Epicureans and the Ancient Greek Gods (Imagery of "Gods" / "Gods Among Men")

  • I have been interested in Epicurean Theology for the last few years. I’ve argued that it can be a linchpin aspect of the philosophy if it is examined very, very closely and carefully.


    But I’m an oddball of the group.;)


    Once again, welcome!

  • Matthaeus,


    Re;- "If you read further up the thread you’ll see that there are three positions modern Epicureans take on the gods issue. Two of which posit that the gods do not actually exist and one (the Traditional view) that they fundamentally do exist".


    Yes, I see that now. As I am new to the site I'm still trying to find my way around it.


    I don't know exactly how Epicurus thought of the gods,or how modern Epicureans think of them. I suppose I haven't read enough about it. I know that I prefer the 'allegorical and artistic interpretations of the human psyche and nature' version. But I don't know whether Epicurus would have agreed.


    Is it possible that Epicurus didn't really know either, but had to say "the gods exist" to avoid accusations of atheism? Then he would have had to fit the gods in with his axiomatic "everything consists of atoms and void", so proposed material gods who existed somewhere else?


    I think also Lucretius started De rerum natura with a hymn to Venus as a personification of fertility. My Latin isn't good enough to read it other than in translation.


    It's only a suggestion - probably completely wrong. My interest in Epicurus has more to with his advice on how to live a pleasant life than how he thought of the gods, but I have wondered about this, myself, without coming to any firm conclusions.

  • Yes indeed, Lucretius does open his work with a hymn honoring Venus.


    There is no question that the ancient Epicureans did in fact have reverence for the ancient Roman and Hellenic deities, at the very least in some allegorical or poetic sense. Basically that the deities represented forces of nature or human emotion.


    Obviously an allegorical god is not the same thing as a real “atomic” god. The issue is that Epicurus himself posits that the gods are in fact real. Going as far to give them particular attributes and sensations. Yet without giving any evidence of their existence as specifically described.


    Epicurus may have known his gods did not exist, but he promulgated a very specific theology that assured his followers that they do in fact exist only to avoid accusations of atheism. In this case, a person needs to be able to look past or justify a complete theological fabrication (an outright lie) by Epicurus himself, which in my opinion is an ethical dilemma that casts a very long shadow.


    It’s an interesting study.

  • It's a never ending topic that for sure. All of these points are questions for debate;


    Quote: "The issue is that Epicurus himself posits that the gods are in fact real."


    I have definitely seen the points where Epicurus says that gods exist, but never have I seen a specific statement that Zeus or Apollo or any other SPECIFIC god existed in the way that the other greeks held them to exist .



    Yet without giving any evidence of their existence as specifically described.

    Of course in addition to the observation that most of the works are lost, we do have in "On The Nature of the Gods" a brief description of some of the major aspects.


    that assured his followers that they do in fact exist only to avoid accusations of atheism. I


    That is also not something I believe to be true. Most of his contemporaries apparently felt him to be a true-blue atheist despite his denials, so it intended as a ruse it was not very effective.



    a person needs to be able to look past or justify a complete theological fabrication (an outright lie) by Epicurus himself,

    And of course I fully disagree with that ;-)

  • My views are probably clear in other places, Clive, but to summarize here I take the position that Epicurus was absolutely serious that in an infinite and eternal universe full of life there are going to be beings which are perfectly happy and don't die. That really is a highly likely and reasonable conclusion of the fundamental premises about life in the universe. But that also really has nothing necessarily to do omipotence, or omniscience, or with Zeus and Athena running around creating havoc, all of which specifically or implicitly Epicurus denounced.

    One thing that is ABSOLUTELY clear is that Epicurus said that there are no "supernatural" gods In control of the universe.

    And my personal position is that much of the conflict comes from the fact that Epicurus was willing to use the word "gods" to describe his blissful beings (apparently, it would be necessary to check the Greek) while most people INSIST that the word "god" must mean supernatural or omniscient or omnipotent or some combination of the three.

  • This is topic has been debated ad infinitum especially among the core members here. My counter views represent those who criticized Epicurus on this subject (both pagan and Christian).


    Though the subject is endlessly discussed with no reconciliation, It represents an important critical analysis of a very important aspect of the philosophy. If anything it lends itself to a modern version or continuation of Cicero’s dialogue.

  • Hi Oscar,


    You are correct Epicurus did not posit personal gods, but he did posit that his gods were real. The problem is that he asserts their reality without evidence of any kind. Ultimately that would be a form of idealism.


    Like I said before, a person has to justify their position on this given the evidence and testimony. I personally consider it a lie or fabrication if he presented something to be true without evidence. Especially if he knowingly presented this while disbelieving it. That would be a serious offense. But we hope that was not true.

    Edited once, last by Matt ().

  • If he truly believed they were real, that of course is the preferred traditional opinion, we are able to discuss the inner details of why he believed they were real without evidence.

  • Though the subject is endlessly discussed with no reconciliation, It represents an important critical analysis of a very important aspect of the philosophy.

    I fully agree with that. Everyone who studies Epicurus needs to study this aspect of his thought, just as much as his thought on the size of the sun, which shows his approach.


    The problem is that he asserts their reality without evidence of any kind.

