Threads of Epicureanism in Art and Literature

  • Note; If I have Cassius' permission, I wanted a place to simply list minor treatments of Epicurean characters, motifs, and themes in works by Non-Epicureans. The purpose is a simple reference; if you find something interesting, add it to the list. If something on the list merits attention and/or discussion, start a thread and we'll talk about it! Entries should include Author, Title, Year/Period, Brief Description of Relevance.

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    Walter Pater; "Marius the Epicurean"; 1885; Victorian Historical Novel set in Imperial Rome


    Alfred Tennyson; "Lucretius"; 1868; Victorian Poem treating the alleged madness of Lucretius


    Sir Francis Hastings Doyle; "The Epicurean"; 1841; A Poem that actually takes Epicureanism seriously! Here


    George Eliot; "Romola"; 1863; A Novel. By reputation, the character of Tito Melema is an unsympathetic portrayal of an Epicurean.


    Pierre Jean de Beranger; "The Epicurean's Prayer"; ~1850; A difficult poem. I suspect it loses something in translation? Here


    Piero di Cosimo; "The Forest Fire"; 1505; A painting, said to be inspired by De Rerum Natura.

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    I hope this thread works out! Someone (I think Charles?) planted the seed in my head a few weeks ago. Once we've got something good going we could work on arranging by period and artistic movement.


    Edit; To clarify, "Non-Epicurean" here just means a figure that we don't already know to be Epicurean. It's ok—and welcome!—if the figure is sympathetic to the school.

  • Great idea Joshua! Let me know if you'd like subdivisions or other structure that the forum software can help with. Like you said it probably makes sense to just list things first, then we can break down by category and maybe provide more in depth descriptions.

  • Thomas Moore (no, not THE Thomas Moore); "The Epicurean"; 1827; Irish novel about a fictional Epicurean scholarch converting to Christian monasticism.

  • No, I haven't. I was reading about Byron for reasons mentioned in the other thread, and this one turned up. He was Byron's literary executor. Apparently he is regarded as the National Bard of Ireland, so it's somewhat surprising that he's never crossed my radar (possibly his memory is eclipsed by James Joyce).

  • Desiderius Erasmus; "The Epicurean"; 1545; Dialogue by the famous Dutch Christian Humanist, arguing that Christianity is the only way to a life of real pleasure.


    Robert Burns; "Contented wi' Little and Cantie wi' Mair"; 1795; Poem in Scottish dialect blending Epicurean and Stoic themes.


    Robert Frost; "Lucretius Versus the Lake Poets"; 1947; A poem on the meaning of the word nature, contrasting Lucretius with the British Romantics

  • Ben Jonson; "The Alchemist"; 1610; A comedic play about conmen and the philosopher's stone. With a character named "Sir Epicure Mammon", who is a rich man funding the conman purporting to be researching the means to produce The Philosopher's Stone. Mammon has exorbitant desires and is extremely extravagant, clearly he isn't Epicurean, as he is an ultra-hedonist, but his name is quite obviously a call to Epicurus.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • Yay, I love this thread! I have a feeling there are more Epicureans who never heard of Epicurus than among those who have. Thanks for starting this section.


  • Julien Offray de la Mettrie; "System of Epicurus" 1750; A short treatise of 31 independent paragraphs explaining the origins of animals and of other human mechanisms. Paragraphs 10 and 11 bring up Epicureanism and Lucretius.

    Paragraph 10

    "If humans have not always existed as we see them today (and how can we believe they came into the world grown up as mother and father, and perfectly capable of procreating beings like themselves!), the earth must have acted as the uterus of mankind. It must have opened up its bosom to seeds of humans, already prepared so that, given certain laws, this proud animal could come forth. Why, I ask you, modern Anti-Epicureans, why should the earth, that mother and nurse of all objects, have refused to seed the animal when she has allowed the vilest, most useless, and most pernicious of plants?"

    Paragraph 11

    "But the Earth is no longer the cradle of humanity! We do not see it produce men! Let us not reproach him for his present sterility; she made her reach on this side. An

    old hen does not lay anymore eggs, an old woman does not lay anymore

    children; that’s pretty much Lucretius’s answer to

    this objection."

    I know I said I was finished with the translation, but the break in the holidays and the revision and editing process has been rather slow.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • Charles de Saint-Évremond; "Discours sur Épicure" 1613-1703; No idea what it's about and its in French, maybe I need to start a translation if I can't find one online.

    Evremond was a very reclusive writer who never allowed to have his works be published unless he had died, but he was a libertine and a student of Gassendi, spending the later half of his life frequenting a hedonist salon.


    Lucilio 'Giulio Cesare' Vanini; "De Admirandis" 1616; Full title being "De Admirandis Naturae Reginae Deaeque Mortalium Arcanis" or "On the Marvelous Secrets of Nature, the Queen and Goddess of Mortals"

    Vanini, despite being a pantheist, rejected much of Aristotle and sought to explain everything through the teachings of Epicurus and Lucretius, but developed his own view of mechanistic-materialism.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • Another book by Evremond

    "Pensées d'Épicure précédées d'un Essai sur la morale d’Épicure" which translates directly into "Thoughts of Epicurus preceded by an Essay on the Morals of Epicurus"

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • I'll be crossposting between here and on my new thread here. What I post in here will be expanded on the glossary, as well as having download links to the texts.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • Marquis de Sade; "Aline and Valcour"; 1793.


    Supposedly the island paradise of Tamoé is heavily inspired and based off of Lucretius. Worth noting its not overtly explicit like much of his work. 4th volume has yet to be translated as opposed to the first 3 volumess translated for the first time in 2019.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • I've been fine, work has been slow because of the virus but I've been lurking here each day and reading a ton of material and teaching others about Epicurus in various group chats and DMs online.

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • My copies of the 3 volumes of Aline and Valcour arrived at the same time, likely due to covid-19 interrupting Amazon's schedule.

    It opens up with a line from Lucretius, in Book 3

    "Just as children in the night tremble & fear everything,
    so we in the light sometimes fear
    what is no more to be feared than the things
    children shudder at in the dark
    and imagine will come true. This terror,
    this darkness of the mind's eye must be scattered,
    not by the rays of the sun & glistening shafts of daylight,
    but by a dispassionate view of the inner laws of Nature
    ."

    “If the joys found in nature are crimes, then man’s pleasure and happiness is to be criminal.”

  • Sir William Temple; Upon the Gardens of Epicurus; 1692; English essayist and statesman who "Celebrates Epicurus and his philosophy." I have not evaluated this claim.

  • I am pretty sure I at least glanced at "Upon the Gardens of Epicurus" and I remember not being particularly impressed. However that was in a phase when I was trying to identify and skim through material to organize for future readings, so I may have misread it -- would be happy to find that I did.


    For some reason this calls to my mind how someone on facebook asked me if I had ever read "A Few Days In Athens." I thought at that point that I had identified most of the important material out there, so I was prepared to be disappointed once again, and then - pow - AFDIA turned out to be in my view phenomenally good.


    I am sure there are many good works out there still to be identified.