Principal Doctrine 40

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The happiest men are those who enjoy the condition of having nothing to fear from those who surround them. Such men live among one another most agreeably, having the firmest grounds for confidence in one another, enjoying the benefits of friendship in all their fullness, and they do not mourn a friend who dies before they do, as if there was a need for pity.


It is not certain that Epicurus himself meant the Principal Doctrines to be listed in this particular order, with the 40th one (as per Diogenes Laertius) appearing as the final one; it is undeniable, however, that this de facto final Doctrine has a certain valedictory tone.

There is also a curious, striking, and altogether unique poetry to this Doctrine, with its lilting concatenation of preparoxytonic words -- 14 "waltzing" dactyls altogether! Had this text been written (in the respective Latin, of course) by Lucretius, there would have been no doubt whatsoever that the rhythm would have been deliberate. One may wonder whether Laertius was quoting Epicurus verbatim (who, in turn, wrote this one, singular Doctrine during an uncharacteristically poetic moment) or whether Laertius himself "set to music" the basic message that Epicurus wanted to convey in this Doctrine. (It would be helpful to cross-reference this curiously poetic product with what might have survived in Oinoanda, where the Doctrines are replicated and partially extant.)

In this Doctrine, Epicurus unfolds his vision of living well:

  • Some (wise) people have managed to procure security for themselves, so that they have no fear of those around them.
  • Thus these people have lived with each other in the most pleasant way imaginable. The meaning, or at least implication of "each other" is probably a reference to those of the "inner circle", i.e. the denizens of the Garden. Thus safety is probably meant from the world at large, togetherness with the few, like-minded colleagues.
  • Their pleasant way of life was based on the firmest conviction they had (presumably in their beliefs). With this phrase, Epicurus may have been making an exhortation to his students and followers to "keep the faith", holding on firmly to all he had taught them.
  • In their life, these wise people enjoyed the "familiar good" to the fullest; that "familiar good" is, in the general context of Epicureanism, pleasure.
  • So that, when one died (it is ambiguous whether the meaning of "pro-" is the putative "died before his time", or the logically obvious "predeceased them") they did not mourn, they did not "beat themselves" in grief, as if the death of the departed (friend) were a matter that called for pity.

Whether the placement of this Doctrine as final among the 40 is philologically defensible or not, this text provides an ideal conclusion of Epicurus' teaching, within the codified system of the Principal Doctrines.

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