    I think this is the heart of the dispute - the meaning and implications of the word "evidence." Maybe because of my legal occupation, I am fully comfortable with the idea that circumstantial evidence is fully as admissible in considering difficult issues as is "direct" evidence. While it would certainly be preferable to have "eyeball" /photograph evidence of a "god" in its native environment, we don't have that level of science available to us, just as we can't eyeball atoms but have firm confidence that they exist.


    So in my world the issue is not that Epicurus did not have any evidence, but that some people don't accept his evidence as sufficient, and that in itself leads off into very important issues of debate over the nature of "evidence." Here we are at a terrible loss of texts, although I do think that Philodemus' "On Methods of Inference" is helpful, and other clear implications can be drawn in other texts that Epicurus was well aware of the issues involved in "circumstantial evidence."

  • It is a real shame that so few writings exist on this topic. No doubt many, many did at one time exist.


    But I guess this modern dialogue fills some of that gap.?

  • “I mean, you want to be honest but sometimes you don't want to hurt peoples feelings? Or you want to be honest, but you give a prescription of sugar-pills because there's the placebo effect. You don't want to be harmful to someone with a phobia, yet you let them hold a snake or tarantula because exposure can also help us overcome phobias.


    I totally understand what you are saying in regard to a placebo, but the presuppositional opinion that the gods are not to be feared is circular in this case. Plus if you believe this theology is a placebo then you have your answer as to whether Epicurus truly believed in his own gods.


    The very last thing I want is a placebo for the possible underlying meaning of the cosmos. If anything, that only makes me feel that I have been condescended to by Epicurus. And that he is arguing from a position of authority and special knowledge. Neither of which can be afforded to him.

  • At the risk of getting too basic, I think one of the many issues that Epicurus was concerned about was the evidence implications of "Life exists only on earth."


    Much like "The earth is the center of the universe," if either or both of those are true, then there is clearly something special about the earth, and that something special would imply a supernatural explanation.


    I therefore think that it was important to Epicurus to make the obvious point that there is never only one thing of a kind here on earth, and therefore (if the universe is boundless and eternal, as he had elsewhere given his argument) then life will exist throughout the universe, and not just here.


    Once the existence of life throughout the universe is established through "never one of a kind" then you apply the "isonomia" that things also exist in a progression from "lower" to higher" in terms of complexity, and you arrive fairly easily at the conclusion that there are beings in the universe who do not die, and don't work all day to pay taxes.


    I personally am satisfied that even if Epicurus' argument is ultimately no more complex than this, that it is compelling.

  • Oscar,


    I totally understand your perspective. Although I think we have very different expectations from our healthcare providers?.


    We clearly disagree on this point:


    That I strongly stand by the idea that the gods being characterized as benign is fundamentally presupposed and the reasoning circular. My reasoning is that since there is no evidence or precedent for either the gods existing or whether they are supernatural or natural, there is no way that Epicurus can say anything about them unless he had some very intimate contact with them. No special knowledge of hypothetical entities could ever be attained to the degree of specificity as Epicurus described them to be from pure abstract reasoning.


    I believe Epicurus was a powerful and influential philosopher. In my personal pantheon of philosophers Epicurus and Epictetus are filed under “E”. The ideas of Epicurus like all philosophers, ancient and modern will be criticized posthumously over and over again. I don’t hold a special or hostile critique of him any more than I do of Pythagoras or Plotinus, they and their ideas are products of the times they lived.


    I like to evaluate all claims to a certified knowledge of the universe’s and my own raison d’être. Epicurus like many others made certified claims, so I pry deep into those ideas. That’s why we are all here discussing this philosophy. We all seek out knowledge and truth.

  • Mattheus not to try to pin you down for the sake of pinning you down, but it might help the flow of the conversation if we all understood what you personally think is the most compelling argument on the ultimate issues. Can you give that in condensed form? :-)

  • RE: Cassius


    Sure!


    My opinion is that I fundamentally agree with many of the observations of the natural world and that the human senses are fundamental to how we interpret reality. I think he is spot on on with the idea that what we see and sense “is what is” and we cannot base our life on unfounded superstition or abstractions.


    I believe in friendship and the mutual benefit of living in philosophical harmony as essential to human progress and harmony.


    I believe pleasure is fundamentally good and not an evil to be denied.


    My only issue, and it was the issue that caused me to no longer refer to myself as an Epicurean was the theology issue. It was a dealbreaker. I think that aspect aside, which we discuss quite regularly, we agree on more ideas than not.

  • My only issue, and it was the issue that caused me to no longer refer to myself as an Epicurean was the theology issue. It was a dealbreaker. I think that aspect aside, which we discuss quite regularly, we agree on more ideas than not.

    Just to be sure I understand, so you reject Epicurus' view as being insufficient/illogical/whatever, but not because you are certain of your own competitive view, but because you just think his was insufficient - full stop? Or do you believe there was a particular alternative he should have embraced?

  • Oscar,


    I respect your opinions and perspective, I absolutely do. And I am very appreciative of the discourse we have here!


    As always, I am up to discuss this topic literally until the sun burns out. ?


    So anytime, you or anyone has literature, thoughts or new ideas please contact me. I take this very seriously as you can probably tell! Lol


    Peace and safety to you.