life metrodorus philosophy athens society father school
EPICURUS, the founder of the Epicurean school of philosophy, was born in the end of 342 or the beginning of 341 B. C., seven years after the death of Plato. His father Neocles belonged to Gargettos, one of the small villages of Attica, but had settled in Samos, not later than 352, as one of the colonists sent out by the Athenian state after the conquest of the island by Timotheus in 366. In Samos, and also at Teos, Epicurus passed the early years of his life, probably assisting his father, who was a common schoolmaster, possibly, too, assisting his mother Archestrata in the practice of her witchcraft - if we may believe doubtful tales. At the age of 1S he went to Athens, where the Platonic school was flourishing under the lead of Xenocrates, and which Aristotle had recently quitted for Chaleis to avoid an indictment for impiety. This visit to Athens, however, was a short one, for in the next year (322) Antipater the Macedonian punished the Athenians for their incipient revolt by banishing about 12,000 of the poorer citizens to distant shores. It was in connection with this event that Epicurus joined his father, who was now located at Colophon. It seems possible that• before this time he had listened to some lectures from Nausiphanes, a Democritean philosopher - perhaps also from others - but there is little reason to suppose that he was much better than a petty teacher like his father. The first awakening of the philosophic spirit was seen, it is said, when he asked his teacher, as they read together in Hesiod how chaos was the first of all things, " What then preceded chaos ?" Stimulated further by the perusal of some writings of Democritits, Epicurus began to formulate a doctrine of his own ; and at Mitylene and Lampsacus, where he spent several years, he gradually gathered round him several disciples who adopted his views with enthusiasm. In 307, the year in which Demetrius Polioreetes entered Athens and restored to it an at least nominal freedom, Epicurus returned to that city, which had now for a century and a half been the recognized head-quarters of Greek philosophy. Half his life was past; for the remaining thirty-six years he continued at Athens, with the exception of one or two visits to his friends in Ionia. The scene of his philosophic life and teaching was a garden which he bought at the cost of about .300 (80 mina;). There he passed his days as the loved and venerated head of a remarkable society, such as the ancient world had never seen. Amongst the number were Metrodorus, a bosom-friend of more energetic temperament than Epicurus' during their acquaintance, which lasted till the death of Metrodorus seven years before his friend, they only parted company for the space of six months. Timocrates, a brother of Metrodorus, was another member ; so were Polyrenus, a fair-minded and studious man, Hermarchus, a son of poor parents, who succeeded Epicurus as chief of the school, Leonteus, and others. Nor were women absent from the philosophic coterie. Themista, the wife of Leonteus, was a friend and correspondent of Epicurus ; Idomeneus, another member, had married a sister of Metrodorus ; and Metrodorus himself had as his consort Leontion, once a hetwra in Athens, but now the mother of a boy and girl, for whose welfare Epicurus made special provision in his will. That these were not the only ladies in the society is possible enough, and it is possible that the relations between the sexes - in this prototype of Rabelais's Abbey of Theleme - were not entirely what is termed Platonic. But there is on the other hand scarcely a doubt that the tales of licentiousness which ill-tempered opponents circulated regarding the society of the garden are groundless. The stories of the Stoics, who sought occasionally to refute the views of Epicurus by an appeal to his alleged antecedents and habits, were no doubt in the main, as Diogenes Laertins says, the stories of maniacs. The general charges against him which they endeavoured to substantiate by forged letters need not count for rnuch. Even when they tried to show that he was not a citizen with full rights, that he was a plagiarist of other men's wisdom, a correspondent of ladies whom the aristocracy of the period held of dubious rank, an ignoramus, and a scandalous and abusive critic of his opponents, they only exaggerated what, if true, was not so heinous as they wished it to appear. Against them trustworthy authorities testified to his general and remarkable considerateness ; they pointed to the statues which the city had raised in his honour, and above all to the numbers of his friends, who were many enough to fill whole cities.
The mode of life in his community was plain. The general drink was water, and the food barley bread ; half a pint of wine was held an ample allowance. "Send me," says Epicurus to a correspondent, " send me some Cythnian cheese, so that, should I choose, I may fare sumptuously." But though they lived together, Epicurus would not let his friends throw all their property into the common.stock ; that, he remarked, would imply distrust of their own and others' good resolutions. The company was held in unity by the siren-like charms of his personality, and by the free sociality which he inculcated and exemplified. Though he seems to have had a warm affection for his countrymen, it was as human beings brought into contact with him, and not as members of a political body, that lie preferred to regard them. He never entered public life. His kindliness extended even to his slaves, one of whom, named Mouse, was a brother in philosophy.
