Learning The Truth About Epicurus: The Most Misunderstood Philosopher?
You may of heard of Epicurus, and depending on where you heard of him, his philosophy and how he lived, the impression you have could be one of awe, reverence or high esteem, or it could be one of contempt, disregard or disdain.
Whatever you think you know about him, if you haven’t read this book, you’re wrong. And the reason I say this is because I know of no other scholar or writer that has gone as deep into Epicurus — the man and his philosophy — as much as Norman DeWitt. But not only this. If you do have some knowledge of Epicurus it’s most likely second-hand; in other words, what you know is probably from reading quotes, or other authors reflections of him (which rarely convey the truth).
Unless you study Epicurus with a meticulous obsession to detail, burning passion and without bias, you simply cannot, like with many of the other ancient greats, trust in what you read, learn or hear from others about him. Over the past 2000 years, he has been grossly, diabolically misunderstood; since he gave his first lecture in his famous Garden in Athens, he’s been put misquoted, put in the wrong context and misinterpreted, over and over and over. The author of this book, Dewitt, reverses that trend and delivers possibly the most profound, true and comprehensive book about Epicurus ever written.
A few of the things people associate Epicurus or ‘Epicureanism’ with include: overeating, drinking and laziness; an obsession with sex, intimacy, bliss, and instant gratification; and passivity and rebellion. Part of the reason for this is because of the terminology Epicurus used in his philosophy, for example his use of the word ‘Pleasure’ was very different to the way we use it today — almost antonymical. Because the word is used lots throughout his philosophy — for it was perhaps the focal point — it’s easy to see how the initial controversy arose (Seneca talks about this in his Moral letters). But even this cannot make okay the fact that over the years the philosophers, scholars, writers, poets, playwrights, politicians and bloggers have gotten him and his philosophy so, so wrong.
Nietzsche, Seneca, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Jefferson and Karl Marx are examples of those who understood Epicurus and were heavily influenced by him — and they did a thing or two in their lifetimes.
You may not know this, but Epicurus is the man to thank in large part (and this isn’t without controversy) for Christianity, perhaps all of it. Why? Because his famous house and garden in Athens — where he taught and housed many students, friends and fellow philosophers — was the first of it’s kind, and the beginning of a trend. Many more ‘schools’ opened up around Greece and then around Europe as his philosophy gained popularity. The Christian religion caught adopted this trend and built churches, sanctuaries, parishes and cathedrals.
This is an example of the awakening truths to be discovered through ones own applied diligence — when your start to dig a little deeper into anything, and do your own thinking. In the case of Epicurus, there is perhaps no better place to start than this masterpiece, by Norman DeWitt.