Customer Reviews: The Essential Epicurus (Great Books in Philosophy)
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VINE VOICEon March 5, 2009
I am not qualified to weigh in on the merits of Epicurus' school of philosophy. As Westerners, we've decided over that two thousand years that his thoughts on death and pleasure and pain are profound and provocative.

What's important to the average reader though is whether this is the book you should pick up to learn about him. The short answer is yes, the longer one is that it is not enough.

The book has a fairly weak introduction that doesn't provide much context. The author would have been well-served to have included the entirety of Laertius' essay on Epicurus to which he dedicated a large portion to in his biography of great philosophers.

Otherwise, the translation is good and the organization is helpful. The book is structured like a college reader - no frills, thin paper and a drab cover. It has all of Epicurus' fragments, letters and writings. Unfortunately many of the best ones are cut off or lost so we have to make due with what is left.

A first time reader or student looking to introduce themselves to Epicurus could do worse than starting here. I often refer back to my copy.
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on January 18, 1998
Epicureanism was the chief competitor of christianity until the fourth century. It attracted large numbers of the middle and upper classes with its emphasis on rational hedonism, friendship, and pleasure. Most of the literature of epicureanism was burned by christian missionaries but enough remains for modern readers to see what its great appeal was. This book contains all of the important fragments and a few epistles of Epicurus. Well worth reading. Epicurus provided arguments which were designed to overcome the fear of death and mental slavery to superstition. He also thought very highly of friendship and simple, tranquil living. Epicureanism was designed to help people live happily in this life and it seems to have had a profound affect on many ancients as it became the first and only philosophy developed in ancient Greece which became a missionary philosophy and spread throughout a great deal of the Western world. Anyone interested in a gentle, humane and non-superstitious philosophy of life will find the writings of Epicurus of great interest.
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on December 26, 2001
This book does not rely on a god or a saviour to lead a smart and fulfilling life. It relies soley on reason and what an effective use of it by epicurus! Most of epicurus works are either lost or destroyed, but this book contains his essential teachings. Epicurus did not deny the existance of the gods. This would make sense. If the universe is infinite as he says, then all possible things already exist in one way or another. According to epicurus one should live out his natural life, this would be prudent. This life is the only one you get. He writes that by being prudent ie; looking at both sides of an issue to find truth and getting only what you need, you can live a smart and happy life. After life is over one goes to eternal oblivion, free of all suffering forever. The ironic thing about epicurus is that he admits there are gods. If one reads what he writes carefully, one finds that one doesnt need to go to heaven or even to exist. Since it is not needed, one loses nothing. The same thing can be said for the wild goose chase, most people are engaged in for happiness. They want bigger houses, more expensive cars, more cash, etc. and instead of gaining happiness gain more misery. Why? Because the truth is you gain happiness by getting only what you need. Epicurus writes that those who are not satisfied with a little, will never be satisfied even with a lot or even infinity. The more you have above need, the more worry, headache and problems. This in no way is conducive to happiness. These writings are some of the most brilliant in the entire realm of philosophy. This book gets two thumbs up!
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on February 26, 1999
Let me say at the outset that Epicurus is hard to understand because we have only fragments of his work.
Epicurus is important to people living in the third millenium because he realized, as most of us do, that traditional religion is not very believable.
In his time the Hellenistic and Roman world was about to fall into a morass of Eastern religions, spiritualism, and superstition familiar to third millenium people living amid Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, Wicca, and New Age.
Epicurus has two huge virtues that make him worth reading even now.
He is ferociously smart for one. Some of his insights about physical phenomena millenia before the invention of real scientific instruments are astonishing.
The other is that he is unrelentingly honest and rigorous. His premise is that we only know what we can find out from our senses and our reason. This is immensely liberating from all the causistry, tradition, authority, and sentiment of both culture and counter-culture.
To the ultimate rationalization for religion, "Well, it is a comfort for the simple." he responds, "Truth and honesty are better than comfort." He dismissed death as nothing, and proved his point by showing legendary courage in facing his own.
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on August 22, 2000
Good introduction for the non-academic, regular Jane/Joe, late night armchair student-scholar wanting to be familiar with the philosophies that have shaped human thought. Early champion of reasoned discourse and even psychotherapy; Epicurus' calm and rational approach to death startled and impressed me. "Must Have" for your library.
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on November 17, 2001
Most of the other reviers have given this book five stars, and I would too, if I thought this book was perfect! The book does encompass all of Epicurus' first hand writing in English. I did enjoy reading the book and wished we had more of his writinga especially on friendship which in my opinion surpasses Platonic and Aristotilian philosophy. However, I think a copy of the greek text with an apparatus would be highly helpful, especially in writing a good philosophy paper on Epicurus because many different English translations are rendered from the greek fragment, and one word translated obscurely may mean all the difference in philosophical thought.
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on July 27, 2001
I find Epicurus intriguing. He did not believe in life after death. Thus he did not hope for eternal reward in heaven, nor did he fear eternal punishment. On earth, he just wanted to live for the day, and "epicurian" in our sense of the word he was not; rather than aimimg at frequent pleasure as our "epicurians" would do, he did not want extreme emotions and wanted to avoid pain. So he lived secluded in his garden. He lived modestly and wrote three hundred "books," some of which are believed to be extremely short and would not be publishable as "books" by our publishing industry. Still, he was very prolific. None of his writings survive complete. All we have are a few fragments. And most of what he know of his though comes to us by way of Diogenes Laertis, who lived in the third century A.D., thus separated from Epicurus in time by about 500 years!
Some of Epicurus' thought is of course dated--for example, his chemistry. Also, since it is hard to construct a book from fragments and other people's interpretations of what the author said can make for a less than smooth read. Epicurus, however, is a major figure in the history of Western thought. And I recommend this book.
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on January 14, 2013
The O'Connor translation printed by Prometheus is probably the best translation of Epicurus currently in print, though it is inferior to the translation by Cyril Bailey, which was printed on its own by Oxford, and also as part of "The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers" edited by W.J. Oates, issued by various publishing houses over the years. Your best bet is finding an old copy of that, but for a new book, this is probably your only decent option (the translation put out by Hackett is likely the worst version you can find). Unfortunately, Prometheus editions tend to have their problems (so normally, they should be avoided), and although this is not the worst in that regard, it does have a couple of problems. Here are references to two problems in this edition, with the first being too garbled in this edition to know what it should say, so I am including Bailey's translation for comparison, and the second one is due to the word "pleasure" being improperly substituted for what should read "virtue".

p. 71: #11. In C. Bailey's translation: "If we were not troubled by our suspicions of the phenomena of the sky and about death, fearing that it concerns us, and also by our failure to grasp the limits of pains and desires, we should have no need of natural science."

p. 90: VI, #12. "Let beauty and virtue and suchlike...."

With the second of these, the other occurrences of the word "pleasure" in the sentence are correct, so I do not bother finishing what it says there.

Again, as of the writing of this review, this is probably the best translation that is in print, though it is not the best translation one can find in English.
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on January 23, 2013
This volume is a very skimpy collection of quotes from Epicurus. A much better idea of his thinking might be found in the long poem by Lucretius, The De Rerum Natura (The Way Things Are) translated by Rolfe Humphries
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on April 26, 2000
Perhaps the person of Epicurus may have been more obscured than one might have wished. What has remained of his opus though is merely principles of honest, happy, congenial, and useful ways of living. This is a better practical guide than all the treatises on psychology written nowadays. Immortal formulations; as pertinent today as ever.
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