of Samos. He studied philosophy under
the successors of Democritus and Plato, and eventually founded his
own school and community at the 'garden' in Athens. Epicureanism,
a philosophy of refined and calculating pleasure-seeking (in contrast
to the rival creed of Stoicism with its watchword of 'duty'), flourished
for centuries, spawning colonies and followers throughout Europe,
only to fade with the coming of Christianity.
1. A blessed and
indestructible being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble
upon any other being; so he is free from anger and partiality, for
all such things imply weakness.
2. Death is nothing
to us; for that which has been dissolved into its elements experiences
no sensations, and that which has no sensation is nothing to us.
3. The magnitude
of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain. When such
pleasure is present, so long as it is uninterrupted, there is no pain
either of body or of mind or of both together.
4. Continuous bodily
pain does not last long; instead, pain, if extreme, is present a very
short time, and even that degree of pain which slightly exceeds bodily
pleasure does not last for many days at once. Diseases of long duration
allow an excess of bodily pleasure over pain.
5. It is impossible
to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly,
and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without
living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for
instance, the man is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably
and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life.
6. In order to obtain
protection from other men, any means for attaining this end is a natural
7. Some men want
fame and status, thinking that they would thus make themselves secure
against other men. If the life of such men really were secure, they
have attained a natural good; if, however, it is insecure, they have
not attained the end which by nature's own prompting they originally
8. No pleasure is
a bad thing in itself, but the things which produce certain pleasures
entail disturbances many times greater than the pleasures themselves.
9. If every pleasure
had been capable of accumulation, not only over time but also over
the entire body or at least over the principal parts of our nature,
then pleasures would never differ from one another.
10. If the things
that produce the pleasures of profligate men really freed them from
fears of the mind concerning celestial and atmospheric phenomena,
the fear of death, and the fear of pain; if, further, they taught
them to limit their desires, we should never have any fault to find
with such persons, for they would then be filled with pleasures from
every source and would never have pain of body or mind, which is what
11. If we had never
been troubled by celestial and atmospheric phenomena, nor by fears
about death, nor by our ignorance of the limits of pains and desires,
we should have had no need of natural science.
12. It is impossible
for someone to dispel his fears about the most important matters if
he doesn't know the nature of the universe but still gives some credence
to myths. So without the study of nature there is no enjoyment of
13. There is no
advantage to obtaining protection from other men so long as we are
alarmed by events above or below the earth or in general by whatever
happens in the boundless universe.
14. Protection from
other men, secured to some extent by the power to expel and by material
prosperity, in its purest form comes from a quiet life withdrawn from
15. The wealth required
by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required
by vain ideals extends to infinity.
16. Chance seldom
interferes with the wise man; his greatest and highest interests have
been, are, and will be, directed by reason throughout his whole life.
17. The just man
is most free from disturbance, while the unjust is full of the utmost
18. Bodily pleasure
does not increase when the pain of want has been removed; after that
it only admits of variation. The limit of mental pleasure, however,
is reached when we reflect on these bodily pleasures and their related
emotions, which used to cause the mind the greatest alarms.
19. Unlimited time
and limited time afford an equal amount of pleasure, if we measure
the limits of that pleasure by reason.
20. The flesh receives
as unlimited the limits of pleasure; and to provide it requires unlimited
time. But the mind, intellectually grasping what the end and limit
of the flesh is, and banishing the terrors of the future, procures
a complete and perfect life, and we have no longer any need of unlimited
time. Nevertheless the mind does not shun pleasure, and even when
circumstances make death imminent, the mind does not lack enjoyment
of the best life.
21. He who understands
the limits of life knows that it is easy to obtain that which removes
the pain of want and makes the whole of life complete and perfect.
Thus he has no longer any need of things which involve struggle.
22. We must consider
both the ultimate end and all clear sensory evidence, to which we
refer our opinions; for otherwise everything will be full of uncertainty
23. If you fight
against all your sensations, you will have no standard to which to
refer, and thus no means of judging even those sensations which you
claim are false.
24. If you reject
absolutely any single sensation without stopping to distinguish between
opinion about things awaiting confirmation and that which is already
confirmed to be present, whether in sensation or in feelings or in
any application of intellect to the presentations, you will confuse
the rest of your sensations by your groundless opinion and so you
will reject every standard of truth. If in your ideas based upon opinion
you hastily affirm as true all that awaits confirmation as well as
that which does not, you will not avoid error, as you will be maintaining
the entire basis for doubt in every judgment between correct and incorrect
25. If you do not
on every occasion refer each of your actions to the ultimate end prescribed
by nature, but instead of this in the act of choice or avoidance turn
to some other end, your actions will not be consistent with your theories.
26. All desires
that do not lead to pain when they remain unsatisfied are unnecessary,
but the desire is easily got rid of, when the thing desired is difficult
to obtain or the desires seem likely to produce harm.
27. Of all the means
which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of
life, by far the most important is friendship.
28. The same conviction
which inspires confidence that nothing we have to fear is eternal
or even of long duration, also enables us to see that in the limited
evils of this life nothing enhances our security so much as friendship.
29. Of our desires
some are natural and necessary, others are natural but not necessary;
and others are neither natural nor necessary, but are due to groundless
30. Those natural
desires which entail no pain when unsatisfied, though pursued with
an intense effort, are also due to groundless opinion; and it is not
because of their own nature they are not got rid of but because of
man's groundless opinions.
31. Natural justice
is a pledge of reciprocal benefit, to prevent one man from harming
or being harmed by another.
32. Those animals
which are incapable of making binding agreements with one another
not to inflict nor suffer harm are without either justice or injustice;
and likewise for those peoples who either could not or would not form
binding agreements not to inflict nor suffer harm.
33. There never
was such a thing as absolute justice, but only agreements made in
mutual dealings among men in whatever places at various times providing
against the infliction or suffering of harm.
34. Injustice is
not an evil in itself, but only in consequence of the fear which is
associated with the apprehension of being discovered by those appointed
to punish such actions.
35. It is impossible
for a man who secretly violates the terms of the agreement not to
harm or be harmed to feel confident that he will remain undiscovered,
even if he has already escaped ten thousand times; for until his death
he is never sure that he will not be detected.
36. In general justice
is the same for all, for it is something found mutually beneficial
in men's dealings, but in its application to particular places or
other circumstances the same thing is not necessarily just for everyone.
37. Among the things
held to be just by law, whatever is proved to be of advantage in men's
dealings has the stamp of justice, whether or not it be the same for
all; but if a man makes a law and it does not prove to be mutually
advantageous, then this is no longer just.
And if what is mutually
advantageous varies and only for a time corresponds to our concept
of justice, nevertheless for that time it is just for those who do
not trouble themselves about empty words, but look simply at the facts.
38. Where without
any change in circumstances the things held to be just by law are
seen not to correspond with the concept of justice in actual practice,
such laws are not really just; but wherever the laws have ceased to
be advantageous because of a change in circumstances, in that case
the laws were for that time just when they were advantageous for the
mutual dealings of the citizens, and subsequently ceased to be just
when they were no longer advantageous.
39. The man who
best knows how to meet external threats makes into one family all
the creatures he can; and those he can not, he at any rate does not
treat as aliens; and where he finds even this impossible, he avoids
all dealings, and, so far as is advantageous, excludes them from his
40. Those who possess
the power to defend themselves against threats by their neighbors,
being thus in possession of the surest guarantee of security, live
the most pleasant life with one another; and their enjoyment of the
fullest intimacy is such that if one of them dies prematurely, the
others do not lament his death as though it called for pity.