Epicurus’s Birthday

Today is 10 Gamelion on the Attic Calendar, at least according to some date converter I could find on the Internet. 10 Gamelion was the birthday of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. He celebrated the day with a feast every year. In his will, he asked his followers to continue, which apparently they did.

Epicurus’s guiding philosophy was that people should seek a state of ataraxia, which means simple contentment. He differed from other philosophers of his time, in that he didn’t think it was worthwhile to strive for impact in the world. He thought that the best way to spend your time was with good conversation, healthy food and moderate drink with friends and family.

A later Epicurean, Philodemos, summarised part of Epicurus’s philosophy in the Tetrapharmakos, a short poem:

  • Don’t fear the gods. (They’re busy; they don’t care about you.)
  • Don’t fear death. (If you’re not dead, it doesn’t apply to you so it can’t hurt you. If you’re dead, you don’t exist so it can’t hurt you.)
  • What’s good is easy to get. (Good food, good friends, nature, interesting thoughts; they’re all right there for you to enjoy if you look around.)
  • What’s terrible can be endured. (If the pain doesn’t kill you, then clearly you can endure it. If it does kill you, then you’re dead, and you can’t feel it any more!)

I think it’s interesting that our modern thoughts about what makes a good life so closely match to Epicurus’s. Happiness as a goal, with simple engagement and appreciation of what you already have, feel very much like they came straight out of Epicurus’s own school, known as the Garden (because it was in a garden). I especially enjoyed the Science of Well-being course from Yale, freely available on Coursera, which covers a lot of ways to make your life happier.

I hope you get a chance for simple pleasures and good conversations tonight. We’re having a simple celebration at our house tonight; fresh sourdough bread and cheese and salad and cold cuts for dinner, plus our first family book club meeting (we’re reading the Hound of the Baskervilles). Hopefully it’s a calming and tranquil night.

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