There were a couple of ‘but is it atheist’ objections to the previous post…

Very good page on the history of Epicureanism post-Epicurus here. The use made of it by Locke, Jefferson and so on post-“enlightenment” has stuck the label of ‘atheism’ squarely on what was never atheist. Frances Yates showed how the use of Epicurus in Palingenius influenced Giordano Bruno and was entwined with Hermetics. You can read all about Palingenius here and if you search ‘Epicurus’ you find him as a mystical ethical sage, guiding Palingenius on a visionary quest as Virgil guided Dante.

But even ancient Epicureans weren’t atheist. The recent amazing work of Dirk Obbink on the papyri coming out of Herculaneum has shed a massive light on this, but unfortunately I can’t afford this book, and it’s only volume one. I do know that Philodemus argues Epicurus held one should pray in order to entrain to the gods as archetypes in quite a modern manner, in order to realise perfection. If I can somehow manage to borrow that book from a library I shall know more. I will probably be tempted to steal it.


6 responses to “[Epicurusquib]

  • henadology

    Quentin Meillassoux describes himself at times as an Epicurean, and he has fashioned an ingenious theology from it. If I understand him correctly, he asserts that while there is not now a God, one could at some point come to be. Ancient atomists were, as you point out, not atheists, simply materialists, but in a sense rather different from the way in which this term is used today.

    • Jason Wingate

      Thanks… don’t know the guy but he sounds rather too clever for me…

      In any case the ethic has points that work very well in partnership with psychology I think, and if they work, I am sufficiently unphilosophical not to worry how they were derived. ^_^ I’m a magpie when it comes to this… but finding the pneuma in the Stoics (or indeed hints of a kundalini in the Timaeus) is always interesting…

      • henadology

        The difference between Stoic and Epicurean materialism is instructive: whereas the Stoic pneuma or artisanal fire can still be described, albeit with some equivocation, as an immanent intelligence, for the atomist the complexity of nature is due to phenomena like turbulence and vortices.

        • Jason Wingate

          Yes… The pneuma movement within the body is actually a wavelike propagation which works alongside the Epicurean stuff — but it has specifically the power to make things cohere as well, via tonos.

          The Epicurean physics interests me very little I’d have to say. But in many ways again it works in a Tao-like manner — as in it just happens.

          Luckily there’s no necessity to be choosing between the options when one can partake of both… or neither. :) For me there seems no particular necessary connection between say, atoms, and ataraxia or pleasure.

  • christine

    Thanks for all this Jason, I’m finding Epicurean thought is very much ‘up my alley’


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