Epicurus Quotes

Epicurus (341–270 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher who founded a highly influential school of philosophy now called Epicureanism.

For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia—peace and freedom from fear—and aponia—the absence of pain—and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. 

Epicurus

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. – Epicurus

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God? – Epicurus

The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity. – Epicurus

Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come,we are not. – Epicurus

Of all the means to insure happiness throughout the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends. – Epicurus, A Guide To Happiness

Never say that I have taken it, only that I have given it back. – Epicurus

It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us as the confident knowledge that they will help us. – Epicurus

Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little. – Epicurus

You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity. – Epicurus

I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know. – Epicurus

Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist. – Epicurus

I am writing this not to many, but to you: certainly we are a great enough audience for each other. – Epicurus

The art of living well and the art of dying well are one.” – Epicurus

He who says either that the time for philosophy has not yet come or that it has passed is like someone who says that the time for happiness has not yet come or that it has passed. – Epicurus

Not what we have But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance. – Epicurus

Epicurus Quotes

Accustom yourself to the belief that death is of no concern to us, since all good and evil lie in sensation and sensation ends with death. Therefore the true belief that death is nothing to us makes a mortal life happy, not by adding to it an infinite time, but by taking away the desire for immortality. For there is no reason why the man who is thoroughly assured that there is nothing to fear in death should find anything to fear in life. So, too, he is foolish who says that he fears death, not because it will be painful when it comes, but because the anticipation of it is painful; for that which is no burden when it is present gives pain to no purpose when it is anticipated. Death, the most dreaded of evils, is therefore of no concern to us; for while we exist death is not present, and when death is present we no longer exist. It is therefore nothing either to the living or to the dead since it is not present to the living, and the dead no longer are. – Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus

To eat and drink without a friend is to devour like the lion and the wolf. – Epicurus

It is folly for a man to pray to the gods for that which he has the power to obtain by himself. – Epicurus

We must, therefore, pursue the things that make for happiness, seeing that when happiness is present, we have everything; but when it is absent, we do everything to possess it. – Epicurus

I was not, I was, I am not, I care not. – Epicurus

All friendship is desirable in itself, though it starts from the need of help – Epicurus

The noble soul occupies itself with wisdom and friendship. – Epicurus

Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and when death is come, we are not. – Epicurus

Empty is the argument of the philosopher which does not relieve any human suffering. – Epicurus

Let no one delay the study of philosophy while young nor weary of it when old. – Epicurus

So death, the most terrifying of ills, is nothing to us, since so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist. It does not then concern either the living or the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no more. – Epicurus

THE NOBLE MAN IS CHIEFLY CONCERNED WITH WISDOM AND FRIENDSHIP;OF THESE,THE FORMER IS A MORTAL GOOD,THE LATTER AN IMMORTAL ONE. – Epicurus, Letters and Sayings of Epicurus

If God listened to the prayers of men, all men would quickly have perished: for they are forever praying for evil against one another – Epicurus

It is better for you to be free of fear lying upon a pallet, than to have a golden couch and a rich table and be full of trouble. – Epicurus

I never desired to please the rabble. What pleased them, I did not learn; and what I knew was far removed from their understanding. – Epicurus

I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind. – Epicurus

It is not the pretended but the real pursuit of philosophy that is needed for we do not need the appearance of good health but to enjoy it in truth. – Epicurus

[A] right understanding that death is nothing
to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not because it adds to it
an infinite span of time, but because it takes away the craving for
immortality. For there is nothing terrible in life for the man who has
truly comprehended that there is nothing terrible in not living. – Epicurus

Misfortune seldom intrudes upon the wise man; his greatest and highest interests are directed by reason throughout the course of life. – Epicurus

The fool’s life is empty of gratitude and full of fears; its course lies wholly toward the future. – Epicurus

He who has peace of mind disturbs neither himself nor another. – Epicurus

The wise man who has become accustomed to necessities knows better how to share with others than how to take from them, so great a treasure of self-sufficiency has he found. – Epicurus, Epicurus: Letters Principal Doctrines and Vatican Sayings

