Epicureanism was the world’s first ‘green’ philosophy. When people turn to the ancient therapeutic philosophies, or arts of life, they tend to look to resolute Stoicism for succor. But Epicureanism, which insists that we learn to be happy with less, is a better fit with the anxieties du jour.
The reason Epicureanism is not often mentioned in this context is that for more than two thousand years it has been misunderstood. Today Epicureanism is regarded as a form of gastronomic connoisseurship. In antiquity it was the exact opposite.
Epicurus (341-270 BC) abandoned the city of Athens for a house and garden outside its walls. The communards who followed him adopted the pleasure principle as their guide: the purpose of life is to maximise pleasure. But they understood pleasure not as the fulfillment of desire so much as its rational mastery. The richest pleasure of all, Epicurus believed, was freedom from suffering. “By pleasure,” he insisted, “we mean the absence of pain in the body and trouble in the soul.”
(Part of a paper by Luke Slattery, a Sydney-based writer, and an honorary associate in the University of Sydney’s department of Classics and Ancient History)