Eikas Information

  • I just wanted to share some information I've gathered regarding Eikas:

    “The birthday of Epicurus continued to be kept regularly as an annual festival by his followers; and the monthly meetings on the 20th (Eikas) became so prominent a feature of the sect in the eyes of the world, that the Epicureans came to be nicknamed Eikadistæ (or Men of the Twentieth.) Pictures of Epicurus were found in the rooms and bedchambers of Epicureans, and even on their rings and their plates.” (William Wallace, Epicureanism)

    “On the twentieth day of every month his followers assmbled to perform solemn rites in honor of his memory, a sort of sacrament. […] The twentieth was also sacred to Apollo, which gave it an additional sanctity. Such notoriety eventually attached itself to these monthly memorial gatherings that Epicureans were dubbed “Twentyers” by was of derision. […] Fairly early in the years of his residence in Athens, if not from the outset, certain nights were set apart for a sort of philosophical symposium, where special formalities were observed. We may assume that it was open to adult members only. On these occasions the customery austerity of diet was abandoned, and the wine and viands, if we can trust the testimony of adversaries, were of the best. […] As for the intellectual fare of these ritualistic banquets […] the renegade Timocrates […] dubbed them Euphranta, “Feasts of Reason,” as it were. […] Especially enlightening is the knowledge that these gatherings were appointed for the twentieth of each month. If after the death of Epicurus they were to be perpetuated in emmory of himself and Metrodorus, why not on the anniversary of his birth […] The answer is that the twentieth in the Greek calendar was invested with something of the sanctity of a sabbath. It had a name of its own, eikas, like the Ides in the Roman calendar. It was a sacred day in the cult of Apollo and it was on the twentieth that the final rites of the initiation were performend in the mysteries of Demeter. It follows that once in every year, at the same time that the secrets of the afterlife were bieing revealed by the hierophant at Eleusis, the disciples in the house in Melite were celebrating what Metrodorus styled ‘the divine orgies’’ of Epicurus. Thus the master himself was a hierophant; he actually spoke of his own pronouncements as oracles, and Lucretius ranked them higher than those of the Pythian priestess. […] Because of the custom the Epicureans were dubbed eikadistae, “Twentyers,” as already mentioned. […] the private letters […] were especially adapted to keep alive in the hearts and minds of the disciples the memory of those who had gone before. They constituted a suppporting literature that reinforced the effect of the monthly gatherings everywhere celebrated on the twentieth to commemorate the memory of the founders. […] the plain diet of the school was replaced on the twentieth of each month by more bountiful repasts. These celebrations marked the high points of the fellowship for which the sect was notorious.” (De Witt, Epicurus and His Philosophy 3; 52; 104-105; 120)

    “[B]oth he and Metrodorus received honours on the twentieth day of each month. A yearly cult to the dead is a familiar practice in Greece. A monthly cult was reserved for divinities: Artemis had a cult on the sixth day of a month and Apollo on the seventh. Apollo, the god sacred to Socrates and Plato, also had a cult on the twentieth of the month. The Epicureans came to be known as Members of the Cult of the Twentieth (Eikadistai). We learn from an inscription from Athens of a group organized around the cult of the hero Eikadeus in the worship of Apollo Pernessios […] The Epicurean cult of the twentieth was, therefore, conceived of as a cult to Epicurus and Metrodorus as divinities. Their votaries were known as eikadistai. ” (The Cambridge Guide to Epicureanism 23-24)

    “Commemorative Epicurean gatherings in honor of Epicurus and Metrodorus emulated Athenian religious worship of Apollo by honoring the hero Eikadeus on twentieth of each month.” (Daniel Marković, “The Rhetoric of Explanation in Lucretius’ De rerum natura”)

    “As an example of these [pre-Epicurean] clubs or conspiracies for mutual support […] we may cite the association called oi Eikadeis […] These Eikadeis are an association, the members of which are bound to each other by a common oath, as well as by a curse which the mythical hero of the association, Eikadeus, is supposed to have imprecated” (George Grote, A HIstory of Greece, Volume 8, 17)