Death is nothing to us, because a body that has been dispersed into elements experiences no sensations, and the absence of sensation is nothing to us. – Epicurus, Principal Doctrines

The man who says that all events are necessitated has no ground for critizing the man who says that not all events are necessitated. For according to him this is itself a necessitated event. – Epicurus, Epicurus: Letters Principal Doctrines and Vatican Sayings

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. – Epicurus

Justice is a contract of expediency, entered upon to prevent men harming or being harmed. – Epicurus

The man least dependent upon the morrow goes to meet the morrow most cheerfully. – Epicurus

Pleasure is the beginning and the end of living happily. – Epicurus

The knowledge of sin is the beginning of salvation. – Epicurus

Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests. – Epicurus

It is not so much our friends help that helps us as the confidence of their help. – Epicurus

A beneficent person is like a fountain watering the earth, and spreading fertility; it is, therefore, more delightful to give than to receive. – Epicurus

Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not. – Epicurus

There is nothing terrible in life for the man who realizes there is nothing terrible in death. – Epicurus

For a wrongdoer to be undetected is difficult; and for him to have confidence that his concealment will continue is impossible. – Epicurus

Fortune seldom troubles the wise man. Reason has controlled his greatest and most important affairs, controls them throughout his life, and will continue to control them. – Epicurus

Natural wealth is limited and easily obtained; the wealth defined by vain fancies is always beyond reach. – Epicurus

It is folly for a man to pray to the gods for that which he has the power to obtain for himself. – Epicurus

No pleasure is evil in itself; but the means by which certain pleasures are gained bring pains many times greater than the pleasures. – Epicurus

Let no young man delay the study of philosophy, and let no old man become weary of it; for it is never too early nor too late to care for the well-being of the soul. – Epicurus

Necessity is an evil; but there is no necessity for continuing to live subject to necessity. – Epicurus

The flesh endures the storms of the present alone, the mind those of the past and future as well as the present. – Epicurus

The flesh believes that pleasure is limitless and that it requires unlimited time; but the mind, understanding the end and limit of the flesh and ridding itself of fears of the future, secures a complete life and has no longer any need for unlimited time. – Epicurus

The art of living well and the art of dying well are one. – Epicurus

There is no such thing as justice in the abstract; it is merely a compact between men. – Epicurus

The honor paid to a wise man is a great good for those who honor him. – Epicurus

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living pleasantly. – Epicurus

Remember that the future is neither ours nor wholly not ours, so that we may neither count on it as sure to come nor abandon hope of it as certain not to be. – Epicurus

We do not so much need the help of our friends as the confidence of their help in need. – Epicurus

Freedom is the greatest fruit of self-sufficiency. – Epicurus

Any device whatever by which one frees himself from the fear of others is a natural good. – Epicurus

Those desires that do not bring pain if they are not satisfied are not necessary; and they are easily thrust aside whenever to satisfy them appears difficult or likely to cause injury. – Epicurus

It is possible to provide security against other ills, but as far as death is concerned, we men all live in a city without walls.

Death, the most dreaded of evils, is therefore of no concern to us; for while we exist death is not present, and when death is present we no longer exist. – Epicurus

As if they were our own handiwork, we place a high value on our characters. – Epicurus

In a philosophical dispute, he gains most who is defeated, since he learns most. – Epicurus

The misfortune of the wise is better than the prosperity of the fool. – Epicurus

Most men are in a coma when they are at rest and mad when they act. – Epicurus

A world is a circumscribed portion of sky… it is a piece cut off from the infinite. – Epicurus Letter to Pythocles, in Epicurus: The Extant Remains (1926), trans. C. Bailey, 59.

Earthquakes may be brought about because wind is caught up in the earth, so the earth is dislocated in small masses and is continually shaken, and that causes it to sway. – Epicurus Letter to Pythocles, in Epicurus: The Extant Remains (1926), trans. C. Bailey, 71.

There are infinite worlds both like and unlike this world of ours. For the atoms being infinite in number… are borne on far out into space. – Epicurus Letter to Herodotus, in Epicurus: The Extant Remains (1926), trans. C. Bailey, 25.

