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Letter to MenoikosGreetings from Epicurus to Menoikos.
Philosophy and happiness
Reflect on what brings happiness, because if you have that you have everything. . .
The gods, their nature, and what “most people believe”
Attitude to death
Only a fool says that he fears death because it causes pain ahead of time, not because it will cause pain when it comes. For something that causes no trouble when present causes only a groundless pain when merely expected. So death, the most terrifying of evils, is nothing to us, because as long as we exist death is not present, whereas when death is present we do not exist. It is nothing to those who live (since to them it does not exist) and it is nothing to those who have died (since they no longer exist).
Death . . . is nothing to us, because as long as we exist death is not present, whereas when death is present we do not exist.
Most people shrink from death as the greatest of evils, or else extol it as a release from the evils of life. Yet the wise man does not dishonor life (since he is not set against it) and he is not afraid to stop living (since he does not consider that to be a bad thing). Just as he does not choose the greatest amount of food but the most pleasing food, so he savors not the longest time but the span of time that brings the greatest joy. It is simpleminded to advise a young person to live well and an old person to die well, not only because life is so welcome but also because it is through the very same practices that one both lives well and dies well. It is even worse to say that it is good to never have been born, or:
Having been born, to pass through the gates of Hades as soon as possible.
If he believes what he says, why doesn’t he depart from life? It is easily done, if he has truly decided. But if he is joking, it is a worthless remark to those who don’t accept it. Remember that what will be is not completely within our control nor completely outside our control, so that we will not completely expect it to happen nor be completely disappointed if it does not happen.
Desires and wisdom
This is why we say that pleasure is the beginning and the end of a completely happy life. For we recognize it as the primary and innate good, we honor it in everything we accept or reject, and we achieve it if we judge every good thing by the standard of how that thing affects us [note 6]. And because this is the primary and inborn good, we do not choose every pleasure. Instead, we pass up many pleasures when we will gain more of what we need from doing so. And we consider many pains to be better than pleasures, if we experience a greater pleasure for a long time from having endured those pains. So every pleasure is a good thing because its nature is favorable to us, yet not every pleasure is to be chosen — just as every pain is a bad thing, yet not every pain is always to be shunned. It is proper to make all these decisions through measuring things side by side and looking at both the advantages and disadvantages, for sometimes we treat a good thing as bad and a bad thing as good.
…you’ll be •healthy of body and •spirit, •able to appreciate life, yet •not clinging to it.
So when we say that pleasure is the goal, we do not mean the pleasures of decadent people or the enjoyment of sleep, as is believed by those who are ignorant or who don’t understand us or who are ill-disposed to us, but to be free from bodily pain and mental disturbance. For a pleasant life is produced not by drinking and endless parties and enjoying boys and women and consuming fish and other delicacies of an extravagant table, but by sober reasoning, searching out the cause of everything we accept or reject, and driving out opinions that cause the greatest trouble in the soul.
[W]hen we say that pleasure is the goal, we . . . mean . . . to be free from bodily pain and mental disturbance.
Practical wisdom is the foundation of all these things and is the greatest good. Thus practical wisdom is more valuable than philosophy and is the source of every other excellence [note 7], teaching us that it is not possible to live joyously without also living wisely and beautifully and rightly, nor to live wisely and beautifully and rightly without living joyously. [note 8] For the excellences grow up together with the pleasant life, and the pleasant life is inseparable from them.
[I]t is not possible to live joyously without also living wisely and beautifully and rightly, nor to live wisely and beautifully and rightly without living joyously.
The four-fold wisdom – about gods, death, life’s goal and limits
So practice these and similar things day and night, by yourself and with a like-minded friend, and you will never be disturbed whether waking or sleeping, and you will live as a god among men: for a man who lives in the midst of immortal goods [note 12] is unlike a merely mortal being.
 The English translation is provided under Creative Commons CC0 (for details, refer to the Original Publisher’s Note). The text provided here generally follows that of Hermann Usener as published in his Epicurea (1887), with some attention paid to the texts of G. Arrighetti as published in Epicuro Opere (Torino: Giulio Einaudi Editore, 1960) and of A.A. Long and D.N. Sedley as published in Volume 2 of The Hellenistic Philosophers (Cambridge University Press, 1987). [back]
 Literally the Greek text says “to philosophize”. I have expanded the verb as “to love and practice wisdom”. Although I cannot provide complete justification for that expansion in a brief note, I shall do so in a forthcoming book on Epicurus. In the meantime, read What is Ancient Philosophy? by Pierre Hadot. [back]
 This is a puzzling sentence. Some translators understand it as applying to “the gods” from the previous sentence, with the sense that the gods would not interfere in human affairs because they don’t care about (“consider as alien”) mortal creatures who are so different from themselves. Other translators understand it as applying to “most people” from the previous sentence, with the sense that most people assume that immortal beings so different from themselves must want to interfere in human affairs. I lean toward the former interpretation. [back]
 Here Epicurus contrasts natural desires with desires that are κενός (empty, vain). However, κενός is usually the opposite of πλήρης (full, complete), not of φυσικός (natural, native). Thus I have chosen to translate κενός as “groundless” in almost all instances. This rendering is consistent with the connection that Epicurus makes between such desires and opinions that are not based on an understanding of the inborn requirements of human nature. Epicurus also calls such opinions κενός, and I think the word “groundless” sounds more appropriate in modern English than “empty” (since such opinions do have some content, albeit not well-grounded content) or “vain” (since such opinions are not caused by personal vanity). [back]
 Literally the Greek text says “to keep the body untroubled” (in fact “for the untroubledness of the body”), which might mean keeping the body healthy or perhaps even relaxed or stress-free. [back]
 The phrase κανόνι τῷ πάθει is often translated as “the standard of feeling” or “the standard of emotion”, but such renderings can make it sound as if Epicurus is an emotionalist in ethics, which is far from the truth. At root, the Greek word πάθος means “what has happened to you” or “what you have experienced”. Although “the standard of experience” is one possible translation, that swings in the opposite direction of empiricism. I have chosen “the standard of how that thing affects us” as a more neutral translation. [back]
 Although most translators render ἀρετή as “virtue”, I render it as “excellence” to get closer to the original sense of the word (which is not strictly moral or ethical); specifically, in the context of this passage it is excellent to live joyously, wisely, beautifully, and rightly, but those are not “virtues” as conceived by modern philosophy. [back]
 Elsewhere Epicurus discusses his principle that both pleasures and pains are strictly limited; see Principal Doctrines #11, #15, #18, #19, and #20, Vatican Sayings #4 and #35, and Fragment #548. [back]
 The verb παρακολουθεῖν has special meaning in the works of Aristotle, who uses it to denote the inseparable connection between logical ideas, between genus and species, between cause and effect, and the like (see Categories 8a33, Posterior Analytics 99a17, Topics 125b28 and 131b9, Metaphysics 1054a14, etc.). Here Epicurus uses the same word to note the close tie between praise and blame on the one hand and that which is within the power of an individual to achieve. [back]
 In Vatican Saying #78, Epicurus says that friendship is an immortal good (whereas wisdom is a merely mortal good); it is unclear what other goods Epicurus considers to be immortal. [back]