Curious about Epicurus

It has been a while since my previous ponderings about Lucretius. I posed then the question as to who influenced Lucretius, and today as I write this, I can happily give some sort of answer to this question. In my discovering I came once again (this is a many times a day experience), to realise how much of a beginner I am in the Classics, so please bear with me if you know already the answers to the questions I pose to myself, or even better, post your answers in the comments.

I have been reading for my dissertation, and have been looking for contemporaries of Aristarchus of Samos, and lo and behold I came upon Epicurus. As I was reading his metaphysics and cosmology I began to feel rather indignant, ‘wait a minute’ I thought, ‘this is just Lucretius all over again’ and then, ‘but Lucretius came after Epicurus so…the rotter, Lucretius has plagiarised Epicurus. Of course, after a little more digging I quickly learnt that Lucretius was in fact Epicurus’ greatest fan and were there an Epicurus fan club (there probably is somewhere) Lucretius would have been the founder member. Why the excitement at finding this link? Well because when I was reading Lucretius, I realised that whoever influenced him, was also likely to have influenced Aristarchus, and hey presto, now here is someone who was a bit older than Aristarchus, born around 30 years before Aristarchus (also by the way, born in Samos, where Aristarchus was born). Then, he gravitated to Athens, as did Aristarchus. I have already become an Epicurus fan, simply by learning that he founded his own school and called it ‘The Garden’ and he allowed women and slaves to join it. This must have been similar to NASA when they first employed women as ‘computers’ or at a stretch similar to when NASA began inviting women to be astronauts. 

What then, did Epicurus teach? Well perhaps more specifically, what did he teach that may have had a bearing on what influenced Aristarchus?

We have to dig quite a bit and see links that are perhaps at first sight, not that obvious. Each link is like an almost invisible thread, weaving through the thought processes and logic of multiple minds, entangling and collecting other threads along the way, so it is not always easy to see. You know that experience of untangling your Christmas lights or when all your wires around your computer somehow mysteriously get all knotted up? That is how it feels to me, attempting to untangle the thoughts of these antiquitous (is that a word – it is now) philosopher genii, (I cannot even untangle my own at the best of times).

Epicurus believed that everything moved. Everything. This is key because very subtly it removes (even if he did not realise it at the time) one of the most established world views in Ancient Greece and in ancient everywhere actually – that Earth did not move.

Epicurus also believed that our senses were/are involved with this. Now this interests me greatly because I hear echoes of Einstein here, and his great thought experiments, or rather in Einstein I hear echoes of Epicurus. Faint as they are, they are definitely there, a little like the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) an established faintest of faint echoes of whatever happened at the beginning of…well whatever it was that we think of as the beginning but in theory did not itself present itself as a beginning…confusing I know.

The senses are a vital part of how we perceive the Cosmos, and while we have realised that not everything is as it seems, essentially, science still depends on empirical observations, to demonstrate that theory works, or to give evidence that a theory may be correct, no matter what sophisticated instrumentation is used. We live our daily lives aware of three dimensions and of time, whatever we imagine or think of that to be, and however many dimensions there actually turn out to be, we cannot escape our confines, everything we learn is within it, and hence the relationship of our senses to how we view the Universe is inescapably forever entangled. This is important to realise because philosophers of antiquity spent a great deal of time debating what things were made of and whether there was such a thing as absolute empty space. They used creative logic to prove either there was no void or no motion, it seemed they could not conceive of both, rather like the Uncertainty Principle in Quantum Physics, well sort of, a tiny bit…

Anyway…the argument went like this,

“If there is motion, there is void. There is motion therefore there is void”. (O’Keefe, T 2009, p15)

Lucretius argues that “if there were no void, all objects of equal size should have equal weight, since, being equally full of body, they would have equal quantities of matter”  O’Keefe, T 2009, p16)  which I think is a nifty piece of logic, given what was known or hypothesised about what things were made of.

I am going to stop here, but only briefly, because there was something else that Epicurus was convinced about which I shall talk about in my next post. There are many ends and/or beginnings of threads in this one, which I shall be exploring in more depth as this blog progresses. Till next time,


(O’Keefe, T 2009, Epicureanism, Taylor & Francis Group, London. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [26 May 2021].)

Published by theclassicalastronomer

Yorkshire tea drinker, contemplator of our beautiful universe, loves Jesus, semi-retired astronomy and maths teacher, autistic and autism consultant, MA Classics student with the wonderful OU, interested in science, arts, random things. ..

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