When someone admits one and rejects another which is equally in accordance with the appearances, it is clear that he has quitted all physical explanation and descended into myth. – Epicurus Letter to Pythocles, 87. Trans. R. W. Sharples.

Epicurus Quotes

  • Don’t fear god,
    Don’t worry about death;
    What is good is easy to get, and
    What is terrible is easy to endure.

    • The “Tetrapharmakos” [τετραφάρμακος], or “The four-part cure” of Epicurus, from the “Herculaneum Papyrus”, 1005, 4.9–14 of Philodemus, as translated in The Epicurus Reader: Selected Writings and Testimonia(1994) edited by D. S. Hutchinson, p. vi
  • The greatest reward of righteousness is peace of mind.
    • Attributed to Epicurus by Clement of Alexandria in Stromata

What is good is easy to get, and
What is terrible is easy to endure.

  • Luxurious food and drinks, in no way protect you from harm. Wealth beyond what is natural, is no more use than an overflowing container. Real value is not generated by theaters, and baths, perfumes or ointments, but by philosophy.
    • From the esplanade wall at Oenoanda, now in Turkey, as recorded by Diogenes of Oenoanda
  • Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young alike ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come. So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions are directed towards attaining it.
    • “Letter to Menoeceus”, as translated in Stoic and Epicurean (1910) by Robert Drew Hicks, p. 167
    • Variant translation: 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 philosophize, 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.
  • Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.
    • “Letter to Menoeceus”, as translated in Stoic and Epicurean (1910) by Robert Drew Hicks, p. 169
  • He who is not satisfied with a little, is satisfied with nothing.
    • The Essential Epicurus : Letters, Principal Doctrines, Vatican sayings, and fragments (1993) edited by Eugene Michael O’Connor, p. 99
  • Self-sufficiency is the greatest of all wealth.
    • The Essential Epicurus : Letters, Principal Doctrines, Vatican sayings, and fragments (1993) edited by Eugene Michael O’Connor, p. 99

Epicurus Quotes

Sovereign Maxims

  • A happy and eternal being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; hence he is exempt from movements of anger and partiality, for every such movement implies weakness. 
    • Variant translations: 
      What is blessed and indestructible has no troubles itself, nor does it give trouble to anyone else, so that it is not affected by feelings of anger or gratitude. For all such things are signs of weakness. (Hutchinson)
      The blessed and immortal is itself free from trouble nor does it cause trouble for anyone else; therefore it is not constrained either by anger of favour. For such sentiments exist only in the weak (O’Connor) 
      A blessed and imperishable being neither has trouble itself nor does it cause trouble for anyone else; therefore, it does not experience anger nor gratitude, for such feelings signify weakness. (unsourced translation)
  • 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.
  • No pleasure is in itself evil, but the things which produce certain pleasures entail annoyances many times greater than the pleasures themselves. (8)
    • Variant translation: No pleasure is itself a bad thing, but the things that produce some kinds of pleasure, bring along with them unpleasantness that is much greater than the pleasure itself.
  • 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 pure pleasure.
    • Variant translation: One cannot rid himself of his primal fears if he does not understand the nature of the universe, but instead suspects the truth of some mythical story. So without the study of nature, there can be no enjoyment of pure pleasure.
  • The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.
  • 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. 
  • The just man is most free from disturbance, while the unjust is full of the utmost disturbance.
  • 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.
  • 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 and confusion.
  • If you reject absolutely any single sensation without stopping to discriminate with respect to that which awaits confirmation between matter of opinion and that which is already present, whether in sensation or in feelings or in any immediate perception of the mind, you will throw into confusion even the rest of your sensations by your groundless belief and so you will be rejecting the standard of truth altogether. 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 escape error, as you will be maintaining complete ambiguity whenever it is a case of judging between right and wrong opinion.
  • Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship.
  • 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 opinion.
  • Natural justice is a symbol or expression of usefulness, to prevent one person from harming or being harmed by another.
    • Variant: Natural justice is a pledge of reciprocal benefit, to prevent one man from harming or being harmed by another.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Those who were best able to provide themselves with the means of security against their neighbors, being thus in possession of the surest guarantee, passed the most agreeable life in each other’s society; and their enjoyment of the fullest intimacy was such that, if one of them died before his time, the survivors did not mourn his death as if it called for sympathy.