    “The emblematic activity of the Epicureans was the feast on the twentieth of every Greek month, earning them the nickname eikadistae, ‘Twentyers.’ From a partly obliterated atext from a later Epicurean, Philodemus, Epicurus’s custom was to celebrate ‘the Twentieth with distinguished companions after decorating the house with the fruits of the season and inviting everyone to feast themselves.’ Classicist Disking Clary […] has translated a written invitation by Epicurus welcoming all sympathizers to the feast—‘all those who are members of his household and he asks them to exclude none of the ‘outsiders’ who are well disposed to him and friends.’ In the normal Greek household, men and women at separately, especially with guests present. The word for dining room, andron, was literally ‘men’s room.’ At sacrifices and open-air meals, men and women divided into their respect circles […]. Philosophical gatherings were generally all-male affairs. Strikingly, the Epicureans dined together. The community’s main writers included Leontion […] Radically, Epicurean meals were the deliberate reason and means for philosophizing.” (Michael Symons, Meals Matter: A Radical Economics Through Gastronomy)

    “While he lived, Epicurus established his birthday so that it was solemnly celebrated and in his will he left provisions that this holiday would be perpetuated (the tenth day of Gamelion [January-February]) every year and that on the twentieth day of each month a reunion was to be held of all the companions in philosophy devoted to his memory and that of Metrodorus (and this came to be called the feast of the Twentieth. We know from Pliny the Elder that in the first century of the CE the Epicurenas still celebrated these two occasions, exactly as Epicurus established them: ‘The offer sacrifices on his birthday, and keep his festival, which they call the eikas [eikas] on the 20th day of every month ….” (Giovanni Realse and John R. Catan, A History of Ancient Philosophy: The schools of the Imperial Age 40)

  • As always Nate thanks for the great research!

    Should we still hold open any question as to whether the "20th" (which would seem to be a fixed date on our calendar) is the same as Epicurus' own birthday?

    These seem to be more modern commentators - do we have texts back to the ancient world that make the distinction clear?

  • Should we still hold open any question as to whether the "20th" (which would seem to be a fixed date on our calendar) is the same as Epicurus' own birthday?

    Epicurus's birthday was a fixed date in the month of Gamelion.

    The monthly 20th was a fixed date each month.

  • Should we still hold open any question as to whether the "20th" (which would seem to be a fixed date on our calendar) is the same as Epicurus' own birthday?

    With the difference between beginnings and endings of months, the calculation of our year, the treatment of leap years, I think that an ancient Greek Calendar's Twentieth will only accidentally and rarely match one of ours. From any one conversion, we're about four days different. I came across the following regarding the birthdate of Epicurus:

    “He was born on the twentieth of the month of Gamelion (24 January 341)74 […] 74The debate over the exact date of his birth was definitively resolved by Alpers 1968.” (Algra, The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy, 43)

    I have searched for this source from Alpers but have been unable to locate it.

    “Date of the birth of Epicurus, according to Apollodorus […] that is, under the seventh archon from the archon of the year of the death of Plato, Theophilus. The tenth of Gamelion however, January 14, and the twentieth, January 24, are also assigned as the dates of birth.” (Origines Kalendariæ Hellenicæ; or, the history of the primitive calendar among the Greeks, before and after the legislation of Solon, Volume 2, 97; 1862)

    I was excited to learn that there was a pre-Epicurean Mystery Cult, exclusive to adult men, called Twentyers, who worshipped a foundational hero called Eikadeus. That, combined with the fact that Epicurus hosted his monthly celebrations at the same time as the Mysteries (Epicurus' followers could not attend both), makes it seem like Epicurus did the same thing the Christian Church did with Christmas: renovate an existing holiday with relevant themes.

    As far as the practice of Modern Epicureans goes, I think it is appropriate for we, as Twentyers, to celebrate on The Twentieth, rather than the 24th, or some non-fixed date caused by some obscure conversation between a nearly lost calendar system and ours (which is even more of an inconsistent Frankenstein that the nearly lost calendar).

    Since, however, the 24th seems to be his accepted birthdate, I think it might be appropriate to maintain that one.

  • So does it appear beyond dispute that regardless of what day he was in fact born on, the twentieth was observed as his BIRTHDAY, or was it chosen perhaps for other purposes. My concern mostly was that it was not a given that the twentieth was actually picked because it was his birthday rather than for other reasons.

    This seems confusing:

    And from the revenues made over by me to Amynomachus and Timocrates let them to the best of their power in consultation with Hermarchus make separate provision for the funeral offerings to my father, mother, and brothers, and for the customary celebration of my birthday on the tenth day of Gamelion in each year, and for the meeting of all my School held every month on the twentieth day to commemorate Metrodorus and myself according to the rules now in force. Let them also join in celebrating the day in Poseideon which commemorates my brothers, and likewise the day in Metageitnion which commemorates Polyaenus, as I have done previously.

  • That's a great note, that Epicurus distinguishes between his birthday on "the tenth" versus the meeting on "the twentieth", so regardless of the analogue in our Calendar, his birthday was different from the twentieth.

