Epicurus

Malachy gave me a perfect holiday book: The QI Book of the Dead, a collection of facts and scandal about historical persons. I love the portrait of Epicurus, and the big-minded Ben Franklin.

Epicurus, the book tells us, has the reputation ‘as the high priest of high living and sensuous pleasure, the philosopher of the debauchee and the gourmand. Except that he wasn’t. So far from indulging in orgies and banquets, Epicurus lived on barley bread and fruit, with cheese as a special treat only on feast days. … But Epicurus had the misfortune to live in the highly competitive golden age of Greek philosophy, where he found himself up against the Academy founded by Plato, and the porch (stoa) of the Stoics: both articulate and well-organised opponents. The mud they slung at him over two millennia ago has stuck firm.’

Which deserves to be preserved in an epigram:

To have a bad reputation is to have influential enemies.

A Christmas thought: if the Magi saw and followed ‘a star in the east’ then they came from the west. They may have been from a sect of Platonists disenchanted with the way the Academy’s teaching had descended into nihilism—

I went to university
Studied Greek philosophy
And all that it taught me was there’s nothing to know
But that knowing you know nothing, well that’s knowing something too.

In my fantasy these wise men came east looking for a newborn child to take on the mantle of Socrates, a moral model and innocent victim condemned to death by the state he sought to reform. Socrates (as reported by Plato) had improved on previous moral teachers by urging kindness to enemies simply because treating everyone positively is the right thing to do—something Jesus certainly passed on. The Proverbs of Solomon had said that doing good to your enemy will ‘heap coals of fire upon his head’, and this vengeful prospect was reiterated some centuries after Socrates by a professed Christian (Romans 12:20). Perhaps St Paul didn’t quite get the message.

Hence my take on Christianity and Christmas:

He doesn’t really go with Christmas trees,
This younger, more attractive Socrates—
A sobering memento hung on wood:
See, children, what you get for being good.

I had what may best be called an Epicurean thought (I saw it then as more like Diogenes, another philosopher with influential enemies who have given his school, the Cynics, an even worse name than the Epicureans) on one of my long cycles with Michael. I was approaching the age of sixty and wanted to prepare myself for old age: what should my priorities be? I came up with:

Be less
Do less
Have less
Get out more

My new year’s resolution.

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6 Responses to “Epicurus”

  1. malo Says:

    less is more – so – do more or less, it’s the same!
    and
    what you let out is what you get out – so – let out more to get out more!

  2. recumbentman Says:

    So let it out and let it in
    Hey Jude begin

  3. recumbentman Says:

    I’ve finished the book. It is a terrific creation, linking 68 disparate life stories loosely together, yet with an emerging message that is inspiring and not too preachy. It finishes with Buckminster Fuller, the guru of sustainability.

  4. malo Says:

    must have a bor on it

  5. recumbentman Says:

    Correct Mountjoyspeak: gi’s a bore o’ that; alternatively, have you on a bore of that. Why we should perpetuate it, [sigh] . . .

    Most often heard in ‘give us a bore of your jam’. Tuck boxes (under lock) (and key) held inmates’ personal stores of jam which they could bring down to meals. We Robinsons were so hard we did without tuck boxes. But then we did get home for weekends.

  6. samwell Says:

    i think my new year resolution is the opposite of yours except for the getting out.

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