December

31   Careless argument produces incongruities


“But in all the terms we use regarding such notions (as blissfulness and imperishability), we must preserve the full degree of grandeur which they convey, so that out of the terms opinions do not develop which are contrary to the grandeur involved.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.77)


 

30   What shines and moves is not thereby divine


“Nor must we hold that blazing objects of concentrated fire (in the heavens) have acquired blissfulness and undertake these (celestial) movements of their own volition.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.77)


 

29   Blissfulness excludes entanglement


“For engagement in tasks, and concerns, and passions, and feelings of partiality, are not concordant with blissfulness, but these things are matters of weakness and fear and a need to have others around one.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.77)


 

28   Celestial phenomena and human interpretation


“And we must undoubtedly hold that, among celestial phenomena, movements, turnings, eclipses, risings, settings and associated occurrences are not performed and appointed and foreordained by something that also has complete blissfulness along with imperishability.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.76)


 

27   Naturally understood and rationally discovered


“Moreover we must also suppose that (human) nature has been taught and brought to accept many things of various kinds by circumstances themselves, and that reason has further clarified and explored this natural endowment, more rapidly among some people and more gradually among others, and to a greater degree at some periods and times and to a lesser degree at others.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.75)


 

26   Explanation ends consternation


“If we attend to these things (i.e. our interpretation of the evidence of experience), we will explain fully and correctly the source of disturbance and fear and we will do away with them, as we find explanations for astronomical and meteorological phenomena and all the other things that are always happening and cause other people extreme fear.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.82)


 

25   Understanding based on evidence


“For this reason (i.e. for dealing successfully with ideas and beliefs) we must pay attention to available feelings and sensations, both those of common experience and those special to us as individuals, and to every available clear perception as confirmed by the criteria for evaluating experience.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.82)


 

24   Ideas and beliefs are crucial for happiness


“Lack of disturbance is the removal of all these things (i.e. false beliefs) and continuous recall of (our philosophy of life) in general and its principal features.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.82)


 

23   Victims of our own irrationality


“… the principal disturbance in human souls occurs (thirdly) through experiencing these false beliefs not as matters of considered opinion but owing to some propensity to irrationality, as a result of which, by failing to recognize limits to what is terrible, we suffer disturbance equal to or greater than what we would if we were to hold these views as matters of considered opinion.”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.81)


 

22   Frightened by stories, frightened by nothingness


“… the principal disturbance in human souls occurs … (secondly) through always expecting or suspecting some everlasting terror in view of the myths and alternatively fearing the lack of sensation in death as if it were anything to us…”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.81)


 

21   Disturbing ourselves with false beliefs


“… it is necessary to understand that the principal disturbance in human souls occurs (firstly) through the belief that celestial phenomena are (divinely) blissful and imperishable and yet have contrary characteristics of willing, acting and causing…”

Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.81)


 

20   Desiring and deciding


“By giving unwavering attention to these distinctions (among different types of desires) we can refer every instance of choice or avoidance to bodily health and tranquillity of soul, as this is the goal of living a happy life.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.128)


 

19   The purpose of desires


“We must take into account that of desires some are natural and some empty, and of the natural ones some are necessary and some merely natural. Of the necessary desires, some are necessary for happiness, some for freedom from bodily disturbance, and some for life itself.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.127)


 

18   Nothing so frightful, and yet it is nothing


“Thus death, the most horrible of evils, is nothing to us, because while we exist it is not present and when it is present we do not then exist.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.125)


 

17   Worried about nothing


“Hence it is nonsense for a person to speak of being afraid of death not because it will be grievous when it is present but because it is grievous in prospect. For what does not trouble us when it is present grieves us pointlessly in anticipation.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.125)


 

16   Finite but wonderful


“For there is nothing terrible in the fact of living, for someone who has truly grasped the fact that there is nothing terrible in not living.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.125)


 

15   Happy to have this much


“… a correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life agreeable, not by offering an adding unlimited time but by taking away the desire for immortality.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.124)


 

14   Absence of all awareness


“Accustom yourself to the thought that death is nothing to us, since all good and evil are matters of sensation, and death is the removal of sensation.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.124)


 

13   The attributes of deity


“Believe about god everything that makes it possible to maintain divine blissfulness along with immortality.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.123)


 

12   The concept of divinity


“First, consider god to be an immortal and blissful being, as the common idea of god indicates, but do not attach to god anything that is foreign to immortality or does not belong with blissfulness.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.123)


 

11   Indispensable guidance


“Practise and study the things that I have continually encouraged you to do, accepting these things as the essential principles for a good life.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.123)


 

10   Our aim is and ought to be happiness


“So we must study and practise the things that produce happiness, for if we have happiness we have everything, and if we lack happiness we do everything to have it.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.122)


 

9   It is always time for philosophy


“To say either that it is not yet the time to engage in philosophy or that the time has passed is like saying that it is either not the time or no longer the time for happiness.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.122)


 

8   Life-long learning


“Let no one who is young put off engaging in philosophy, nor anyone who is old weary of it. For no one is either too young or too old to attend to the health of the soul.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.122)


 

7   Transformed by good values


“For a person does not seem like a mortal being at all when living in the midst of good things that are immortal.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.135)


 

6   Practice makes perfect


“Therefore study and practise these and related matters day and night, on your own and with someone similar to yourself, and whether awake or asleep you will never be thrown into a state of disturbance and confusion, but you will live like a divinity among humanity.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.135)


 

5   Thoughtful decision-making is best


“And this person (who accepts the four-part cure and rejects popular notions of chance) considers that it is better to act rationally and fail than to act irrationally and succeed; for it is better in human affairs to have a good decision not succeed than to have a bad decision succeed by chance.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.135)


 

4   Chance is not in charge


“And this person (who accepts the four-part cure and laughs at fate) does not accept that chance is either a god (as the majority think), for nothing is done by a god in a disorganized way, or an unstable cause – rejecting the view that it is from chance that good or evil is granted to human beings for living a happy life, though chance supplies beginnings of great goods or great evils.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.134)


 

3   We are not slaves of fate


“It would be better to fall in with the myth about gods than to be slaves to the fate argued for by (some) natural philosophers. For the former suggests a hope of intercession through worship of gods, while the latter presents necessity as inexorable.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.134)


 

2   Strengthened by the four-part cure


“Now who do you think is in a stronger position than someone who holds dutiful opinions concerning the gods and is altogether free from fear of death, and has taken into account the goal of nature and has grasped that good has a limit which is easily attainable and procurable while what is bad has a limit in not lasting long or not being very painful?”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.133)


 

1   Practical insight and know-how are vital


“Of all these things the beginning and the greatest good is practical wisdom. Hence practical wisdom is even more valuable than philosophy.”

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.132)


 

Headings are linked (or are to be linked) to related blog posts, where comments can be submitted. The translations are open to revision on textual or other grounds. At some points the interpretation is provisional.