    I believe from recent readings (I'm estimating) indicate that the "day in Poseideon" refers to December 20th, and "the day in Metageitnion" to July 20th (which is a day that I personally celebrate as the Moon Landing Day). I need to double-check to confirm that they lined-up with the Twentieth ... in fact, now that I'm thinking about it, is the Athenian celebration of Panathenaea celebrated in Metageitnion (July-August) and thus incorporated into Polyaenus' celebration?

    He also explicitly notes that his brothers will be celebrated in remembrance on the pre-existing day of Poseideon, so any Epicureans who intend in participating in the Celebration of Neocles, et. al. will be absent from esoteric rituals.

  • Nate : I am consistently impressed by your scholarship and research!! This is a great thread!

    My take has always been that modern Epicureans should celebrate the 20th of each month in our calendar, but at least try to make an attempt to celebrate/commemorate Epicurus's birthday on a date determined by one of the reconstructed Hellenic calenders since his birthday wasn't in January or December, it was in Gamelion. I've taken to using the Hellenion reconstruction


    I even have it downloaded to my Google calendar. Today happens to be 22 Mounykhion. They also include the festivals etc. so I found that an interesting link to Epicurus and his time as well.

  • So where are we?

    1) We are firm that the 20th of each month was a special day of commemoration for the ancient Epicureans (I think I am reading that as a consensus).


    2) The nature of the Twentieth was *not* that of a birthday celebration for Epicurus, but some other significance, because his birthday was (at least according to his will) on the tenth of a particular month under the Greek Calendar.


    3) Because of the moon-linked nature of the Greek calendar, it is not possible to state a consistent one-to-one day of a month for Epicurus' birthday, leaving us to a yearly calculation that will approximate a similar time of the spring season, but can vary by weeks at a time from year to year?

    To recap I gather (1) is established, but what about (2) and (3)?

  • (1) Yes, no doubt.

    (2) I don't see any evidence for the 20th being a monthly celebration of Epicurus's birthday. He says it's specifically to commemorate both him and Metrodorus. Plus why would he specifically mention both his birthday + the 20th? I believe I've also seen that the 20th had some significance with Apollo. In Dewitt? Or a DeWitt paper?

    (3) Right. For the same reasons Easter moves every year.

  • So perhaps one of the interesting aspects of it being a "monthly" celebration was that monthly was usually reserved for gods, and we have to consider that in light of the "gods among men" references and also Lucretius' opening to Book Five (I think) which compares Epicurus to a god. I would expect that largely to be "tongue-in-cheek" but if the tradition of monthly celebrations being reserved for gods was firmly in the culture, then the non-Epicureans would not have appreciated it, "humorous" or not.

    What do my fellow "gods and goddesses" here think about that? ;)

  • I would expect that largely to be "tongue-in-cheek"

    I don't think the classical Epicureans would be "tongue-in-cheek" or wink-wink, especially Lucretius. When they call Epicurus a god and erect statues and hold monthly feasts, they are, in some respect, fully serious in paying tribute to the founder of their school and way of life.

    The Epicurean gods - whether "realist" or "idealist" - were seen to be exemplars of the Epicuruean life. How much more important would the students of the Garden have seen Epicurus being - even when he was dead and no longer existed - when he was fully human and yet was the literal embodiment of the philosophy he taught. I believe they believed he was living a life that rivaled Zeus right in their midst.

    Sure, it might make us uneasy and we might think we'd want to nudge-nudge-wink-wink back then, but you don't erect statues, wear rings, and hold monthly feasts as part of a joke. I believe they took the practice of the 20th seriously, with pleasure and joy no doubt, but I doubt they saw their practice as some kind of humorous inside joke.

  • I think we're talking about different kinds of humor here, and you're ruling out multiple meanings in "humorous inside joke." What I am referring to is a double play on words that does nothing the deprecate the standing of Epicurus but which takes as a joke the non-Epicurean view of supernatural gods.

    The "inside joke" part would be that there are in fact no supernatural gods, and Epicurus was not supernatural either. There is a double play on words involved in lots of types of humor and that's what I am referring to, not a sarcastic type. The joke is not on Epicurus or on the insiders, but on the outsiders whose words are being used in ways that the outsiders don't agree or like and that displays their ignorance of the way things are.

    The topic of Epicurean humor is something that we ought to try to expand over time. The remaining texts have lots of examples of what I would interpret as good-natured (as opposed to angry or bitter or caustic) humor, and it would be important to distinguish between different types.

