As a matter of principle the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) sought to ‘live unnoticed’, considering a life of quiet happiness to be better than the pursuit of wealth and power. His message nevertheless proved powerful and spread widely in his own day and afterwards.

Attributed to the poet and playwright Menander, a contemporary of Epicurus, is a couplet which compares the philosopher’s role with that of the fifth-century BC Athenian statesman Themistocles (Palatine Anthology 7.72). Both are regarded as saviours of Greece but in different ways. Themistocles persuaded the Athenians to build up their navy and thus saved them from the invading Persians (480-479 BC). Epicurus persuaded many of his countrymen to accept a philosophy of life that saved them from ignorance and confusion. The couplet plays on the fact that Epicurus and Themistocles both had a father named Neocles:

Hail twin offspring of Neocles, of whom one saved our country from slavery, the other from foolishness.

Couplet trans. SRP, following a text on the Perseus website; a variant reading gives ‘your’ instead of ‘our’.

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