Touching on ancient Epicureanism

In answer to a reader who, some while ago, sought a feel for daily life among the ancient Epicureans: There are so. any aspects of life about which we are ignorant. But we *do* know that Epicureans did not pool their assets all together, in any communal fashion, as other philosophical groups actually *did*; the argument was that such a practice would either indicate or, worse yet, foster mutual suspicion.
 
It is hard to define such terms as “job” in the context of the ancient world; “Old Money”, Athenian patricians –men only, of course– were landed gentry, and looked down on the dirty business of actually *making* money; many (most?) members of the large, mercantile class were “metoikoi”, i.e. resident-aliens, Greeks usually, but non-Athenians, who had significant monetary/economic power but no political, citizen rights; craftsmen and artisans were yet a rung lower; farmers, lowest of all.
 
The short version of my answer is a call to caution, lest we seek to superimpose *present*-day concepts on a socioeconomic reality long, long gone.
 
It is also difficult, if not impossible to impute our modern sense of “tuition” in Greek antiquity. Suffice it to say that teachers of all sorts (philosophers, sophists, etc.) *did* customarily receive some sort of payment or other “for services rendered”. There appears to be some evidence that Epicurus was somehow “paid”, albeit probably very modestly, and that he disposed of his modest possessions with generorosity both prodigious and judicious. After all, he was totally committed to making do with less than most other people.
 
It is hard to imagine what “normal jobs” other Epicureans would/could have had: Athenian women were notoriously under their husbands’ thumbs. Paradoxically, the permissive Athenians were scandalized by the hyper-macho, militarist Spartans, whose society they (the Athenians) derided as “gynekokratia” , i.e. Women’s Rule: with men in the barracks from the cradle to the grave, Spartan women took care of just about everything in that city’s everyday life. But Athenian women were tightly tethered, and domesticated to a fault. The only notable exception would have been prostitutes, and we do know that Epicurus allowed *those* in his microcosm, much to the shock and disapproval of everyone else in his society at large.
 
Slaves were a special case, and one particularly hard to fathom, due to lack of documentation: some were modestly “educated”, although of course not in the fullness of the liberal arts, reserved for free-born citizens alone; they may have caught a glimpse of reading/writing skills, looking over their masters’ shoulders. Epicurus’ reliance on rote memorization may have had a practical tie-in with the low level of literacy anywhere below the upper crust of Athenian society.
 
It is plausible that the Garden was more a *meeting* place than some sort of a “full-time residence”. Again, Athenians were (and we still are! 😉 notoriously outgoing: early in the 20th (!) century, a literary tourist wrote that “these people are like cats in midsummer”, always strolling about, stopping to chat with whoever might have been in the Agora (still extant, albeit in ruins), spending the bare minimum of time in their *own* houses. I get the strong impression that “home” for ancient Athenians meant little more than “a place to sleep”. Free-born Athenian men were the quintessential roaming tomcats; domesticity, and love thereof, is distinctly a *Roman* sentiment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.