Diogenes Laertius (third century CE) is the chief source for the writings of Epicurus (341–270 BCE,) the Greek philosopher and the founder of Epicureanism. Diogenes Laertius tells us that Epicurus was the most productive author of his time (having produced approximately 300 papyrus rolls). Unfortunately little survives. Diogenes himself preserves three short letters summarizing Epicurus’s physical theory, ethics, and clarifications of celestial phenomena, though doubts exist that the last is from Epicurus’s script. Kuriai Doxai, a collection of passages quoted by Diogenes, and a parallel collection enduring in another manuscript, Sententiae Vaticanae, were seemingly intended to remind believers of Epicurus’s key teachings.
Diogenes Laertius ends his biography of Epicurus with four authentic documents, three of them letters to disciples in which, among other things, he presents purely mechanistic explanations for various natural occurrences. The last document is a set of Epicurus’s maxims to direct a person seeking a happy life. .
- What is happy and imperishable suffers no trouble itself, nor does it cause trouble to anything. So it is not subject to feelings either of anger or of partiality, for these feelings exist only in what is weak.
- Death is nothing to us, for that which is dissolved has no feeling whatsoever, and that which has no feeling means nothing to us.
- A person cannot have a pleasant life unless he lives prudently, honorably and justly, nor can he live prudently, honorably and justly without a pleasant life. A person cannot possibly have a pleasant life unless he happens to live prudently, honorably and justly.
- No pleasure is intrinsically bad, but what causes pleasure is accompanied by many things that disturb pleasure.
- Vast power and great wealth may, up to a certain point, grant us security as far as individual men are concerned, but the security of men as a whole depends on the tranquility of their souls and their freedom from ambition.
- Of all the things that wisdom provides for the happiness of a whole life, the most important by far is acquiring friends.
- Natural justice is an agreement among men about what actions are suitable. Its aim is to prevent men from injuring one another, or to be injured.
- Justice has no independent existence: it results from mutual contracts, and we find it in force wherever there is a mutual agreement to guard against doing injury or sustaining it.
- Injustice is not intrinsically bad: people regard it as evil only because it is accompanied by the fear that they will not escape the officials who are appointed to punish evil actions.
- The happiest men are those who have reached the point where they have nothing to fear from those who surround them.
Reference: Diogenes, “Epicurus,” The Lives of the Eminent Philosophers. Book 10, Sec. 31. Trans. C. D. Yonge