    That's one of the aspects in which I think Frances Wright has best captured the good nature of the Epicurean school - many exchanges in "A Few Days In Athens" are witty and humorous, and I think it would in fact be impossible to fully capture the extent of Epicurean pleasure without appreciating the various types of humor that are involved in pleasure.

    So for example in this sentence:

    I believe they took the practice of the 20th seriously, with pleasure and joy no doubt, but I doubt they saw their practice as some kind of humorous inside joke.

    I would fully expect that "humorous inside jokes" were in fact a large part of Epicurean practice and procedure. It would be the Stoics and similar who are deadpan earnest and suspicious of all humor as caustic.

    VS41. We must laugh and philosophize at the same time, and do our household duties, and employ our other faculties, and never cease proclaiming the sayings of the true philosophy.

  • From that article:

    Yet there were also dissentient voices that were much more positive about humor and laughter. And among them was that of Epicurus. In one of his Vatican Sayings,2 he indirectly underlines the importance of laughter (41):

    One must philosophize and at the same time laugh (γελᾶν ἅμα δεῖ καὶ φιλοσοφεῖν) and take care of one’s household and use the rest of our personal goods, and never stop proclaiming the utterances of correct philosophy.

    (Vatican Sayings, trans. B. Inwood and L. P. Gerson)

    In this celebrated saying, laughter is directly connected with philosophy,3 and as such obviously gains considerable importance. The word ἅμα (“at the same time”) in fact closely links both components. Moreover, Epicurus does not seem to be thinking of a merely theoretical perspective, for by adding the domain of economy, he also includes practical life. Is the suggestion, then, that both laughter and philosophy should permeate our life?

    That would be a particularly challenging and controversial position, as it runs counter to the earlier mentioned communis opinio among the great majority of philosophers. But Epicurus was not afraid of adopting such unconventional views, and at first sight, his saying is not really surprising. It is the obvious consequence of the fait primitif of his thinking, that is, his choice for pleasure as the final goal of man. In such a perspective, an appreciation of laughter can be expected indeed, since it is both an excellent means to reach pleasure and a consequence of enjoying pleasure. Humor, fun, jesting, jokes: they are all part and parcel of the sunny picture of a cheerful life among witty friends. Where pleasure occupies the central place, laughter cannot be neglected, and a philosophy that regards pleasure as the final end should welcome laughter as one of its powerful allies. Therefore, a grumbling Epicurean is like an apodictic Academic or a profligate Stoic: a contradictio in terminis.

  • Here is an example of which I am not familiar:

    Second, polemical laughter is an easy alternative, which spares the Epicurean philosopher the trouble of discussing and refuting a theory that is, after all, of little relevance for a man’s happiness. An interesting example can be found in the fragments from Epicurus’ On Nature. In book 28, he discusses the sophism of the “Veiled Man.”15 Of course, the sophism can be refuted by means of a more elaborate argument, but Epicurus does not regard the problem as important enough to devote much time to it. It does not pose practical problems, nor is it a real menace to a person’s happiness. Therefore, the best answer to such sophisms is laughter, and Epicurus adds that this is also the easiest solution (fr. 13, col. 9 sup., 11–12 Sedley).

  • Another good observation:

    And thus, we may finally have discovered the more fundamental, philosophical meaning of Epicurean laughter. This laughter has no emotional basis but is firmly rooted in reason. Moreover, it is closely connected with knowledge (cf. Epicurus, Peri Phys. 14, col. 37.13–15 Leone: γελοίως . . . καὶ οὐκ ἐπισταμένως) and with the inner certainty of having insight into the truth. This connection appears from a key passage from Polystratus’ On the Irrational Contempt of Popular Opinions. There, the Epicurean argues that truth is a safe guarantee against fears and superstitions, and brings with it a stable confidence that allows one to despise and truly laugh at the silly and empty words of fools (col. 30.10–14 Indelli: καταφρονεῖν . . . καὶ γελᾶν ἀληθινῶς ἐπὶ τοῖς ἀβελτέρως καὶ κενῶς ὑπὸ ἀνοήτων λεγομένοις). What makes this passage so interesting and exceptional is that it is very clear about the direct causal link between truth and despising laughter.

    Nevertheless, this laughter has nothing to do with arrogance. The Epicurean laughter should not be confused with the malicious laughter at another’s misfortune.23 It rather recalls the pure pleasure of the Epicurean sage who looks down from his templa serena on the arduous toils of the multitude while being safe himself (Lucretius, DRN 2.1–13). This laughter reflects the Epicurean’s possession of independence and self-sufficiency, of security, and of insight into the truth. This opens a completely different dimension of the combination of gelan and philosophein: Epicurean laughter is ultimately founded in extremely important values.