Epicurus died of stone in 270 B.C. In a letter to a friend, he speaks of the pleasure afforded to him in his sufferings by the remembrance of happy hours spent in reasoning on the questions of philosophy. He passed away bidding his friends keep in mind the doctrines be had taught them. By his will he left his property, consisting of the garden, a house in Melite (the south-west quarter of Athens), and apparently some funds besides, to two trustees for behoof of his society, and for the special interest of some youthful members. The garden was set apart fcr the use of the school ; the house became the house of Hermarchns and his fellow-philosophers during his life-time. The surplus proceeds of the property were further to he applied to maintain a yearly offering in commemoration of his departed father, mother, and brothers, to pay the expenses incurred in celebrating his own birthday every year on the 7th Gamelion, and for a social gathering of the sect on the 20th of every month in honour of himself and Metrodorus. Besides similar tributes in honour of his brothers and Polyrenus, he directed the trustees to be guardians-of the son of Polymnus and the son of Metrodorus; whilst the daughter of the last-mentioned was to be married by the guardian to some 'member of the society who should be approved of by Hermarchus. His four slaves, three men and one woman, were left their freedom. His hooks passed on to Hermarchus.
Epicurus was a voluminous writer, - the author, it is said, of about 300 works. He had a style and vocabulary of his own. His chief aim in writing was plainness and intelligibility, but his want of order and of logical precision considerably thwarted the realization of his purpose. He pretended to have read little, and to be the original architect of his own system, and the claim was no doubt on the whole true. But he had read Democritus, and it is said Anaxagoras and Archelaus were also amongst his more favourite philosophical authors. His works, it is said, were full of repetition, - which was natural enough ; and critics profess to have found in them some vulgarities of language and faults of style. But at any rate they were read and remembered, his pupils got them by heart, and to the last era of Epicureanism they continued in full authority. His chief work was a treatise on nature, in thirty-seven books, of which fragments from about nine books have been found in the rolls discovered at Hercu• laneum, along with considerable treatises by several of his followers, and most notably Philodemus. An epitome of his doctrine is contained in three letters preserved by Diogenes.
The Epicurean philosophy is traditionally divided into the three branches of logic, physics, and ethics. But it is only as a basis of facts and principles for his theory of life that logical and physical inquiries find a place at all. Epicurus himself had not apparently shared in any large or liberal culture, and his influence was certainly thrown on the side of those who depreciated purely scientific pursuits as one-sided and misleading. " Steer clear of all culture" was his advice to a young disciple. In this aversion to a purely or mainly intellectual training may be traced a recoil from the systematic metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle. With these writers the tendency was to sacrifice the moral to the intellectual - to subordinate the practical man to the philosopher. Ethics had been based upon logic and metaphysics; more had been done to explain the formation of a right judgment in matters of morality than to explain or promote right action. But every-day experience showed that no amount of merely intellectual study is preventive of immorality, and that the systematic knowledge of truth is one thing and right action is another. It seemed to many as well as to Epicurus that the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle led to an aristocracy of intellect, but not to a commonwealth of happiness and goodness. In tlds way a reaction set in against reasoning and speculation ; people wanted to get back to common sense and the feelings of ordinary men. In the second place, Plato and Aristotle had constructed their moral theories on the assumption that a state or a city existed which both showed in the shape of its several institutions how the individual man was expected to behave, and threatened him with various penalties in case he attempted to find out a way of action for himself. They could accordingly give themselves the comparatively easy task of showing how the individual could learn to apprehend and embody in his own conduct the moral law which was exhibited in the institutions of society. But experience had in the time of Epicurus shown the temporary and artificial character of the civic form of social life. It was necessary therefore for Epicurus to go back to nature to find a more enduring and a wider foundation for ethical doctrine, and to decline the help that might be derived from a consideration of the existing form of political union. It was no less necessary to go back from words to realities, to give up reasonings and get at feelings, to test conceptions and arguments by a final reference to the only touchstone of truth - to sensation. There, and there only, one seems to find a common and a satisfactory ground, supposing always that all men's feelings give the same answer. Logic must