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Epicurus : Letter to Menoeceus

Epicurus

 

  Greeting.

    Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary
    in the search thereof when he is 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 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 toward attaining it.

    Those things which without ceasing I have declared to you,
    those do, and exercise yourself in those, holding them to be
    the elements of right life. First believe that God is a living
    being immortal and happy, according to the notion of a god
    indicated by the common sense of humankind; and so of him
    anything that is at agrees not with about him whatever may
    uphold both his happyness and his immortality. For truly there
    are gods, and knowledge of them is evident; but they are not
    such as the multitude believe, seeing that people do not
    steadfastly maintain the notions they form respecting them.
    Not the person who denies the gods worshipped by the
    multitude, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude
    believes about them is truly impious. For the utterances of
    the multitude about the gods are not true preconceptions but
    false assumptions; hence it is that the greatest evils happen
    to the wicked and the greatest blessings happen to the good
    from the hand of the gods, seeing that they are always
    favorable to their own good qualities and take pleasure in
    people like to themselves, but reject as alien whatever is not
    of their kind.

    Accustom yourself to believe that death is nothing to us, for
    good and evil imply awareness, and death is the privation of
    all awareness; therefore a right understanding that death is
    nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by
    adding to life an unlimited time, but by taking away the
    yearning after immortality. For life has no terror; for those
    who thoroughly apprehend that there are no terrors for them in
    ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the person who says
    that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes,
    but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no
    annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in
    the expectation. 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. It is nothing, then,
    either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is
     not and the dead exist no longer. But in the world, at one
     time people shun death as the greatest of all evils, and at
     another time choose it as a respite from the evils in life.
     The wise person does not deprecate life nor does he fear the
     cessation of life. The thought of life is no offense to him,
     nor is the cessation of life regarded as an evil. And even as
     people choose of food not merely and simply the larger
     portion, but the more pleasant, so the wise seek to enjoy the
     time which is most pleasant and not merely that which is
     longest. And he who admonishes the young to live well and the
     old to make a good end speaks foolishly, not merely because of
     the desirability of life, but because the same exercise at
     once teaches to live well and to die well. Much worse is he
      who says that it were good not to be born, but when once one
      is born to pass with all speed through the gates of Hades. For
      if he truly believes this, why does he not depart from life?
      It were easy for him to do so, if once he were firmly
      convinced. If he speaks only in mockery, his words are
      foolishness, for those who hear believe him not.

      We must remember that the future is neither wholly ours nor
      wholly not ours, so that neither must we count upon it as
      quite certain to come nor despair of it as quite certain not
      to come.

      We must also reflect that of desires some are natural, others
      are groundless; and that of the natural some are necessary as
      well as natural, and some natural only. And of the necessary
      desires some are necessary if we are to be happy, some if the
       body is to be rid of uneasiness, some if we are even to live.
       He who has a clear and certain understanding of these things
      will direct every preference and aversion toward securing
      health of body and tranquillity of mind, seeing that this is
      the sum and end of a happy life. For the end of all our
      actions is to be free from pain and fear, and, when once we
      have attained all this, the tempest of the soul is laid;
      seeing that the living creature has no need to go in search of
      something that is lacking, nor to look anything else by which
      the good of the soul and of the body will be fulfilled. When
      we are pained pleasure, then, and then only, do we feel the
      need of pleasure. For this reason we call pleasure the alpha
      and omega of a happy life. Pleasure is our first and kindred
      good. It is the starting-point of every choice and of every
      aversion, and to it we come back, inasmuch as we make feeling
      the rule by which to judge of every good thing. And since
      pleasure is our first and native good, for that reason we do
      not choose every pleasure whatever, but often pass over many
      pleasures when a greater annoyance ensues from them. And often
      we consider pains superior to pleasures when submission to the
      pains for a long time brings us as a consequence a greater
      pleasure. While therefore all pleasure because it is naturally
      akin to us is good, not all pleasure is worthy of choice, just
      as all pain is an evil and yet not all pain is to be shunned.
      It is, however, by measuring one against another, and by
      looking at the conveniences and inconveniences, teat all these
      matters must be judged. Sometimes we treat the good as an
      evil, and the evil, on the contrary, as a good. Again, we
      regard. independence of outward things as a great good, not so
      as in all cases to use little, but so as to be contented with
      little if we have not much, being honestly persuaded that they
      have the sweetest enjoyment of luxury who stand least in need
      of it, and that whatever is natural is easily procured and
      only the vain and worthless hard to win. Plain fare gives as
      much pleasure as a costly diet, when one the pain of want has
      been removed, while bread an water confer the highest possible
      pleasure when they are brought to hungry lips. To habituate
      one's se therefore, to simple and inexpensive diet supplies al
      that is needful for health, and enables a person to meet the
      necessary requirements of life without shrinking and it places
      us in a better condition when we approach at intervals a
      costly fare and renders us fearless of fortune.

      When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not
      mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of
      sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through
      ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By
      pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of
      trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of
      drinking-bouts and of merrymaking, not sexual love, not the
      enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious
      table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning,
      searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and
      banishing those beliefs through which the greatest
      disturbances take possession of the soul. Of all this the d is
      prudence. For this reason prudence is a more precious thing
      even than the other virtues, for ad a life of pleasure which
      is not also a life of prudence, honor, and justice; nor lead a
      life of prudence, honor, and justice, which is not also a life
      of pleasure. For the virtues have grown into one with a
      pleasant life, and a pleasant life is inseparable from them.
      Who, then, is superior in your judgment to such a person? He
      holds a holy belief concerning the gods, and is altogether
      free from the fear of death. He has diligently considered the
      end fixed by nature, and understands how easily the limit of
      good things can be reached and attained, and how either the
      duration or the intensity of evils is but slight. Destiny
      which some introduce as sovereign over all things, he laughs
      to scorn, affirming rather that some things happen of
      necessity, others by chance, others through our own agency.
      For he sees that necessity destroys responsibility and that
      chance or fortune is inconstant; whereas our own actions are
      free, and it is to them that praise and blame naturally
      attach. It were better, indeed, to accept the legends of the
      gods than to bow beneath destiny which the natural
      philosophers have imposed. The one holds out some faint hope
      that we may escape if we honor the gods, while the necessity
      of the naturalists is deaf to all entreaties. Nor does he hold
      chance to be a god, as the world in general does, for in the
      acts of a god there is no disorder; nor to be a cause, though
      an uncertain one, for he believes that no good or evil is
      dispensed by chance to people so as to make life happy, though
      it supplies the starting-point of great good and great evil.
      He believes that the misfortune of the wise is better than the
      prosperity of the fool. It is better, in short, that what is
      well judged in action should not owe its successful issue to
      the aid of chance.
      Exercise yourself in these and kindred precepts day and night,
      both by yourself and with him who is like to you; then never,
      either in waking or in dream, will you be disturbed, but will
      live as a god among people. For people lose all appearance of
       mortality by living in the midst of immortal blessings.
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