Epicurus: Ten Best Quotes (With References)

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This page contains a collection by Epicurus. These quotes are all genuine and details about the book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable.


On philosophy:

We must not make a pretence of doing philosophy, but really do it; for what we need is not the semblance of health but real health.

– Epicurus, as quoted in A. A. Long, Hellenistic Philosophy, p. 14


On desire:

We must consider that of desires some are natural, others vain, and of the natural some are necessary and others merely natural; and of the necessary some are necessary for happiness, others for the repose of the body, and others for very life. The right understanding of these facts enables us to refer all choice and avoidance to the health of the body and and the soul’s freedom from disturbance, since this is the aim of the life of blessedness. For it is to obtain this end that we always act, namely, to avoid pain and fear. And when this is once secured for us, all the tempest of the soul is dispersed, since the living creature has not to wander as though in search of something that is missing, and to look for some other thing by which he can fulfil the good of the soul and the good of the body. For it is then that we have need of pleasure, when we feel pain owing to the absence of pleasure; but when we do not feel pain, we no longer need pleasure. And for this cause we call pleasure the beginning and end of the blessed life. For we recognize pleasure as the first good innate in us, and from pleasure we begin every act of choice and avoidance, and to pleasure we return again, using the feeling as the standard by which we judge every good.

– Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus, trans. C. Bailey


On pleasure:

When we say that pleasure is the goal we do not mean the pleasures of the dissipated and those which consist in the process of enjoyment … but freedom from pain in the body and from disturbance in the mind. For it is not drinking and continuous parties nor sexual pleasures nor the enjoyment of fish and other delicacies of a wealthy table which produce the pleasant life, but sober reasoning which searches out the causes of every act of choice and refusal and which banishes the opinions that give rise to the greatest mental confusion.

– Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus, Hellenistic Philosophy, p. 65


On death:

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, Letter to Menoeceus, trans. C. Bailey


On philosophy:

Let no one when young delay the study of philosophy, nor when he is old grow weary of his study. For no one can come too early or too late to secure the health of his soul. And the man who says that the age for philosophy has either not yet come or has gone by is like the man who says that the age for happiness is not yet come to him, or has passed away. Wherefore both when young and old a man must study philosophy, that as he grows old he may be young in blessings through the grateful recollection of what has been, and that in youth he may be old as well, since he will know no fear of what is to come. We must then meditate on the things that make our happiness, seeing that when that is with us we have all, but when it is absent we do all to win it.

– Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus, trans. C. Bailey


On happiness:

That which is sublimely happy and immortal experiences no trouble itself nor does it inflict trouble on anything else, so that it is not affected by passion or partiality. Such things are found only in what is weak.

– Epicurus, Principal Doctrines, i, Hellenistic Philosophy, p. 41


On friendship:

Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship.

– Epicurus, Principal Doctrines, 27, trans. Robert Drew Hicks


On human nature:

We must suppose that human nature … was taught and constrained to do many things of every kind merely by circumstances; and that later on reasoning elaborated what had been suggested by nature and made further interventions, in some matters quickly, in others slowly, at some epochs and times making great advances, and lesser again at others.

– Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus, trans. C. Bailey


On atoms and the void:

Atoms move continuously for all time, some of them falling straight down, others swerving, and others recoiling from their collisions. And of the latter, some are borne on, separating to a long distance from one another, while others again recoil and recoil, whenever they chance to be checked by the interlacing with others, or else shut in by atoms interlaced around them. For on the one hand the nature of the void which separates each atom by itself brings this about, as it is not able to afford resistance, and on the other hand the hardness which belongs to the atoms makes them recoil after collision to as great a distance as the interlacing permits separation after the collision. And these motions have no beginning, since the atoms and the void are the cause.

– Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus, trans. C. Bailey


On the universe:

There are infinite worlds both like and unlike this world of ours. For the atoms being infinite in number, as was proved already, are borne on far out into space. … So that there nowhere exists an obstacle to the infinite number of worlds. … And further we must believe that these worlds were neither created all of necessity with one configuration nor yet with every kind of shape. Furthermore, we must believe that in all worlds there are living creatures and plants and other things we see in this world; for indeed no one could prove that in a world of one kind there might or might not have been included the kinds of seeds from which living things and plants and all the rest of things we see are composed, and that in a world of another kind they could not have been.

– Epicurus, Letter to Herodotus, trans. C. Bailey


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