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The Epicureans

Cultural Perspectives

By Tim Hazell

Founded about 307 BC, Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of the Greek Epicurus, whose house and garden provided a gathering place for enthusiasts. The Epicureans had three criteria of truth; sensations (aisthêsis), preconceptions (prolepsis), and feelings (pathê). Prolepsis was synonymous with universal ideas. Sensation was knowledge received from the five senses and feelings were indicators of pleasure or pain. Epicurean ideas encompassed both physical theory and ethical doctrine.

Epicureans recommended pleasure in moderation as the ultimate state of well-being. Overindulgence and suffering were intrinsically linked. Attainment of deep satisfaction involved self-control, pleasures of the mind taking precedence over mere physical gratification. When it came to the palate, choosing the right person to eat with was of greater importance than the menu, as illustrated by this quote:

“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the existence of a lion or wolf.”

Epicureanism grew in popularity to become one of the three dominant schools of Hellenistic philosophy, along with Stoicism and Skepticism. A modest life and pursuit of worldly understanding lead to a state of tranquility (ataraxia), and freedom from fear and pain (aponia). These two states combined produced a transcendent, permanent condition of bliss. Here are two Epicurean maxims:

“When we say… that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean pleasures of sensuality … By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and trouble in the soul.”

“It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and it is impossible to live wisely and well without living a pleasant life.”

An atomic materialist, Epicurus believed that all matter was composed of constantly moving atoms. Sense perception was explained as our awareness of the atomic flow from objects striking our senses, causing them to vibrate sympathetically before rebounding back to its origins. Modern thinkers have reappraised Epicurus’ writings and teachings. Science benefited from his atomist theories, while humanist philosophers assimilated Epicurean ethics.

Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” This delicious combination of leeks, apples, and chicken from ancient Greece makes a gorgeous dish!

Chicken with Leeks and Apples


2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. white wine

1 tbsp. honey

1 tsp. dried marjoram

1 tsp. anise seeds

3 leeks, white and tender green parts

1 crisp apple, cored and sliced

4 small chicken drumsticks and four thighs

Salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 400° F. Whisk together the oil, wine, honey, marjoram and anise seeds in a large roasting pan. Quarter the leeks and slice into two-inch pieces. Add leeks and sliced apple to the pan dressing and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Nestle the chicken among the apples and leeks. Roast for one hour until chicken is cooked through and apples and leeks are tender. Kalí óreksi (bon appétit)!


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