LThe past year inflicted ill health, death, bereavement, unemployment, and poverty on some, and led others to look inward and reevaluate lifestyle and priorities. Many have sought therapeutic remedies for anxiety and insomnia, as well as advice on how to feel happier. Some ancient Mediterranean answers to these psychological problems can be found in John Sellars’ booklet. Explore the ideas of the Athenian philosopher Epicurus, born in 341 BC. C., 19 years before the death of Aristotle. Epicurus taught that the most important factor in achieving happiness is peace of mind. Epicureanism can ease contemporary concerns, Sellars believes; In a way it looks like cognitive behavioral therapy.
In 307 a. C., Epicuro founded his community in a place that called the Garden, to the northwest of the urban center of Athens, near the Academy that Plato had founded 80 years before. Irrigated by the Eridanus River, it offered a private and secluded space for the quiet followers of Epicurus (including, according to ancient tradition, both women and slaves) to gather. They did not indulge in the satisfaction of excessive appetites for food, drink, and other carnal pleasures. Although this cartoon was sold by its former critics, it misrepresented the Epicurean belief that pleasure (hedon) it was the most important goal in life.
Epicurean pleasure was not defined as the gratification of carnal desire (if any ancient philosopher defended this policy it was Socrates’ student, Aristippus of Cyrene in Libya). Rather, the pleasure was simply an absence of distress or disturbance (ataraxia). This tranquility could be achieved by withdrawing from public life in the company of like-minded friends, and using philosophy and physics to minimize the fear of pain and death, proving that the gods did not get involved in human affairs and that there was no other life in which humans could suffer retaliation.
Sellars, a professor of philosophy, is known as a proponent of neo-Stoicism. The Stoics advocated suppressing emotions, while Epicurus recommended avoiding them altogether, even to the point of avoiding marriage and parenthood.
Sellars expertly exposes documentable Epicurean ideas, especially on friendship and grief, and has an in-depth knowledge of Greek and Latin Epicurean texts. Not that they are bulky. Any attempt to revive Epicureanism is hampered by the paucity of textual evidence. Of the 300 works by Epicurus himself, only three substantial letters have survived, reproduced by his unreliable biographer Diogenes Laercio, and two collections of aphorisms called the Main doctrines and the Sayings of the Vatican. Sellars skillfully handles them and chooses some inspiring individual sayings that reward contemplation: “Friendship dances around the world, calling each of us to awaken our bliss.”
Epicurus’ natural philosophy of atomistic materialism, later admired by Galileo, Newton, and Marx, was featured in Lucretius’s magnificent Latin epic, On the nature of things. There are also the priceless charred papyrus fragments of works by both Epicurus and the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus, found in the 18th century in the “Villa of the Papyri” in Herculaneum; they had been charred by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. C. Sellars’ title is derived from Philodemus’ precious summary of Epicurus’ ideas as a “fourfold remedy”, tetrapharmakos. This only survives because an English clergyman named John Hayter drew a sketch of a crucial papyrus in the 1790s before it became unreadable. It reads:
Do not fear God.
Don’t worry about death.
The good is easy to get.
The terrible is easy to bear.
The third remedy can elicit a cynical snort from any reader struggling to make ends meet, unless they have no dependents and are temperamentally ascetic. Most Epicureans appear to have been prosperous enough to finance a life of seclusion and prolonged leisure.
Sellars, while regularly comparing Epicurean beliefs to Stoic beliefs, overlooks all The main schools had in common: disdain for the excess of earthly goods and pursuit of physical pleasures for themselves; the assumption that virtue, justice, and happiness were causally related; a questioning urge to discover the truth about the human condition.
Given his interest in Epicureanism as therapy, it is a shame that Sellars neglects both Dr. Asclepiades of Bithynia, considered a pioneer in psychotherapy and molecular medicine, whose Epicurean convictions underpinned his humane treatments of mental disorders, as well as the influence of Epicurean ideas. . about the medieval Baghdad physician al-Razi. It adds little to the story of Epicureanism’s impact on the Renaissance, told in an influential way by Stephen Greenblatt in The Swerve (2011).
Women seeking ataraxia You might lament Sellars’s neglect of the several important writers who have translated and exposed Epicureanism (e.g. Margaret Cavendish, a mid-17th century monarchical leader of would-be avant-garde intellectuals; and the puritan Lucy Hutchinson, almost certainly the Lucrecio’s first English translator, who tweaked his pronouncements on the treatment of women in a feminist sense).
Despite Sellars’ insistence that Epicureanism anticipates CBT, he offers little practical advice on how to integrate Epicurean practice into modern life. Perhaps some people still allow superstitions and fear of vengeful providential deities to ruin their peace of mind; If so, I would certainly recommend reading Lucretius’s beautiful image of cosmic atoms constantly combining and separating by their own insensitive material arrangement.
But I suspect that many more people are dealing with real hunger, memories of trauma, physical pain, or fear that unemployment will make them unable to provide for their children. Fortunately, there is a Greek philosopher whose important surviving works may provide concrete help with real-world problems related to analyzing and working with painful emotions, work, politics, environment, family, parenting and friends. His name is Aristotle.
• Edith Hall’s Way of Aristotle is published by Vintage. The Fourfold Remedy: Epicurus and the Art of Happiness by John Sellars is published by Allen Lane (RRP £ 9.99). To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism