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Epicurus letter to Menoeceus   


Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the
search thereof when he is grown old. For no age is too early or too
late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for
studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is
like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now
no more. Therefore, both old and young ought to seek wisdom, the
former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good
things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order
that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he
has no fear of the things which are to come. So we must exercise
ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be
present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions
are directed toward attaining it.

Those things which without ceasing I have declared to you, those do,
and exercise yourself in those, holding them to be the elements of
right life. First believe that God is a living being immortal and
happy, according to the notion of a god indicated by the common sense
of humankind; and so of him anything that is at agrees not with about
him whatever may uphold both his happyness and his immortality. For
truly there are gods, and knowledge of them is evident; but they are
not such as the multitude believe, seeing that people do not
steadfastly maintain the notions they form respecting them. Not the
person who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, but he who
affirms of the gods what the multitude believes about them is truly
impious. For the utterances of the multitude about the gods are not
true preconceptions but false assumptions; hence it is that the
greatest evils happen to the wicked and the greatest blessings happen
to the good from the hand of the gods, seeing that they are always
favorable to their own good qualities and take pleasure in people like
to themselves, but reject as alien whatever is not of their kind.
Accustom yourself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and
evil imply awareness, and death is the privation of all awareness;
therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the
mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life an unlimited time,
but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no
terror; for those who thoroughly apprehend that there are no terrors
for them in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the person who
says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but
because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it
is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death,
therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that,
when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.

It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the
living it is not and the dead exist no longer. But in the world, at
one time people shun death as the greatest of all evils, and at
another time choose it as a respite from the evils in life. The wise
person does not deprecate life nor does he fear the cessation of life.
The thought of life is no offense to him, nor is the cessation of life
regarded as an evil. And even as people choose of food not merely and
simply the larger portion, but the more pleasant, so the wise seek to
enjoy the time which is most pleasant and not merely that which is
longest. And he who admonishes the young to live well and the old to
make a good end speaks foolishly, not merely because of the
desirability of life, but because the same exercise at once teaches to
live well and to die well. Much worse is he who says that it were good
not to be born, but when once one is born to pass with all speed
through the gates of Hades. For if he truly believes this, why does he
not depart from life? It were easy for him to do so, if once he were
firmly convinced. If he speaks only in mockery, his words are
foolishness, for those who hear believe him not.

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