Epicurus objected that such pleasures are necessarily accompanied bydistress, for they depend upon a lack that is painful (Plato haddemonstrated the problematic nature of this kind of pleasure; seeGorgias 496C–497A, Philebus 31E–32D,46A–50C). In addition, augmenting desires tends to intensifyrather than reduce the mental agitation (a distressful state of mind)that Epicurean philosophy sought to eliminate. Catastematic pleasure,on the contrary, is (or is taken in) a state rather than a process: itis the pleasure that accompanies well-being as such. The Cyrenaics andothers, such as Cicero, maintained, in turn, that this condition isnot pleasurable but rather neutral — neither pleasurable norpainful.
While further intellectual progress in the 19th and 20th centuries was made largely in ignorance of Epicurus's role in shaping it, there is nonetheless a remarkable parallel between such modern doctrines as evolutionary biology, quantum mechanics, and spontaneous social order theories (associated with the Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and Friederich von Hayek) and the teachings of Epicurus and Lucretius. The recent revival of an Epicurean-oriented individualism in politics, philosophy, and popular culture also demonstrate the continuing influence of Epicurus's doctrines.
Socrates sees death as a blessing to be wished for if death is either nothingness or a relocation of the soul, whereas Epicurus argues that one shouldn't worry themselves about death since, once we are gone, death is annihilation which is neither good nor bad.
Similarly, the terms “epicure” and “epicurean” are now commonly associated with luxurious or recherché appetites and even vulgar excesses, although the Hellenistic Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–271 BC) encouraged moderation and a simple diet.
Epicurus was born on February 4th, 341 B.C., the second of four brothers, on the island of Samos in the Aegean Sea just off the west coast of what is now Turkey (a region called Ionia). Epicurus's parents were cleruchs, a class of poor Athenian citizens who settled territory appropriated from the tributary states of Athens. Cleruchs were looked down upon by Athenian residents and scorned as foreign invaders by the natives of the territories they settled, which made their social position precarious. This proved to be the case for Epicurus's family, which was forced to evacuate Samos in 322 B.C., just a year after Epicurus was drafted into the Athenian army. His father, the school teacher Neocles, and mother Chaerestrate subsequently moved the family home to the nearby coastal city of Colophon.
More or less contemporary with Philodemus is Lucretius (first centuryB.C.E.), who composed in Latin De rerum natura (“On theNature of Things”; the title, if it is Lucretius' own, is anadaptation of “On Nature”) in six books of hexameterverse, the meter characteristic of epic and didactic poetry. As adedicated Epicurean, passionate to promulgate the message of thefounder, Lucretius reproduced Epicurean doctrine faithfully (Sedley1998; Clay 1983 allows Lucretius more originality). His poemconcentrates principally on the physical and psychological orepistemological aspects of Epicureanism, and to a great extent omitsthe ethical. From a hostile point of view, Cicero rehearsed andcriticized Epicurus' ideas, especially concerning ethics, in severalof his philosophical works, including On Moral Ends (Definibus) and the Tusculan Disputations. Still later, inthe second century C.E., another Diogenes erected a large inscription,to this day only partially excavated, in the city of Oenoanda (insouthwestern Turkey), which contained the basic tenets of Epicureanism(authoritative edition by Smith 1993, but new fragments have beenpublished subsequently; see also Gordon 1996).
Antiochus, anxious to secure Judea in connection with his Egyptian expedition and to create a more culturally-unified empire, had the Zadokite high priest removed and founded a Greek-style Gymnasium in Jerusalem. Antiochus was sympathetic to Epicureanism (albeit not acting in accord with Epicurus's injunctions to avoid politics), so his attempt at a forced hellenization of Judea was closely linked to Epicureanism in the minds of the Judean patriots. Another factor was that Epicureans were prominent in the hellenized cities of Galilee, creating a rivalry between Epicureanism and the traditional religion among the northern Judeans. Antiochus's provocations brought about a strong nationalistic reaction, which exploded into violence when a rumor of Antiochus's death reached Judea. While the rumor was false, nonetheless the Hasmonean leader Judas Maccabeus was ultimately successful in his revolt against the Seleucids.
Ten years later, Epicurus moved to Mytilene on the island of Lesbos,and soon proceeded to Lampsacus on the nearby mainland; in both citieshe taught and gathered followers before returning again to Athens in307/06, where he remained until his death in 270, at the age ofseventy or seventy-one. In Athens, he purchased the property thatbecame known as the “Garden” (later used as a name for hisschool itself) and began to develop his own school inearnest. Diogenes reports a number of slanderous stories that werecirculated by Epicurus' opponents, despite which he affirms thatEpicurus was of an extraordinarily humane disposition; this was theprevailing view, shared even by hostile witnesses toEpicureanism. Diogenes also records Epicurus' will (10.16–21),in which, among other things, he made provisions for the children ofhis friends and appointed a successor.
The origins of this anti-Epicurean element of Jewish thought can be traced to the 2nd century B.C., when the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes embarked on a military campaign against Egypt in an attempt to conquer his Ptolemaic rival. Judea had the misfortune to be located between the Seleucid heartland of Syria and Ptolemaic Egypt, and the Judeans were divided into pro-Seleucid and pro-Ptolemaic factions. At this time, the hereditary Zadokite priesthood had been deeply influenced by Greek culture, adopting doctrines that tended to discount the conservative oral tradition and deny some of the more superstitious beliefs then current, notably the belief in bodily resurrection. At the time of Antiochus's campaign, the Zadokite high priest was a pro-Ptolemaic partisan.
In the course of his attempts to win converts Saul soon came into collision with the Epicurean communities that existed throughout the Greek-speaking world. Chapter 17 of the Acts of the Apostles records Saul's sermon to the Athenians, including Epicureans and Stoics, gathered at the Areopagus in Athens. When Saul gets ready to speak, the Epicureans present ask “What will this seed-pecker say?”. The Epicurean response to Saul's discourse was not recorded, but even the author of Acts admits that Saul was not too successful in winning converts on that occasion.
Modern Jews use “apikoros” as a generic term for an unbeliever, but the authors of the Talmud were clearly singling out followers of Epicurus. In effect, this statement is saying that all of Israel will enjoy eternal life except those who get corrupted by Epicurus or certain characteristic Epicurean beliefs (namely, Epicurean denials of an after-life and of divine providence). This peculiar hostility towards Epicureanism is all the more remarkable for the fact that this particular statement was later taken to be the basis for speculation about the meaning of Jewishness among Rabbis of the Middle Ages, the most famous of whom, Moses Maimonides, explicitly continued the Jewish tradition of denouncing Epicureanism late in the 12th century A.D.