Disputed

  • Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
    • This attribution occurs in chapter 13 (Ioan. Graphei, 1532, p. 494) of the Christian church father’s Lactantius’s De Ira Dei (c. 318):
“God,” he [Epicurus] says, “either wants to eliminate bad things and cannot, 
or can but does not want to,
or neither wishes to nor can,
or both wants to and can.
If he wants to and cannot, then he is weak and this does not apply to god.
If he can but does not want to, then he is spiteful which is equally foreign to god’’s nature.
If he neither wants to nor can, he is both weak and spiteful, and so not a god.
If he wants to and can, which is the only thing fitting for a god, where then do bad things come from? Or why does he not eliminate them?
Lactantius, On the Anger of God, 13.19
  • Charles Bray, in his 1863 The Philosophy of Necessity: Or, Natural Law as Applicable to Moral, Mental, and Social Science quotes Epicurus without citation as saying a variant of the above statement (p. 41) (with “is not omnipotent” for “is impotent”). This quote appeared in “On the proofs of the existence of God: a lecture and answer questions” (1960) by professor Kryvelev I.A. (Крывелёв И.А. О доказательствах бытия божия: лекция и ответы на вопросы. М., 1960). And N. A. Nicholson, in his 1864 Philosophical Papers (p. 40), attributes “the famous questions” to Epicurus, using the wording used earlier by Hume (with “is he” for “he is”). Hume’s statement occurs in Book X (p. 186) of his renowned Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, published posthumously in 1779. The character Philo precedes the statement with “Epicurus’s old questions are yet unanswered.…”. Hume is following the enormously influential Dictionnaire Historique et Critique (1697–1702) of Pierre Bayle, which quotes Lactantius attributing the questions to Epicurus (Desoer, 1820, p. 479).
  • There has also arisen a further disputed extension, for which there has been found no published source prior to The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations: Cutting Comments on Burning Issues (1992) by Charles Bufe, p. 186: “Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Quotes about Epicurus

  • For if they imagine infinite spaces of time before the world, during which God could not have been idle, in like manner they may conceive outside the world infinite realms of space, in which, if any one says that the Omnipotent cannot hold His hand from working, will it not follow that they must adopt Epicurus’ dream of innumerable worlds? with this difference only, that he asserts that they are formed and destroyed by the fortuitous movements of atoms, while they will hold that they are made by God’s hand, if they maintain that, throughout the boundless immensity of space, stretching interminably in every direction round the world, God cannot rest, and that the worlds which they suppose Him to make cannot be destroyed. … there is no place beside the world …no time before the world.
    • Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Book XI, Ch. 5 “That We Ought Not to Seek to Comprehend the Infinite Ages of Time Before the World, Nor the Infinite Realms of Space”
  • So the vital strength of his spirit won through, and he made his way far outside the flaming walls of the world and ranged over the measureless whole, both in mind and spirit.
    • Lucretius, in De Rerum Natura, Book I, line 72

Roman marble bust of Epicurus

Epicurus (341–270 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher who founded a highly influential school of philosophy now called Epicureanism. He was born on the Greek island of Samos to Athenian parents. Influenced by Democritus, Aristotle, and possibly the Cynics, he turned against the Platonism of his day and established his own school, known as “the Garden”, in Athens. He and his followers were known for eating simple meals and discussing a wide range of philosophical subjects, and he openly allowed women to join the school as a matter of policy. An extremely prolific writer, he is said to have originally written over 300 works on various subjects, but the vast majority of these writings have been lost. Only three letters written by him—the Letters to Menoeceus, Pythocles, and Herodotus—and two collections of quotes—the Principle Doctrines and the Vatican Sayings—have survived intact, along with a few fragments and quotations of his other writings. His teachings are better recorded in the writings of later authors, including the Roman poet Lucretius, the philosopher Philodemus, the philosopher Sextus Empiricus, and the biographer Diogenes Laërtius.

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