  • Attributed to Metrodorus:

    Moreover, just like Hofmannsthal, the Epicureans connected laughter with true freedom. Such freedom is the freedom of the man who has thrown off the chains of empty social conventions, who has freed himself from the prison of silly common convictions and ideals (cf. SV 58). This intimate connection between laughter and true freedom is illustrated by a beautiful fragment from Metrodorus’ On philosophy:

    Certain sages in their prodigality of conceit, have been so well able to detect the function of the state that in their discourse about ways of life and about virtue they go flying off after the same desires as Lycurgus and Solon. It is therefore fitting to burst into the laughter of one truly free (διὸ καὶ καλῶς ἔχει τὸν ἐλεύθερον ὡς ἀληθῶς γέλωτα γελάσαι) at all men and more particularly at these Lycurguses and Solons.

    (Plutarch, Against Colotes 1127BC = Metrodorus, fr. 31 and 32 Koerte)

  • The conclusion of the article is particularly on point to our current discussion:

    Yet there is one precious fragment that may allow us a brief glimpse of this kind of laughter. It can be found in Diogenes of Oenoanda (fr. 19.II.6–11):

    We ought to make statues of the gods genial and smiling, so that we may smile back at them rather than be afraid of them. (trans. M. F. Smith)

    This is a smile that seems to originate from the source of deep Epicurean happiness.36 In Diogenes’ view, the visual contact with an image of the blessed gods will cause feelings of a similar blessedness, expressed by smiling. In such a context, there is no place for polemical, despising laughter, nor for excited guffaws. The Epicurean’s purified inner gladness becomes evident in a quiet, mild smile (meidiama). It is a smile, though, that is directly connected with the gods, in a shared, perfect happiness. It is the beautiful, blissful smile of the Epicurean sage that here appears one last time, before Epicureanism forever left the scene of ancient philosophy. 37

  • One more aspect of this that I think is important:

    The truth according to Epicurean philosophy is that every single thing that we love and cherish is eventually going to end up being totally destroyed when our world (but not the universe as a whole) implodes eventually,

    That means every single puppy, kitten, wife, child, parent, friend, artwork, song, philosopher, bank account -- every single one! - is destined to eventual destruction.

    There are no doubt several attitudes we can take about that -- we can put it out of our mind and say it doesn't make any difference because we won't be there - we can walk around bitter and disappointed that Nature didn't order things the way we would prefer.

    But another way to deal with it, and I think this is essentially Epicurus' position, is to look at the big picture and say "I'm going to feel the pain of the loss for a while according to the circumstance, but in general I am going to make the best of my life, and I am going to seek out every bit of pleasure (yes even fun and joking after the pain of a particular loss has subsided) while I can.

    I'm not going to look on life as a bitter disappointment, but something to take in good humor every step that I possibly can, knowing that the fake religions and philosophers are walking around blind, doing the best I can for myself and for everyone else to enlighten us all, but knowing that always in the end that the end is indeed going to come for all of us, and taking that "in stride" --- and yes to an extent even laughing at death and laughing at it all knowing that death may end our life but it doesn't hold us forever in pain.

    I realize not everyone would describe that in the same way but I see that as a "good humor" attitude toward life in which laughter is a constant accompaniment, just as is stated in the Vatican saying.

    And although this Vatican Saying doesn't use the word laughter, I'd say it is consistent with the same attitude. I would not read "spitting contempt on life" as anything other than a tongue-in-cheek expression appropriate to the context, given the many other clear statements of the value of life. This isn't "laughter" in the uproariously happy kind, but I would expect the person saying it to be saying it "with a smile" and not with bitterness or reproach toward life, or considering that he was in any way lacking seriousness.


    VS47. I have anticipated thee, Fortune, and I have closed off every one of your devious entrances. And we will not give ourselves up as captives, to thee or to any other circumstance; but when it is time for us to go, spitting contempt on life and on those who cling to it maundering, we will leave from life singing aloud a glorious triumph-song on how nicely we lived.

  • To paraphrase Shakespeare:

    " Cassius doth protest about the right amount, methinks "

    It seems to me we're running up against definitions again. I don't have time right now to respond as I'd like, but - as Cassius has mentioned in the past - I don't think we're quite as far apart as it may appear at first read. (No schism in the Garden to see here!)

    That said, I have thoughts on his posts, and I'll try and get those down this evening.